BRYAN CO., GA (WTOC) –
A Bryan County grand jury has indicted John Wayne Johnson and Total Transportation in the deadly I-16 crash that killed five Georgia Southern nursing students and injured two others.
The crash happened early in the morning on April 22, 2015, as the students drove to Savannah for their last day of clinical rotations in their first year of nursing school.
The victims were Emily Clark, of Powder Springs, GA, Morgan Bass, of Leesburg, GA, Abbie Deloach, of Savannah, GA, Catherine (McKay) Pittman, of Alpharetta, GA, and Caitlyn Baggett, of Millen, GA. All were juniors in the program.
Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville, GA, and Megan Richards of Loganville, GA, were also injured during the crash.
Johnson has been charged with five counts of first-degree vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, failure to exercise due care and following too closely.
Wednesday, WTOC spoke with an attorney who represented one of the victim’s families.
Attorney Mark Tate helped win a multi-million dollar settlement from the trucking company earlier this year, but he told WTOC it was clear from the beginning that this case would not end in civil court.
“When you have this dramatically large loss of life, simply civil liability or misdemeanor liability in the criminal justice system is not sufficient to drive the message home what kind of hell you really did bring down on these families,” said Tate.
Per Wednesday’s grand jury indictment, truck driver John Wayne Johnson now faces nine charges – including five counts of vehicular homicide – in the deaths of those five Georgia Southern nursing students last April.
In Georgia, in order for vehicular homicide to be classified in the first degree –that is, as a felony – there needs to be an underlying aggravated crime involved. In this case, it’s the reckless driving Johnson is charged with for crashing into the girls’ car at 68 miles per hour without ever slowing down.
“He didn’t even hear the crash, when other witnesses described the crash as being worse than Afghanistan explosions that they had survived,” said Tate.
Wednesday, that Bryan County grand jury also separately indicted the trucking company that hired Johnson.
Total Transportation is charged with criminal responsibility of corporations as well as serious injury by vehicle and the five counts of vehicular homicide.
Tate told WTOC it was clear from the beginning that the company would ultimately face criminal charges because of their negligence.
“This trucking company knew that the driver, John Wayne Johnson, had been terminated from his prior employment because he fell asleep and totaled and crashed a truck,” said Tate.
The trucking company will have to pay a heavy fine to get out of its criminal liability. The amount will depend on negotiations between their lawyers and the Bryan County District Attorney’s Office.
As for Johnson, he could face upwards of 25 years in prison, depending on how much of his time is probated.