CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) – The mother of a traumatized 10-year-old boy filed a class-action lawsuit against the Tennessee school district whose bus driver crashed into a tree last month, killing six kids on board.
Sharonda Covington, individually and on behalf of her child M.S., and the boy’s father Derek Stepp brought the class action against the Hamilton County Department of Education on Thursday in Chattanooga federal court.
Durham School Services LP, which provided bus services to the school district, and Benjamin Coulter, the district’s supervisor of transportation, are also named as defendants in the lawsuit alleging civil rights violations, negligence, assault and battery.
Covington says her 10-year-old son was on a bus driven by Johnthony Walker on Nov. 21 when tragedy struck due to Walker’s “dangerously high rate of speed” on a twisting residential street.
Before Walker lost control of the bus, he allegedly yelled at the children, “Are y’all ready to die?”
“The bus swerved to the right, struck a mailbox, swerved to the left, veered off the roadway, and struck a telephone pole with such force that the pole was sliced cleanly from the ground,” the complaint states. “The bus then flipped violently on its side and slammed into a large tree, splitting the roof of the vehicle in two. On board the bus were 37 children from the Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who were on their way home to their families for the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Covington says the scene of the crash “can only be described as carnage.”
“Five children died at the accident scene; one was decapitated. A sixth child died at the hospital. Another child’s arm was sheared off at the shoulder. Some of the children were as young as six years old and were too young to tell the first responders their names or telephone numbers,” according to the lawsuit.
The child who died at the hospital was Covington’s son’s girlfriend, she says.
“M.S. witnessed firsthand the deaths and injuries suffered by his fellow classmates. In fact, this ten year old boy attempted to – and did – pull several of his fellow classmates from the wreckage,” the complaint states. “When he went back to the bus to assist his girlfriend, he found that she had been crushed in the crash and he could not pull her free. She later died. As a result, M.S. has anxiety, depression and nightmares, and is scared to get on a bus.”
Walker, 24, is not named as a defendant in Covington’s class action, the first lawsuit filed over the deadly bus crash. He was charged immediately after the incident with five counts of vehicular homicide, and another count was added later.
The class action says Walker’s behavior as a driver was “sadistic,” alleging he would slam on the brakes and swerve the bus to throw the children around in an effort to maintain discipline on board.
Covington and Stepp claim the school district turned a blind eye to Walker’s dangerous and reckless behavior behind the wheel.
“The defendants could have protected the children on that bus from the danger they themselves had created – but they did not,” the lawsuit says. “Day after day defendants handed the keys to Bus 366 to this driver, instructed the children to board the bus, and entrusted the driver with the lives nearly forty children.”
A spokesperson for the Hamilton County Department of Education said the school district cannot comment on pending litigation.
Convington and Stepp seek an unspecified amount of punitive damages and are represented by Ronald Berke in Chattanooga.