The mother of one of the five Georgia Southern University students killed last week in a crash on Interstate 16 in Bryan County has filed a lawsuit against a trucking company regarding the death of her daughter.
Kim Deloach McQuaig filed a wrongful death suit Wednesday in Bryan County State Court, seeking damages against Total Transportation of Mississippi and its parent company, Tennessee-based U.S. Xpress Enterprises, for the death of her daughter, 21-year-old Abbie Deloach of Savannah.
She was one of the students killed in the crash, which is under investigation by the Georgia State Patrol. The wreck might have been caused by a tractor-trailer owned by Total Transportation slamming into a line of traffic at a standstill because of a previous wreck on I-16 near the Highway 280 exit.
The crash also resulted in the deaths of nursing students Emily E. Clark of Powder Springs, Morgan J. Bass of Leesburg, Catherine M. Pittman of Alpharetta and Caitlyn N. Baggett of Millen.
Mary Helen Mehaffrey, the mother of Morgan Bass, also retained an attorney, who said he previously has sued the trucking company. Joseph A. Fried, of Atlanta law firm Fried, Rogers, Goldberg LLC, is representing Mehaffrey.
He said in a statement released last week that he is “quite familiar with the safety history of Total Transportation of Mississippi,” which owns the tractor-trailer that was driven by John Wayne Johnson, 55, of Shreveport, Louisiana, which might have caused the crash.
“She’s a compassionate, forgiving person,” McQuaig's attorney, Mark Tate, said Thursday. “This is not about revenge. This not about an eye for an eye. This is about the appropriate way to resolve problems between parties.”
The lawsuit, which is asking for unspecified punitive damages, a jury trial, compensation for attorneys’ fees and an award of more than $15,000 to compensate McQuaig for “injuries and damages,” is 17 pages long.
It claims Johnson was following too closely and “failed to exercise regard for traffic and all other attendant circumstances, which negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the collision and the death of Abbie Lorene Deloach.”
The suit also claims Johnson “acted recklessly, carelessly, and with total disregard of the rights and safety of other persons using persons using said highway.”
In addition, the suit says the driver had “the last clear chance to avoid said collision.”
Further, McQuaig’s suit says the company was negligent in that its employee, Johnson, wasn’t paying attention and was driving “at a speed greater than was reasonable and prudent under highway conditions, and driving without regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing.”
The suit also alleges the actions of the company through its driver on the day of the crash “show willful misconduct, wantonness and/or the entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences.”
The truck driver has not been charged, as the Georgia State Patrol’s Specialized Collison Reconstruction Team is still investigating the accident, GSP Trooper Colin Wheeler said.
Wheeler said Johnson failed to stop in time and crashed into traffic that was stopped because of a wreck that occurred earlier that morning. The first accident happened around 2 a.m. April 22 with a tractor-trailer and RV.
No injuries were reported, but the vehicles flipped and crews were still cleaning up debris when the second crash happened around 5:45 a.m., Wheeler said.
Injured but surviving the crash are two other Georgia Southern nursing students: Megan Richards, a junior from Loganville, and Brittany McDaniel, a junior from Reidsville. A third injured survivor is Greg Johnson, 53, of Pembroke. All three are in stable condition and have been released from the hospital.
In a move also prompted by the fatal crash, the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association announced last week it has partnered with Road Safe America in urging Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to “immediately require the installation and use of forward collision avoidance and mitigation technology on all tractor-trailers,” said Chris Kelleher, a spokesman for the group.
The technology works by taking over the brakes and engine of the tractor-trailer when an imminent collision is anticipated and alerts the driver to the danger, he said.
It “is already fully developed and comes as a standard feature on most new automobiles. It is estimated that it would cost less than $500 per vehicle to retrofit current tractor-trailers to meet this standard,” Kelleher said.
Jeff Whitten contributed to this report.