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Chattanooga school bus 'was speeding before fatal crash'

Published 22/11/2016

The emergency services at the scene of a fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga (Chattanooga Times Free Press/AP)
The emergency services at the scene of a fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga (Chattanooga Times Free Press/AP)

A Tennessee school bus was going at high speed before it crashed, killing five students and injuring more than 20 others, according to an arrest affidavit.

The document, posted online by Chattanooga news station WTVC, said bus driver Johnthony Walker was going well above the posted speed limit of 30mph on Monday afternoon when the vehicle left a narrow, winding road and hit a tree.

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher described the crash as "every public safety professional's worst nightmare", and said 24-year-old bus driver Walker had been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. He was also charged with reckless driving and reckless endangerment.

Walker is scheduled to appear in court on November 29, the Times Free Press of Chattanooga said.

Investigators are looking at speed "very, very strongly" as a factor in the crash, Mr Fletcher said earlier.

Thirty-five pupils from nursery age through to fifth grade were on board when the bus flipped on to its side and wrapped around a tree.

The bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash, but Mr Fletcher said the scene was complicated and covered a wide area. He also said a warrant had been issued to remove the bus's black box, which contains data about the vehicle's movement.

Bloodied Woodmore Elementary School students lay on stretchers, while others walked away dazed with their parents after the crash, local news outlets reported. More than 20 children went to hospital for their injuries, according to Mr Fletcher.

Emergency responders needed almost two hours to get all the children off the bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it had sent a team to Chattanooga to investigate.

A school bus is carried away Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn, from the site where it crashed on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
A school bus is carried away Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn, from the site where it crashed on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Kirk Kelly, the interim superintendent of Hamilton County schools, said three of the students killed were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and another in nursery. Mr Kelly said six students were still in intensive care on Tuesday morning and six others were also in hospital.

Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke said the city was in mourning.

"The most unnatural thing in the world is for a parent to mourn the loss of a child," Mr Berke said. "There are no words that can bring comfort to a mother or a father. So today, the city is praying for these families."

Television stations reported people lined up to donate blood and some donors were asked to make appointments for Tuesday.

Pastor Tavner Smith and a dozen staffers of the Venue Church went to the school to offer support to students and families.

"It's devastating," Mr Smith said. "You send your kids to school and think you're going to see them that evening. We're really just praying for all the families right now, for what they're going through."

At school, Mr Kelly said classes would be held on Tuesday with counsellors available for students and staff.

Mr Fletcher said the families of the children who died had been notified but police would not release their names because they were juveniles.

"Our hearts go out, as well as the hearts of all these people behind me, to the families, the neighbourhood, the school, for all the people involved in this, we assure you we are doing everything we can," he added.

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam called the crash "a tragic event" and offered assistance: "We're going to do everything we can to assist in any way."

AP

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