BRYAN CO., GA (WTOC) - A fatal multiple-vehicle accident occurred on I-16 eastbound near U.S. 280 Wednesday morning, about a half-mile from an earlier crash involving a semi and a motor home.
It happened around 5:45 a.m. A total of seven vehicles were involved in the wreck, including two tractor-trailers and five passenger vehicles. One of the tractor-trailers was a tanker truck. A GSP trooper at the scene said the tanker was used to transport acid, but it was empty at the time.
One of the passenger vehicles involved caught fire. Crews worked quickly to extinguish the flames.
The Georgia State Patrol has confirmed that five people were killed in this crash and three people were seriously injured. The fatalities were from two separate passenger vehicles. Two medical helicopters had to be called to the scene to transport the injured.
According to St. Joseph's-Candler, the five victims who died in the crash were Georgia Southern nursing students. It was their last day of clinical rotations in their first year of nursing school.
The victims have been identified as Emily Clark, of Powder Springs, GA, Morgan Bass, of Leesburg, GA, Abbie Deloach, of Savannah, GA, Catherine (McKay) Pittman, of Alpharetta, GA, and Caitlyn Baggett, of Millen, GA. All were juniors in the program.
Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville, GA, and Megan Richards of Loganville, GA, are currently being treated for their injuries.
"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."
St. Joseph's-Candler added, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these extraordinary students as well as the entire Georgia Southern University community."
Witnesses to the tragic accident explained the impact it made.
"It was bad," said Cayne Monroe. "I've never witnessed something like that in my life. It was pretty tragic."
"I'm really heartbroken for the families," said truck driver Tim Scott. "I can't imagine that phone call. They left for work this morning and they won't come home. That's really a tragedy."
"Right about the time I got here, the car was just catching on fire," said Monroe. "The car just burned up really quickly. And I ran up there, but there was nothing anyone could do. I've never witnessed something like that in my life."
No one was injured in the earlier crash between the semi and the motor home which is believed to have caused the fatal pile-up due to the traffic back-up.
The Georgia State Patrol is investigating the fatal multiple-vehicle crash.
"It's too early to tell in the investigation," said Georgia State Patrol Sgt. 1st Class Chris Nease. "We're just getting started, it's in its infancy stage. Hopefully, once we get everything together, we'll be able to speak with some other people involved in the crash or some witnesses or whoever we had around. We'll be able to piece things together to get a clearer picture of exactly what happened."
GSU President Brooks Keel released the following statement addressing the tragedy and the school's devastating loss:
"It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of a tragedy that took place this morning. Five Georgia Southern students died and two were injured in an early morning crash on I-16 eastbound near Savannah. We are unable to release the names of these students at this time because we are awaiting notification to families. Every one of our students contributes in no small measure, to the Eagle Nation. 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. The University flag will fly at half-staff Thursday in their memory. Memorial arrangements are pending. Let me urge those particularly touched by this tragedy to avail themselves of counseling services, and I urge all members of the University community to support each other during this time. Members of the University community may obtain support services from the Counseling Center at 912-478-5541."
WTOC will continue to follow this developing story and update you with new information as it becomes available.