BRYAN COUNTY, Ga. - Communities across Georgia are in mourning after five Georgia Southern University students were killed Wednesday in a crash near Savannah.
A letter from President Brooks Keel, posted on Georgia Southern’s website, said the five students were killed in an early morning crash on I-16 eastbound. Two more students were injured.
The victims were identified as Emily Clark, a junior from Powder Springs, Morgan Bass, a junior from Leesburg, Abbie Deloach, a junior from Savannah, McKay Pittman, a junior from Alpharetta, and Caitlyn Bagget, a junior from Millen.
Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville and Megan Richards of Loganville were injured in the crash. All seven girls were students in the nursing school.
Shortly after learning the identies of the students, Channel 2's Rachel Stockman traveled to Statesboro to talk to the women's fellow students about how they are being remembered on campus.
Thursday, Stockman made contact with a man who tried to help save the students after he drove up on the wreck Wednesday morning.
“I borrowed a fire extinguisher from a truck driver and tried to put the fire,” the man said.
That man also talked to the truck driver that struck the girls who told him he wished he died too.
Earlier in the day Thurdsday, Channel 2's Mike Petchenik talked to the mother of McKay Pittman. She called her every morning on her way to school, and when she didn't call, she knew something was wrong.
“When your children leave, every morning when your child leaves, whether they are in college or whether they are at home, tell them you love them,” said Sherrin Pittman.
Police say a tractor trailer failed to stop as traffic slowed in front of it on the interstate around 5:45 a.m. The truck smashed into a line of cars. In total seven vehicles, including two tractor trailers and five passenger cars, were involved in the crash.
Police say four of the students died at the scene. Three other students were taken to the hospital, where one died. Three other people were also injured in the crash.
“Every one of our students contributes in no small measure, to the Eagle Nation,” Keel’s letter said. “The loss of any student, especially in a tragic way, is particularly painful. Losing five students is almost incomprehensible. Our hearts go out to the families, friends and classmates of these students.”
Memorial arrangements were pending, Keel said. The school’s flag are flying at half-staff Thursday, he said.
Police say charges are pending the completion of the investigation.
According to St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital in Savannah, Wednesday should have been the women's last day of clinical rotations at the hospital.
In a Facebook post, the hospital said:
"We are terribly saddened because we were close to them.
"Today should have been a day of celebration for this bright group of students. It was their last day of clinical rotations at St. Joseph’s/Candler in their first year of nursing school.
“This was a great group that had some wonderful experiences on the unit,” said Sherry Danello, Vice President of Patient Care Services at St. Joseph’s/Candler and Chief Nursing Officer. “You could tell that they really loved what they did. They didn’t just go through the task, they really connected to the patients.”
"Training future healthcare leaders is a responsibility the co-workers at St. Joseph’s/Candler take very seriously. We have a long-standing relationship with Georgia Southern University’s School of Nursing and their students bring additional joy and enthusiasm to our hospitals.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these extraordinary students as well as the entire Georgia Southern University community."
Remembering Emily Clark
Loved ones and former co-workers told Channel 2’s Carl Willis that they believe the victims of the crash are in a better place.
"It’s just a nightmare, a perfect tragedy is what it is," said Heather Woods.
That's how a family friend summed up the loss of Emily Clark, 20, of Cobb County.
Clark was a Harrison High School graduate.
"It's very surreal when you go back and think about it, you think about your friends and think, 'I could've been in the car,'" said former co-worker Emmie Trull.
Willis talked to Trull at the Marietta restaurant where she worked with Clark before she went to college.
Trull said Clark touched many lives through her sorority Alpha Delta Pi and the nursing program.
"Emily was a very vibrant girl. She's always really happy, always smiling, always cracking jokes with me," Trull said. “I saw where she had a little sister so I'm definitely going to be praying for her little sister because I have a little brother. I can't even imagine what the family is going through.”
"Emily was an amazing person. If you see a picture she was a beautiful girl. But her beauty on the inside abounded," Woods said.
Among the five victims, metro Atlanta also lost McKay Pittman, 21, from Alpharetta.
The Alpha Delta Chi chapter at Georgia Southern released this statement about Pittman:
"Today Heaven gained an angel. McKay Pittman, our chapter President, was involved in an accident this morning. We appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers being sent our way! We love you all.
Please be in prayer for the Pittman family as well as the families of the other students who were a part of all those where were involved as well!"
Classmates are expected to gather on the Georgia Southern campus Thursday night to remember the five nursing student.