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Six killed as bus plunges from overpass

Story Highlights

• Bus carrying college baseball team did not stop at top of exit ramp
• Driver, his wife and four students killed, police say
• Injured player "saw the road coming up after me"
• National Transportation Safety Board says it will investigate the crash
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Like most members of his college baseball team, A.J. Ramthun was sleeping when something jolted him awake -- the team's charter bus striking a wall on the side of an overpass.

Then, he looked out his window and "saw the road coming up after me," he said.

The charter bus, carrying 35 people -- Ramthun and his Bluffton University teammates -- to Florida, had toppled off the overpass and slammed into Interstate 75 just outside downtown Atlanta. (Watch the mangled wreckage of the bus righted on the highway Video)

Six people were killed. The other 29 were injured, six seriously.

Bluffton identified the players who died as sophomore infielder David Betts of Bryan, Ohio; freshman third and first baseman Scott Harmon of Lima, Ohio; freshman pitcher Cody Holp of Arcanum, Ohio; and sophomore outfielder Tyler Williams, also of Lima.

Also killed were the bus driver, Jerome Niemeyer, and his wife, Jean, both of Columbus Grove, Ohio.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," Ramthun, 18, said Friday. He was dressed in hospital scrubs, his arm in a sling and his face covered with cuts and bruises. His collarbone was broken, he needed stitches in the corners of his eyes and on his ear, and his finger was ripped to the bone.

He cried as he said, "I just wish there was something I could do for the families who lost their loved ones.

"This is something that's not going to leave the guys who were on the bus this morning. This is going to be with us forever.

"We've been living together, practicing together. We've been a family for the past five months, and something like this morning really makes you think twice about life." (Watch Ramthun's tearful condolences to families of those killed)

Eric Fulcomer, dean of students at the Mennonite-affiliated school, said a prayer vigil was planned for 8 p.m. Friday.

Bluffton canceled its classes on what was to be its last day before spring break, and was providing counseling, university President James Harder said.

University spokeswoman Robin Bowlus said Harder and his wife had traveled to Atlanta, along with Bluffton's athletic director and two members of the coaching staff. The school was working with players' families and helping make arrangements on "multiple airlines," she said.

AirTran Airways has offered a charter flight for families, while Delta has offered free transportation for relatives. Others in Atlanta have offered to open their homes to players and their families.

"The outpouring of support has just really been phenomenal," Bowlus said.

The Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc. bus left Bluffton, about 50 miles south of Toledo, Ohio, about 7 p.m. Thursday, according to Maj. Calvin Moss, commander of special operations for Atlanta police.

Bus in HOV lane

Fatigue, however, is not believed to be a factor in the crash, he said. Officials said a fresh bus driver took over about 4:30 a.m., about an hour before the wreck.

The bus was not scheduled to stop until later for breakfast, Ramthun said.

A preliminary investigation shows that the bus, headed south on I-75, took a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane exiting to the left off the interstate, Moss said. However, the bus apparently failed to stop at the top of the ramp and "took a bit of a right turn in an attempt to negotiate it" before plunging to the road below. (Animation: Route taken before tragedy)

There were no skid marks at the scene, he said, and witness reports indicate there was "no indication that there was a concerted effort to stop the bus."

Eight people, including the six fatalities, had to be extricated from the wreckage, according to Atlanta Fire Rescue.

Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital said it had received 19 students.

As of Friday afternoon, two remained in critical condition, both with "serious head injuries," said Dr. Jeffrey Salomone, trauma surgeon. One underwent emergency neurosurgery to remove a blood clot on his brain. A third student was in serious condition in the intensive care unit with internal injuries, he said.

The other 16 had been under observation throughout the day, he said, but "no significant injuries" had been found -- "they're mostly bumps and bruises at this point." By Friday evening, a Grady spokesman said, one of those 16 remained hospitalized in fair condition and the other 15 were being released.

Most seriously hurt were in front of bus

Three people from the bus remained in intensive care at Atlanta Medical Center, and one remained in Piedmont Hospital.

Salomone said the team captain told him that most of those who were seriously hurt or killed were nearer the front of the bus. In addition to the head injuries, students suffered bruised lungs and liver and spleen injuries, he said.

At Grady, officials closed a wing to keep the teammates together.

"The boys are doing pretty well," said one player's father, Ed Kay of the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, who was at Grady. "Some of them are walking around. They're talking to each other. Obviously, they're concerned about their teammates and coaches."

He said he was awakened by a call from his 20-year-old son, Tim, a pitcher and designated hitter for Bluffton. Some teammates were passing around a cell phone to call their families, he said.

"He told me he woke up and he was on the ground, and they were on the ground past an overpass," Kay said. "He just got out of the bus, and a lot of kids got out of the bus, and it was just a crazy scene."

He said his son told him he was not sure where he was, and he found out the location of the wreck from media reports.

"We were shocked, obviously," Kay said. "As parents, you feel good that your son is OK, but our hearts sure went out to the other kids who had more serious injuries, and I understand some kids didn't make it. It's tough. We knew a lot of these kids and a lot of the parents."

He said his son "really just had some cuts and scratches and, quite frankly, he's ready to go home."

In Atlanta, the wreck snarled morning rush-hour traffic. The bus fell into the interstate's southbound lanes, but authorities closed I-75 in both directions for a time.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it will investigate. Investigators said a device on the bus similar to an airplane's data recorder would be pulled and examined for relevant information.

Asked about any previous accidents involving the atypical exit, Moss said there was an instance some time ago, but the circumstances were very different. (Watch how confusion over the HOV lane and exit may have led to the crash Video)

Ohio has no HOV lanes, according to Scott Varner at the state Department of Transportation.

The team was on its way to a game in Sarasota, Florida, and was scheduled to play in a tournament in Fort Myers.

CNN's Tristan Smith contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


story.bus.victim.wxia.jpg

Bluffton University freshman A.J. Ramthun, 18, says he and other baseball players were asleep when the bus crashed.

BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY

  • Founded in 1899 as Central Mennonite College
  • 1,155 students
  • Rural Ohio campus, about 50 miles south of Toledo
  • Beavers sports teams in NCAA Division III


    Source: Bluffton University Web site
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