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Bluffton University bus accident Bluffton University Charter Bus Accident in Atlanta, Georgia on March 2, 2007 Details Date and time: 05:38, March 2, 2007 Location: Atlanta, Georgia Coordinates: 33°48′09″N 84°24′27″W / 33.8026°N 84.4076°W / 33.8026; -84.4076Coordinates: 33°48′09″N 84°24′27″W / 33.8026°N 84.4076°W / 33.8026; -84.4076 Bus info: Van Hool T2145 luxury touring coach Statistics Vehicles: Motorcoach Total people involved: 36 Deaths: 7 Injuries: 21 The Bluffton University bus accident was an automobile accident which occurred during the early morning hours of March 2, 2007, on Interstate 75 in Atlanta, Georgia. A chartered motorcoach was carrying 33 members of the Bluffton University baseball team from Bluffton, Ohio on their way to a tournament game during spring break in Sarasota, Florida. The group planned to travel without an overnight stop on the approximately 900-mile, 18-hour trip. The trip went without incident from Bluffton south to a motel in Adairsville, Georgia, located 54 miles north of Atlanta, which was near the half-way point. There, a relief driver, who had been positioned earlier in order to have the required sleep period, took over and began operating the second half of the trip to Florida. About 5:38 AM EDT, operating the motorcoach southbound in a left-hand HOV lane of I-75 in the Atlanta metropolitan area, the driver apparently mistakenly entered a left HOV-only exit ramp from the HOV lane which led upward to a wide elevated road and a T-junction marked by a stop sign. The bus was traveling at highway speed, when it reached the top of the ramp and the stop sign. As the driver of the motorcoach failed to successfully stop or turn, and lost control, the bus slid sideways into a concrete bridge wall and chain-link security fence and fell 19 feet, landing onto its left side across the Interstate highway below. Within minutes, multiple emergency services from the Atlanta area were on the scene. The 29 passengers that originally survived the crash were taken to Atlanta-area hospitals. Seven motorcoach occupants were killed: the driver, the driver’s wife, and five passengers. Seven other passengers received serious injuries, and 21 passengers received minor injuries. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) dispatched a team to the scene and began an investigation. Local and state police and officials of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) also investigated. In its final report, the NTSB determined that the probable cause was "the motorcoach driver's mistaking the HOV-only left exit ramp to Northside Drive for the southbound Interstate 75 HOV through lane." A contributing factor to the accident was "failure of the Georgia Department of Transportation to install adequate traffic control devices to identify the separation and divergence of the Northside Drive HOV-only left exit ramp from the southbound Interstate 75 HOV through lane." Also the NTSB determined that contributing to the severity of the accident was "the motorcoach's lack of an adequate occupant protection system." Contents 1 Details 1.1 Bluffton University 1.2 Executive Coach charter bus 1.3 Bus driver 1.4 Hospital response 2 Fatalities 3 Injuries 4 Cause and investigation 4.1 National Transportation Safety Board report 4.2 I-75 and HOV lane in Atlanta 4.3 Aftereffects 5 Reactions 5.1 Funerals 5.2 Memorial services 5.3 Statements 5.4 Lawsuits 5.5 Settlement 6 Special Investigations Unit: Fatal Journey 7 9-1-1 call to Atlanta emergency services 8 See also 8.1 Similar accidents 9 External links 10 References // Details Bluffton University Main article: Bluffton University Bluffton University is located in Bluffton, Ohio, about 50 miles or 80 km south of Toledo, Ohio. The university is a Christian liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. It was founded in 1899 as Central Mennonite College and became Bluffton College in 1913. The name Bluffton University was adopted later on in 2004. Bluffton is a member of NCAA Division III and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Its sports teams are nicknamed the Beavers; the school colors are royal purple and white. Executive Coach charter bus Executive Coach Luxury Travel, Inc. was the company which was operating the chartered motorcoach type bus. The company is based in Ottawa, Ohio, which is located about 10 miles north of Bluffton, Ohio.[1] The bus was a 2000 Van Hool T2145 57-passenger motorcoach. (In U.S. terminology, a motorcoach is a type of intercity bus designed and equipped for long-distance travel). The bus had passed a safety inspection by the Ohio Highway Patrol on February 23, just seven days before the crash.