First lawsuit filed in connection with Monday's fatal bus crash

A wrecker removes the school bus from the scene of a crash on Talley Road on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Monday afternoon crash killed six elementary schoolchildren and injured dozens more. The NTSB has been called in to help investigate.

The first lawsuit was filed today in connection with the Woodmore Elementary School fatal bus crash Monday.

An 8-year-old passenger and his mother, Kimberly Boling, are suing the bus driver, Johnthony Walker, and Durham School Services, the company contracted by Hamilton County Schools to provide busing.

"The Defendant Walker was operating his vehicle in a negligent and careless fashion and caused the collision which resulted in injuries to the Plaintiffs," the lawsuit states.

Durham is liable as Walker's employer, according to the lawsuit. Durham also failed to have the correct policies and procedures in place to ensure that all bus drivers were properly trained, supervised, investigated and disciplined.

As a result of the crash, the 8-year-old boy may be permanently injured. He also sustained "pain and suffering, has suffered in body and mind, has incurred and will incur considerable medical and other expenses as a result of this accident," the lawsuit states.

The boy's mother claims she will also incur considerable medical and other expenses due to the traumatic events of the crash.

The lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court, asks a jury determine the amount of damages the family should be awarded. Herbert Thornbury, a local attorney, is representing the family in this lawsuit.

Thirty-seven children were in the bus when it crashed Monday afternoon. Five students died -- three fourth-graders, a first-grader and a kindergartner -- and other students remain in critical condition.

Walker was driving fast on Talley Road in Brainerd and lost control of the bus, swerving off the narrow two-lane roadway to the right, striking an elevated driveway and mailbox, his arrest affidavit states. He then swerved to the left and the bus overturned, hitting a telephone pole and a tree.

It took emergency officials more than two hours to remove all the trapped children from the bus. Thirty-one children were taken to the hospital for treatment.

Walker was arrested late Monday and charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless driving and reckless endangerment.

Police announced today that Walker did not have drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.

The Times Free Press previously reported that Walker also crashed the bus in September and was not given a citation by police. The crash was supposed to be reported to the school district's transportation manager, according to Hamilton County Board of Education policy.

Hamilton County Schools has not responded to several records requests from the Times Free Press, including a report from the September crash.

Durham's vehicles have been in 346 crashes in the past two years, according to federal figures. Of those, 142 crashes caused injuries and three fatalities. During the same time frame, records show the company had 53 incidents involving "unsafe driving violations."

The Illinois-based company is one of the largest suppliers of school bus services, operating about 13,700 vehicles across the country and employing nearly as many drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Durham was awarded a "satisfactory" safety rating from the agency in July 2015.

Local records show Durham has been named in 21 lawsuits in Hamilton County Circuit Court since 2010. Just over half of those suits ended in minor settlements, records show. Other details were not immediately available because almost all of the case files are in court storage.

Durham records show the company hired another driver in Hamilton County who was deemed "ineligible" for the job after his criminal record turned up in a background check.

Durham School Services has not released Walker's personnel file and has continually declined to comment on his history with the company or this week's fatal crash.

Durham's CEO David Duke released a video on youtube today, saying he is saddened by the crash and his company is fully-cooperating with the investigations.

The Hamilton County Department of Education also would not provide the Times Free Press with personnel records or any complaints that may have been filed against Walker.

"We are aware of some recent complaints lodged against Mr. Walker and the way he operated his bus," said Hamilton County Schools Spokeswoman Amy Katcher.

The complaints have been forwarded to Durham, Katcher said.

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