Five people were killed and at least two others were seriously injured in a seven-vehicle pileup early Wednesday morning on eastbound I-16 in Bryan County that apparently was caused by a traffic jam behind an earlier crash involving a tractor-trailer and an RV.
Authorities spent hours working the accident near mile marker 140, about a mile west of the Highway 280 exit, Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith said.
In a message sent out Wednesday afternoon to the Georgia Southern University community, University President Dr. Brooks Keel confirmed five university students were killed in the pileup.
"The loss of any student, especially in a tragic way, is particularly painful," Keel wrote in his message. "Losing five students is almost incomprehensible."
The names of the students were not released pending notification of families.
Two other Georgia Southern students also were injured, Keel wrote.
The crash involved two tractor-trailers and five passenger vehicles. One of the tractor trailers was a tanker truck, used to transport acid, but it was empty at the time, a Georgia State Patrol trooper told WTOC-TV.
"Every one of our students contributes in no small measure, to the Eagle Nation," Keel wrote. "Our hearts go out to the families, friends and classmates of these students."
Smith said it’s one of the worst wrecks he has seen in his 21 years as sheriff.
“You almost can’t believe it,” he said. “You don’t want to see it.”
The crash occurred at roughly 7 a.m. when a tractor-trailer ran into traffic that was stopped while emergency crews were working on the first collision, which took place around 2 a.m., Smith said, adding that he got the call about the first wreck at 3 a.m.
In all, three big rigs, two cars and two pickup trucks were involved in the second wreck, and two people were flown by helicopter to Memorial University Medical Center.
Bryan County Emergency Services Director Freddy Howell said BCES crews were dispatched to the second accident at about 5:55 a.m. and found “several vehicles with patients and one that was occupied and fully engulfed (in flames). Two helicopters were dispatched and used to transport two of the patients and the others went by ambulance or (their own vehicle).”
In the first crash, one patient was taken by ambulance to Memorial and others were treated by EMS at the accident site about a half-mile from the Highway 280 exit. BCES crews were dispatched at 1:48 a.m., Howell said.
The Bryan County Sheriff’s Office, Bryan County Emergency Services, Georgia State Patrol and Georgia Department of Transportation are working both crashes, and it could be some time before the eastbound lanes are clear, Smith said.
He said motorists might want to get off at exit 137 and get on Highway 80 to detour around the crash sites.
Check with bryancountynews.com for more updates as they become available.