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This should never have happened

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016

* New York Times

A school bus driver was speeding and swerving when he crashed on Monday, killing at least five students, the authorities said, in one of the deadliest school bus accidents in recent years.

In an arrest affidavit that the Hamilton County General Sessions Court released on Tuesday, the authorities said the driver, Johnthony K. Walker, 24, had been driving at “a high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour” at the time of the wreck. Mr. Walker has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide.

“Mr. Walker lost control of the bus and swerved off the roadway to the right, striking an elevated driveway and mailbox, swerved to the left and began to overturn, striking a telephone pole and a tree,” said the court filing. It said Mr. Walker was being charged because of “the reckless nature” of his driving.

Details of the crash emerged Tuesday as Woodmore Elementary School, whose student body is mostly impoverished, began a day of mourning. Thirty-seven students were on board the bus when it crashed, and Kirk Kelly, the interim school superintendent for Hamilton County, said at least five students had been killed.


According to the driving history report, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker had a wreck in a school bus two months ago.

On Sept. 20, Walker was driving a school bus on Sylvan Drive in Chattanooga. That’s when, according to the police report, he sideswiped a Kia Soul going in the opposite direction. This reportedly happened at a blind curve in the road. He failed to yield.

And, yet, there he was still driving.

* From the Tennessean

The private company that owned the bus involved in Monday’s fatal wreck in Chattanooga that killed five elementary school students has 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the last 24 months, according to federal records.

Durham School Services, based in Warrenville, Ill., has more than 13,000 vehicles and 13,000 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They’re a large company, and they have an overall satisfactory safety rating from the administration, but they still have more problems when it comes to driver fitness than their peers, the records show.

The administration’s records on Durham state “93% of motor carriers in the same safety event group have better on-road performance than this motor carrier.”

A safety event group includes other similar bus and truck companies. In the last 24 months, Durham has been involved in 346 crashes, 201 of which were towaway wrecks. That data was last updated in late October.

We’ve talked about these privatized school bus companies before, but that’s not why I posted this story. The company is based in Warrenville, but that’s not why I posted it either.

* I got a text from Steve Schnorf today. His wife has been a Big Sister to a girl named Zoie for the past four years. Zoie was a “beautiful, delightful, sweet and innocent little girl 3 weeks short of her 10th birthday,” Steve said. She was also on that bus. And she was one of the children who died.

Steve, his wife Jane and Zoie were supposed to all have dinner tonight. The authorities identified Zoie’s body by the jacket and bookbag Jane had bought for her.

* Her sister has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for medical and funeral expenses. Zoie’s brother Zach was injured in the crash and is in critical condition. Click here to give. Here’s a photo…

* Related…

* Durham School Services: Why Outsourcing Is Right For You

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Grimm - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:28 pm:

    Aside from the grief I feel for all of those families, there are just no words…none.

  2. - Rocky Rosi - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:30 pm:

    Its safe to say driver pay should increase with harder hiring guidelines. We can not cut corners when keeping our kids safe. I pray for all of the families impacted by this event.

  3. - hisgirlfriday - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:32 pm:

    Condolences to the Schnorfs and all those affected by this crash.

    School buses carry the most precious cargo of any community and more should be done to ensure they operate safely even if doing so costs taxpayers a little bit more.

  4. - ExCMS - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:32 pm:

    Heartbreaking. It’s stories like these that get my blood boiling when I hear the “government puts too many regulations on business” complaints.

  5. - Give Me A Break - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:35 pm:

    God be with and heal all involved, prayers to Schnorfs.

  6. - Mekong Cafe - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:44 pm:

    Oh my god. What a terrible tragedy. I am crying. What a senseless way for children to die. I cant even imagine being a parent through this. What kind of society do we live in? I researched the bus company, Topix has tons of discussion about the work evironment. Some posters say bus driver pay is between $10-14/hr, but drivers are only paid for the time it takes to do their route (no minimum shifts). That means that a driver who earns $10/hr for a 1.5 hr route, makes $150/wk before taxes, and only $5,400.00 for a school year. What kind of peoplr does this company sttract at such lousy wages???

  7. - Amalia - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:47 pm:

    how deeply sad. the owners and the driver will pay in one way or another.

  8. - illini - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 1:52 pm:

    Always disturbing to read a story like this.

    Condolences and prayers are with the family, Steve and Jane and those families that are grieving.

    Donations are important, as well, at this point.

    Thank you Rich - your loyal readers will not disappoint you.

  9. - cdog - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 2:04 pm:

    This just made terrible news, more terrible.

    It makes no sense.

  10. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 2:10 pm:

    Just heartbreaking.

    Steve and his family will be in my prayers in the days ahead.

