Trial started on Tuesday for a man accused of killing six children in Tennessee in 2016 while driving a school bus in Brainerd. Prosecutors stated during opening arguments that the suspect not only talked on his phone while driving the bus, but was also sped at least 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.
Times Free Press reports that prosecutors accuse defendant Johnthony Walker of causing a fatal tragedy on November 21, 2016, as he drove a bus full of Woodmore Elementary School students. While driving down Talley Road, Walker lost control of the bus and ended up smashing into a walnut tree and flipping the bus over. Numerous children were injured, with six of them dying, including,
- D’Myunn Brown, 6 (top left)
- Cor’Dayja Jones, 9 (bottom right)
- Keonte Wilson, 8 (bottom left)
- Zyanna Harris, 10 (bottom middle)
- Zoie Nash, 9 (top right)
- Zyaira Mateen, 6 (top middle)
Walker’s defense lawyer argued on Tuesday morning that the former bus driver wasn’t using his phone with the crash occurred. Defense attorney Amanda Dunn called witness Takiesha Nixon to the stand, the woman Walker was allegedly talking to when the crash occurred.
Dunn: “You certainly weren’t on the phone with Mr. Walker at the time of the accident, were you?”
Nixon: “I was not.”
Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston disagreed. He argued that cellular data showed that Walker was on his phone for almost four minutes, from a call that began around 3:17 p.m. Pinkston said that since the crashed happened at 3:20 p.m., the timing placed Walker on the phone at the same time.
Nixon, however, adamantly denied being on the phone with Walker for more than a minute at most. She stated that perhaps his phone didn’t hang up, but after she learned he was driving, she told him to call her later.
Dunn presented a 3:40 p.m. test message that Nixon sent to Walker, asking him to get back to her after his work shift. Dunn argued that had Nixon been on the phone when the bus crashed, she wouldn’t have sent the text message. Further, she said an eyewitness saw her client swerve the bus to avoid hitting another car and that the prosecution’s entire case was based on conjecture.
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“There is also no justice in convicting a man based on conjecture, and that is exactly what the state seeks to do. One of the most important facts in this case that the state still refuses to acknowledge is that there were eyewitnesses to this accident.”
One of the witnesses, Michelle Brogdon, told officers at the time that she saw a white car swerve into Walker’s lane on the day in question. Although she wasn’t sure if Walker was speeding, she said the letters on the bus were blurred as he drove by, and that she could typically make out the letters on the bus. Dunn said Chattanooga authorities never followed up with Brogdon.
Ann Jones Pierre, another witness, said Walker looked “a little tense” when she pulled up beside him at an intersection, minutes before the crash. She stated that Walker seemed to drive off from the intersection too quickly. Within a few minutes she saw a cloud of dust and a mailbox knocked over as she drove up to the crash. She said she witnessed the suspect quietly exiting the bus, followed by a number of kids.
“At first I thought it was fire,” Pierre testified, according to The Chattanoogan. “Then other children started coming out. It was horror……”I have driven Talley Road for years and I respect Talley Road. You don’t speed on Talley Road.”
Pierre also indicated that she didn’t see any other vehicles around prior to the wreck.
Walker pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges against him, including:
- 17 counts of of reckless aggravated assault
- 7 counts of aggravated assault
- Use of a cellphone while driving
- Public endangerment
- Reckless driving
Check back with CrimeOnline as we continue to provide coverage of the trial.
[Feature Photo: Court Handout]