Three more lawsuits have been filed in connection with last month’s pileup on Interstate 16 in North Bryan that killed five Georgia Southern University nursing students and seriously injured two others.
And a Wednesday news release issued by one law firm filing suit alleges that John Wayne Johnson, 55, of Shreveport, Louisiana — who drove the tractor-trailer said to have started the chain-reaction crash shortly before 6 a.m. April 22 — had been fired from a trucking company in 2011 “for falling asleep at the wheel of a tractor-trailer and having a wreck.”
“Total Transportation of Mississippi knew about this history, but the records we have seen to date reflect no efforts by them or parent company U.S. Xpress to make sure this driver did not have untreated obstructive sleep apnea or some other sleep disorder before allowing him to drive a loaded tractor-trailer,” said Joseph Fried, a partner in the Atlanta firm Fried Rogers Goldberg LLC. “This certainly raises the question about whether the driver fell asleep at the wheel in this case.”
Johnson has not been charged in the crash pending autopsy results from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab, Sgt. Ben Garrett, team leader of the Georgia State Patrol’s Specialized Crash Reconstruction Team, said Wednesday.
Render C. Freeman of Duluth law firm Anderson, Tate & Carr P.C., is co-counsel with Fried representing the family of McKay Pittman of Alpharetta, who was killed in the crash.
“Such a failure is beyond irresponsible conduct for a trucking company,” Freeman said.
Natalie Cole Parker, the director of communications for U.S. Xpress Inc., issued a brief statement last week after other lawsuits were filed.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the Georgia Southern community,” the statement says. “We do not comment on litigation matters.”
Fried and Freeman filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday in Atlanta on behalf of Pittman’s parents. Fried and attorneys from Clark & Smith Law Firm LLC of Macon filed a wrongful-death suit Tuesday in Bryan County Superior Court on behalf of the parents of Morgan Bass of Leesburg, according to the news release.
Fried and his law partner Michael Goldberg filed a personal-injury lawsuit Wednesday morning in Chatham County State Court on behalf of Brittany McDaniel of Reidsville.
“Ironically,” the news release says, “the filing of (McDaniel’s) case was delayed due to another fatal truck crash on I-16.”
That was a chain-reaction wreck Tuesday afternoon on eastbound I-16 near Interstate 95 that resulted in the deaths of five people and tied up traffic on the busy stretch of road for hours. That incident also involved at least two tractor-trailers and several other vehicles, according to news reports.
These latest lawsuits come on top of several others that have been filed since the April 22 crash. The seven students were in two vehicles headed to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah for the last day of their spring-semester clinical rotations.
They were stopped in traffic caused by a wreck that happened around 2 a.m. April 22, when a tractor-trailer and an RV collided on eastbound I-16 near mile marker 143. Johnson’s big rig plowed into the backed-up traffic in Black Creek shortly before 6 a.m. that day, killing the five students and injuring the other two, authorities have said.
Last week, two wrongful-death lawsuits were filed in Bryan County Superior Court on behalf of the families of Caitlyn Baggett, 21, of Millen; and Emily Clark, 21, of Powder Springs. A personal-injury suit also was filed last week on behalf of the other crash survivor, Megan Richards, 20, of Loganville.
Kim DeLoach McQuaig, the mother of 21-year-old Abbie DeLoach of Savannah, filed a wrongful-death suit April 29 in Bryan County State Court.
Paul Floeckher contributed to this report.