Judge Don Poole is considering whether Johnthony Walker—who was driving the school bus that crashed and killed six children last November—should have a lower bond.
“What a horrible, tragic situation we find ourselves in,” Poole said. “Nothing that will be done concerning bond should lessen the fact that six young lives have been lost.”
The Criminal Court judge said he is going to review all the evidence and take into consideration what law requires in bond situations before writing a decision on the issue.
Currently, the bond is in excess of $100,000, which Walker’s defense attorney, Amanda Dunn, argued is unreasonable.
Dunn called three witnesses to speak to Walker’s reliability, work ethic and character. She also read a letter from Walker’s mentor, who helped him get into Chattanooga State Community College, where he went to school for a couple of semesters before dropping out.
Dunn painted a picture of a young man who didn’t have a lot of privilege growing up, but worked hard to better himself. For example, he didn’t have a car, so he often rode his skateboard to work at Amazon, she said.
Each witness testified that Walker is kind and responsible. They said he is a good father. They supported Dunn’s argument that Walker isn’t a flight risk. Dunn said that his good character and the fact that he isn’t facing a life sentence are factors that mean he isn’t likely to skip town.
She also told the judge that Walker has been isolated in the Hamilton County Jail for his own protection since the November 2016 crash. She said that’s detrimental to his mental health.
Dunn’s last witness was an investigator for the defense who said she has evidence that a white van caused Walker to swerve.
District Attorney Neal Pinkston didn’t question the first three witnesses but did briefly speak with the investigator, Kay Baker, who told Dunn that she found a video of a white van—similar to one described by a witness near the accident scene—heading toward Talley Road.
Pinkston had Baker confirm that, although the video shows the van heading toward the scene, it doesn’t show it actually there. Pinkston also disputed the defense’s evidence that time-stamped photos from the bus show the van on Talley Road.
Several family members of victims were in the hearing.
Walker is facing 34 charges and is likely looking at a maximum of about six years if convicted.
The next hearing is set for Oct. 3.
Before hearing the issue of bond, Poole denied the defense’s request for a judicial diversion, which allows the charges to be “diverted” without jail time for an agreed-upon probation period, at the end of which they can be expunged.
Poole ruled against that because—although Walker appears to be eligible for consideration—the law doesn’t allow the court to make a pretrial decision about that.