OHIO BASEBALL TEAM'S BUS CRASHES; 6 DIE
By DANIEL YEE, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 2, 5:49 PM ET
ATLANTA - A small college in Ohio
was thrown into mourning Friday after a bus carrying the 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, scattering bags of baseball equipment across the road and splattering blood on the overpass. 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
On the 1,150-student campus
in Bluffton, about 50 miles south of Toledo, students and community residents — some wiping away tears — 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
Classes were canceled, along
with other sports trips that had been scheduled during next week's spring break. Airlines arranged for the players' parents
to fly to Atlanta free on Friday evening.
Megan Barker, a sophomore,
said she knew just about everyone on the team and described them as "a fun-loving group of guys." She added: "They live as
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.
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 about 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.
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 immediately known
if the bus had seat belts. 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.
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.
"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 nonviolence. But unlike adherents of more conservative Mennonite denominations and the Amish, members wear 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
"Sometimes you take that
stuff for granted," said Katie Barrington, a junior from Brooklyn Heights,
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."