Savannah > Truck Company involved in GSU Wreck had Safety Issues

| April 25, 2015

Bryan County Wreck

SAVANNAH — Five Georgia Southern Nursing students died tragically as a result of a fiery crash on Interstate 16 Wednesday morning.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that one of the trucks involved in the accident had a spotty safety record.

A federal report came to light Thursday that said inspections found that the trucking had a poor safety record.  When the report was filed on Thursday, no charges had been filed against the truck driver, John Wayne Johnson, 55 of Shreveport, LA, believed to have initiated the crash.

Federal inspectors had flagged Total Transportation of Richland, Mississippi as a carrier at risk for a calamity because of its safety record before one of its drivers initiated this accident.  Investigators believe the tractor-trailer driven by Johnson plowed into a small Ford Escape SUV, then rolled over the small passenger car, a Toyota Corolla,  that burst into flames carrying the students. The truck came to a halt after slamming into the back of a tanker.

According to WSB, the company’s driver safety record was worse than 90 percent of comparable trucking companies, denoted a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“It has been cited with one or more serious violations within the past 12 months during an investigation,” the report said. “Therefore, this carrier may be prioritized for an intervention action and roadside inspection.”

The trucking company was also involved in 85 crashes with 27 injuries although none fatal — at least until Wednesday — over the last 24 months, according to the report from WSB.  The company, which has 938 drivers for its 740 vehicles, was involved 266 unsafe driving violations over the two-year period, the report said. The violations included 114 for speeding, including 17 for violations 15 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. It ranked in the middle regarding maintenance violations, with about 50 percent of the trucking companies inspected in better shape. There were 576 violations found in 1,003 inspection, including 127 out of service violations.

It is important to note from the report that it references the company’s overall safety record, not that of Johnson.

The WSB report states that a preliminary background check turned up references to a 2009 speeding ticket for a “John Wayne Johnson” in Fort Laurderdale, which also cited him for failure to carry a traction device, and a ticket in 2000 for an unspecified offense in San Bernardino, CA.  It was not immediately known whether was the person named in the offenses was the same as the one involved in Wednesday’s massive crash.

A witness who tried to put out the fire told WSB that the driver involved in the wreck said: “He wish he died too.”

The students killed were Emily Clark, 20, of Powder Springs, Catherine “McKay” Pittman, 21, of Alpharetta, Caitlyn N. Baggett, 21, of Millen, Abbie L. Deloach, 21, of Savannah, and Morgan J. Bass, 20, of Leesburg.  All five were juniors on their way to a Savannah hospital for their final rotation of clinicals traveling from Statesboro when the accident occured.

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