Lawsuit filed against Hamilton County Schools in connection with fatal Woodmore bus crash

Motorists pass a collection of teddy bears, mementos and balloons placed at the site of a fatal school bus crash on Talley Road.

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A lawsuit filed today in federal court claims the Hamilton County Department of Education and the district's Transportation Supervisor Ben Coulter failed to take action that could have prevented the fatal Woodmore Elementary school bus crash.

The lawsuit claims the school district, Coulter and Durham School Services received complaints about the bus driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, before the crash on Nov. 21, but did nothing to protect the students.

"This horror was foreseeable, predictable and preventable," the lawsuit claims.

Hamilton County Schools contracts with Durham to provide its busing services, and the six previous lawsuits filed in this case named just Durham and Walker in civil court.

This is the first federal lawsuit and the first to include the school district and Coulter, who is named as an individual.

Durham, Hamilton County Schools and Coulter "had actual prior knowledge of the danger which these children were exposed to twice a day," the lawsuit claims.

The school district and Durham created and fostered an atmosphere of indifference toward bus drivers' violations of the set regulations, rules and policies, and by doing so left children at risk, according to the lawsuit.

"The Defendants could have protected the children on that bus from the danger they themselves had created -- but they did not," the lawsuit claims.

The families of two students on the bus seek monetary damages, claiming the Constitutional rights of their kids were violated.

Ronald Berke, of the firm Berke, Berke & Berke, filed the lawsuit on behalf of two families.

Six children were killed in the crash on Talley Road in Brainerd, and many of the 37 kids on board were treated at the hospital.

Walker was believed to be driving about 20 miles per hour over the speed limit when he crashed the bus. He remains in custody, facing charges of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.

See Thursday's Times Free Press for the full story.