Deadly distraction: school bus driver texting caused fatal crash

(WBIR - Knoxville) Knoxville police blame a school bus driver texting for the deadly December 2014 crash that killed two students and a teacher's aide.

The results of a six-month comprehensive investigation by the Knoxville Police Department into the cause of the deadly collision between two Knox County school buses were released Friday.

KPD said 48-year-old James Davenport was driving while distracted, due to sending and receiving text messages, while driving Bus No. 44. He made a sharp left turn, crossed a concrete median, and crashed into another school bus on Asheville Highway near Governor John Sevier Highway.

The investigation revealed Davenport sent and received multiple text messages during the time leading up to the crash.

KPD said, "The investigators were committed to finding the cause of the crash whether it be from human error, a mechanical issue, weather related or a combination of factors."

The investigation included numerous interviews, evidence analysis, and bus crash experts.

As the investigation neared conclusion, KPD learned of Davenport's death.

Davenport suffered severe injuries during the crash. The 48-year-old died June 1, 2015, at the home he shared with his mother on Maynardville Pike in Knox County.

Officials are awaiting autopsy results from the medical examiner before announcing the cause of death. The preliminary report listed a "natural death" for Davenport. If Davenport's death is deemed to have directly result of injuries sustained in the December crash, the accident report could be updated to list four fatalities.

According to the deputy district attorney general, Kyle Hixson, Davenport cannot be charged with any criminal charges after his death.

June 2, 2015: School bus driver involved in 2014 crash dies

"Due to Mr. Davenport's death, we are legally unable to pursue any criminal charges against him," explained Hixson in a press conference Friday. "We always want to seek justice; that's why we're here, that's why we do what we do. So the fact that in some measure, these families were not able to have that, that is upsetting."

However, the families of crash victims have filed wrongful death lawsuits in civil court against the owner of the bus driven by Davenport.

Related, June 5, 2015: Three lawsuits filed against driver in fatal bus crash

The violent collision on the afternoon of Dec. 2, 2014, flipped Bus No. 57 from Sunnyview Primary School on its side. The impact killed six-year-old Zykia Burns, seven-year-old Seraya Glasper, and 46-year-old teacher's aide Kimberly Riddle. All three were dead when emergency crews arrived at the scene.

Over the course of the past two days investigators have been meeting with the victims' family members to share the results of the investigation. This has been a very difficult procedure for all involved, and hopefully, this has provided the families another step in their healing process.

Knoxville attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, who represents the families of Glasper and Riddle, said Davenport's death would not change plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit "in the very near future."

"Our sympathies go out to the Davenport family and this is a very unfortunate tragedy," Isaacs said on Tuesday. "But our focus is on our clients... who are individuals of tremendous faith and courage who lost loved ones in this tragedy."

The grieving process in the last six months has been intense for local churches and schools in Knox County. In May, the Sunnyview Primary School planted three river birch trees on campus in memory of Burns, Glasper, and Riddle.

May 14, 2015: Trees planted to remember school bus crash victims

The trees were donated by Whittle Springs Middle School. A mural has also been painted in the lobby of the school in honor of the victims.

KPD has turned over its investigative to the Knox County District Attorney General's Office.

"[Texting and driving is] a minor penalty in and of itself, but if it leads to other things, the consequences could be much more serious," said Hixson.

Though there will be no criminal charges filed in this case, Hixson explained for other drivers, "Anytime you kill someone, as the driver of the car, you're subjecting yourself to criminal liability. Vehicular homicide is, of course, a very serious felony."

Below is a timeline of the events that unfolded after the fatal Dec. 2, 2014, crash.


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