November 21, 2016 went down as a dark day in Chattanooga’s history. Around 3:30 pm, 24-year-old bus driver Johnthony Walker, going well above the 30-mph speed limit on the winding Talley Road, outside of his bus’s route, per authorities, struck an elevated drive and mailbox to the right, overcorrected, and then collided into a telephone pole and tree. The young victims, children ranging from kindergarteners to fourth graders, suffered severe injuries, from broken legs to spinal cord damages. Six children’s lives were claimed by the crash, and eleven more children are attempting to rehabilitate themselves from the trauma.
Perhaps the most prevailing question at the forefront of everyone’s mind is why. Why was the bus travelling outside of its designated route? Why would Walker, an individual described as working hard to provide for his beloved son, be driving at such high rates of speed, endangering the lives of others? Why was the privatized school bus company, Durham School Services, allowing such a young individual who had previously caused a crash in September to continue to operate one of their buses? The most important thing this community can do at such a dark time is to reject speculation. Walker faces six charges of vehicular homicide; the rest of his life will be plagued by the haunting notion that he took the lives of innocent children. He more than likely did not wake up that fateful morning wishing to wreak such havoc in the lives of so many.
As a community, Chattanooga has demonstrated once again that it is indeed “NoogaStrong.” Mayor Andy Berke offered some words of wisdom to the grieving community, saying, “We certainly understand on this week of Thanksgiving (that) we all need to be with our families, appreciating them, thinking about our kids because there are a lot of families hurting in our city right now.” The wonderful individuals of this strong, unified city have taken this tragedy as a chance to express their love for their fellow Chattanoogans, rushing to blood drives to donate. In the aftermath of this devastating event, it is important to search for the true story and the answers everyone so desperately wants to understand while maintaining this perspective of community.