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GSU memorial honors nursing students
Five young women killed in car wreck
Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel, left, and Dean of Students Patrice Jackson are emotional following a memorial service on campus Thursday in Statesboro for five nursing students who died in an accident Wednesday on Interstate 16. - photo by Photo bu Scott Bryant/Statesboro Herald

One of two surviving Georgia Southern University nursing students involved in the fatal crash Wednesday that left five fellow nursing students dead was moved to another hospital Thursday, while the second surviving student is still being treated at a Savannah hospital.
Megan Richards, a junior from Loganville, was in stable condition as of Friday and was moved from Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah to an undisclosed hospital for observation and recuperation, said David Oliver, a friend of the Richards family.
“Megan was released from the Savannah hospital earlier, but she has been admitted to another hospital for ongoing treatment. She is in stable condition and is being monitored for a few days as a precaution,” he said.
Oliver provided the Statesboro Herald a statement from the Richards family: “We appreciate all the prayers, well wishes and support we’ve gotten for Megan and our family. And, Megan and the whole Richards family sends our deepest sympathies and prayers to the families and friends of her classmates and others who were involved in the accident.”
Brittany McDaniel, a junior from Reidsville, remains at Memorial, said her mother, Sherri Anthony.
“She has some injuries but is doing well and is stable,” Anthony said.
Five students were killed in the crash: Emily Clark, of Powder Springs; Morgan Bass, of Leesburg; Abbie Deloach, of Savannah; Catherine McKay Pittman, of Alpharetta; and Caitlyn Baggett, of Millen. All five were juniors at Georgia Southern and were commuting to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah for their last day of clinical training of the school year.
The Richards family is declining interviews, Oliver said.
“They want to focus on getting well,” he said.
A third survivor of Wednesday’s accident, Greg Johnson, 53, of Pembroke, suffered injuries not considered life-threatening and was treated and later released, according to Georgia State Patrol reports.
GSP Sgt. Chris Nease, with the Rincon post that investigated the crash said no charges have been filed in the crash, and “no decision has been made regarding charges.”
The wreck, which involved several vehicles, is being investigated by the GSP’s Specialized Collison Reconstruction Team, and few details can be released about the grisly accident, he said.
“Yesterday was a terrible day,” Nease said Thursday.
Two crashes
GSP Trooper Colin Wheeler, lead investigator on the crash, was working an accident that happened before the fatal crash when the second occurred just a half-mile away, he said.
The initial crash on Interstate 16 near Highway 280 involved a motor home and an 18-wheeler. Both flipped over, but there were no injuries reported, Wheeler said. That accident took place around 2 a.m., but traffic congestion from that crash was still blocking the eastbound lanes of the interstate at 5:45 a.m. when the second crash occurred.
John Wayne Johnson, 55, of Shreveport, Louisiana, the driver of a tractor-trailer, “didn’t react in time” to stop as he approached the halted traffic and struck another 18-wheeler, as well as two other passenger vehicles, Wheeler said.
The impact sent the second big rig crashing into a third 18-wheeler and a third passenger vehicle. The third tractor-trailer then spun and struck a fourth passenger vehicle, he said.
During the crash, one car burst into flames, and witnesses attempted to extinguish the fire, according to reports. Wheeler said the fire was put out by firefighters who responded to the scene.
Wheeler said Thursday that he could not disclose further details about the crash, which is under investigation, but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday that the company that owns the big rig that may have initiated the second crash has been under fire before for safety violations.
“Federal inspectors had flagged Total Transportation of Mississippi as a carrier at risk for a calamity because of its safety record before Wednesday’s crash,” the newspapers’ reports state. “Its driver-safety record was worse than 90 percent of comparable trucking companies, denoted a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation.”
Johnson was not injured, Wheeler said.
According to the AJC report, the “federal report zeroes in on the company’s overall safety record and does not reflect on” Johnson’s personal record.
The trucking company, based in Richland, Mississippi, was involved in 85 crashes with 27 nonfatal injuries over the last 24 months and was cited for 266 unsafe driving violations during a two-year period. The violations included 114 for speeding, with
17 for violations 15 mph or more over the speed limit, according to the report.

Widespread mourning
Gov. Nathan Deal issued a proclamation Thursday ordering all flags at state offices be flown at half-staff Friday. Several local agencies, including law enforcement, also flew flags at half-mast.
Mourning for the students was evident campus-wide at Georgia Southern University. An informal gathering Wednesday afternoon was emotional as the names of the deceased were read. Thursday evening, a candlelight vigil on Sweetheart Circle provided students a forum for sharing memories and expressing grief over the tragic loss.
Social-media sites turned GSU’s colors, as many replaced their profile photos with pictures of a bald eagle, perched on a limb with its head lowered, or the GSU Eagle emblem with a tear falling from its eye.

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