ATLANTA — As soon as Channel 2 Action News confirmed the name of the driver involved in a wreck that killed five nursing students from Georgia Southern University, we started digging into his background and the trucking company that he worked for.
The Georgia State Patrol confirmed Thursday afternoon that John Wayne Johnson, 55, of Shreveport, Louisiana, is the driver accused of causing the deadly wreck.
The trucking company he was driving for is Total Transportation, of Mississippi. It's a big company, with more than 900 drivers and 740 vehicles.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant searched U.S. Department of Transportation safety records for Total Transportation and found over the last two years, company drivers have been slapped with 266 unsafe driving violations, including
107 times for speeding, 45 violations for not following a traffic control devices, nine violations for driving while using a cellphone and five for following too closely.
"Shocking. This company should have been severely curtailed in their operations by the authorities," said attorney Bob Cheeley, who specializes in transportation safety cases.
Federal records also show only 10 percent of comparable U.S. trucking companies have worse driver safety records, meaning the company may be prioritized for intervention action and roadside inspection.
GSP is still sorting out exactly what led
to this week's wreck. We have requested, but have not yet received Johnson's driving record.
USDOT records show Total Transportation trucks have been involved in 85 other crashes over the last two years, leading to 27 injuries. Company drivers got citations in at least four of those crashes.
Federal records also show the company's trucks got nearly 600 maintenance violations over the last two years.
Company CEO John Stomps sent Diamant a statement saying,
"We are cooperating with the ongoing investigation. Our thoughts are with the victims, their families and the Georgia Southern community."
Stomps would not answer questions about the company's safety record.
Channel 2's Rachel Stockman spoke with a witness who told her that he wishes he could have done more to save the young women.
"I borrowed the fire extinguisher from a truck driver and tried to put the fire out. It did no good," said Terry Medley, who was driving just behind the tractor-trailer.
Medley said he and another man tried to do what they could to save the young women.
"I've never witnessed anything like that before. That was awful," Medley told Stockman. "They were the ones that were supposed to be saving our lives."
Medley told Stockman that he talked to Johnson. Medley said Johnson told him after the crash that he wished he had died too.