After hours of emotional testimony Tuesday morning, a judge sentenced the man who was driving the school bus that crashed and killed six children to a total of four years in prison.
“It’s ungaugeable—the pain, the suffering, the despair that many people in this courtroom are feeling,” Judge Don Poole said during sentencing.
Johnthony Walker was driving on Talley Road in November 2016 when he crashed while driving back from Woodmore Elementary School. The incident shook the community, led to 33 criminal charges for Walker, multiple lawsuits and prompted discussions about seatbelts on school buses.
In March, a jury from Montgomery County, Tennessee found Walker guilty of six counts of criminally negligent homicide and other charges, including reckless aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
“The length is as long as I can make it under the law,” Poole also said Tuesday.
Parents of children who died spoke in court before the sentencing.
Emotions in the courtroom ranged from forgiveness to anger. At least one person had to leave the courtroom after an outburst as Walker’s lawyer Amanda Dunn spoke.
Diamond Brown, whose 6-year-old son D’Myunn L. Brown died in the crash, said she wanted the court to know about her son. She said she’s forgiven Walker but she can’t get past her only child’s death.
Brown, who served time in prison herself, said she empathized with him but that actions have consequences.
She spoke directly to Walker at one point.
“I want you to know, Johnthony, you took somebody from me; he was all I had,” she said. “I know you didn’t intend to do this. I’m sorry you have to live through this. I believe in God. I believe in forgiveness…I know you may be a good man, but [there are] consequences.”
Another mother Jasmine Mateen, who had three children, one of whom died, on the bus that day, said she blames not only Walker but the school board and Durham School Services, the company that contracts buses for Hamilton County.
She said she complained about Walker’s driving and got no results. The children who survived still have nightmares and possible brain injuries, she said.
Mateen goes days without sleeping and “can’t cope with the death” of her child, she said.
“I can never forgive you,” she said, before reading a poem called, “How Do You Live With Yourself?”
Another mother Misti Nash had two children on the bus and spoke to Walker. Her daughter Zoie died and her son Zechariah was injured.
Nash showed empathy for Walker, saying he was “a child,” not much older than one of her sons.
She said, as a 37-year-old woman, she’s made mistakes, including speeding or being reckless.
“The point I’m making is that everybody does things they shouldn’t do,” she said. “I know you didn’t intend to hurt them. I seen how hysterical you was at the bus crash. I know at the bottom of my heart that you did not try to harm those kids. At first, I was mad but then I had to put myself in your position.”
Watch the sentencing hearing below.