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3 days before Chattanooga crash, bus company was told of complaints

After receiving several complaints about a bus driver’s dangerous driving and behavior, the school district in Hamilton County, Tenn., informed the bus company, the district said in a written statement released Tuesday.

And it wasn’t a single conversation, but two, the school district said.

“Transportation Director Ben Coulter spoke in person about the written complaints with Durham School Services personnel on Wednesday November 16, 2016 and again on Friday November 18, 2016,” the district statement said.

Three days later, the same driver, Johnthony K. Walker, was still behind the wheel and speeding down a narrow, residential road in Chattanooga — a road not on his route — when he lost control of the bus and crashed. The Nov. 21 crash killed six children and injured 30 other students from Woodmore Elementary School, including two who remained in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.

Walker, 24, was arrested the night of the crash and charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide. Walker left Woodmore Elementary shortly after 3 p.m., but before any students were dropped off, he ran the bus off one side of the road and back across before hitting a telephone pole and a tree, Chattanooga police said.

The Woodmore principal, students and at least one parent had previously complained that Walker drove too fast and cursed in front of the children, according to records released by the school system.

Durham School Services, which operates the district’s buses, declined to discuss Tuesday whether it took any disciplinary action against Walker after learning about complaints against the driver.

“We are cooperating with the authorities and are unable to comment,” a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

The day after the crash, Durham School Services released a message through social media, and CEO David Duke appeared in a video message posted on the company’s website.

“I can’t fathom the anguish of the parents whose children were involved in this horrific accident,” Duke said in the video. “And it involved one of my company’s buses.”

Classes resumed Monday at Woodmore following the Thanksgiving break. Funerals began Saturday for the six victims and continued during the week.

Walker appeared in court briefly Tuesday morning, but his preliminary hearing was postponed until Dec. 15. He was being held in the Hamilton County jail late Tuesday on $107,500 bond.

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