John Wayne Johnson sits at a courtroom table before pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree vehicular homicide and other charges in Pembroke, Ga. on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Johnson was driving a tractor-trailer that slammed into stalled traffic on Interstate 16 west of Savannah on April 22, 2015. The collision killed five nursing students from Georgia Southern University. (AP Photo/Russ Bynum)
Photo: Russ Bynum
Photo: Russ Bynum

Truck driver to serve 5 years for crash that killed nursing students

The Louisiana truck driver who caused an I-16 crash that killed five Georgia Southern University nursing students will spend five years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday.

John Wayne Johnson, 56, pleaded guilty to nine counts — including five counts of first-degree vehicular homicide — and was sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years on probation as part of a plea deal.

Johnson previously admitted in a deposition to using his cellphone to text and exchange sexually provocative messages with a woman prior to the crash. But he denied he was using his phone at the time of the early morning crash on April 22, 2015.

Earlier that morning, seven young women left Statesboro and were headed to Savannah for their final clinical of the school year when the deadly pileup occurred.

Five students died in the crash: Emily Elizabeth Clark, 20, of Powder Springs; Morgan Jane Bass, 20, of Leesburg; Abbie Lorene Deloach, 21, of Savannah; Catherine “McKay” Pittman, 21, of Alpharetta; and Caitlyn Nichole Baggett, 21, of Millen.

Two others were seriously injured, but survived: Megan Richards of Loganville and Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville.

Thursday morning, Johnson told the judge he was cruising at 70 mph the morning of the crash, with traffic passing him, when he noticed tail lights ahead of him stopping.

Bryan County Superior Court Judge Robert Russell asked Johnson why he didn’t stop.

“Sir, that’s something I’ve been wrestling with since that morning,” Johnson replied.

Judge: “You can’t explain it?”

Johnson: “No, sir.”

In June, a Grand Jury indicted both Johnson and his employer, Total Transportation of Mississippi, on multiple charges.

District Attorney Tom Durden recently agreed to drop his case against the company in exchange for Total Transportation spending an additional $200,000 to establish an education fund for student nurses.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more on truck driver’s sentence at myajc.com.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Related Stories