Many of the friends, family, students and school administrators affected by Friday's Bluffton University bus crash flew into Toledo Sunday afternoon. They were aboard a charter flight from Atlanta that also brought two of the players' bodies home.
About 30 people walked off the plane and greeted those waiting on the tarmac with hugs. One player was limping, another had his arm in a sling.
You could feel a very profound sense of loss, reports News 11's Jennifer Boresz.
Jon Betts was one of nearly three dozen people who slowly stepped off the plane Sunday afternoon. The plane brought back the body of his son, David Betts, who was killed in Friday's bus crash.
Mr. Betts brought back vivid memories of the son he lost far too soon.
"He has a very infectious smile, and he's a very infectious individual. He's someone who brought a lot of energy to the game. He loved baseball. He loved, let me finish this please, he died doing what he loved," Mr. Betts said.
Three other Bluffton University baseball players also died and one of their bodies, not yet identified, returned home with David's.
The president of the university says although the ride back was full of friends, family and school officials, there were too many empty seats.
"I wish that we could have brought back everybody. We leave behind six people in the hospital and we leave behind, we could not bring back six people who are not living," Dr. James Harder said.
But in the Bluffton spirit, those who stepped off the plane are supporting each other in this difficult time and remembering those, like David, who couldn't be there.
"I know he's my son, but academically, athletically, musically he worked very hard and was very good at those things, but that wasn't the essence of David. The essence of David was his heart. That's what I ask them never to forget," Mr. Betts said.
Player Jimmy McMonagle of Ida, Michigan, is reportedly in good condition as are Maumee's Greg Sigg and Northwood's Cody McPherson. Senior Tim Berta, also from Ida, and freshman Zach Arend from Oakwood are in critical condition. Freshman William Grandlinard, Berne, Ind., has moved from serious to fair condition. Head Coach James Grandey is in the ICU in serious condition.
Also in good condition: players Chris Bauman, Milford, Ohio; Lukas Baumgartner, Berne, Indiana; and AJ Ramthun, Springfield.
Four members of the Bluffton University baseball team were killed when their charter bus fell off an off-ramp and onto Interstate 75 in Atlanta. In a late afternoon news conference on Friday, the university confirmed that the crash killed players David Betts, Bryan, Ohio; Scott Harmon, Lima, Ohio; Cody Holp, Arkanum, Ohio; and Tyler Williams.
Also killed were Jerome Niemeyer and his wife, Jean Niemeyer, the bus drivers. They were from Columbus Grove, Ohio. At least 9 others were seriously injured. Twenty more suffered less-serious injuries, out of the total of 33 team members on board.
The bus carrying the team crashed around 5:30 Friday morning. The students had been on their way to Sarasota, Fla., to play in a double header with Eastern Mennonite University before heading to Ft. Myers to participate in the Gene Cusic Classic.
Police spokesman Joe Cobb says the driver apparently mistook the exit lane for part of the carpool lane and continued over the side of the overpass. The bus tumbled over a fence and guard rail, and landed on its left side. Eyewitnesses on the scene say there were no skid marks.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
The bus landed on a pickup being driven by a Maryland man. Danny Lloyd said it looked like a big slab of concrete falling down. He closed his eyes and stepped on the gas. His truck was damaged, but he wasn't hurt.
A spokesman for Grady Memorial Hospital says it took in 19 people who were injured in the accident. Three are in critical condition, with 2 of those rushed into emergency surgery and one in intensive care. One of the injured who is not in ICU is listed in good contidion. Sixteen more have mild to moderate injuries, but 15 of those have since been released.
Doctor Leon Haley said they were "pretty calm," considering what they've been through, and that they are "very aware of what's going on."
Three patients were taken to Piedmont Hospital with minor to moderate injuries. Seven patients are at Atlanta Medical Center. Three are in intensive care, while four were treated and released.
Findlay's Sam Fruchey and Bryan's Tyler Sanders were not on the bus at the time of the crash. Also, we hear that Ryan Baightel and Brandon Freytag of Wapakoneta are OK. Player Manager Michael Engler suffered a broken finger but is in good condition.
Bluffton University is just south and west of Findlay, or about 50 miles south and west of Toledo. News 11's Colleen Wells was there this morning and said the scene at Bluffton University was very emotional. There are only about 1,100 students enrolled at the university. Wells says it's the kind of school where everybody knows everybody. She's seen students in tears.
"It's going to rock the school for awhile," said Bluffton junior Katie Barrington. Some students and residents wiped tears from their eyes as they filed into the school's basketball gym for a 10 am gathering.
University President James Harder spoke to reporters just after 11:00am. "Today is a profoundly tragic and sad day in the life of Bluffton University," Harder began. "We only wish to reflect on our sadness for the tragedies that have so deeply impacted the lives of so many people. Friends, relatives, of course the people involved directly in the accident, we can only begin to imagine how over time this will play out."
"A few minutes ago, in this auditorium, a gathering together of the Bluffton community occurred. Every seat was filled, as our students, faculty and staff, friends, community members, alumni, area pastors, area counselors and well-wishers gathered together to reflect on what has happened," said Harder.
"All of us on this campus will have the opportunity in the days and weeks ahead to offer our own support in many, many different ways, and I'm sure that support is forthcoming," said Harder.
Numerous offers from other institutions and families have poured into the university offering counseling services, places to stay, food and many other tangible and intangible forms of support.
A police spokesman described the bus as being "completely annihilated." Sports equipment was scattered along the interstate. Several people were able to crawl out of the escape hatches before rescuers got there.
A.J. Ramthun says he was jolted awake when the bus hit the overpass wall. He says he then remembers a teammate tapping him on the head and telling him to get out because there was "gas all over."
Ramthun has stitches in his face and says his collarbone is broken. However, he says his brother -- a teammate -- is worse off. Ramthun says his brother damaged his hip after being trapped underneath the bus and "might not recover from that."
The crash happened about 5:30am Friday on I-75 and Northside Drive NW in Atlanta, which is a few miles north of downtown. Severe weather moved through the area last night, but the severe storms had moved on to the east before the crash. It's not clear if the weather played any role in the crash.
Traffic on I-75 was backed up for miles by the wreck.
The Bluffton University web page says the Bluffton Beavers play their homes games at Sears Field in Bluffton. Bluffton's team finished 17-21 in 2006, with a record of 10-11 in the Heartland Conference, tying them for second place in their NCAA Division 3 conference. The school was founded in 1899.
The team played its first game in 1905. Its all-time record is 622-807-24.
According to the school's web page, the The 16th Annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic is an event that offers Men's and Women's NCAA and NAIA Baseball and Softball teams an opportunity to participate in regular season games during their respective "Spring Breaks." Over 300 teams come from most of the "cold winter climate" states and represent NCAA Divisions II and III.
Classes at Bluffton were cancelled for the day and student organizations planning to head out on spring break trips canceled their plans in order for students to be with each other and their families during this time of grieving. Trained counselors, local area pastors and community members have been available throughout the day for students.