Truck Driver and Company Hit With Criminal Charges In Crash That Killed 5 Nursing Studentsby Jana Ritter - Published: 6/17/2016
The truck driver who caused the fatal crash that killed five nursing students in Georgia on April 22, 2015, is now facing a slew of criminal charges for his driving errors and so is the trucking company that gave him the job. On Wednesday, a Bryan County grand jury indicted John Wayne Johnson on five counts of first-degree vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, failure to exercise due care and following too closely. The trucking firm, Total Transportation, was also indicted on multiple charges of homicide by vehicle, along with one count of criminal responsibility of corporations and serious injury by vehicle.
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The crash occurred early in the morning on April 22, 2015 as a group of nursing students drove along I-16 to Savannah for their last day of clinical rotations in their first year of school. A separate traffic accident had occurred up the road and caused traffic to cluster in a stop and go crawl. When Johnson came upon the backed-up traffic, he failed to slow down and slammed into the students’ car at 68 miles per hour. The accident took the young lives of Emily Clark, Morgan Bass, Abbie Deloach, Catherine (McKay) Pittman, and Caitlyn Baggett. Brittney McDaniel and Megan Richards were also injured during the crash. In order for vehicular homicide to be classified as a felony in Georgia, there needs to be an underlying aggravated crime involved and for Johnson, it’s the reckless driving charge. Prosecutors allege that he crashed into the vehicle at the speed of 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 attorney Mark Tate. Tate represented one of the victim’s families in a civil suit with the trucking company that resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement earlier this year. He also said it was clear from the beginning that the 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,” he added.
Under a Georgia law that allows criminal charges to be brought against corporations, Total Transportation is being charged with criminal responsibility of corporations as well as serious injury by vehicle and the five counts of vehicular homicide. "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. An investigation following the crash also found records indicating that the company drivers collectively incurred 266 unsafe driving violations over the last 2 years. The breakdown included 107 speeding violation, 45 violations for not following a traffic control devices, nine violations for driving while using a cellphone and five for following too closely.
Johnson could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted on all charges and the trucking company will have to negotiate with the County District Attorney's Office to determine a heavy fine for its criminal liability.