  11. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 2:11 pm:

    ===It makes no sense===

    As we’ve discussed before, these private bus companies are literally stretched beyond their limits. They have trouble recruiting and retaining bus drivers and that causes local public uproars when service outages occur. So, bad apples can be overlooked to keep the system moving. They’ve created a driver “shortage” by squeezing every last dime out of operations.

    Not saying that’s what happened here because I don’t know. Just saying it does “make sense” in that particular context.

  12. - Anon - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 2:17 pm:

    It’s a horrible tragedy, no doubt about it. The driver made a terrible mistake and I’m sure he’ll be held accountable.

    With that said, does anyone think that if the school district ran the service and this person was employed by the district that he wouldn’t have been driving the bus? I don’t know many public employees that are fired from their jobs for ONE relatively traffic accident.

  13. - yeah - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 2:35 pm:

    Hamilton County School District spokeswoman Amy Kutcher declined to say whether the district had received any complaints involving Walker. She referred all questions about his performance and that of other Durham drivers to the contractor.

    “Legally there is no way that we could discipline someone who is not our employee,” Kutcher said. “We’ve got 192 Durham bus drivers. Obviously, this is a bad one.”
    above is from the AP article.

  14. - Last Bull Moose - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 2:42 pm:

    This is one of the few areas where I would support a mandatory minimum wage. Maybe a $20/hour minimum would attract qualified drivers.

  15. - Big Joe - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 2:49 pm:

    I have been advocating for seat belts in school buses for over 15 years. If we have laws that mandate adults wear seat belts, then why do we let our children sit in school buses loosely?

  16. - DuPage - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 3:11 pm:

    This is horrible. What exactly happened, and why?Were they running late? Why was he speeding? Was he sent to substitute for another driver who called in sick, and then told to hurry on an unfamiliar route? Was he working another job at night and was too tired to drive safely? There are a lot of important questions that remain to be answered.

  17. - Cubs in '16 - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 3:28 pm:

    What an adorable, precious little girl. RIP sweetheart.

  18. - Fixer - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 3:40 pm:

    My condolences to the families of those involved. As a father of three, I cannot imagine how difficult this is for them.

  19. - Lou Lang - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 3:57 pm:

    To Big Joe:

    Have tried to pass a bill for seat belts on school busses many times. We have failed as the forces of money being more important than the lives of children have always taken over the debate. Perhaps this tragedy will lead us to a better place.

  20. - Responsa - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 3:57 pm:

    Steve, thank you to you and your wife for the volunteerism you do to offer caring support and special attention for Zoie and young people like her. The story of the bus accident could not be more tragic or inexplicable, and the personal connection with it that you brought to us here today touches deeply.

  21. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 5:20 pm:

    Schnorf family,

    I send you and Zach my thoughts and prayers, and my deepest sympathy, thoughts and prayers for Zoie.

    Oswego Willy

  22. - Levois - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 5:41 pm:

    It always hurts to see a child die so soon and especially in a case of negligence by not only a direct actor, but by other indirect actors also.

  23. - Mekong Cafe - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 7:04 pm:

    Anon: what does the word “accountable” mean to you? How can the driver’s punishment ever remotely reflect the harm that he has caused the parents of those injured or dead and society? At his likely wage, the driver is unable to pay for even half of a funeral for one of the deceased children.

    I have never seen a school bus drIver under the age of 28. The driver in this case was unable to rent a car, but somehow able to drive a bus full of precious children.

    As the wage and benefits shrink, the applicant pool shrinks in size and quality.

  24. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 7:13 pm:

    I cannot help but wonder if the driver was high on drugs while driving.

    Hiring and retaining good school bus drivers is a huge problem that is very hard to resolve.

    My heart goes out to every person affected by this horrible accident.

  25. - John C - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 7:15 pm:

    Completely preventable and completely unacceptable.

    Driver shouldn’t be allowed out for a very very long time.(25+ years)

  26. - Mama - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 7:15 pm:

    - Anonymous - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 7:13 pm:
    That was me.
    Rich, for some reason my nickname keeps disappearing.

  27. - Crispy Critter - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 8:13 pm:

    See, Privatization works so well………..

  28. - Freezeup - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 8:30 pm:


    Thoughts and prayers to all.

  29. - anon - Tuesday, Nov 22, 16 @ 10:14 pm:

    We would all be shocked if we put tracking apps on our kids phones to see how fast these contract services drive. I followed, by chance, my kid’s bus one day driving 15-20mph over the speed limit. The bus service could care less when parents voice concerns…they only really need to answer to the school board, not the taxpayer!!

  30. - Southside Markie - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 1:50 am:

    Words to Steve and family and others who lost loved ones, just plain fail at at a time like this. I and I am sure so many others send love and so so many prayers. And I’m sure a lot of tears too. It reminds us all of how much we have to be thankful for.

  31. - Rabid - Wednesday, Nov 23, 16 @ 8:18 am:

    Extreme sorrow prayers for the families

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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