(CHATANOOGA, Tenn.) — The driver in the deadly 2016 Tennessee bus crash trial has been found guilty on 27 of 33 charges.
Johnthony Walker, 25, was driving a school bus when it crashed on Talley Road in Chattanooga on Nov. 21, 2016. Prosecutors said Walker was speeding and on his phone when he drove into a ditch, hitting a mailbox and electrical pole before crashing into a tree.
Walker was found guilty of six counts of criminally negligent assault, 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault, seven counts of 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.
He was found not guilty of six counts of assault.
Sentencing will be held on April 24.
During the trial, the prosecution pointed to Walker’s phone records as what they said was proof he was using his cellphone during the crash.
“It all could have been avoided if Johnthony Walker had slowed down below the speed limit and stayed off his phone,” Crystle Carrion, assistant district attorney for Hamilton County, said during her opening statement.
The records show Walker answered an incoming phone call at 3:17 p.m. on the day of the crash, the prosecution said. The call lasted three minutes and 50 seconds, records show. The prosecution said the first 911 call about the crash came in at 3:20 p.m., indicating Walker was on the phone during the incident.
Walker’s lawyer, Amanda Dunn, argued while the phone call itself last almost four minutes, the conversation did not.
Walker testified Wednesday, saying he used a Bluetooth device around his neck to answer the call and the conversation only lasted “10 to 15 seconds.”
When asked about what the call consisted of, Walker said, “Pretty much letting [the caller] know I was driving and couldn’t talk.” He said he assumed the person on the other line would hang up.
When asked by his lawyer if he was using his phone at the time of the crash, Walker responded, “No.”
The state called Takisha Nixon to the stand on the first day of the trial. Nixon testified she called Walker the day of the crash. She said the conversation was brief.
“I said, ‘Are you working?’ He said yes. I said, ‘Are you driving?’ He said yes. I said ‘Be careful’ and hung up,” Nixon said.
Nixon testified she did not know Walker was driving a school bus full of children when she called him.
The prosecution also presented never-before-seen footage from inside the bus the day of the crash. The prosecution said one video showed a phone in Walker’s hand while students get on the bus.
Two other clips show the aftermath of the crash. Prosecutors said the footage shows students exiting the overturned bus through the front windshield and side windows. One young girl is unable to get out, her arm pinned under debris, prosecutors said. Walker is also seen helping children off the bus, according to prosecutors.
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