[2] Bus driver Jerome "Jerry" Niemeyer and his wife, Jean Niemeyer, were residents of the small town of Columbus Grove in Putnam County, Ohio, only a few minutes' drive away from Bluffton. Jerry had been driving buses for years for several school events and trips, specifically for Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc. He had transported the team on the same route a year before. Shortly before the team's 2007 trip to Florida, Jean quit her job at the local McDonald's in Ottawa, Ohio. Residents of these small towns said that the couple would try to be together whenever they had the chance. They would give of themselves in their jobs and careers according to several residents and co-workers. The Niemeyers checked into a Comfort Inn at Adairsville just after 7:30 p.m. the evening before the crash. From all indications, Jerry Niemeyer had had the rest period required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Standards before taking over the motorcoach. Blood and urine samples from his body would later show the presence of ibuprofen, therapeutic levels of the antidepressant Sertraline and the anti-hypertensive drug Atenolol, and conclude that he had no alcohol in his system.[2] Jerry Niemeyer took over as the driver earlier in the morning at a motel in Adairsville, Georgia when it was time for a driver switch. Shortly before this, he and his wife, Jean Niemeyer, checked out of their hotel at around 3 a.m. and had placed an order from the local pizza parlor. About an hour later, they were in Atlanta, heading south on Interstate 75 in the high-occupancy vehicle lane. The driver, Jerome Niemeyer, apparently mistaken, drove left onto an exit ramp for Northside Drive (U.S. 41). The ramp, constructed in 1996, rose upward to a wide elevated road and a T-junction marked by a stop sign.[3] Without braking, the bus swerved rightward across the road, attempting to go southbound on Northside Drive. Unable to make the turn, it hit the low barrier wall, which caused the back end of the bus to swing around to the right, pointing it due northbound. The momentum of this swing caused the entire right side of the bus to crash into and then over the low wall and through the guard rail on top of it. Flipping over 270° (¾-rotation), it dropped to the freeway below, landing on its left side and hitting a pickup truck. The pickup's driver, who rapidly accelerated when he saw the bus plunging, was not hurt.[4] [5][6] Hospital response The majority of the injured baseball players were transported to Grady Memorial Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Atlanta, Georgia with a level 1 trauma center. An entire wing was cleared out for the baseball players and their families. Several players were also treated at Atlanta Medical Center, a Level 2 trauma center. The team coach was treated at Piedmont Hospital. Fatalities Seven fatalities overall were recorded. One baseball player, Tim Berta, 22, of Ida, Michigan was in critical condition as of April 13.[7] Of the 35 people on the bus, the following individuals were killed as a result of the crash.[8][3][9][10] People who died in the Bluffton University Bus Accident Name Year Age Hometown # Position Death Date Zachary Arend Freshman 18 Oakwood, Ohio 19 Pitcher March 9, 2007 (from injuries) David Betts Sophomore 20 Bryan, Ohio 4 Second-Baseman March 2, 2007 Scott Harmon Freshman 19 Lima, Ohio 17 Third-Baseman March 2, 2007 Cody Holp Freshman 19 Arcanum, Ohio 18 Pitcher March 2, 2007 Jean Niemeyer 61 Columbus Grove, Ohio Bus Driver's wife March 2, 2007 Jerome Niemeyer 65 Columbus Grove, Ohio Bus Driver March 2, 2007 Tyler Williams Sophomore 19 Lima, Ohio 3 Outfielder March 2, 2007 Injuries The 29 passengers that originally survived the crash were taken to Atlanta-area hospitals, including Grady, Atlanta Medical Center, and Piedmont Hospital. Baseball coach James Grandey, 29, and four players were reported in serious or critical condition, one of whom, Zachery Arend, later died. As of March 15, 2007, James Grandey was reported in good condition and released. Many of the others were treated and released.[11] Cause and investigation Allegedly poor design of the exit itself soon became the primary source of blame.[12] The Atlanta Police Department and National Transportation Safety Board investigated. Meanwhile, preliminary tests ruled out the possibility of a mechanical failure.[13] National Transportation Safety Board report A preliminary report was issued about a week after the accident, according to the NTSB chairman. A final report was released in July 2008. Regarding cause, the NTSB stated: "The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the motorcoach driver’s mistaking the HOV-only left exit ramp to Northside Drive for the southbound Interstate 75 HOV through lane. Contributing to the accident driver’s route mistake was the failure of the Georgia Department of Transportation to install adequate traffic control devices to identify the separation and divergence of the Northside Drive HOV-only left exit ramp from the southbound Interstate 75 HOV through lane. