Convicted Tennessee bus driver sentenced Tuesday to 4 years in prison
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WTVC) - Johnthony Walker will spend four years in prison for causing a crash that killed six children and injured dozens of others. Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole announced the sentence in court Tuesday, after an emotional morning of testimony from parents of the victims and Walker himself.
Walker was the Woodmore Elementary School bus driver a jury convicted in March of criminally negligent homicide for the crash that killed six children and wounded dozens of others on Nov. 21, 2016.
Watch the entire hearing below:
On March 1, a sequestered jury selected in Clarksville, Tennessee, declared Walker guilty of 27 of the 33 charges against him. Keonte Wilson, 8; Cor'Dayja Jones, 9; D'Myunn Brown, 6; Zyaira Mateen, 6; Zoie Nash, 9; and Zyanna Harris, 10, died in the crash.
In addition to criminally negligent homcide, the jury convicted Walker of 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault, seven counts of assault, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of reckless driving, and one count of use of a portable device by a school bus driver. The jury ruled him not guilty on six charges of assault.
Since his conviction, Walker has been free on bond.
The hearing began with mother Diamond Brown taking the stand. Her son 6-year-old D'Myunn was killed.
Brown's testimony had several leaving the courtroom in tears. She said that on the Friday before the crash, her son asked her not to accompany him to the bus stop anymore, saying it was "embarrassing." She chose not to walk him to the bus stop the next Monday, the day he died.
Brown said she spent a lot of her son's formative years serving time in federal prison, and regrets that she couldn't spend more time with him. She also talked about how she wore an ankle monitor as part of her probation, and that when the crash happened, she tearfully called her probation officer to get permission to check on the status of D'Myunn.
She said she was among the first parents on the scene of the crash, and could see children still getting out of the bus.
“Time just kept ticking and I didn’t see him. I gave a description of him and nobody could find him.”
Brown said she never saw her son's body after the crash, saying she was told his injuries rendered him "unrecognizable."
She then addressed Walker, sitting just a few feet away from her in court.
“I know you didn’t intend to do this, Johnthony. I know you suffer ever day. I believe there’s forgiveness. But there’s consequences when you speed and are talking on the phone with kids on the bus. I do forgive you. I do... But I don’t want things to get twisted. This is a situation that could have been prevented.”
Jasmine Mateen, whose 6-yea-old daughter Zyaira was killed, took the stand next. Mateen also had children who were injured in the crash.
She testified that her surviving girls still wake up screaming, and they have to take medication.
Mateen says her children were sitting together on the bus when the crash happened. She says Zyaira loved the beach, and the family took a trip to the beach in her honor after she died.
Mateen says she had written a letter and complained several times about Walker's driving, and blames Walker, his employer Durham School Services, and Hamilton County Schools.
She then turned to Walker.
“How do you live with yourself? You turned our lives upside down. What I want to know is, do you really care?”
The state rested with those two witnesses.
The defense called Misti Nash, whose 9-year-old daughter Zoie died in the crash, and had another son who was injured in the crash.
"Johnthony, I forgive you. Everybody do things that they shouldn’t do. I know at the bottom of my heart that you didn’t try to harm them kids at all. My heart goes out to you. I cry more for you than I do for myself.”
Nash says her surviving son told her he does not blame Walker, and asked the judge to be lenient on his sentence.
Next, Walker's supervisor Cathy Corvin took the stand.
Corvin testified that Walker was helpful, pleasant, and that he proved dependable.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston then argued that the age of the victims should be factored into Walker's sentencing.
Walker himself then took the stand. Through tears, he said,
"I didn’t wake up intending for this to happen to anybody. This is something I have to deal with for the rest of my life. I just want to say I'm sorry."
Walker's attorney Amanda Dunn then told the judge, "“Walker was not convicted as charged. There is no evidence that Walker is a dangerous offender."
During Dunn's testimony, a mother of one of the victims started shouting profanities, and was escorted out of the courtroom.
Judge Don Poole then took a brief recess.
When he returned, Judge Poole announced Walker would spend 4 years in prison. He will serve all of his sentences concurrently.
Not everyone in the courtroom was happy with the sentence.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday it will hold a meeting to consider a special investigation report into the probable cause of the Woodmore bus crash. Read more about that here.