A Tennessee town was left in shock after a school bus full of children flipped over and broke in half on Nov. 21, killing at least five children. Officials now believe they know why the tragedy occurred and say the driver was barreling down the road at high speed of more than 30 miles per hour when the bus crashed.
The speed limit on the street in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is 30 miles per hour, but several witnesses said they saw the bus far exceeding that, reports CNN Wire.
Police arrested the bus driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, and charged him with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
They still do not know for certain what caused Walker to lose control of the vehicle, sending it swerving into a mailbox, where it flipped over and hit a utility pole and a tree, according to an affidavit. Physical evidence and witness statements point to Walker speeding as a likely cause.
The bus was equipped with an informational box and security video recording equipment, so investigators will likely know more soon. They are also looking into whether Walker was intoxicated and whether the bus was equipped with seat belts. Seat belts in school buses are not required in Tennessee.
“Five is a cursed number in our city right now,” Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said. “We are … dealing with an unimaginable loss.”
Walker, who is reportedly cooperating with authorities and has no prior record, could face additional charges once the case reaches a grand jury, police said.
“There are still some unanswered questions at this time, but our priority remains with our students,” Kirk Kelly, interim superintendent for Hamilton County Schools, told reporters on Nov. 22.
The bus, which crashed just after 3 p.m., had 37 students, from kindergarteners to fifth-graders on board, notes NBC News. The identities of the students who died have not been made public, but school officials said three were fourth graders, one was a first grader and one was in kindergarten. Six others were still in intensive care, and another six were still in the hospital.
“There are no words that you can say,” Kelly said. “This is something that you’ll never get over … but we’re just doing what we can and reaching out and offering words of comfort and support to the families.”
Sources: NBC News, CNN Wire via KTLA / Photo credit: Chattanooga Fire Department/Twitter via KTLA