The five Georgia Southern University students were killed after a tractor-trailer failed to slow down and smashed into stop-and-go traffic at around 6 a.m. ET on Interstate 16 about 20 miles west of Savannah, said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Nease of the Georgia State Patrol, reports the AP.
An unrelated crash about a mile up the highway was forcing traffic to slow down, he said, but the tractor-trailer slammed into an SUV and a car before colliding with the back of a tanker truck. The car then burst into flames after it was crushed.
Some motorists on the route between Macon and Savannah were stuck at a standstill for more than six hours as road crews and tow trucks worked to clear the wreckage. Even after those vehicles were allowed to pass, troopers kept a 6-mile stretch of eastbound I-16 closed as they continued to investigate the crash scene.
“Every one of our students contributes in no small measure to the Eagle Nation,” President Brooks Kell of Georgia Southern in Statesboro said in a statement. “The loss of any student, especially in a tragic way, is particularly painful. Losing five students is almost incomprehensible.”
Three people also were injured in the accident, including two Georgia Southern students.
St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System said all five were Georgia residents commuting to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah for their final clinical rotation of the school year.
The university identified the dead:
• Caitlyn Baggett of Millen
• Morgan Bass of Leesburg
• Emily Clark of Powder Springs
• Abbie Deloach of Savannah
• Catherine Pittman of Alpharetta
Brittney McDaniel of Reidsville and Megan Richards of Loganville are among those injured; the name of the third person injured was not released.
Seven vehicles were involved in the chain-reaction crash.
Investigators are continuing to piece together what happened, and the driver of the tractor-trailer has not been cited, Nease said. Weather does not appear to have been a factor.