Five nursing students, all juniors and two from metro Atlanta, were killed and two injured in a seven-vehicle chain reaction crash early Wednesday morning in Bryan County. The Georgia Southern University students were heading for their final clinical of the school year at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital when the crash happened on Interstate 16 about 20 miles from Savannah, state officials said.
“The loss of any student, especially in a tragic way, is particularly painful,” University President Brooks Keel said in a message on the school’s website. “Losing five students is almost incomprehensible.”
The chain-reaction crash happened around 5:45 a.m. and involved two tractor-trailers and five passenger vehicles, according to the Georgia State Patrol. Investigators said one of the tractor-trailers failed to stop as traffic slowed down and crashed into a line of vehicle, GSP’s spokesman Franka Young said. The tractor-trailer slammed into an SUV, then rolled over a small passenger car, which burst into flames, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The truck came to a stop after slamming into the back of a tanker, the paper reported.
When troopers and Bryan County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene, they found four of the students dead, officials said. Three of them were in a Toyota Corolla and one in a Ford Escape, Young said. Three others in the Escape were transported to the Memorial Medical Center where one of them died, Young said. The GSU students were traveling from Statesboro to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah, he said.
Troopers have identified the deceased students as Emily Clark, 20, of Powder Springs; Morgan J. Bass, 20, of Leesburg; Abbie L. Deloach, 21, of Savannah; Catherine M. Pittman, 21, of Alpharetta, and Caitlyn N. Baggett, 21, of Millen. The two injured students were identified as Megan Richards, of Loganville, and Brittney McDaniel, of Reidsville, the AJC reported. Their conditions and the extent of their injuries were not available late Wednesday.
News of the students’ deaths spread quickly through the campus community and the school plans to lower its flag to half-staff in honor of the students. A memorial is also planned for 7 p.m. on the campus, the AJC reported. The staff at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital in Savannah also struggled with the tragic news.
“This was a great group that had some wonderful experiences on the unit,” Sherry Danello, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at the hospital, said in a statement, according to the AJC. “You could tell that they really loved what they did. They didn’t just go through the task, they really connected to the patients.”
Charges are pending against the tractor-trailer driver, whose name has not been released, the GSP’s spokesman said. But those charges won’t be filed until the Specialize Collision Reconstruction Team investigation is complete, Young said.