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June 21, 2016 10:00 AM, EDT

Total Transportation President Says Company Will Fight Charges

John Stomps, president of Total Transportation of Mississippi, responded June 21 to the recent indictment of his company in Bryan County, Georgia, in the wake of the April 2015 crash that killed five Georgia Southern University nursing students and injured two others.

Truck driver John Wayne Johnson was charged with five counts of first-degree vehicular homicide and single counts of serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, failure to exercise due care and following too closely in the accident on Interstate 16/Georgia state Route 404. Additionally, Total Transportation of Mississippi was charged with the same five counts of vehicular homicide and single counts of criminal responsibility of corporations and serious injury by vehicle.

In a statement sent to Transport Topics, Stomps wrote, “An indictment has been issued alleging that Total Transportation is criminally responsible for the actions of its driver in this incident. The company intends to vigorously fight these charges and fully expects any and all criminal charges against the company to be dismissed. Total Transportation has assumed responsibility for the accident and has voluntarily made restitution to the families of all of the young women who died. While the events that occurred are tragic, Total categorically denies that the company engaged in any conduct that could be considered criminal.”

The indictments came less than two months after four of the victims’ families settled wrongful death lawsuits against Total Transportation.

Tom Durden, district attorney for Bryan County, told TT he doesn’t expect any officers of Total Transportation, or its parent company, U.S. Xpress Enterprises, to be found individually responsible.

“Those are generally handled by a fine,” Durden said. “It’s not like sending anybody to jail. It’s basically [saying] that the trucking company had knowledge that [Johnson] had had a rollover back in 2011. The safety director at that time testified that he didn’t understand why the company hired [Johnson].”

Johnson’s attorney, Edward Tolley, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

During his civil deposition Dec. 17, Johnson revealed he had been fired by a previous employer for falling asleep at the wheel as he allegedly did in the 2015 crash that occurred just before 6 a.m. on April 22. Johnson also admitted he was at fault in the fatal accident but denied that he had fallen asleep.

Johnson added he had set the cruise control on his 2012 Peterbilt Model 587 at 68 mph and never heard the truck’s collision warning system that was supposed to beep if he got too close to other vehicles. Johnson, who hadn’t been using drugs or alcohol, said he didn’t recall crashing into the students’ cars.

“This accident was so shocking that it got the D.A.’s attention,” said Mark Tate, the attorney for the family of victim Abbie DeLoach.

Johnson is “not a murderer,” Tate added. “He was a guy doing a job, and he screwed up horrifically.”