School bus driver in fatal Woodmore crash veered to avoid hitting vehicle, defense attorney says

Motorists pass a collection of teddy bears, mementos, and balloons placed at the site of a fatal school bus crash on Talley Road on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The makeshift memorial to victims of the Monday crash, which killed 6 Woodmore Elementary students and injured dozens more, has grown since the road was reopened Tuesday. (Staff Photo by Dan Henry/The Chattanooga Times Free Press-11/24/16)

Citing video footage and an eyewitness, a defense attorney for Johnthony Walker said a second vehicle caused the 25-year-old bus driver to veer right on Talley Road to avoid a collision.

"There was insufficient room in the roadway for these two vehicles to pass safely, and Mr. Walker steered the bus to the right to avoid a collision with the other vehicle in question," defense attorney Amanda Dunn wrote in a motion.

Walker would eventually overturn his bus that Nov. 21 afternoon on Talley Road in Brainerd, killing six Woodmore Elementary children and injuring 31 others. He remains incarcerated in Hamilton County Jail and faces 34 charges.

Dunn never identified the second driver or detailed whether that driver did anything wrong in her motion, filed Friday in Hamilton County Criminal Court. Prior to the motion, that information was never public, and many civil attorneys seeking damages against Walker and his employer told the Times Free Press on Monday this was the first they had heard of a second vehicle.

Dunn said Walker encountered the white vehicle - "similar to [those] who transport the elderly or physically disabled" - as he approached a turn in Talley Road. Video footage, as well as an eyewitness who reported the second vehicle to the Chattanooga Police Department, would confirm that account, she wrote.

Dunn declined to comment further Monday. She will argue Thursday before Criminal Court Judge Don Poole that Walker should receive diversion, an alternative sentencing program for first-time offenders. Diversion would allow Walker to get his case dismissed and expunged upon the completion of probation, community service or some other court-ordered program.

Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, said prosecutors plan to file a response before Thursday's hearing. Dunn's defense team found the video and recently provided it to prosecutors, Clewell said.

Clewell declined to comment on the eyewitness, citing a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that prohibits prosecutors from discussing ongoing cases. It's also unclear where the video is from, though Dunn is expected to play it Thursday.

Prosecutors continue to point to speed as the cause of the accident. They say Walker lost control of his bus around 3 p.m. on Talley Road, swerved off the narrow two-lane roadway to the right and struck an elevated driveway and mailbox. When Walker swerved left, the bus overturned, hitting a telephone pole and a tree.

He was traveling about 50 mph in a 30 mph zone, police said in December, though Dunn said there is some dispute about the speed in her motion. The National Transportation Safety Board, which released a preliminary finding in January, is still working on a final report on the incident.

In addition to video footage, Dunn plans to call witnesses who will testify Walker was a quiet artist who avoided gang culture, worked two jobs and was a productive member of society. He had no prior criminal history and no drugs or alcohol in his system within two hours of the crash.

He now faces six counts of vehicular homicide, 18 counts of reckless aggravated assault, seven counts of assault, and one count each of reckless endangerment, reckless driving and use of a portable electronic device by a school bus driver.

"A permanent criminal record and possible incarceration of a young man who has always been a productive member of society does nothing," Dunn wrote in her motion, "but make Johnthony Walker a statistic."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.