A Tennessee jury found the driver of a school bus guilty of six counts of negligent homicide in a November 2016 crash that killed six children on their way to elementary school.
Prosecutors argued that the driver, Johnthony Walker, was talking on his cell phone and driving 50 mph in a 30 mph zone when he crashed the bus into a walnut tree, flipping it onto its side. Two dozen children were also injured.
Walker, 25, also was found guilty of 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault and seven counts of assault, as well as reckless driving, reckless endangerment, and use of a portable device by a school bus driver, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.
On the stand, Walker said he was driving 35 miles an hour when he crashed, and his attorney said he wasn’t talking on the phone at the time.
“The jury worked hard, and we’re pleased with the verdict,” Hamilton County District Attorney-General Neal Pinkston told the newspaper. “We knew going into it that there were difficulties that would arise, like there are in any trial.”
But the mother of one of the crash victims described a mix of feelings.
“At the end of the day, Johnthony Walker drove for a company, and they are to be held accountable,” Diamound Brown told the Times Free Press. “I’m coming for Durham School Services. They’re responsible for not pulling him off the bus a long time ago.”
That’s the Illinois-based company that provides most of the Hamilton County’s buses and drivers. About 30 personal-injury lawsuits have been filed against Durham, according to the newspaper.
The jurors were selected from Clarksville, a city in north Tennessee, after attorneys agreed that media coverage of the crash likely would influence the Chattanooga jury pool.
Walker’s sentencing is scheduled for April 24.