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Abbie DeLoach Foundation awards scholarships
Deloach Foundation scholarships
From left, Anna DeLoach Delany, Georgia Southern nursing students Deja Gillens and Maddie Black, with Jimmy DeLoach. (JEFF WHITTEN/Bryan County News)

Maddie Black was in seventh grade on April 22, 2015, when five Georgia Southern nursing students on their way to Savannah for classes were killed in a crash on I-16 at the Highway 280 interchange in Bryan County. 

Friday, the Georgia Southern nursing student was one of 17 recipients of an Abbie DeLoach Foundation scholarship presented during a banquet at the Savannah Golf Club. 

Black, who wants to be CRNA, said she’s grateful. 

“It’s really going to help me further my education; it means next year I’ll be able to go to grad school,” said the junior from Dallas, Ga., who was too young to remember the crash that took the lives of DeLoach, Emily Clarke, Catherine Pittman, Caitlyn Baggett and Morgan Bass. “I’m honored to represent Abbie and the Foundation and what it stands for.” 

Like each of the other 16 recipients in the 2023 class of winners, Black received the award from DeLoach’s sister, Anna DeLoach DeLany, now a physician’s assistant in Atlanta, and DeLoach’s father, Jimmy DeLoach Jr., a former assistant coach at Georgia Southern under Erk Russell. 

He told the 2023 winners to stand for 10 minutes while he spoke at the end of the ceremony, warning them that expectations are now higher for them. 

“I’ve lost a child,” DeLoach said. “But I’ve gained 17 more children. You have now come into my circle, by what you exemplify, what Abbie exemplified, and what it stands for, and what my daughter stood for. Each of you represent what my child represented, and also my Annie. 

“Everything you do from this point on, you will be talked about, because you’re the one setting the pace. You’re the ones whose footprint everyone is going to follow.” 

His daughter, along with four other students, was killed while heading to Savannah for clinical trials when the vehicles the women were in were part of a chain-reaction crash on I-16 near the interchange. Two students survived. 

Founded in 2016, the ADF has given out $1.25 million in scholarships, and those in attendance at Friday’s event included Savannah Mayor Van Johnson; Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher; former Savannah mayor Eddie DeLoach, Abbie’s uncle; Savannah-Chatham County School Board President Roger Moss; and Dr. Ann Levett, superintendent of the public school system in Chatham County. 

In addition to Black, the 2023 class of winners includes nursing students Madilyn Moye, Alexis Reed and Deja Gillans; Georgia Southern baseball player Jarrett Brown; Georgia Southern soccer player Ansleigh Crenshaw; Savannah Christian student-athletes Jadyn Singleton and Blake Hall; Savannah State student-athletes Jaeda Austin, volleyball, and golfer Jaden Saunders; former Savannah High basketball coach Tim Jordan; Tracy Richardson, an FCCLA teacher at Johnson High; Groves High Beta Club members Chiquita Polite and Robin Holmes; University of Georgia students Mackenzie Harden and Libby Upton;  Benedictine student-athlete James Moore; and Proem Ministries.

Also speaking at the event was Dr. Sherry Danello, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer for the St. Joseph's/Candler Health System. 

Black, who through her sorority Kappa Delta has helped support ADF initiatives, said she has wanted to be a nurse since fifth grade, when a nurse at a career day allowed her to listen to her heart through a stethoscope. 

"It thrilled me," she said.

After they crossed the stage, DeLoach handed each of the winners a keychain with a small Rubik’s cube attached. 

“That Rubik’s cube is life,” he said. “Right now, the sides are all the same color, but the more decisions you make, the more that thing is going to get squirrely. 

“You’ll spend the rest of your life trying to get the colors back the same. Some days will be better than others; some days are not so good.” 

The truck driver responsible for the crash, John Wayne Johnson of Louisiana, was sentenced to five years in prison, and millions of dollars in damage were awarded to the families. Officials said he was distracted by looking at pornography when he ran into the vehicles carrying the nursing students. 

Part of the ADF’s mission is to help battle distracted driving, and April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Jeff Whitten is editor of the Bryan County News, which, like the Statesboro Herald, is owned by Savannah-based Morris Multimedia.

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