Attorney says Woodmore bus driver should get alternative sentence

Johnthony Walker, the bus driver charged in the school bus crash on Talley Road that left six children dead and others injured on Nov. 21, makes his first appearance in Judge Lila Statom's courtroom on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

The bus driver charged with six counts of vehicular homicide in the Woodmore crash should be allowed to complete an alternative sentencing program that "diverts" him out of the criminal justice system, his defense attorney plans to announce this morning.

Johnthony Walker has no prior criminal history and support from certain sects of the community that would make him an "appropriate candidate for diversion," said defense attorney Amanda Dunn, who plans to file a formal application next week.

Diversion is a program that gives first-time offenders an opportunity to get their charges dismissed if they complete some form of probation, community service or other treatment in lieu of incarceration. It may not be granted in a second case.

Dunn's request comes at a time when prosecutors are considering presenting more evidence to a grand jury to secure additional charges against Walker, who already faces six counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of reckless aggravated assault and one count each of reckless driving, reckless endangerment and use of a portable electronic device by a school bus driver.

Police say Walker was speeding on Talley Road on Nov. 21 with 37 Woodmore Elementary children onboard when he overcorrected and swerved into a telephone pole and a tree. Six children died as a result and several more were injured.

Some family members questioned why Walker was only charged in connection with 10 of the children during a meeting at Woodmore Elementary in May with Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston.

Pinkston explained that he needs to have accurate medical information for each child if he wants to support additional charges against Walker, who is being held in Hamilton County Jail.

Diversion isn't rare, but often applies to more minor charges. About 6,000 people statewide received it between 2015 and 2016, data shows.

One highly publicized example came in May 2016, when a judge granted diversion to Jesse Nayadley, one of the three Ooltewah High School officials charged with failure to report child sex abuse.

A prosecutor can disagree with a defense attorney's request for diversion, but a judge ultimately decides whether or not to grant it.

Nayadley had to complete 10 hours of community service and take a class on mandatory reporting of abuse within 90 days and then his case was dismissed.