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More lawsuits filed in fatal crash
Parents of three GSU nursing students claim wrongful death
Deadly Crash- Georgia Ledb
A Georgia state trooper works the scene of a deadly crash in which five people died and three others were injured on April 22 in Ellabelle, west of Savannah. The families of three of the students killed have filed lawsuits against the trucking company and associated businesses. - photo by Associated Press

Parents of three of five Georgia Southern University nursing students killed in a fatal seven-vehicle pileup in April filed wrongful death suits Tuesday in Bryan County superior and state courts. One of two surviving students also filed suit, according to attorneys representing all four families.

In a statement released Wednesday, attorneys with Butler Wooten & Cheeley & Peak LLP of Atlanta, as well as Jones Osteen & Jones of Hinesville, said the parents of Caitlyn Baggett of Millen, Emily Clark of Powder Springs and Abbie DeLoach of Savannah, all filed wrongful death suits against U.S. Xpress Entities, the parent company of Total Transportation of Mississippi and its subsidiaries, as well as Graywolf Logistics Inc. out of Pooler.

The mother of another student killed in the crash April 22 on Interstate 16 in Bryan County filed suit previously. The Statesboro Herald has not yet received information regarding any possible legal action by the family of a fifth student killed in the wreck, McKay Pittman of Alpharetta.

The suits also name truck drivers John Wayne Johnson of Shreveport, LA, and Robert Tayloe of Dublin. Johnson was driving the semi owned by Total Transportation that slammed into a line of halted traffic awaiting cleanup of a previous wreck.  Tayloe was a driver charged in the previous wreck.

Further, the lawsuit states that Johnson’s truck was equipped with a collision avoidance system that is supposed to give audible and visible warnings of objects in the truck’s path.

No one was injured in the first wreck, which occurred when Tayloe’s semi rammed the rear end of a motor home, causing both vehicles to flip and roll.

A few hours later, Johnson’s tractor trailer rig slammed into a car stopped in a line of traffic that was halted due to the first accident, causing a chain reaction involving seven vehicles, according to reports.

The lawsuit stated Johnson’s truck was traveling at about 70 miles per hour and did not slow when it crashed into a Toyota Corolla occupied by Clark, Pittman and Baggett. A Ford Escape in front of the Corolla held DeLoach; Morgan Bass of Leesburg and survivors Megan Richards of Loganville and Brittany McDaniel of Reidsville

All were GSU nursing students traveling to their last clinical of the year in Savannah when the crash occurred. Richards and McDaniel survived.

Richard L. and Linda K. Baggett, parents of Caitlynn Baggett William Craig and Kathy Marie Clark, parents of Emily Clark and James M. DeLoach and Kim DeLoach McQuaig, parents of Abbie DeLoach, all filed wrongful death suits this month.


Horrific crash

The lawsuits all cite the same details describing the wreck and its consequences.  The lawsuits allege Johnson’s semi came “barreling down I-16 behind (the halted line of traffic) at full speed…without braking or maneuvering … and plowed straight into the rear of and then over the Toyota Corolla at highway speed, obliterating the Toyota and setting it ablaze.”

Johnson’s semi then hit and overturned the Ford Escape, knocking it off the roadway and causing the seven vehicle pileup also involving a second semi, causing all vehicles to “plow into each other.”

McDaniel and Bass were ejected, according to attorney Robert D. Cheeley.

Richards and McDaniel were severely injured and “watched their friends suffer and die,” the suits read.

Cheeley said the survivors witnessed the “explosion of the fuel tank (that) engulfed the Toyota.”

“We intend to thoroughly investigate the hiring practices of Total Transportation and its parent company, US Xpress to understand why defendant Johnson did not see the long line of traffic with brake lights shining in the darkness just before 6 a.m.,” Cheeley said. “We intend to get to the bottom of why this happened.”


Chain reaction

The lawsuits also list Tayloe as a defendant, claiming the accident involving his semi and an RV was caused by his “following too closely” when he hit the RV’s rear end and both vehicles rolled. The wreckage from that accident caused a traffic backup contributing to the fatal crash a few hours later, the lawsuits allege.

There was no bad weather, and conditions were clear, with nothing to obstruct Johnson’s view of the halted traffic, according to the suits.

“Because he was drowsy or some other inexplicable reason, Johnson did not slow or stop…. never applied brakes, never made any maneuver to try to avoid a collision, before slamming into the rear of the Toyota at high speed. The tractor trailer actually went up and over the Toyota, slicing the roof off and setting it ablaze …” trapping the occupants, according to the lawsuits.

The lawsuits for Baggett, Clark and Deloach are seeking compensation for “pre-impact and post-impact shock, fright, and terror” before death; medical, burial, funeral, EMS expenses; attorney’s fees and litigation expenses as well as punitive damages.

The Statesboro Herald has received no information on possible plans for any lawsuit regarding McDaniel’s involvement in the crash, but Richards’ attorneys seek compensation for her suffering.

“Megan Richards and Britney McDaniel were severely injured … but miraculously survived and witnessed the horrific conditions and deaths of their friends,” Richards’ lawsuit reads.

The lawsuits did not cite specific amounts sought.

“This is every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Brandon Peak, also representing the plaintiffs in these cases. “These young women were on their way to their final clinical rotations at a Savannah hospital and they never had a chance with an out of control 18- wheeler barreling down on them from behind.”


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