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Horrific School Bus Crash in Chattanooga Results In Five Counts of Vehicular Homicide

The driver has been arrested and charged with the deaths of five children who died at the scene of the one-vehicle crash in which the bus slammed into a tree on Monday afternoon. The National Transportation Safety Board is on the scene.
November 27, 2016, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Three of the children were fourth graders, one a first-grader and another in kindergarten," reports the WRCB Staff. "Thirty-seven Woodmore Elementary School students were aboard the bus when it crashed, twelve students are in the hospital for treatment; six of those are in intensive care."

The National Transportation Safety Board's Go Team arrvived in Chattanooga Tuesday morning to begin their investigative work.

The team will determine what factors led to the crash, and will utilize the bus' "black box" and on-board camera to gather additional information.

"For some reason the bus, driven by Johnthony Walker, 24, veered off the road and hit a tree so hard it nearly split the bus in half," reports WFTV 9. "The cause of the single-vehicle crash was still under investigation but speed is suspected to be a contributing factor," said [Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher].

Walker has also been charged with reckless endangerment and reckless driving, according to Chattanooga police.

Certainly, speed is being investigated very, very strongly as a factor in this crash," Fletcher told reporters, according to Kendi A. Rainwater and David Cobb of the Times Free Press. "The speed limit on the road is 30 mph."

Much media attention has been shed on:

  • The driving record of Johnthony Walker.
  • The safety record of the school bus company, Durham School Services.
  • The absence of seat belts on the bus.

"California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas have some variation of school seat belts laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, reports WFTV.

According to a Sept. 17, 2015 USA TODAY article, fatal school bus crashes are rare, amounting to .4 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes from 2004 to 2013.

"Fatal school bus accidents like the one in Houston Tuesday that killed two children are rare, federal safety figures suggest — and they rarely kill children, who log thousands of hours riding each year," reports Greg Toppo.

Listen to two media briefs (on YouTube) from NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart on the crash. He answers questions from the media.

  • Brief 1 is prior to arrival of his team at the scene. In response to the first question on the arrest of the driver, he explained that the Chattanooga Police Department is investigating the "enforcement" aspect which his agency will investigate the cause and what can be done to prevent similar crashes.
  • Brief 2 is after arrival and he gave a more detailed report.The team will determine what factors led to the crash, and will utilize the bus' "black box" and on-board camera to gather additional information. He responds to two questions about seat belts. It is too early to indicate whether their presence would have made a difference, he answered to the first question.

According to NTSB, "(t)he purpose of the Safety Board Go Team is simple and effective: Begin the investigation of a major accident at the accident scene, as quickly as possible, assembling the broad spectrum of technical expertise that is needed to solve complex transportation safety problems."

Correspondent's note: When the driver has been charged with multiple counts of homicide, I find it difficult to call this incident an "accident," yet that is the term that NTSB uses, so media and police departments often follow suit, though Police Chief Fletcher also "described the accident as a 'single-driver incident,' wrote WRCB. 

A May post about about another federal safety agency, "Why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Doesn't Use 'Accidents'," explains why the two agencies use different terms.

[Matt Richtel ofThe New York Times] does present the positions of those who defend using the term 'accident,' which continues to be used for all modes of transportation by the NHTSA's half-sister, the National Transportation Safety Board. [See "Accident Reports"]. Unlike NHTSA, which falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation, the NTSB is an independent agency placed within the DOT for administrative purposes, according to its webpage.

In addition, the Associated Press' recently revised policy is to use 'crash' only "when driver negligence is proven or suggested." Considering that the driver's arrest affidavit includes witness statements that he was speeding, according to the Times Free Press, it's a safe to suggest that driver negligence is a clear possibility, as Police Chief Fletcher indicated.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 in WRCB tv
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