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the motorcoach’s lack of an adequate occupant protection system." "Major safety issues identified in this accident include inadequate HOV traffic control devices, inadequate motor carrier driver oversight, lack of event data recorders on motorcoaches, and lack of motorcoach occupant protection. As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration and to the Georgia Department of Transportation. The Safety Board also reiterates four recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration." The Executive Summary and a PDF file copy of the entire NTSB report are available at this link: [1] I-75 and HOV lane in Atlanta Jerome Niemeyer, bus driver, took this exit off Northside Drive immediately before the accident. Since this photo was taken, new federal guidelines for signage of this type of exit have been established, and Georgia has updated all of its HOV exit signage. Of particular interest in the investigation is the design of the exit itself. Several factors appear to have played a possible role: The exit is on the left-hand side of the highway and not the right-hand side; Inadequate advance notice may have been given of this atypical setup; The HOV exit is signed differently than standard exits; The arrow on the exit sign may mislead drivers where the HOV lane continues; The exit ramp has poor signage.[14] Aftereffects The Georgia Department of Transportation made changes to all seven of the left-hand lane HOV interchanges in Atlanta, starting March 14, 2007.[15] The final NTSB report urged further changes than the ones already made. Doctors from Grady Memorial Hospital began phoning congressmen from Ohio and Georgia soon after the accident urging them to put seat belts on Charter Buses to avoid this situation in the near future. For a list of changes see Changes ordered for bus crash HOV ramp. Reactions Funerals The funeral for Jerome and Jean Niemeyer took place on March 7, 2007, at St. Anthony's Catholic Parish in Columbus Grove, Ohio.[16] The funeral for David Betts took place at Bryan High School in Bryan, Ohio on March 9, 2007. Scott Harmon was eulogized on March 7, 2007, at Elida High School in Elida, Ohio, just west of Bluffton, Ohio. A service for Tyler Williams was held on March 8, 2007, at Phillipian Missionary Baptist Church in Lima, Ohio.[17] Cody Holp was laid to rest in Lewisburg, Ohio where funeral services took place at Lewisburg United Methodist Church on March 8, 2007.[18] A mass of Christian burial took place March 16, 2007, for Zachary Arend at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Paulding, Ohio at 10 a.m.[19] Memorial services Hundreds of people packed Founders Hall on the Bluffton University campus for the memorial service on March 12, 2007, and an overflow audience listened outside as the student body mourned together for the first time. The service was attended by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, numerous other public officials, college and university representatives, Mennonite Church officials, AirTran employees, other athletes from colleges in the same conference, and fire and rescue personnel. The memorial ceremony was aired live by satellite to Georgia, where the team's coach and several other players were still recovering in the hospital.[20] Statements Student, Sherrolyn Young, who attended Bluffton University in Ohio released this statement to the press: “ We're all friends, if you were not friends with them, you were friends with someone who was friends with them. ” Rev. Ron Warnimont told The Lima News out of Lima, Ohio this about Jerome and Jean Niemeyer: “ They gave of self, in their jobs, in their careers. They both were very much in the service business, whether it be Jerry when he was driving his bus or when Jean was helping customers at the bank or helping people at McDonald’s. ” Executive Coach Luxury Travel, Inc. out of Ottawa, Ohio posted this statement on their website shortly after the accident:[1] “ We at Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc. are deeply saddened by this tragedy. We are continuing to cooperate with the officials investigating the accident in Atlanta, Ga. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and their families. ” Senior, Steve Bogan, who attended Bluffton University released this statement to the press:[21] “ It's definitely awakened a lot of people. We may be young, we're not invincible, any one of us could be taken at any time, so it just makes us appreciate all the more the time that we do have with our loved ones and friends. ” Donald Pannabecker, vice president and dean of academic affairs emritus, told The Lima News this:[6] “ We have learned that small-town values extend beyond this small village in Ohio. Bluffton, Ohio, and Atlanta, Ga., have more in common than we might have thought. ” Lawsuits Several lawsuits have been filed by the families of deceased players and by those injured in the accident. The case is presently pending in the State Court of Fulton County. Settlement The state of Georgia has paid $3 million to the crash victims. State tort laws limit the liability to $3 million per occurrence, no matter how many were hurt.