Georgia Prosecutor Drops Charges Against Truck Company that Killed Five Nursing Students
April 22, 2015 was a day that shook the foundations of the Georgia Southern University. On that date, the lives of five young nursing students was ended prematurely due to a commercial trucking accident. The driver was indicted earlier in June. Recent developments in the case have occurred that have once again changed the circumstances.
Commercial trucking accidents are serious events that often produce serious or even fatal injuries. The injuries in commercial trucking accidents are often so serious because of the significant and violent forces that act during an accident. The truck’s enormous weight and size mean that strong forces are involved in any accident. Furthermore, the large truck can jackknife, or overturn, and crush smaller vehicles and their occupants.
The Trucking Accident that Killed the Nursing Students
In the days following the fatal highway crash, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal stated, ““To lose five young, promising ladies who had devoted their lives and their future to the profession of nursing is indeed a tragedy.”
April 22, 2015 was a clear dry day. A number of Georgia Southern university students were traveling in a Toyota Corolla that was stopped at a traffic light. Behind the Corolla, a Ford Escape also driven by a nursing student idled as the driver waited for traffic to begin to move. Unfortunately, these vehicles would be hit by an out of control tractor-trailer driven by John Wayne Johnson for U.S. Xpress, Inc. Here, the driver of the tractor-trailer violently rear-ended the two stopped vehicles. The force of the impact was so severe that five occupants of the vehicles passed away and two others were severely injured.
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that the truck was equipped with a forward collision avoidance system. However, as one of the lawsuits against the driver makes clear, “Johnson never applied the brakes and never made any maneuver to try and avoid a collision” before running over the Toyota, slicing the roof off, and setting it ablaze. Despite the collision avoidance system’s ability to sound an audible warning, Johnson never avoided the truck crash.
Truck Driver Was Indicted but Georgia Prosecutor Drops the Case
Earlier in June, a jury had indicted both the truck driver and the trucking company on charges stemming from the fatal truck crash on Interstate 16 that killed five. The indictment charged the trucking company with seven felonies including five counts of homicide by vehicle, criminal responsibility of corporations and serious injury by vehicle. The truck driver also faced numerous felony counts including five counts of homicide by vehicle, one count of serious injury by vehicle and additional misdemeanor charges.
However, it appears that the trucking company will not answer in court for the damage they have inflicted on the lives of these individuals and families. Rather, on June 6, 2016, a Georgia prosecutor indicated that the case would be dropped. District Attorney Tom Durden of Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Circuit said that the case was dropped after Total Transportation of Mississippi agreed to found a nonprofit group providing financial aid to nursing students. The foundation will be initially funded by a $200,000 donation by the company.
While many are upset at the decision to forego prosecution of the trucking company, many observers in Georgia have noted that it is difficult to criminally prosecute a company. Furthermore, even if the company is successfully prosecuted, the only penalty that can be imposed is a fine. In light of the more than $78 million that the company has already pledged to settle lawsuits related to the case, an additional fine may not have made much of a difference regardless.
Contact a Knowledgeable Truck Accident Lawyer To Help With Your Case
For his part, Johnson will still face the criminal charges described above. Throughout civil proceedings, Johnson has maintained that he did not fall asleep while driving his truck. While he admitted that the accident was his fault and he was fired by a previous employer for falling asleep at the wheel, Johnson has otherwise maintained that he was not sleeping when the fatal accident occurred. Johnson was hired by total Transportation despite also admitting that he disclosed the fact that he was previously fired for dozing behind the wheel.