CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - A school bus driver charged with vehicular homicide in a crash in Tennessee asked the children if they were ready to die, according to the mother of three kids who were aboard the bus. One of her children was among the five dead.
“My daughter said right before the bus flipped that he was speeding around the curve and asked them ‘Are y’all ready to die,’”Jasmine Mateen told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. Mateen’s 6-year-old daughter was killed.
Officials have not confirmed or commented on Mateen’s account.
Mateen also said she had complained repeatedly since August about the behavior of driver Johnthony Walker before the accident, to no avail.
Gunevere Cook, Walker’s mother, told CBS News her family was saddened by news of the fatal crash and extended their condolences to the families of the victims, but said her son doesn’t drink or do drugs. She never heard of any complaints against her son’s driving.
Johnthony Walker, 24, is being charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving over the accident. In court papers, police said Walker was driving well over the posted 30 mph limit when he lost control of the bus. He was jailed on $107,500 bail for a court appearance Nov. 29.
Walker appeared to have no criminal record in Tennessee, state and local authorities said.
Mateen said the daughter who passed was sitting next to another of her children, and claims to have seen the child “smushed” between seats after the crash. The daughter who survived said after the crash repeatedly, “I miss her.”
“I’m angry. I’m hurt,” Mateen said, adding that her deceased daughter wanted to be a doctor.
One student who was on the bus told CBS Chattanooga affiliate WDEF-TV the driver “wasn’t paying attention and was going real fast.”
Other parents say they complained about the driver in the past. Craig Harris, a parent of two children who were on the bus, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the bus driver sometimes drove too fast.
“There has been times where I’ve seen him going a little faster than he probably should be going,” Harris said. He said his daughter and stepson were in shock and pain after the crash.
Officials say he was apparently speeding along a narrow, winding road when he wrapped his vehicle around a tree. The bus was carrying 35 children from Woodmore Elementary School, authorities said. The students in kindergarten through fifth grade, when it crashed about 3:30 p.m., turned on its side and wrapped around a tree.
The wreck Monday afternoon plunged the city of Chattanooga into mourning, with parents stricken by the news and people lining up to donate blood.
“The most unnatural thing in the world is for a parent to mourn the loss of a child,” Mayor Andy Berke said. “There are no words that can bring comfort to a mother or a father. So today, the city is praying for these families.”