[22] Special Investigations Unit: Fatal Journey Here is a segment of the transcript of the recent Special Investigations Unit: Fatal Journey that aired on CNN on March 10, 2007 and March 11, 2007.[23] Griffin (CNN Reporter): It is not until you actually approach this split in the road that you're directed to exit left, or stay straight on southbound 75. For reasons we will never know, Jerry Niemeyer steered his bus left on to this exit ramp. He apparently didn't realize it. It's at this moment Kyle King seated four rows behind the driver in this seat is listening to music, half asleep, and hears the only warning. Kyle King, Bus Crash Survivor: And I woke up to the bus—the driver's wife screaming. Griffin (CNN Reporter): Jean Niemeyer was sitting in the front with her husband. Kyle King, Bus Crash Survivor: She said something like, this isn't the exit or the on ramp or something. Then I remember hearing the bus driver saying something. Then I actually heard the tires squeal of him trying to get it back on control. Griffin (CNN Reporter): Despite being on a clearly marked exit ramp, stop signs ahead and a stop ahead warning painted on the pavement, Atlanta police say bus driver Jerry Niemeyer hit the intersection without braking. His bus blew through the stop sign, across four lanes of traffic and headed straight toward a retaining wall. Maj. CW Moss, Atlanta Police: We don't have any evidence on the road to suggest the bus had attempted to stop. There were no skid marks laid down that we were able to determine. As to the reason for that, that remains under investigation. We hope we'll ultimately get an answer to that. Griffin (CNN Reporter): This skid mark of wheels turning right is the only evidence of Niemeyer's futile attempt to avoid disaster. AJ Ramthun, Bus Crash Survivor: I woke up as soon as the bus hit the overpass's wall. And that's when I looked up and the bus landed on the left side, which is the side I was sitting on. I just looked out and saw the road coming up after me. And it just—that's all. 9-1-1 call to Atlanta emergency services At 5:41 AM, a 9-1-1 call came in from Brandon Freytag on the charter bus, pleading for help.[24] Operator: Atlanta 911 Emergency. Caller: Yes. We've just been in a bus accident. A bunch of students. I don't know where we're at. Operator: I need a location. Caller: Where we at, sir? Voice in background: You're on 75 South. Caller: 75 South. Voice in background: I got somebody coming. Caller: We've got somebody coming, okay? See also Similar accidents 2006 Huntsville bus accident Carrollton bus disaster External links NTSB update on May 24th References ^ a b "Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc. - We Grieve". Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ a b ^ a b Slevin, Peter; Chatman, Angela (2007-03-03). "The Washington Post - Six killed as College Athletes' Bus Crashes". Retrieved 10 March 2007.  ^ "The Atlanta Journal Constitution - Team in fatal crash was asleep". Retrieved 18 April 2007.  ^ "WLIO Lima, Ohio - First day back for many grieving Bluffton students". Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ a b " - Campus service honors lives lost, offers hope for mourners". Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ "ESPN - Bluffton plays first baseball game since fatal crash". Retrieved 6 April 2007.  ^ "Columbus Dispatch - Bluffton in shock after bus crash in Atlanta kills 4 students, 2 other Ohioans". Retrieved 9 March 2007.  ^ "Atlanta Journal-Constitution - Biographies of the victims". Retrieved 9 March 2007.  ^ "CNN - Six killed as bus pledges off overpass". Archived from the original on March 5, 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2007.  ^ "FOX - Baseball player dies a week after Georgia bus crash kills 6 others". Fox News. 2007-03-09.,2933,258033,00.html. Retrieved 9 March 2007.  ^ Seewer, John (2007-03-06). "Baseball players who survived of bus wreck in Georgia return to Ohio in mourning". USA Today. Retrieved 1 April 2007.  ^ "Fatal Atlanta Bus Accident Not Caused By Mechanical Failures". Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ "Bus wreck site gets a hard look". Retrieved 1 April 2007.  ^ "CNN - Georgia changing exits like one where bus crashed". Archived from the original on March 14, 2007. Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ " - Remembered for service". Retrieved 11 March 2007.  ^ "WTOL Toledo - Saying goodbye to David Betts". Retrieved 11 March 2007.  ^ "11Alive Atlanta - Funeral Arrangements for Players". Retrieved 11 March 2007.  ^ " - Zachary Arend Obituary". Retrieved 14 March 2007.  ^ "WTOL Toledo - Thousands pack memorial service for bus crash victims". Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ "WTOL Toledo - Students at Bluffton University Return to Class After Tragedy". Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ ^ "Transcripts". CNN. Retrieved 13 March 2007.  ^ "11Alive Atlanta - Bus Crash Police Audio Released". Retrieved 10 March 2007.