Chattanooga attorneys are picking jurors today in Clarksville, Tenn., for the trial of Johnthony Walker, the 25-year-old bus driver charged with killing six children in the 2016 Talley Road crash.
Johnthony Walker will stand trial Tuesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court in connection with the Nov. 21, 2016, wreck that involved 37 Woodmore Elementary School students.
Attorneys agreed early in May 2017 that Chattanoogans were too biased from news coverage to hear the case. After jurors are selected today, they will be transported to Hamilton County and sequestered for the trial. Their selection starts shortly and will likely take most of the day.
Prosecutors say Walker was speeding on a narrow road in Brainerd when he lost control of bus 366 and ultimately crashed into a walnut tree.
They have charged Walker, who is out on a reduced $50,000 bond, with six counts of vehicular homicide for the six children who died in the crash.
Walker faces an additional seven counts of assault and 18 counts of reckless aggravated assault for the children who were injured in the crash.
His defense attorney, Amanda Dunn, has painted the crash as more of an accident and said in August 2017 a second vehicle on Talley Road may have caused Walker to swerve that day.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole agreed to reduce Walker's $107,500 bond to $50,000 after hearing that testimony along with three witnesses who vouched for the 25-year-old's character.
Also of issue is whether Walker, who is charged with one count of using a cellphone, was on the phone at the time of the crash.
Prosecutors say he received a roughly four-minute call at 3:17 p.m. The first 911 calls came in at 3:20 p.m., Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston has said.
But defense attorneys say that phone data comes from a rough draft of a National Transportation Safety Board report, and they've argued much of that evidence can't come in at trial.
The NTSB is a federal agency that investigates serious motor-vehicle accidents, including this one, and draws conclusions about what happened.
Another issue is the number of complaints Woodmore parents and administrators had about Walker's driving and interactions with students.
Prosecutors called three witnesses earlier this month who said Walker cussed out his students, inappropriately hit the brakes and sped out of the school parking lot on a handful of occasions.
Prosecutors said those incidents could establish a pattern of behavior that explains the crash.
But Dunn, the defense attorney, said Walker was struggling to keep misbehaving students under control and questioned how that information was relevant to the crash itself.
Judge Poole, in a recent order, said he's not going to let jurors hear about the alleged cussing, agreeing with Dunn that perhaps students were misbehaving. But if prosecutors want to introduce evidence of prior bad driving, they can request an out-of-jury hearing and try to make their case, Poole said.