- Raisa Habersham The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Nearly two years after a truck driver caused a seven-car crash killing five Georgia Southern University nursing students, a jury has awarded a survivor $15 million in a civil suit.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours Friday before deciding on the amount that trucking company Total Transportation of Mississippi and its parent company, U.S. Express, must pay Megan Richards.
“I would pray all the time because I thought I was going to die young,” Richards testified in court.
Richards was released from the hospital the day after the crash, but she was taken to another treatment facility, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
Her friends and fellow nursing students were killed in the crash: Emily Clark, 20, Powder Springs; Morgan Bass, 20, Leesburg; Abbie Deloach, 21, Savannah; Catherine “McKay” Pittman, 21, Alpharetta; and Caitlyn Baggett, 21, Millen.
In April 2015, Louisiana truck driver John Wayne Johnson was driving 70 mph and failed to press his breaks causing him to slam into several cars. The women were on their way to their last day of clinical rotations at a Savannah hospital.
Lawyers for the victim’s families filed a lawsuit weeks later alleging Johnson for inexplicable reasons “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.”
Johnson pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree vehicular homicide and additional charges last July. He was sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years on probation as part of a plea deal.
Last April, The trucking company settled lawsuits with the families of those who died and another survivor, Brittney McDaniel.
In court Friday, Johnson apologized to Richards and her family for the crash that killed her friends and fellow nursing students. Richards’ lawyer Bob Cheeley had initially wanted “no less than” $25 million, but the trucking company’s attorney David Dial argued for a “fair amount.”
“We said we would pay her medical expenses,” Dial said. “We don’t dispute it. We owe her that.”
Richards testified throughout the trail that she still suffers from a traumatic brain injury, Channel 2 reported.
“Not every day is the worst day of my life, but a lot of days are bad,” she said in court, “ but it's the good days that make it worth it.”
Perhaps the worst thing for Richards is knowing that she’s one of the lucky ones.
“I stay hopeful. I'm a Christian and I believe that maybe I did live for a reason and he'll help me and I'll make a big difference as a nurse,” she said, “but sometimes I can't help but think about how it's changed me and how hard it will be.”
Roommate Caroline Coon testified that Richards, now a pediatric nurse at a Savannah hospital, still deals with anxiety and has nightmares about the crash.
“She is scared to sleep along because her dreams are so scary and she wakes up in a puddle of sweat and she’s dreaming about the girls in the car with her,” Coon said. “She has this fear of dying and she doesn’t like to be alone when she sleeps.”
Channel 2 Action News contributed to this report.