UPDATE 11/23/16: The Chattanooga Police Department in Tennesee has now confirmed six students died and at least 23 were injured during a “very serious” school bus crash there, with the school bus driver in custody and charged with multiple felonies including vehicular homicide.
One of the students who died was in kindergarten, another in first grade and the remaining three in fourth grade. At this writing, Chattanooga Police confirmed the sixth death Wednesday evening. No other details were provided
Johnthony Walker, 24, an employee of Durham School Services, is charged with at least five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, with further charges possible. Representatives of National Express Corporation, the parent company of Durham, had yet to respond to requests for comment at this report. But a statement posted on the Durham website reads:
"Our entire team at Durham School Services is devastated by the accident yesterday that tragically claimed the lives of Chattanooga students. We are working with Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County School District to investigate. We also have additional team members arriving in Chattanooga today to provide support. We have offered to provide counseling to students and families of Hamilton County, as well as our employees. We will provide all further updates in coordination with the Chattanooga Police Department and the District."
Chief Fred Fletcher of the Chattanooga Police Department said during a press conference Monday night that speed was a factor and that the investigation will also look at whether alcohol or drugs played any role. An anonymous source told STN that Walker was likely traveling in excess of 50 mph in a 30 mph zone on Talley Road in the Woodmore neighborhood near the Chattanooga Airport, which was corroborated by police. The roadway was reportedly dry with no weather or visibilty impairments at the time of the crash.
The investigation is also reportedly looking at Walker's cellphone records from the time of the crash and immediately before.
The National Transportation Safety Board also dispatched a "Go Team" to the scene Monday night.
Earlier, Fletcher said during another earlier news conference that the bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash, and that Walker was cooperating and being interviewed by police.
Roughly 35 students were on board when the school bus apparently struck a utility pole, flipped, overturned onto its right side in front of a house on Talley Road and then slammed into a tree at 3:30 p.m. local time. Photos from the scene show the tree buckled and apparently penetrated the school bus roof. It was the second incident involving an overturned school bus since Friday, when 23 students were also injured in a Nashville crash.
The Chattanooga school bus was carrying Woodmore Elementary students from kindergarten through fifth grade. The last patient was extricated from the mangled bus around 5:23 p.m. local time, according to the Chattanooga Fire Department.
At the state Capitol in Nashville, Gov. Bill Haslam called the crash “a tragic event” and offered assistance. Meanwhile, Chief Fletcher said numerous nonprofit organizations as well as state law enforcement and federal officials have pledged support. A local blood bank stayed open later than usual on Monday due to the large number of local residents wanting to give donations.
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