Lawyer: Trucker in fatal GSU crash had fallen asleep at wheel before

The tractor-trailer driver that police say initiated a chain-reaction crash that killed five Georgia Southern University students was fired from another company after falling asleep at the wheel in 2011, a lawyer for some of the victims said Wednesday.

Attorney Joseph Fried, who filed three lawsuits on behalf of victims this week, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday documents show the driver was fired from a different company in 2011 after falling asleep at the wheel, totalling a tractor-trailer.

“In the world of commercial transportation, falling asleep at the wheel is huge,” Fried said.

John Wayne Johnson, 55, of Shreveport, La., a driver for Total Transportation of Mississippi, has not been charged in the April 22 crash. But he was driving the tractor-trailer that investigators believe started the chain-reaction crash on I-16, just outside of Savannah.

Fried, who represents three of the victims, said he requested and received information from Total Transportation on Johnson’s record and his driving log. Those documents showed Johnson was fired from a different company in 2011 after falling asleep at the wheel, Fried said.

Total Transportation hired Johnson after his previous wreck. The CEO for Total Transportation of Mississippi was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon, a spokesman said.

At the time of the April 22 crash, Johnson had been driving more than 10 hours, still within the legal limit, Fried said. Federal law allows truckers to drive no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period.

“It appears that he had been driving for over 10 hours, but less than 11 hours,” Fried said. “It appears he had around 30 miles to go to get to his destination.”

The lawsuits seek damages for the deaths of the students and payment for medical bills and punitive damages for the survivors. Above all, Fried said the lawsuits seek to prevent a similar wreck in the future.

Shortly before 6 a.m. on April 22, five nursing students died and two others were seriously injured as they rode in two cars to their final day of clinicals at a Savannah hospital.

Emily Clark, 20, of Powder Springs, Morgan Bass, 20, of Leesburg, Abbie Deloach, 21, of Savannah, Catherine “McKay” Pittman, 21, of Alpharetta, and Caitlyn Baggett, 21, of Millen, all died. Megan Richards of Loganville and Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville were both seriously injured in the chain-reaction crash.

Fried filed lawsuits on behalf of Bass, Pittman McDaniel. Two of those suits are for wrongful death and one for personal injury.

Georgia State Patrol investigators have said a tractor trailer failed to stop as traffic slowed in front of it, and it smashed into a line of cars. In total seven vehicles, including two tractor trailers and five passenger cars, were involved in the crash.


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