The tractor-trailer driver who police said initiated a fatal wreck when he slammed into two stopped vehicles killing five nursing students and injuring two others did not apply the truck’s brakes or maneuver to avoid a collision, a lawsuit filed Wednesday says.
The fiery crash was inexplicable and indefensible, according to the wrongful death suit and the lawyers who filed it on behalf of the parents of three of the students who died in the April 22 wreck on I-16 in Bryan County, and one of the two survivors.
The tractor-trailer driver and another truck driver, who the suit says was involved in another crash on the same road earlier that morning that left the line of stalled cars on the highway, were sued along with their trucking companies and insurers in Bryan County Superior Court and State Court.
The parents of Georgia Southern University students Caitlyn Baggett, 21, of Millen, Emily Clark, 21, of Powder Springs, and Abbie DeLoach, 21, of Savannah, sued, along with survivor Megan Richards, 20, of Loganville, attorneys announced.
Morgan Bass, 20, of Leesburg, and Catherine “McKay” Pittman, 21, of Alpharetta, also perished in the incident.
“Never have I seen such indefensible conduct by someone operating a motor vehicle,” attorney Bill Jones said.
Bob Cheeley, the lead attorney in the four cases, said, “We intend to get to the bottom of why this happened.”
The suit alleges that the tractor-trailer driver, John Wayne Johnson, 55, of Shreveport, La., rear-ended the Toyota Corolla carrying Clark, Pittman and Baggett. It then hit the Ford Escape carrying DeLoach, Bass and Richards, the suit said, as well as Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville, who also survived.
A phone call to the company that the suit says Johnson drove for, Total Transportation of Mississippi, was not immediately returned.
In addition, the families are suing the truck driver who the suit says was involved in the earlier crash on I-16, and his employer. That wreck snarled traffic and led to a long backup, the suit says. The two vehicles carrying the nursing students were stopped at the end of the traffic jam when Johnson ran into them, according to the suit.
The suit says that in the early morning of April 22, a tractor-trailer driven by Robert Gordon Tayloe of Laurens County for Greywolf Logistics of Pooler, followed a Winnebago motor home too closely and hit the back of it.
A representative for Greywolf Logistics could not be reached for a response Wednesday.
The collision between the truck and the motor home caused both vehicles to roll over and slide along the roadway, blocking I-16 eastbound, the suit says. Traffic backed up, and at about 5:50 a.m., the Ford Escape driven by DeLoach stopped in the right lane. The Corolla, driven by Clark, stopped right behind it.
All seven nursing students in the two vehicles were on their way to their last day of clinical rotations at a hospital in Savannah.
According to the suit, as the students waited out the traffic jam in their vehicles, Johnson came up behind them in an 18-wheeler at highway speed, which attorneys said was close to 70 miles per hour.
“Because he was drowsy or some other inexplicable reason,” the suit says, “Johnson did not slow or stop his large tractor-trailer in response to the long line of traffic in front of him that had been at a complete stop for several seconds as had every other vehicle and tractor-trailer that was stopped in traffic.”
The weather that morning was clear and the road dry, the suit states.
Johnson did not apply the truck’s brakes, the suit said, “and never made any maneuver to try to avoid a collision, before slamming into the rear of the Toyota at highway speed. The tractor-trailer actually went up and over the Toyota, slicing the roof off and setting it ablaze with three young women inside burning.”
The truck continued forward, the suit says, causing a seven-vehicle pileup and hitting the Escape which was hurled off the roadway and overturned.
The suit says the tractor-trailer had a collision avoidance system but that it is not known if it was operation.
The families are seeking punitive damages.