published Friday, April 18th, 2014

Report: Bus driver not distracted in accident that killed 6-year-old

  • photo
    A child was fatally struck by a bus at Chattanooga Valley Elementary School.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The family of the Chattanooga Valley Elementary School student who died when he was struck by a bus this week will host visitors at the W.L. Wilson and Sons Funeral Home today.

Zackery Maximus Gage Bryant died around 7 a.m. Monday when a school bus hit the kindergartner in the school parking lot. Zackery, 6, had walked in front of the bus after being dropped off with other students, according to a crash report released by the Georgia State Patrol on Thursday.

A family member at Zackery's home in Chickamauga said those close to the boy were not ready to talk publicly about the incident. For family and friends, visitation will be today from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the funeral home, at 555 W. Cloud Springs Road in Fort Oglethorpe.

Zackery's funeral will take place there at 11 a.m. Saturday.

A Georgia State Patrol spokesman said the agency is still investigating the death.

A report from the GSP released this morning said that the driver was not distracted, nor was his vision disturbed.

The bus driver, 50-year-old Joel Lee Hitchcox, of Flintstone, could not be reached for comment Thursday. A woman answering the door at his home said the family is not interested in speaking publicly at this time.

Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said Hitchcox has not returned to work since Zackery's death.

"We just felt like, because of the situation, it was best for him to have some therapeutic days," Raines said.

The superintendent said he is unsure how long Hitchcox has worked for the county, or whether he has ever been disciplined. Raines added that school administrators have provided Hitchcox with counselors who work at local churches and have experience providing therapy to people who have experienced a tragedy.

"This has been a difficult burden for him," Raines said. "We're just still trying to wrap our arms around the situation and offer the necessary support to the family, the driver."

Raines said the school system will honor Zackery this year; officials just don't know how yet. He thinks the school will prepare a memorial for Zackery during Chattanooga Valley Elementary's gardening day on May 9.

Raines said Walker County Schools also plans to donate money to the Rock Spring Athletic Association to start a scholarship in Zackery's memory. The scholarship will allow one boy to play sports for free each season.

The Rock Spring Athletic Association itself will host a candlelight vigil in Zackery's honor at 6 p.m. Saturday on the baseball fields located on Georgia Highway 95, association spokesman Donnie Brown said. During the vigil, participants will be asked to donate money and non-perishable goods to Zackery's family.

Brown said the Athletic Association bought 800 candles for the event. A local minister will lead a prayer, he said, and then the group will release balloons -- yellow and black, the colors of Zackery's little league baseball team.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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