Families to get millions for deaths of nursing students

The families of four of the five Georgia Southern University nursing students killed last year in a fiery wreck on I-16 have been awarded millions to settle wrongful death lawsuits, attorneys said Wednesday.

A settlement also was reached with the family of one of the two nursing students who survived the tragedy.

But the money does nothing to explain why the tractor-trailer driver blamed in the wreck failed to stop.

“The settlement amounts are large, and they should be,” attorney Joe Fried told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The deaths were senseless, and nobody gets to know the real answer at the end of the day for what happened.”

Fried, who represented three of the families, declined to release the settlement amount, but his partner told The Associated Press that one family would receive $14 million.

On April 22, 2015, seven young women were traveling in two cars to Savannah for their final clinical of the school year when the deadly pileup occurred.

Five students perished: 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.

Two were injured and lived: Megan Richards of Loganville and Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville.

Investigators believe a tractor-trailer driver, John Wayne Johnson, 56, of Shreveport, La., rear-ended the Toyota Corolla carrying Clark, Pittman and Baggett. It then hit the Ford Escape carrying Deloach, Bass, Richards and McDaniel.

Prior to the wreck, Johnson has been texting on his cellphone, and he was at the end of his shift.

“What we know is that the truck was going 68 mph and there was a long straightaway, perfect visibility, and up ahead is a line of red, bright, brake lights,” Fried said. “There’s no reason in the world if he’s paying any attention at all, he doesn’t see and avoid this wreck. It’s just totally senseless.”

The settlements mean that the Pittman, Clark, Deloach, Baggett and McDaniel families will not pursue trials. Cases are still pending for the Bass and Richards families.

The lawsuits were filed against Johnson and Total Transportation of Mississippi and its parent company, U.S. Xpress of Chattanooga.

The settlements were announced two days before the one-year anniversary of the crash. The money, attorney Bob Cheeley said, does nothing to ease the families’ pain.

“The families would gladly give these tens of millions of dollars back if they could have their children back,” Cheeley said. “There’s always going to be an empty chair at the dining room table, and these families will grieve every time they see it.”

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