As Chattanooga copes with more tragedy, Times Free Press offers continuous coverage

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. --- Chattanooga is coping with its second major tragedy in 18 months following Monday’s tragic bus crash that killed six children and left more than 20 injured.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press again adopted an all-hands-on-deck approach to covering the tragedy and addressing questions raised in its wake.

Times Free Press reporter Lesley Dale spoke to WHNT News 19 about the Times Free Press coverage and what they’ve learned.

Reports of the crash began coming in around 3 p.m. on Monday. Reporter David Cobb was among the first on the scene, Dale said.

“There were kids who paramedics were helping on people’s lawns to attend to them,” she said. “And he watched what was going on and realized that a lot of kids weren’t able to be immediately taken to the hospital because other kids were in worse condition.”

Notifying families was complicated by the fact that many were very young, Dale said. They were all taken to Erlanger Medical Center.

Dr. Darwyn Koller,  medical director for the emergency room at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger Medical Center, said the young patients had trouble communicating.

“Many of them were scared or too dazed to talk to us. And because of their young age, many of them were unable to spell their names, did not know their birth dates, or even their parent’s names,” Koller said.

The task of notifying parents fell partially on staff at the school the children attended.

“They were all wearing uniforms so it was really hard to ID these kids, “Dale said. “So they had to take pictures of the kids and show teachers at Woodmore Elementary to identify some of these kids because they were so shaken.”

Chattanooga again responded to tragedy with effort, Dale said. People lined up to give blood, funds for grieving families were set up, food was delivered, prayers were offered and the community came together in a Tuesday night.

The bus driver, Jonthony Walker, has been charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide.

A number of questions have been raised since the crash, including whether seat belts for schools buses should be required and if the current system of hiring and disciplining bus drivers is effective.

“I know Gov. Haslam here in Tennessee has spoken out about this, in saying it’s time we have a talk about these seat belts not being in school buses in Tennessee,” Dale said. “And also in Tennessee a lot of schools contract companies for school bus drivers. And that’s an issue that’s certainly being looked at now.”

For information on how to help the victims of the bus crash, visit The Chattanooga Times Free Press.  They are also providing comprehensive coverage at their website, Timesfreepress.com