- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) — A small college in Ohio was thrown into mourning yesterday after a bus carrying its baseball team tumbled over the side of a highway overpass and slammed onto the pavement 30 feet below, killing four students, the driver and his wife.

The team from the close-knit, Mennonite-affiliated Bluffton University was making its annual spring-training trip to Florida before daybreak when the charter bus crashed. Some of the athletes climbed out the roof escape hatch, dazed and bloody.

“I just looked out and saw the road coming up at me. I remember the catcher tapping me on the head, telling me to get out because there was gas all over,” said A.J. Ramthun, an 18-year-old second-baseman from Springfield, Ohio, who was asleep in a window seat and suffered a broken collarbone and cuts on his face from broken glass. “I heard some guys crying, ‘I’m stuck! I’m stuck!’ ”

Investigators said the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp for a lane and went into the curve at full speed. It was dark at the time, but the weather was clear.

On the 1,150-student campus in Bluffton, about 50 miles south of Toledo, students and community residents filled the gymnasium to grieve and learn more about what happened. When news of the crash appeared on television, students desperately tried to reach some of the athletes on their cell phones.

Sophomore Courtney Minnich said that at a college as small as Bluffton, “even if you didn’t know everybody, it will hurt, because you’ve seen them on campus.”

Classes were canceled, along with other sports trips that had been scheduled during next week’s spring break. A candlelight vigil was held last night. Airlines also arranged for the players’ parents to fly to Atlanta for free.

Beyond the six killed, 28 players and their coach, James Grandey, 29, were taken to the hospital. He and six players were reported in serious or critical condition; many of the rest were soon released. The players’ injuries included broken bones, cuts and bruises.

By last night, 15 of the 19 players admitted to Grady Memorial Hospital had been discharged, hospital spokeswoman Denise Simpson said.

The bus had set out from Ohio the evening before and had traveled all night before it went off the road and landed on its side about 5:30 a.m. on Interstate 75. Two vehicles under the overpass were struck by the bus, but their drivers were not hurt.

“It looked to me like a big slab of concrete falling down,” said pickup-truck driver Danny Lloyd, 57, of Frostburg, Md. “I didn’t recognize it was a bus. I think when I saw the thing coming, I think I closed my eyes and stepped on the gas.”

The National Transportation Safety Board was called in to investigate.

Investigators said there were no skid marks, and they hoped to tap into the bus computer system for clues. The driver had boarded the bus with his wife less than an hour before the wreck, relieving another driving team, authorities said.

It was not known if the bus had seat belts. Motor coaches like the one involved typically do not have seat belts in the passenger section. Calls to the charter company, Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc. of Ottawa, Ohio, were not returned.

A statement headlined “We Grieve” on the company’s Web site said in red letters: “We at Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc. are deeply saddened by this travesty. We are continuing to cooperate with the officials investigating the accident in Atlanta, Ga. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and their families.”

The university identified the victims as sophomores David Betts and Tyler Williams; freshmen Scott Harmon and Cody Holp; bus driver Jerome Niemeyer; and his wife, Jean Niemeyer, all of them from Ohio.

“This is deeply impacting all of our students, faculty and staff. We know these people on a first-name basis,” said James Harder, the school’s president.

The baseball team had been scheduled to play its first spring-training game of the season today in Sarasota, Fla., and had eight more games scheduled in Fort Myers, Fla.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide