UPDATE: Judge delays civil lawsuits against Woodmore bus driver
Lawyers for a man accused of causing a Chattanooga bus crash that killed six Woodmore students say they want civil litigation against their client put on hold to protect his constitutional rights during his criminal case.
UPDATE: The civil lawsuits filed against Durham School Services and school bus driver Johnthony Walker will be put on hold for now leaving a dozen families up in the air.
Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge J.B. Bennett made the ruling on Monday and it'll last for 3 months.
The attorneys representing the families who lost a child or had a child injured in the crash fear this could keep them tied in the court system for years.
The other side representing Durham and the bus driver said a delay is the only way Johnthony Walker can have a fair trial.
"Today it's time to pay the price for wrecking that bus," Attorney Bo Hixson said.
One by one attorneys like Bo Hixson made their case for why a circuit court judge should not press pause on the 12 civil lawsuits.
Those representing Durham School Services and bus driver Johnthony Walker argued for a delay until after Walker's criminal case is decided. They're afraid his right to a fair trial would be in jeopardy if the civil case is heard first.
"As unpopular as this statement may be, Mr. Walker's constitutional rights are of paramount importance," Amanda Dunn, Walker's criminal attorney said.
The judge chose to put a hold on civil proceedings, but only for 3 months, which will allow a grand jury to hear the criminal case.
Attorneys for the victims will be allowed to move forward with gathering items for their case like Walker's personnel file, his driving history, and bus maintenance records.
"There's a wealth of information out there that would impact all of these cases, but we haven't seen any of it yet. Now we'll finally get an opportunity to see some of it," Hixson said.
Walker's attorney believes the ruling will give Walker a fair shot if his case goes to trial.
"For some individuals, there's been a rush to judgment. Certainly some of the plaintiffs' attorneys in the cases made statements in their briefs to the effect that we all know Mr. Walker is guilty, but the truth of the matter is he is innocent until proven guilty," Dunn said.
Attorneys in the civil case will head back to court in June.
By that point, they expect a grand jury to hear the criminal case against Johnthony Walker and decide whether or not to indict him.
Stick with Channel 3 for the latest updates on this developing story.
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Police have said Johnthony Walker was speeding in November while driving 37 elementary students home when the bus left a curvy road, hit a utility pole, overturned and hit a tree. He was charged with vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving in the Chattanooga crash.
Attorneys representing families who have filed lawsuits against Walker and his employer, Durham School Services, over the crash are opposed to putting the civil claims on hold.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/2lYjMOI) reports Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge J.B. Bennett will hear arguments Monday on the request.
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