I-TEAM: What we’ve learned about truck driver in deadly crash

Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 6:39 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - An all-new I-TEAM investigation shows the truck driver at fault in a deadly accident should not have been behind the wheel in the first place.

Shirley Morris died in a crash on Appling-Harlem Road back in July, but we have uncovered new information that shows, months later, the accident has claimed a second life.

The I-TEAM has also confirmed the driver is still driving trucks.

You never know when the last Christmas spent with your loved ones will be your loved ones’ very last Christmas. The Morris family certainly never expected they would be celebrating this year without two very important family members.

Daryl Morris remembers that fateful day they were driving to Thomson.

“They was gonna put flowers on my brother’s grave – on my brother’s graveside,” he said.

They never made it. Shirley never really woke up after the crash on June 21, 2022, but her family never left her side in the hospital. Her husband, who was also hurt in the crash, visited when he could.

“When he started talking to her, tears started welling up in her eyes,” recalled Jana Morris, Shirley’s daughter-in-law. “So, we knew, she knew he was there.”

When the end was near, she came home on hospice, so she could go home in peace.

On the day of the accident, she was heading to the cemetery where her son is buried. Derrick died at just four years old in 1975 of leukemia.

“When she died, I told her…I said, ‘Go. He’s waiting…’ “shared Cathy Morris Thurmond. “We’re together. We’ll be fine. We’ll take care of daddy. Which we tried to.”

Ten days after Shirley’s death, Harlem police made an arrest.

Christina Richardson was charged with homicide by vehicle, following too closely, driving with an expired license, driving without a license, and operating an unregistered vehicle.

The I-TEAM found that the vehicle belongs to J.S. Rowe. We also found it’s not Richardson’s first time getting arrested for driving an unregistered vehicle or expired tag. She also got a ticket for it last December in a Kenworth T880. That kind of truck requires a CDL or commercial driver’s license.

The ticket doesn’t name a company, but the I-TEAM uncovered it days later, Richardson posted to TikTok. The caption posted with the clip reads: “When DOT says I can’t run my new truck wid out DOT #”s & Company name.”

She shares photos of law enforcement pulling her over in her truck. Another photo shows the words “J. S. Rowe” written on the side of the truck in what appears to be a marker.

That’s not all.

We found another ticket from that very same stop for “Unlawful Use Of Wireless Device in CMV (commercial vehicle). We’re not sure what Richardson was doing with her phone to earn this ticket, but the I-TEAM found plenty of examples where it appears she uses her phone to take videos of other trucks while driving on her TikTok page.

We also found videos she posted of bad weather that appear to be recorded as she was driving. There are also videos posted of her driving that appear to be recorded by...her.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect on July 1, 2018. It reads in part “a driver cannot have their cell phone in their hands or on any part of their body” while driving.

In another clip Richardson posted, we found she ducks down in her seat while the truck’s still moving. In yet another one posted the same day, it looks like she keeps her eyes on her phone, not the road.

Both clips are dated August 24, 2022. That’s after she was arrested for causing Shirley’s death.

We even found back in 2020, it appeared Richardson named her truck “The Neckbreaker.” The I-TEAM didn’t just check social media to see if Richardson was still driving after her arrest; we also checked the roads.

On August 2, 2022, it didn’t take long to find her behind the wheel. The most important check, however, came when we started investigating Richardson’s driving record.

Not even counting the charges connected to her latest arrest, the I-TEAM obtained copies of 12 tickets and one warning. We checked, and she racked up fines for these tickets. Court documents and receipts show the hundreds she had to pay in fines.

We found she was cited in 2020 for running a stop sign in her truck. She was ticketed in 2017 for not keeping her truck in the two right lanes. Her warning is for not properly securing the load on her truck and for speeding. In total, we counted seven tickets for speeding.

According to the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS), her commercial license is now current. Since she was charged with having an expired license in July, it appears it was renewed after the deadly accident. The I-Team wanted to know, how is Richardson still driving a commercial truck?

According to Georgia law, a driver can lose his or her CDL either temporarily or for life if convicted of a major traffic violation including homicide by vehicle, if it’s a felony charge. Right now, Richardson is facing one misdemeanor charge. According to Clayton Morris’ death certificate, a second vehicular homicide charge could be on the way.

Shirley’s husband Clayton died on October 1, 2022. That’s 78 days after his wife. His death certificate lists a traumatic brain injury from an accident on Appling-Harlem Road on June 21st as the cause.

He was 87 years young, just like his wife. “87 going on 16,” Jana laughed. “Always on the road. Always going somewhere.”

She said both Shirley and Clayton had a lot of life left to live.

Daryl Morris also remembered fondly, “Every Saturday night, they’d go to an auction somewhere.” Clayton played the banjo his whole life, and he even had his own band named “CD Morris and the Southern Bluegrass Boys.”

He served on the Harlem City Council for 26 years and was one of the founding fathers of the Oliver Hardy Festival. He also served as a father figure to countless kids on his Little League Teams.

Shirley was a teacher for decades, so she helped raise countless kids in Harlem over the years, but her favorite time of year was when she could shower her family with gifts at Christmas.

“Her list would start the day after Christmas all over again,” laughed Daryl. That list grew every year. It now includes eight grandkids and six great-grands. This year, the gifts on those lists might mean more than they ever have before.

“When we were going through her room back there, even in July,” Jana said, “there were already presents that were wrapped.”

Those presents will end up under the tree this year and will have to be unwrapped without the presence of Shirley and Clayton Morris.

They were the greatest gifts of all to the Morris family. The Morris family is suing Richardson and J. S. Rowe.

They filed in November. When our I-TEAM did some checking, we also found two other lawsuits currently pending against J. S. Rowe. Both also deal with accidents.

However, they involve different accidents involving different drivers. Our I-Team also reached out to J.S. Rowe by phone and to Richardson by social media, but we have not heard back yet.

We will keep you posted if we hear from them and invite them to share their side.