By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Driver, company indicted in crash that killed 5 GSU nursing students
6th student who sustained spinal injuries also named as victim
w Five students
Clockwise, from top left: Morgan Bass, Caitlyn Nicole Baggett, Catherine "McKay" Pittman, Abbie Lorene DeLoach and Emily Elizabeth Clark

A Bryan County grand jury returned indictments Wednesday against truck driver John Wayne Johnson, who was involved in the April 2015 crash on Interstate 16 that killed five Georgia Southern University nursing students, said Tom Durden, district attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit.

Indictments also were returned against Total Transportation of Mississippi LLC, the company that employed Johnson.

On April 22, 2015, Johnson, of Shreveport, Louisiana, was driving a 2012 Peterbilt Model 587 tractor-trailer when it plowed into stalled traffic on Interstate 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.

Killed in the crash were 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. A sixth student listed as a victim in the indictments is Brittany Deshe' McDaniel, whose spine was "rendered useless" in the crash, according to the indictments. Megan Richards of Loganville also was injured in the wreck, according to reports.

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. All were GSU nursing students who were traveling to their last clinical of the year in Savannah when the crash occurred.

Joseph A. Fried of Fried, Rogers, Goldberg LLC of Atlanta, who represents the families of Bass and Pittman, confirmed reports that Johnson had a significant amount of pornography in his truck cab when the crash occurred.

"We are unsure whether he was online at the time (of the collision)," he said. "There was a lot of porn in the truck. We don't think he was actively texting at the time (of the wreck), but he had been earlier."

State vs. Total Transportation

Total Transportation of Mississippi, which employed Johnson, also faces indictments as a company. All felonies, the indictments include one count of criminal responsibility of corporations, five counts of first-degree homicide by vehicle and one count of serious injury by vehicle.

Regarding the charge of criminal responsibility of corporations, the indictment states the company showed "reckless tolerance involving the employment of John Wayne Johnson when the corporation had knowledge (he) was an unsafe truck driver."

Previous suits included allegations that the company knew Johnson had a bad driving record and was physically exhausted after an extended wait before starting the trip to Savannah to deliver paper goods.

The counts of first-degree vehicular homicide lay responsibility on the company for "recklessly tolerating the operation of a motor vehicle by (Johnson) as an agent of Total Transportation of Mississippi, LLC."

The charge of serious injury by motor vehicle stems from McDaniel's injuries.

In a settlement reached in April 2016, 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.



Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter