UPDATE| Parents of Georgia Southern nursing students killed in crash speak about settlement

Published: Apr. 20, 2016 at 3:46 PM EDT
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

STATESBORO, Ga. (WRDW/ WAGT) -- One year ago tomorrow five families were changed forever when their daughters' lives were taken in a crash with a tractor trailer on I-16. Today, those families have settled their lawsuits holding the transportation company behind that truck accountable.

" I would trade my soul and my heart for just one more, dad I love you " James DeLoach said, Father of Abbie DeLoach

It's the sound from a father and a look of despair that you won't forget he spoke from the heart with anger and grief over losing his baby girl.

He continued to say "As a parent you are out there you understand the depth of the pain and the humility that also comes with being a parent.... as we went through this process this past year there is so much that you learn from the daughters that you have."

Just one year ago, his daughter Abbie was one of five to lose her life, investigators say the driver of the tractor trailer in the accident was previously fired for hitting a big rig.

"Do I think the truck people at the company were negligent absolutely", Deloache said

Four of the five families have come to a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit. One family is set to receive as much as 14 million dollars - but the families rather have one last moment with their girls

"What is the value of that, how do you put thousands or millions of dollars on that. you cant do that." Deloache said.

The Mother of Emily Clark, Kathy, got the courage to walk up to the podium and say "All I can say is I know Emily would have made a wonderful nurse she had a passion we were so very proud ... we just want justice for our girls."

One of Emily's best friends, Kayla Wilkinson was there to listen and support the family. She says not a day goes by that she doesn't miss Emily. She says she stays close to her by staying close to her family.

Justice, peace and a legacy, the families say they will be using their settlement to donate equipment to what their daughters were most passionate about. Georgia Southern nursing program.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

ATLANTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The parents of the nursing students killed in a crash with a tractor trailer spoke today about the settlement agreement they reached.

The attorneys and the parents talked about how the driver of the tractor trailer who hit them failed the qualification program in Missouri. They said the driver had disclosed to the company that he had fallen asleep and rolled over a tractor trailer while driving for a different company. They also addressed system failures, like not having cameras in the cabs of the trucks.

Jimmy Deloach, the father of Abbie Deloach, one of the victims said nursing was a calling more than a career for the young women. He said they plan on using this settlement to carry on their daughter's legacy. "As a parent, if you are out there, you understand the depth of the pain and the humility that comes with being a parent. Do I think they need to be held accountable? Absolutely. I would have been a grandparent by her. I would trade my soul and my heart for one more, 'I love you,'" he said.

One of the families is reportedly going to receive fourteen million dollars in that settlement.

Only four of the five families were involved in the settlement.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

ATLANTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The families of the Georgia Southern nursing students who died in a crash last April have settled their lawsuits.

The attorneys representing the families of the five young women who lost their lives, and the three injured said they have gotten answers for their clients on why their daughters died.

On April 22, 2015 along I-16 a tractor-trailer ran into the back of the young women’s vehicles at 68 mph without hitting the brakes. The tractor trailer was from Total Transportation of Mississippi. The tractor-trailer hit one of the nursing students cars, which then hit another one. The seven nursing students inside the cars were on their way to clinical training in Savannah.

Three wrongful death cases were filed for Caitlyn Nicole Baggett, 21, from Millen, Georgia; Emily Elizabeth Clark, 20, from Powder Springs, Georgia; and Abbie Lorene DeLoach, 21, from Savannah, Georgia died in that crash.

The lawsuits named Total Transportation, New Mountain Holdings LLC,

the holding company of Total Transportation’s parent company, and

Mountain Lake Risk Retention Group, LLC, all of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and John Wayne Johnson, the driver.

One of the attorneys in the case, Brandon L. Peak said the following:

“We determined from the black box in Abbie’s vehicle and the physical evidence at the scene that seconds before impact Abbie and Emily unfortunately saw the tractor-trailer barreling down on them from the rear and did everything in their power to get out of the way. They slammed on the gas and turned their vehicles to the right, but unfortunately did not have time to get completely off of the roadway prior to the collision. Abbie’s actions and quick-thinking likely saved the lives of Brittney McDaniel and Megan Richards, who were passengers in her vehicle."

Another attorney in the case, Robert D. Cheeley said the companies the case were negligent in many ways, including hiring the driver in the first place. He said the driver did not meet the company's hiring criteria because he had rolled a tractor trailer when he fell asleep while working at a different company.

Further the lawyers said the driver had to wait at the terminal for ten hours before his tractor trailer was ready, which made the situation worse because he had to then drive the truck through the night to Savannah.

Attorney Cheeley said the following on the case:

“Though he denies it, Johnson likely either fell asleep behind the wheel or was distracted by taking his eyes off the roadway, perhaps looking at his cellphone. Johnson claimed he could not remember the four digit code to his iPhone, so we will never know if he was looking at something on the phone at the time of the wreck.”

Another attorney said evidence from the black box of one of the cars and the absence of tire marks on the road proved the driver did not hit the breaks before the crash.

Further, Peak said this about the lawsuit and the settlement:

“Our clients wanted answers about why their daughters were killed so that they could hopefully prevent any other families from having to experience the heartache they have endured and continued to endure. These families showed incredible courage and perseverance throughout

this very difficult process, including attending the depositions of the trucking companies’ employees and CEO to hear the evidence for themselves. There is no perfect ending in a case like this, but we are confident the actions these families took to shine a light on the senseless

decisions that took the lives of their daughters will save other lives in the future. In that respect, they have accomplished their goals of honoring their daughters’ lives.”

Cheeley added this:

“The tractor trailer was hauling paper products to a Dollar General store in Savannah. We are confident that Total Transportation and US Xpress would not have entrusted a driver with Johnson’s driving history

to haul priceless art to Savannah, especially without being well-rested. Why then would these companies put the public, and these priceless young women’s lives in particular, at risk? It just makes no sense at all. On behalf of all the families who lost a daughter in this terrible tragedy, we want to thank the Georgia Southern family, and indeed the good people of Georgia, who have demonstrated a tremendous expression of love, prayers and support over the last year. We hope that this will

bring closure to their great loss.”