Bus Driver Background Checks in the News after Chattanooga Crash
Parents in Tennessee and throughout the nation are questioning the processes for screening, monitoring, and disciplining school bus drivers following a fatal incident in Chattanooga last week. 24-year-old bus driver Johnthony Walker crashed his bus into a tree with 39 children onboard. Six of the kids died. Dozens of others were injured. Walker survived the crash but is facing charges of vehicular homicide, reckless driving, and reckless endangerment.
Durham Bus Services first hired Walker to drive school buses in Chattanooga. Per coverage, the company is responsible for school busing throughout the area and in areas across the country, such as Huntsville, Alabama. A report from WTVM—an ABC affiliate news station based in Huntsville—noted that Durham Bus Services takes multiple precautions to ensure safe and trustworthy drivers. These include state and FBI background checks, driving history checks, drug tests, training, tests, and a requirement for every driver to hold a commercial driver's license.
Walker supposedly completed these steps. As reports have explained, he had no criminal record that might have predicted the incident. However, per a CNN report, there had been concerns voiced about Walker. A principal had criticized Walker's driving, and at least one parent had written to the district to lodge a formal complaint. The children on the bus had also complained that Walker had sworn at them and tried to injure them with his driving.
The circumstances of the crash point to a purposeful collision, coverage has noted. Walker had no drugs or alcohol in his bloodstream at the time of the crash, and he was driving "on an unapproved bus route" and "well over the speed limit" when the crash occurred. CNN did not specify his speed but noted that the bus was traveling fast enough to bend in half and wrap around the tree in the moments following the impact.
These factors, combined with the fact that Walker was involved in an accident two months ago, have caused parents and teachers alike to question why he could drive. The WTVM report seems to suggest that there isn't enough contact between district representatives and Durham Bus Services. One teacher interviewed by the news station said that her district had experienced "many problems with Durham," as teachers and principals knew next to nothing about the company's contracted drivers.
WTVM also looked at Durham's overall record, noting that the company has had 346 crashes in the past two years. The company is nationwide and employs more than 13,000 drivers.