CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - A judge on Tuesday sentenced Woodmore bus driver Johnthony Walker to spend four years in prison in a 2016 crash that killed six children.
Walker was found guilty on six counts of criminally negligent homicide in the 2016 bus crash.
The court was in uproar before the sentencing came down and had to go into recess to calm people down. Once the sentencing was handed down, a mother of one of the Woodmore children was heard yelling "He got 4 years for my baby. That's It?"
The judge said before delivering the sentence that he thought rehab would be good for Walker, saying he was a range 1 offender that had no criminal record prior to the crash.
The judge said he considered Walker's employment as a mitigating factor for his sentencing, agreeing that the court doesn't look at the age of victims when determining sentencing.
Walker was sentenced in total to 9 years and 7 months for the crash, but each individual count will be served concurrently --meaning all sentences are served at the same time and Walker will only physically serve the longest sentence of 4 years for the 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault.
Walker was sentenced to 2 years for the six counts of criminally negligent homicide, 1 year for the seven counts of assault, two years for the charge of felony reckless endangerment, six months for reckless driving, and 30 days for using a portable device while operating a vehicle.
The judge said Walker is also favorable candidate for alternative sentencing and probation in this case, saying he thinks Walker can be rehabilitate.
Nearly three dozen families filed civil lawsuits against Walker for pain and suffering and to help pay medical bills, several of those cases are still open well over a year after the crash.
The jury also found Walker guilty of 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault, seven counts of assault, one count of reckless driving, one count of reckless endangerment, and one count of use of a portable device.
Johnthony Walker was driving Bus #366, carrying 37 Woodmore Elementary School students home, when it crashed into a utility pole and overturned on November 21, 2016.
Several students were injured, and six died. The youngest victims, D’Myunn Brown and Zyaira Mateen, were both 6 years old. Keonte Wilson was 8. Cordayja Jones and Zoie Nash were both 9 years old. The oldest victim was Zyanna Harris, 10.
WRCB Channel 3's Michelle Heron will be in the courtroom for trial and tweeting live updates.
11:40am - Walker sentenced to 4 years in jail in Woodmore bus crash.
11:27am - Judge now talking about if Walker will serve sentences at the same time or one after the other.
11:24am - Judge says Walker is a favorable candidate for alternative sentencing (probation). “I think he can be rehabilitated.”
11:23am - Judge says “I think offense itself, the diversion will not be granted.” Judge now talking about alternative sentencing.
11:20am - Judge sentences Walker to 2 yrs for 6 counts of criminally negligent homicide. 4 yrs for 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault. 1 yr for 7 counts of assault, 2 years for felony reckless endangerment, 6 mo for reckless driving, 30 days for using a portable device.
11:17am - BREAKING: Walker sentenced to 9 years and 7 months in Woodmore bus crash. Waiting to find out how they will be served.
11:15am - Judge says he finds two enhancing factors, that Walker was speeding in the past and a break in public trust.
11:12am - Judge says he considers the fact that Walker has always been employed as a mitigating factor. Judge agrees that court doesn’t look at age of victims.
11:09am - Judge says he thinks rehab will be good for Walker. Cites no criminal record. Considered several factors, he says. Judge says Walker is a range 1 offender, because of no criminal record.
11:04am - Judge moving forward with sentencing.
10:48am - Court is in recess to help people calm down.
10:47am - Several people in the gallery are yelling in the courtroom.
10:44am - Defense says they’ve also asked for a diversion in this case.
10:40am - Defense argues that Walker has had no violations while out on bond on GPS monitoring.
10:35am - Defense says anyone on bus, regardless of age would have had same outcome. Shouldn’t enhance sentence.
10:32am - Defense argues that age doesn’t make someone a vulnerable victim. Says judge shouldn’t enhance Walker’s sentence because children were involved. Cites past case.
10:29am - This is the first time these families have heard Johnthony Walker say “I’m sorry.”
10:28am - Walker now crying as he thinks about what families of victims have lost. “I apologize for taking life out of your lives.” WALKER: I never meant for any of this to happen. I just want to say I’m sorry.
10:27am - WALKER: I didn’t wake up intending for this to happen. It has impacted on many families including my own. WALKER: This is something I have to deal with in prison or out. WALKER: I know that families will never have graduations, playtimes or laughter in the morning.
10:26am - BREAKING: Walker addresses court.
10:26am - DA asks for prison time and sentences to be served consecutively. DA considers him a “dangerous offender.”
10:21am - DA says Walker is eligible for alternative sentencing. DA says there are two enhancement factors in sentencing. Youth of victims and lack of hesitation. DA says Walker speed on road showed little to no regard of children’s safety.
