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UPDATED: PHOTOS and VIDEO: 4 students, driver injured in Washington County school bus crash

Becky Campbell • Updated Feb 27, 2018 at 7:51 PM

At least one parent called for seat belts on school buses as she walked her daughter away from the scene of a school bus crash on a winding county road Tuesday afternoon.

The crash happened around 3:40 p.m. near 345 Cherokee Mountain Road when something happened to the bus that caused the driver to lose control and hit a tree. Two students described the issue as a broken axle or tie-rod. The students were able to get off the bus, but the driver had to be rescued.

“My opinion ... all school buses should have seat belts,” the mother of 17-year-old Brittany Walker said. “This is not the first accident that’s hurt someone. There should be seat belts in the buses and no more than two students per seat.”

Walker said she believes an axle broke, which caused the driver to lose control and the bus to hit the tree. Another student also said it seemed like a tie rod or something similar broke before the driver lost control.

“It just slammed into the tree. That’s all I remember,” the teen said.

Washington County/Johnson City EMS Chief Dan Wheeley said the crash injured four students and the driver. He said all victims had minor injuries.

“There were certainly no life-threatening injuries or anything like that,” Wheeley said.

It’s been six years since a Washington County school bus was involved in a serious crash. That accident also occurred on a small winding county road, similar to Cherokee Mountain Road. And parents of students in that crash also urged lawmakers to require school systems to install seat belts, but no laws have been passed.

That crash happened in September 2012 when 39 David Crockett students were injured — many of them seriously — in a high-speed school bus crash on on Mount Wesley Road, a small county road with hills and curves. Cheyenne Bunton, the most seriously injured student, had a broken neck and was partially scalped.

The driver, Brenda Gray, later was charged with 39 counts of reckless aggravated assault and eventually pleaded guilty in a “best interest” plea to eight counts of aggravated assault by recklessness, one count of felony reckless endangerment and one count of speeding. Gray was awarded judicial diversion in that case.

State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who has previously supported legislation to require school systems to have a transportation supervisor with special training in school bus transportation and raised the minimum driver’s age requirements from 21 to 25, expressed concern about the crash.

“I am saddened to hear that some of our children were hurt during an unfortunate accident today, and I offer my prayers and support to our students, their school bus driver, and all of the families involved,” Hill said. “Every day, we count on our school buses to get our children to school and back safely. My colleagues and I will continue to allocate resources and find additional solutions that enhance the safety and well-being of our students, as well as our bus drivers. Together, I know we can work to prevent future incidents like these from occurring.”

A person who answered the phone at Washington County Schools central office said they could not comment, but that the school system would release a statement later.

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Reported earlier:

Four David Crockett High School students and the driver were injured Tuesday afternoon when their school bus collided head on with a tree on Cherokee Mountain Road.

Seventeen students were aboard the bus when what students described as a blown tire or mechanical issue caused the driver to lose control near 465 Cherokee Mountain Road.

Four students and the driver were taken to a hospital by Emergency Medical Service. 

The cash was reported around 3:40 p.m.

In September 2012, 39 David Crockett students were injured — many of them seriously — in a high-speed school bus crash on on Mount Wesley Road, a small county road with hills and curves. Cheyenne Bunton, the most seriously injured student, had a broken neck and was partially scalped.

The driver, Brenda Gray, later was charged with 39 counts of reckless aggravated assault and eventually pleaded guilty in a “best interest” plea to eight counts of aggravated assault by recklessness, one count of felony reckless endangerment and one count of speeding. Gray was awarded judicial diversion.

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