Court date for driver in Woodmore crash on rape charge rescheduled

Court date for driver in Woodmore crash on rape charge rescheduled

Change comes on same date that NTSB report calls for seatbelts on buses

June 21st, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

Woodmore bus driver Johnthony Walker reacts as his sentence is pronounced during a hearing in Judge Don Poole's courtroom at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Walker was convicted in February of criminally negligent homicide and a host of lesser charges, and he was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Updated at 7:33 p.m. on Thursday, June 21, 2018.

A hearing on an aggravated statutory rape charge for the man convicted in the fatal 2016 Woodmore school bus crash was rescheduled Thursday until late July.

Johnthony Walker now will appear before Judge Allegra Walker in Davidson County General Sessions Court on July 20.

Walker, 25, was arrested last week after allegedly telling police he'd had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl five times over the last few months while staying in Nashville. He is being held in Davidson County on a $350,000 bond.

Earlier this year, Walker was convicted of six counts of criminally negligent homicide and other charges in connection with the Nov. 21, 2016, crash on Talley Road in Chattanooga that involved 37 Woodmore Elementary School children.

Prosecutors said Walker was speeding and using his phone around the time he lost control of bus 366, ultimately crashing into a tree. Six children died as a result and several others were injured.

In April, Walker was sentenced to four years in prison and allowed to remain out on bond while he appealed his case to a higher court. Since September 2017, he has been on supervised release on an ankle monitor.

Walker was scheduled to make his first appearance in the statutory rape case Monday, but that date passed to Thursday. Three witnesses were subpoenaed to appear in Nashville, but attorneys agreed to pass the hearing to July 20 for further evaluation.

Also on Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board released its finalized report into the 2016 crash. The Times Free Free Press reported on a unofficial version of that report last month.

According to the report, there were three probable causes for the crash involving Walker, the Hamilton County Department of Education and the bus company, Durham School Services:

"The school bus driver's excessive speed and cell phone use, which led to the loss of vehicle control; Durham School Services' failure to provide adequate bus driver oversight, allowing an inexperienced driver to operate a commercial vehicle with escalating risky driving behaviors that it knew, or should have known, could lead to the unsafe operation of the school bus; and the Hamilton County Department of Education's lack of followup to ensure that Durham had addressed a known driver safety issue."

The report also suggested Tennessee and 43 other states, commonwealths and territories adopt legislation requiring new large school buses be equipped with seat belts. According to the report, the 37 children were at risk before the crash because they fell from their seats before the bus struck a utility pole, rolled over and smacked into a tree.

"Properly worn lap/shoulder belts provide the highest level of protection for school bus passengers in all crash scenarios, including frontal, side and rear impacts — and rollovers," the report says.

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


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