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Children killed in Chattanooga bus crash remembered

Posted at 5:26 PM, Nov 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-23 17:39:17-05

A Spiderman-lover who danced along with his favorite YouTube videos. A girl who dreamed of becoming a doctor. A star on the softball field. A 9-year-old who never stopped smiling.

Hours after they celebrated Thanksgiving at an elementary school lunch, five children died Monday when their school bus swerved off the road, flipped over and slammed into a tree.

The deadly crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, left a devastated community mourning the victims and searching for answers. The bus driver is behind bars, charged with vehicular homicide. But authorities are still working to pinpoint exactly what caused the crash.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far about four of the victims (CNN has not yet confirmed the identity of the fifth victim):

Zoie Nash is seen in a photo with her uncle, Antwon McClain.

Zoie Nash is seen in a photo with her uncle, Antwon McClain.

Zoie Nash: Softball star

Zoie Nash played basketball, but softball was her love.

Her uncle, Antwon McClain, described her as a “sweet, sweet girl — a little angel here on Earth.”

Zoie was just a few weeks away from her 10th birthday, he said. And her family still plans to have a party in her honor on December 12.

Her 8-year-old brother, Zachariah, suffered a broken arm and a brain injury in the bus crash, but is expected to survive, McClain said.

While he was hospitalized, his mother told him about his sister’s death, McClain said. Zoie, she told him, had received her wings.

D’Myunn Brown: Dancing to YouTube videos

D’Myunn Brown talked a lot, his mother said. He loved Spiderman.

And he loved to dance along with his favorite YouTube videos, including his latest obsession, “Juju On That Beat.”

His mother met him at the bus stop every day.

He was 6 years old.

Zyaira Mateen

Zyaira Mateen

Zyaira Mateen :’She wanted to be a doctor’

Zyaira Mateen was outgoing and full of life, her mother said. The 6-year-old’s grandmother described her as feisty, sweet and smart.

“She was the life of the party, always silly,” mother Jasmine Mateen said.

But she added that her daughter also had a serious side.

“She was real smart,” she said. “She wanted to be a doctor.”

Cor’Dayja Jones: ‘She loved God’

Nine-year-old fourth-grader Cor’Dayja Jones had a smile that could light up a room, family members told CNN affiliate WKRN.

“She loved God, and she knew God,” cousin Monica Mastin said. “So we know that he has another angel.”

What happened?

What we know: Around 3:30 p.m. Monday, a school bus carrying 37 children slammed into a tree, flipped over and split apart. Families are mourning the five killed, and several children remain hospitalized in intensive care. The driver has been charged with vehicular homicide and reckless driving. Authorities say the bus was exceeding the 30-mph speed limit.

What we don’t know: How fast was the bus going? Why did the bus crash? What, if anything, affected the driver? What could have prevented the crash?

Investigators say they have a great deal of evidence to compile and process, including videos and interviews with the children and other witnesses. Investigators are reviewing videos from the two cameras on the bus — one rear-facing and one forward-facing — and an informational box on the bus to determine what caused the crash.

The driver

What we know: Johnthony Walker, 24, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. He could face more charges as the investigation unfolds.

“Mr. Walker lost control of the bus and swerved off of the roadway to the right, striking an elevated driveway and mailbox, swerved to the left and began to overturn, striking a telephone pole and a tree,” according to the arrest affidavit.

No traces of alcohol or drugs were found in Walker’s blood, lead police investigator Sgt. Austin Garrett.

After the accident, Walker called his mother, Gwenevere Cook. She said her son tried to get the children off the bus. Cook described Walker as a responsible man who took care of his 3-year-old son.

A co-worker at his other job at Amazon told CNN affiliate WSMV-TV that Walker worked two jobs to take care of his son. “The picture that you paint of someone who’d do something like this is not the vibe I got from him,” Breena Ross told the station.

“He was respectable. Just a very nice person.” She added that he’d often come to work tired.

What we don’t know: Were there factors, such as fatigue or distractions, that may have affected his driving?

His driving record

What we know: Walker received his commercial driving license in April, according to the NTSB.

In September, Walker was driving a school bus when he hit another vehicle, causing minor damage. The accident report cited Walker for “failure to yield right of way.” The driver in the other vehicle, in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, alleged that the school bus went through a stop sign and scraped her car.

Also in 2013, Walker was cited for failure to show proof of insurance. His driver’s license was suspended for three weeks. It was reinstated in late March 2014, according to state records.

What we don’t know: What kind of vetting and training did Walker go through to become a school bus driver? How did the bus company investigate the September incident that Walker was involved in? Have there been prior complaints or issues reported about his driving to the company?

The bus

What we know: The bus did not have seat belts. But NTSB chairman Christopher Hart said it takes more than seat belts to prevent injuries.

What we don’t know: Could seat belts on the school bus have prevented the deaths and injuries? The NTSB will be looking into what else could have been done to lessen the extent of the damage and injuries.

Were there any mechanical issues with the bus?

The bus company

What we know: The company that operated the bus and employed Walker has come under scrutiny. Durham School Services, which transports more than 1 million students daily at schools across the United States, is contracted by Hamilton County.

“Our entire team at Durham School Services is devastated by the accident yesterday that tragically claimed the lives of Chattanooga students,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Durham CEO David Duke said in a YouTube statement that the company, which runs the bus service, was cooperating with the federal and local investigations.

“My responsibility now is to look for answers — answers about why this tragedy occurred and answers for how we can make sure that this never, ever happens again,” he said.

Duke said he could not comment further.

“I don’t want to compromise that investigation,” he said. “What I can do is promise that I’m determined, that we’re determined to find out what happened. And that we will offer any support that we can to the families.”

What we don’t know: Was there proper oversight?