CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Johnthony Walker, the school bus driver who was charged in connection with a crash in November that killed six children, may soon face additional criminal charges, and is also eligible for alternative sentencing.
As previously reported, Walker had been indicted on six counts of vehicular homicide, and was also charged with four counts of reckless aggravated assault, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of reckless driving, and one count of use of a portable electronic device by a school bus driver.
Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said in court that he will present more evidence in two weeks, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Although it is not clear how many new charges Pinkston is seeking, he told the families of victims in May that he needed more medical information on the students who were injured to file additional charges against Walker, according to the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Amanda Dunn, Walker’s defense attorney, said that additional charges would likely be similar to the charges he is already facing, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Dunn added that Walker is eligible for diversion, an alternative sentencing program that can dismiss and erase the cases of some first-time offenders if they complete probation or community service. Attorneys will discuss the possibility of diversion on Aug. 10.
The crash has sparked calls for a requirement for seat belts on school buses, including from Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, who questioned federal regulators on why they have not initiated a rulemaking to require lap-shoulder belts on school buses in a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Tuesday. Additionally, a proposed bill from state Rep. JoAnne Favors that has since been removed from consideration for the rest of the year would have required that all Tennessee school buses be equipped with a “restraint system” by July 1, 2023.
The crash has also spurred legislation such as a state law that passed in May that raises the minimum age for school bus drivers to 25. The new law also includes measures to increase state oversight of pupil transportation. It directs the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Department of Safety to create a mandatory annual training program for all transportation supervisors; monitor district and charter schools for compliance with state and federal laws regarding student transportation services; and update and distribute guidelines on best practices for student transportation services management.
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