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DA drops indictments against trucking company
Scholarship founded for nursing students killed in crash
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Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden will not prosecute a transportation company indicted earlier this year in the deaths of five Georgia Southern University students, in light of the company’s establishment of a memorial scholarship for students enrolling in nursing programs in Georgia universities and colleges.

Total Transportation of Mississippi LLC, along with truck driver John Wayne Johnson of Shreveport, Louisiana, were indicted in June regarding the April 22, 2015, deaths of Caitlyn Nicole Baggett of Millen, Emily Elizabeth Clark of Powder Springs, Abbie Lorene DeLoach of Savannah, Morgan Bass of Leesburg and Catherine "McKay" Pittman of Alpharetta.

On that day, Johnson was driving a 2012 Peterbilt Model 587 tractor-trailer when it plowed into stalled traffic on I-16 in Bryan County, where cars were at a standstill due to a previous wreck. The early morning collision involved seven vehicles and killed five, injuring others.

Durden announced Wednesday he “has moved the court to ‘nolle prosequi’ (not prosecute) the indictment" against Total Transportation, but the indictment against Johnson remains pending and the case is scheduled to be in court July 14.

“Total Transportation has agreed to establish BrightStar Educational Foundation, Inc., a Georgia Nonprofit Corporation, to honor the memory of five nursing students who died and two nursing students who were injured in the crash,” he said.

The two students injured, but surviving the horrendous crash, are Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville and Megan Rebecca Richards of Loganville

The BrightStar Educational Foundation, Inc., “was established and registered with the Secretary of State of Georgia on June 28, 2016, and provides an initial capitalization in the amount of $200,000,” Durden said in a statement released Wednesday. “The stated and actual purposes of BrightStar Educational Foundation, Inc., will be to provide financial assistance to students applying for enrollment in the field of nursing at Georgia institutions of higher education and to provide educational programs and content to Georgia schools and to the general public pertaining to driver education and safety.”

 

Johnson’s case pending

In State of Georgia vs. John Wayne Johnson, indictments include five counts of first-degree homicide by vehicle (felonies), one count of serious injury by vehicle (felony), one count of reckless driving (misdemeanor), one count of failure to exercise due care (misdemeanor) and one count of following too closely (misdemeanor).

The charges of reckless driving and failure to exercise due care stem from the state's allegations that Johnson was "in reckless disregard of the safety of persons and property ... by failing to observe the roadway in front of him."

According to lawsuits brought by the victims' families, most of which have been settled, Johnson's truck was traveling about 70 mph and did not slow when it crashed into the Toyota Corolla occupied by Clark, Pittman and Baggett. A Ford Escape in front of the Corolla held DeLoach, Bass, Richards and McDaniel. The GSU nursing students were traveling to their last clinical of the year in Savannah when the crash occurred.

Total Transportation of Mississippi, which employed Johnson, was facing several indictments before Durden moved to not prosecute the case. Those now-dismissed indictments included one count of criminal responsibility of corporations, five counts of first-degree homicide by vehicle and one count of serious injury by vehicle.

The previous indictments alleged the company showed "reckless tolerance involving the employment of John Wayne Johnson when the corporation had knowledge (he) was an unsafe truck driver" and that the company knew Johnson had a bad driving record and he was physically exhausted after an extended wait before starting the trip to Savannah to deliver paper goods.

In a settlement reached three months ago, days before a civil trial was set to begin, more than $84 million was awarded to the families of four of the five killed in the accident. A fifth case has not yet reached a settlement, according to reports.

 

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

 

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