Bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash placed on supervised release

Judge reduces Johnthony Walker's bond from $107,500 to $50,000

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 11/29/16. Johnthony Walker, the bus driver charged in the school bus crash on Talley Road that left six children dead and others injured on November 21, makes his first appearance in Judge Lila Statom's courtroom on Tuesday, November 29, 2016.

A judge has reduced the bond for the man accused in the 2016 school bus crash that claimed the lives of six Woodmore Elementary School students, placing him on supervised release while his case is pending in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Johnthony Walker, 25, was never in trouble before the Nov. 21 crash, worked two jobs, had strong family ties, called responsible witnesses who vouched for his character during a hearing last month and met the conditions for a reasonable bond, Judge Don Poole wrote in an order filed Wednesday.

He slashed Walker's bond from $107,500 to $50,000 and said Walker needs to be placed on a GPS monitoring system. Walker was still in the Hamilton County Jail as of Monday afternoon, officials confirmed. If he eventually can make bond, his attorney, Amanda Dunn, who declined to comment Monday, will arrange his release.

Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's spokeswoman said Monday that Pinkston hadn't seen the order yet. His office is preparing for trial this week in the 2014 Lookout Valley homicide case and next week in the 2015 Interstate 75 crash near Ooltewah that killed six.

Dunn and Pinkston squared off last month in Criminal Court over two primary issues: Did Walker qualify for an alternative sentence, and did he have a reasonable bond?

Poole said no to the first question. But Dunn argued that Walker couldn't afford his bond, called three character witnesses and read a letter from a former teacher. The gist: Walker was a good father who strove to better himself despite an unstable upbringing.

Dunn also argued a second vehicle may have caused Walker to veer right on a narrow portion of Talley Road before the accident. But Pinkston said the defense didn't know the identity of the driver or when this encounter happened in relation to the crash that killed six and injured several others, and he reminded the courtroom that prosecutors had more evidence to show at trial.

So far, prosecutors have argued Walker was traveling about 50 mph in a 30 mph zone when he wrecked. Poole touched upon that in his order, saying that regardless of the new defense proof, "it does appear that the incident which brings this defendant to court involved greatly excessive speed."

Once released, Walker will not be able to drive a vehicle, Poole wrote. Walker faces 34 charges, including six counts of vehicular homicide and 18 counts of reckless aggravated assault. His next court date is Oct. 3.

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