• Vigil held for students killed in Chattanooga bus crash

    By: Dave Huddleston

    Updated:
    CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -  
     
    The Latest
    • 12 students in hospital; 6 in critical condition and 6 stable
    • Police say speed likely a factor in crash
    • NTSB examining surveillance video
    • Mother who lost child says she filed complaint about driver

     

    Six students who were on board a school bus that crashed into a tree Monday afternoon remain in critical condition at a Chattanooga hospital.

    The bus was carrying roughly three dozen students from Woodmore Elementary School at the time of the crash. Children’s Hospital at Erlanger said they received 31 patients from the single-vehicle crash. Five students -- four girls and one boy -- were killed. Three of the victims were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and one was in kindergarten.

    Of the students taken to the hospital, 19 were treated and released. Twelve remain in the hospital Tuesday.


    Breakdown of students

    • 37 on board the bus
    • 5 killed: 4 girls and 1 boy
    • 12 in hospital; 6 in critical condition and 6 stable
    • 19 treated and released

    Mother who lost child says she filed complaint about driver

    One of the students killed was identified as 6-year-old Zyaira Mateen. Her sisters -- Zasmyn Mateen, 6, and Zacauree'A Brown, 10, -- are in the hospital. 

    The girls’ mother, Jasmine Mateen, said she is heartbroken, but trying to stay strong.

    “She was always, always doing something silly to make you laugh, make you feel loved,” she said, of her daughter Zyaira, who died.

    Mateen says Zasmyn and Zacauree’A have broken bones, a concussion and severe neck injuries.

    Mateen created a GoFundMe page to help with medical and funeral expenses.

    Zyaira Mateen, 6, (left) was one of the students killed in a bus crash in Chattanooga. Her sisters Zasmyn Mateen, 6, (middle) and Zacuree'A Brown, 10, (right) are in the hospital.
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    She said she had filed complaints with the school system about the bus driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, since school started.

    “I’ve been doing this since the first day of school, when he was on the bus smoking,” Mateen said. “But now the Board of Education wants to call me. ‘We doing something about it.’ Yeah, now that these kids are dead. These kids are injured,” Mateen said.

    School officials said Walker did not work for the school district, but for a separate company, Durham School Services, and they have now started an investigation.


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    NTSB investigates crash

    National Transportation Safety Board investigators are also looking into the deadly crash.

    They say the bus driver was going well over the posted speed limit of 30 mph before the crash.

    According to the NTSB, the bus had just left the school and no students had been dropped off yet.

    Investigators are looking over every part of the bus, including surveillance cameras.

    They are also talking to the bus driver.

    Investigators said they will be on the scene for the next few days, but probable cause will not be determined during that time.

    Bus driver charged

    Late Monday night, the 24-year-old bus driver was charged in the horrific crash.

    Johnthony Walker is facing five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless driving and endangerment.

    Johnthony Walker
    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly said Walker is an employee of Durham School Services, not Hamilton County.

    Chattanooga police say speed is being investigated "very, very strongly" as a factor in the crash.

    [READ: Mom says bus driver behind fatal crash was 'terrified,' tried to get children off bus]

    "It is a complicated crime scene that covers a significant area. I can't tell you if there were any issues (with road conditions). There were none that jumped out. Right now it appears that one contributing factor may be speed but that is part of an active, ongoing investigation," Chattanooga Police Department Chief Fred Fletcher said.

    Community tries to heal

    Woodmore Elementary School opened Tuesday with counselors on hand for those affected by the tragedy.

    “So sad. No words. You can’t explain this,” a parent said.

    “Our hearts are broken,” Kelly said in a news conference Tuesday morning. “Yesterday was the worst day that we have had for Woodmore and for Hamilton County Schools that I can recall in my life as an educator, as a parent and as a member of this community.”

    Kelly said the bus crashed about a mile and a half away from the school.

    “What I saw at the scene was very, very tough. Very tough for me. Very tough for first responders,” he said. “This is something that we will never forget here as a community.”

    Dozens of people lined up to give blood to help the children in the hospital. Mateen said helping others is what Zyaira wanted to do with her life.

    “She wanted to be a doctor, and now my baby is not here to be a doctor no more," Mateen said.

    How to help        

    The Hamilton County School District and the United Way partnered to create the Woodmore Fund to help the families of students involved in the crash.

    “We know the families impacted the most by this tragedy will need our assistance in the days, weeks, and months to come. From immediate medical bills to long-term care, many of our Woodmore families will need both financial assistance and community support,” the United Way wrote on its website.

    To donate to the fund, click here.

    A blood donation center in Chattanooga also reached out to the community for help. 

    Within an hour, Blood Assurance had a line out the door of people wanting to donate blood. The center extended its hours Monday night and Tuesday. At times, the wait to donate was up to two hours.

    Remembering the victims

    At a memorial on Wednesday, the mayor, principal and various pastors spoke to hundreds of people.

    The memorial took place at the new Monumental Baptist Church and the overarching message of the event was love.

    "I wanted to come out and just give my support and love," Chattanooga resident Katherlyn Geter said. "I'm a mother, single mother of two boys, and it just made me think, 'What if that was me?'"

    She said there was a lot of emotion Tuesday night and a lot of crying.

    "This is not an easy time for them, so a few of them were expressing that. And the great thing about it -- they were told to express it," she said.

    The most devastated are the parents of the ones lost.

    "My baby won't come back. She laying in a cold freezer. She laying there with her mouth open like she was screaming,” Jasmine Mateen said.

     

     

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