Altanta, GA Bluffton Baseball Team Bus Crash, Mar 2007
The bus had set out from Ohio the evening before and had traveled all night long before it went off the road and landed on its side at 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.
Board member Kitty Higgins said findings of the investigation will be released within a year.
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.
The driver and his wife were at a hotel for about eight hours before taking the wheel of the bus, but investigators did not know how much of that time was spent resting.
Both were wearing seat belts, Higgins said, but it was not known if any of the passengers were. Motorcoaches 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 immediately returned.
A statement headlined 'We Grieve' on the company's website 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, 20, Bryan, Ohio and TYLER WILLIAMS, 19, Lima, Ohio freshmen SCOTT HARMON, 19, Elida, Ohio, and CODY HOLP, 19, Arcanum, Ohio, bus driver JEROME NIEMEYER, 65, and his wife, JEAN NIEMEYER, 61, of Columbus Grove, Ohio. ZACHARY AREND, 18, Oakwood, 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. "For now we're pulling together and supporting each other as best we can."
The baseball team had been scheduled to play its first spring training game of the season in Sarasota, Fla., on Saturday and had eight more games scheduled in Fort Myers, Fla.
The university is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA. About one-fifth of the students are Mennonite, and the school stresses
spirituality, but it is open to all religious backgrounds.
The church emphasizes pacifism and non-violence. But unlike adherents of more conservative Mennonite denominations and the Amish, members were modern clothing and use electricity. Smoking and drinking are banned on campus.
At a campus chapel service the night before the bus trip, students
had prayed for safe travel for their sports teams and other students during spring break.
"Sometimes you take that stuff for granted," said Katie Barrington, a junior from Brooklyn Heights, Ohio.
Bluffton football players were working out in the weight room when they saw news of the crash on TV and recognized the logo on the bus as the company that all the school's sports teams have used, assistant football coach Steve Rogers said.
"That's when reality hit everybody," he said. "Everybody was in shock. Nobody knew what to say or what to feel." He added, "It
hits home harder than it would if it had happened at a bigger school.
Everybody knows each other."
Matt Ferguson, a freshman baseball player from Pleasant Hill, Ohio, said most of the freshmen had stayed behind.
"We were bummed out we didn't get to go," he said. "Now we don't know what to think."
Article USAToday 2007-03-02