10:20am - Corbin: “My prayer for everyone is that the Lord will ease this unimaginable pain for everyone.”
10:18am - Corbin describing time Walker cut hand while skateboarding and instead of going to the doctor, came to work. Said he was dependable and responsible.
10:15am - Defense calls Kathy Corbin (sp?) says she was a facilitation manager with Walker. Corbin says she oversaw cleaning service and met Walker in Nov. 2015. Says Walker was very helpful and very pleasant.
10:12am - Nash says, “Putting you in jail for a long period of time isn’t going to bring my daughter back.” Nash says she doesn’t want Walker to serve time. Wants him to go to counseling to help deal with emotional impact of crash. “You can write me, I hope to come see you.”
10:10am - Nash says she wanted to speak on behalf of Walker. “I forgive you. I don’t blame you. You’re a child. I have a son a year and a half younger than you. Nash says, “Everyone does things they shouldn’t do. I saw your face the day of the bus crash. You didn’t intend to hurt those kids. At first I was mad, but then I had to put myself in your position. Nash says to Walker, “I cry more for you than I do myself.”
10:09am - Nash says her son was hurt in the crash. Broke his arm, had to have a tube inserted to help him breathe.
10:08am - The defense calls one of the other Woodmore mothers, Misti Nash to the stand. This is interesting. Nash lost a child in the crash and had another hurt. Nash describing her daughter, “She was a nice little girl.”
10:05am - The judge asks Mateen about earlier testimony and complaints she filed about Walker’s driving.
10:04am - Mateen is now reading a poem directed at Walker called “How Do You Live With Yourself” Mateen: “How can you live with yourself knowing we went to graduations for kids that weren’t there.”
10:02am - Mateen: “I don’t blame Walker, I blame the board of education and Durham.”
10:00am - Mateen says she will never forget her other children crying for their sibling the day of the crash. Mateen: “My baby will never graduate middle school, high school or college or go on a first date.”
9:58am - Mateen is reading her statement after going through some pictures of her favorite memories. “She loved playing mortal combat and doing the belly role with her daddy.” Mateen says her daughter’s best friend, her younger sister, was sitting next to her when she died.
9:55am - Mateen says her two surviving children wake up from nightmares often, have dreams of their sister who died and have to take pain meds. Says she found out last week her children may have traumatic brain injuries and will have to get more medical attention.
9:53am - Brown is finished. Another Woodmore mother, Jasmine Mateen, is taking the stand. The other have chosen not to speak today. Mateen has three children on Bus 366. One of them died.
9:46am - Brown: “I’m sorry you have to suffer through this. I know you may be a good man, but there’s consequences when you speed and when you talk on the phone with kids.”
9:44am - Brown says her son was so badly hurt, she didn’t get to see his body or kiss him goodbye. Says she was told he wasn’t recognizable. Brown says “I just want you to know Johnthony, he didn’t deserve to die like that. He was everything we had. It’s divided my family.”
9:40am - Brown describing the scene as she walked up. Said she still saw students getting off the bus. “I described my son’s description probably 150 times.” Brown describes the moments she was looking for her son through all the kids on the scene. “After a while, you have a mother’s instinct.”
9:38am - Brown describing the last time she saw her son and when she heard about the crash. Because she had a GPS monitor on her leg, she couldn’t just get up and go. Said she didn’t have a vehicle or license so she started walking.
9:35am - Brown says, “I thought I’d be able to sit here without tears in my eyes and without hatred in my heart. He was all I had and he changed my entire life. I started going to college just to show him a good role model because I wanted him to be encouraged to go to school.”
9:33am - Brown compares her situation to that of some of the other mothers who have other children. “He changed my life, he changed my mothers life. If Walker wasn’t speeding and just paying attention, our kids would be here.” Brown compares her situation to that of some of the other mothers who have other children. “He changed my life, he changed my mother's life. If Walker wasn’t speeding and just paying attention, our kids would be here.”
9:32am - Brown is talking about time she served in federal prison, crying and saying at times she feels guilty for missing out on his life. “I do know this situation was an accident and I do know how the justice system works. This was my only child.”
9:30am - Brown pauses as she starts to talk. Says she doesn’t want to stick to what she wrote ahead of this hearing. Says she wants to speak from her heart. “Never in my worst nightmare did I think I would be here.” Brown says she forgives Walker but can’t get past what happened on that day. Brown describes her young son. “He loves his signature anywhere he went. He liked video games.”
9:29am - Diamound Brown, who lost her son in the crash is coming up to the stand to give her victim impact statement.
9:27am - The presentence investigative report is not complete because the probation officers child is very sick. They are moving forward with hearing with victim impact statements.
9:26am - Johnthony Walker’s sentencing begins. His mother can be seen praying.