Bus driver's alleged cursing, prior issues won't be heard as evidence in Woodmore crash trial

Bus driver's alleged cursing, prior issues won't be heard as evidence in Woodmore crash trial

February 19th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

Johnthony Walker leaves the Hamilton County Criminal Courthouse with Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies following a pretrial hearing in Walker's case Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 in Judge Don Poole's courtroom at the Hamilton County Criminal Courthouse in Chattanooga, Tenn. Walker was the bus driver in the Nov. 21, 2016 fatal bus crash that killed six Woodmore Elementary Students.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Gallery: Judge hears evidence of cursing, speeding in Woodmore bus driver case

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Jurors won't hear about a 25-year-old bus driver's alleged cursing or prior issues with students when he stands trial next week for killing six children in the 2016 Woodmore crash, a judge has ruled.

If prosecutors believe testimony about Johnthony Walker's prior driving is relevant at his Feb. 27 trial, they can request an out-of-jury hearing, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole wrote in an order.

"If the defendant was struggling to maintain order on the bus, as his cursing at them on one or more occasions suggests, it is possible that the students' behavior was a distraction to him at the time of the accident," Poole wrote Feb. 13.

Poole heard evidence from prosecutors earlier this month that Walker cursed at students, sped out of the school parking lot and inappropriately hit the brakes while driving on a couple of occasions.

Document: Judge Don Poole's ruling on Walker's cussing

Walker's alleged cussing and prior driving issues won't come into evidence at trial, Judge Don Poole ruled.

Walker's defense attorney said testimony wasn't related to the Nov. 21, 2016, crash, while prosecutors said it could show a pattern of behavior. At the time, Poole told attorneys he would issue a ruling before trial.

Because attorneys agreed Chattanoogans were too biased to hear Walker's criminal case, they are selecting out-of-town jurors from Clarksville, Tenn., starting Friday at 9 a.m. Once those jurors are selected, they will be brought to Chattanooga to hear the trial, which begins Feb. 27.

Walker's defense attorney, Amanda Dunn, and District Attorney General Neal Pinkston discussed the selection process Monday with Judge Poole in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Prosecutors have said Walker, who is out on a reduced $50,000 bond, was speeding on Talley Road, lost control of his bus, and crashed into a tree with 37 Woodmore Elementary School children onboard. Six students died and several others were injured.

Walker faces multiple charges in connection with the Nov. 21, 2016, crash, including six counts of vehicular homicide, seven counts of assault and 18 counts of reckless aggravated assault.

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

This story was updated Feb. 19, 2018, at 10:24 p.m.