Bus carrying team from Bluffton University crashes
ATLANTA -- A charter bus carrying a college baseball team from Ohio plunged off an interstate ramp early Friday and slammed into the highway below, killing six people, injuring 29 and scattering sports equipment across the road, authorities said.
Four students, the bus driver and the bus driver's wife were killed, said police Maj. Calvin Moss.
Four people were listed in serious or critical condition as of late Saturday morning.
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, all from Ohio.
Coach James Grandey and 28 players were taken to Atlanta-area hospitals. Grandey, 29, and four players were reported in serious or critical condition on Saturday. Many of the rest were soon released.
The bus, carrying the team from Bluffton University, a Mennonite-affiliated school south of Toledo, toppled off the Northside Drive bridge on Interstate 75 in clear, pre-dawn weather, police spokesman Joe Cobb said.
Police later said at a news conference the bus exited the interstate at "highway speed" and apparently made no attempt to stop. No skid marks were left on the pavement, meaning the brakes either were never applied or failed, police said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The bus crashed onto a pickup truck.
"When I saw the thing coming, I think I closed my eyes and stepped on the gas," said Danny Lloyd, who was driving the truck and escaped uninjured. "It looked to me like a big slab of concrete falling down."
The impact broke his windshield, pushed his truck into the concrete and wrecked the front bumper, said, Lloyd, 57, of Frostburg, Md.
A.J. Ramthun, an 18-year-old second-baseman, was asleep in a window seat when the bus hit the overpass wall, jolting him awake.
"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," he told reporters.
His brother, a fellow team member, was trapped underneath the bus and damaged his hip. "He might not recover from that," Ramthun said. He said his own collarbone was broken and he had to get stitches in his face.
I heard some guys crying, "I'm stuck, I'm stuck," while the rest of the team helped the most injured players off the bus, said Ramthun, from Springfield, Ohio.
"It was what you'd expect out of any college team -- more concern for others than you have about yourself," he said.
Firefighters pulled people through the roof of the bus, which was on its side.
At Bluffton University's campus, clergy organized a campus gathering to give students a venue to express their feelings about the crash, said Pastor Steve Yoder with the First Mennonite Church. Students and residents of the community wiped tears from their eyes as they came in, and the gym was quiet with people talking muffled voices.
"This is a profound and tragic day in the life of Bluffton University," school President James Harder told reporters Friday morning in Ohio.
Classes were canceled, and the school called off other sports trips that had planned during next week's spring break, Harder said.
"This is deeply impacting all of our students, faculty and staff. We know these people on a first-name basis," he said. "For now we're pulling together and supporting each other as best we can."
On campus, students and residents of the community filled the school's basketball gym to grieve together and learn more about what had happened. Some wiped away tears as they came in. The university, with about 1,150 students 50 miles south of Toledo, is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA.
The baseball team had been scheduled to play its first game of the season in Sarasota, Fla., Saturday against Eastern Mennonite College of Harrisonburg, Va., and it had eight more games scheduled in Fort Myers, Fla.
Cobb said the bus was traveling southbound on I-75. He said the bus driver may not have planned to exit the interstate, and may have mistaken a car pool exit ramp for the regular car pool lane that continues down the interstate.
Witnesses told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the bus, which exited at the Northside Drive HOV exit, appeared to lose control, crossed Northside at an angle and crashed through the bridge barrier.
When the bus went off the bridge, it landed in the southbound lanes of the interstate, blocking all four lanes. Five fire trucks and at least three dozen firefighters were at the scene.
There was blood on the overpass near where the bus went over.
When the bus was righted, it was clear that all the windows on the driver's side had been shattered, and there was considerable damage on the front of bus and on the roof above driver's seat.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Mike Morris was returning from another assignment -- a motor vehicle accident -- when he came across the accident minutes after it happened. He wrote a first-person account for the newspaper's Web site about what he saw and experienced.
"As I ran up to the bus, young men, who appeared to be in their late teens and early 20s, began to climb out of the rooftop hatch, which was only a couple of feet from the pavement since the bus had landed on its side," Morris wrote on the Web site.
As Morris and other motorists tried to help, "Some of the injured collapsed in the roadway, while others were able to walk to the wall. Almost all were covered with blood," he wrote in his account.
"I asked one young man where they were from, and he said they were a baseball team from Ohio, heading to Florida," Morris wrote. "Then, he said, 'I'm freezing. Can you find me a blanket?'"
The charter company, Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc., of Ottawa in northwest Ohio, did not immediately return telephone or e-mail messages from The Associated Press.
On campus, assistant football coach Steve Rogers said he was working out in the weight room with members of the football team around 6 a.m. when they saw news of the bus crash on television. He said when they saw the markings on the side of the bus, "That's when reality hit everybody."
They recognized the bus company as one all the school's sports teams may have used, he said.
"Everybody was in shock. Nobody what to say or what to feel," he said.
His players started calling friends they knew on the baseball team, trying to reach some by cell phone. The campus, with 1,150 students, is small enough that everyone will know someone who was on the bus, Rogers said.
"It hits home harder than it would if it had happened at a bigger school. Everybody knows each other," he said.
The worst part is waiting to find out who was injured and who was killed, Rogers said.
Megan Barker, a sophomore from Bucyrus, Ohio, said she knew just about everyone on the team and described them as "a fun-loving group of guys."
"They live as a family," Barker said.
She said she she heard from one of her close friends on the team, calling to say he was OK.
Terri Bauman has two sons on the school's baseball team. One was on the bus and one, a freshman, was bumped at the last minute by a sophomore player. Her 21-year-old son, Chris Bauman, a junior outfielder, called from Grady Memorial to say he had been pinned under the bus and had a gash on his leg but was otherwise OK.
"Some of their friends are hurt and some are gone, so it is tearing him apart," Terri Bauman told The Cincinnati Enquirer.
At a chapel service the night before, students a had offered a prayer for their sports teams and other students to travel safely over spring break, said Katie Barrington, a junior from Brooklyn Heights, Ohio.
"Sometimes you take that stuff for granted," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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