A Georgia state trooper works the scene of a deadly crash in which five people died and three others were injured early Wednesday in Ellabelle, Ga., west of Savannah. The Georgia State Patrol said seven total vehicles, including two tractor trailers, were involved in the early morning collision on Interstate 16 about 20 miles west of Savannah. (AP Photo/Russ Bynum)

2 from metro Atlanta among 5 Georgia Southern students killed in wreck

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They were five college students with big dreams. The young women wanted to be nurses, and they were getting real-life experience at a Savannah hospital, about an hour away from Georgia Southern University.

While most of their classmates were still sleeping early Wednesday, the group was already on the road, heading for their final clinical of the school year at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital. But the drive down I-16 would be their last. Five nursing students, all juniors, were killed early Wednesday in a seven-vehicle crash about 20 miles from Savannah.

“The loss of any student, especially in a tragic way, is particularly painful,” University President Brooks Keel said in a message on the Georgia Southern website. “Losing five students is almost incomprehensible.”

Of the five killed, two were from metro Atlanta, according to investigators. Two other students, including one from Loganville, were injured in the chain-reaction crash, which happened around 5:45 a.m., according to the Georgia State Patrol.

Two tractor-trailers and five passenger vehicles were involved in the wreck in Bryan County. The Georgia Southern students were traveling in a Toyota Corolla and a Ford Escape, and four of them died at the scene. Three others in the Escape were taken to Memorial Medical Center, where the fifth student died, according to police.

Investigators believe one tractor-trailer plowed into an SUV, then rolled over a small passenger car that burst into flames. The truck came to a halt after slamming into the back of a tanker.

Emily Clark, 20, of Powder Springs, Morgan Bass, 20, of Leesburg, Abbie Deloach, 21, of Savannah, Catherine “McKay” Pittman, 21, of Alpharetta, and Caitlyn Baggett, 21, of Millen, all died. Megan Richards of Loganville and Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville were both injured, but the extent of their injuries was not known late Wednesday.

The students’ names were released after their families were notified of the tragic news, the university said. News of the deaths spread quickly through the campus community and beyond.

The staff at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah also struggled with the deaths of the students, who had already proved their dedication to the profession, Sherry Danello, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at the hospital, said in a statement.

“This was a great group that had some wonderful experiences on the unit,” Danello said. “You could tell that they really loved what they did. They didn’t just go through the task, they really connected to the patients.”

Clark graduated in 2012 from Harrison High School, where she was a cheerleader and known for her kindness, former classmates said.

In addition to her nursing studies, Pittman, a Milton High School graduate, was the Georgia Southern chapter president of Alpha Delta Chi, a Christian sorority.

“Today Heaven gained an angel,” the sorority posted on its Facebook page.

Richards, injured in the crash, was also a member of a sorority.

University flags will be flown at half-staff on Thursday to honor the students. The campus is also invited to a memorial Thursday at 7 p.m. put together by student leaders.

—AJC staff writers Tyler Estep, David Markiewicz, Christian Boone and Mike Morris contributed to this article.

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