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Focus turns to left-side exit lane in bus tragedy

Story Highlights

• NEW: No data recorder on bus, investigators say
• Family, friends from Ohio travel to Atlanta to mourn, check on loved ones
• Police: No evidence that driver tried to stop before tumbling off overpass
• 6 killed in crash of bus carrying Bluffton University baseball team
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Ohio baseball players who were on a bus that plunged off an Atlanta overpass struggled Saturday to comprehend the tragedy that killed four of their teammates, the bus driver and the driver's wife.

The Bluffton University players' friends and families arrived in Georgia Saturday to pay their respects and check on the surviving players, all of whom were hurt in Friday's crash.

Highway safety experts investigating the crash, which killed six and injured 29, will study whether the design of a left-side Interstate highway exit may have been a factor in the accident, an official said Saturday.

The bus, which was being driven by a fresh driver during an overnight trip, drove up a left-side exit on Interstate 75 just north of downtown and crossed a multilane highway overpass before crashing though a guardrail and plunging onto the highway below, said National Transportation Safety Board Member Kitty Higgins.

"We know that there have been numerous accidents at Exit 252 for Northside Drive," Higgins said, referring to the accident site, where a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane and an exit lane run side by side.

"We are also interested in the history of the HOV lane and exit ramp design and will be looking at the signage, highway markings and other motorist warning devices that were available before exiting at that particular spot."

There were no skid marks leading up to a stop sign at the end of the exit, police said.

Witnesses said there was "no indication that there was a concerted effort to stop the bus" before it reached the top of the exit ramp and entered the multi-lane bridge over the highway, said Maj. Calvin Moss, commander of special operations for Atlanta police.

The bus was not equipped with an electronic data recorder that might have provided more information about the last seconds before the fatal crash, Higgins said.

'It still feels unreal'

Freshman pitcher Sam Fruchey, who wasn't on the bus, drove overnight from Ohio to check on teammates who were traveling to a Saturday game in Florida.

He said he couldn't describe the emotions he was feeling, but said, "You just hope that everyone that's injured still just makes it through."

Fruchey's mother Peggy described the situation as "awful."

"That's the first thing that went through my mind, you know, that thank God he wasn't on the bus, but I just feel terrible for all the parents," she said.

Bluffton University first baseman Greg Sigg, like most of his teammates, was asleep when the charter bus ran over the overpass wall and fell onto Interstate 75 in Atlanta.

"The next thing I remember I was standing in glass and we started getting people out," Sigg said.

The gravity of the accident began to hit Sigg when he realized that he couldn't find some of his teammates amid the wreckage.

"It kind of hits you slowly," he said. "Sometimes it's harder. At other times it still feels unreal."

Catcher Kurt Schroeder, 20, described a similar disbelief: "I'm still waiting to wake up. I'm just shocked. You don't expect something like that to happen, especially [when you're from] small-town Ohio. It's really rough."

Schroeder said he was "a little bruised up, good as can be."

Sigg, who has stitches in his knee and cuts on his foot and hand, said he is thankful his injuries were minor. He told his mother not to come to Atlanta because he was not seriously hurt, but when he checked into an Atlanta hotel Saturday, his mother was there waiting for him.

Trauma surgeon Jeff Salomone at Grady Memorial Hospital said the passengers suffered head, spleen, lung and liver injuries.

As of Saturday morning, eight players remained in the hospital. Of those, two were in critical condition and one in serious condition, hospital officials said.

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

Bluffton University identified the players killed in the crash as sophomore David Betts, of Bryan, Ohio; freshman Harmon of Lima, Ohio; freshman Cody Holp of Arcanum, Ohio; and sophomore Tyler Williams, also of Lima. Also killed were the bus driver, Jerome Niemeyer, and his wife, Jean, both of Columbus Grove, Ohio.


Bluffton University catcher Kurt Schroeder: "I'm still waiting to wake up. I'm just shocked."


  • 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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