BLUFFTON, Ohio (AP) - At a university smaller than some high
schools, where many athletes live in the same dormitory, the deaths
of four baseball players in a bus crash has left an entire campus
feeling a profound sense of loss.
Football players from Bluffton University froze during a morning
workout when they heard that the bus carrying the school's baseball
team went off a highway overpass in Atlanta and fell 30 feet early
Friday. They, and other students, scrambled to call baseball
players' cell phones.
"It hits home harder than it would if it had happened at a
bigger school," said Steve Rogers, an assistant football coach at
the Mennonite-affiliated university of 1,155 students.
Killed were freshman Scott Harmon of Lima; David Betts, a
sophomore from Bryan; Cody Holp, a freshman from Arcanum; and
sophomore Tyler Williams of Lima. The driver and his wife, Jerome
and Jean Niemeyer, also died.
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
"Coach always emphasized for us to build a strong team and
really be close with each other - we've really done that,"
survivor Greg Sigg, a first baseman, said Saturday on NBC's
"Today" show. "I'm really thankful that the most of us made it
out all right but it's extremely sad to know that we're going to go
back to school in a week and they're not going to be here."
Kris Grandlinard, 40, flew from Indianapolis with his two
daughters to visit his 19-year-old son William, a freshman
left-handed pitcher on the team who was in serious condition at
Grady Memorial Hospital with a concussion, a broken left arm,
cracked ribs and injuries to his spleen and liver.
"I don't think he's really grasped the severity of the
situation just yet. He knows there's some kids that have died. but
he don't know who yet. And I don't know if he really wants to
know," Grandlinard said.
On the Bluffton campus, candles flickered inside the gymnasium
Friday evening as about 500 people - mostly students and residents
of the small town - gathered for a vigil.
"Lord, we light these candles as a community of faith, a
community that grieves," said Eric Fulcomer, dean of students. At
the center of the gym floor, a baseball and glove sat on a table
surrounded by candles.
The baseball team's annual spring trip to Florida was a
highlight of the season, a chance to escape the dreary cold and
snow and play ball in the sun. Saturday would have been the team's
first spring-training game of the season, in Sarasota, and eight
more games were scheduled in Fort Myers.
Many students attend the school with a focus on playing sports
at the Division III level, where the cheering sections are small
and typically consist of parents and friends.
"It's one huge family," said player Matt Ferguson, who didn't
make the trip. "We spend all day together. We go to classes
together. We do everything together."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the
crash, and the results could be released in a year, board member
Kitty Higgins said.
Investigators said the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp
for a lane and went into a curve at full speed. It was dark at the
time, but the weather was clear. Investigators said there were no
"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. He had been sleeping in a window
seat and suffered a broken collarbone and facial cuts.
The driver had boarded the bus with his wife less than an hour
before the wreck, relieving another driver, authorities said. 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 seeking comment from the charter company, Executive Coach
Luxury Travel Inc. of Ottawa, Ohio, were not immediately returned.
The company posted a message on its Web site saying it was deeply
saddened by the crash and would cooperate with investigators.