BLUFFTON -- Students at Bluffton University returned to class Monday after a crash that killed five of their classmates and two bus drivers. A bus carrying the Bluffton Beavers baseball team team plunged over an overpass in Atlanta the morning of March 2nd. The team was headed for a spring break tournament, and the rest of the students at Bluffton were headed on vacation. Now after a week that was dominated by tragedy, the students came back together to remember their classmates and restart classes.
The team was headed to Sarasota, Florida, to play in a double header with Eastern Mennonite University before heading to Fort Myers to participate in the Gene Cusic Classic. Atlanta Police spokesman Joe Cobb said the driver apparently mistook an exit lane for part of a carpool lane, and drove up the ramp until he hit an intersection. The bus went off the overpass, and tumbled over a fence and guard rail, landing on its left side.
There are only about 1,100 students enrolled at the university. "When you have some tragedy happen in your family and then you're separated immediately right afterwards, it's really tough to deal with," said Phil Birkey, a junior at Bluffton. "I've talked to my friends on-line and like that. It's not the same as being there with them."
While some say the timing of the accident has made it harder to cope, others say they've had plenty time over spring break to realize how precious life is. "It's definitely awakened a lot of people," said Steve Bogan, a senior at Bluffton. "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."
On campus, there are five crosses at Bluffton's baseball field, bearing the names of the five players who were killed -- Zach Arend, David Betts, Scott Harmon, Cody Holp, and Tyler Williams. But the pain in Bluffton is visible far beyond the campus. Signs of support and prayer are found all over Bluffton at schools, churches, and local businesses.
Since the bus crash happened as classes were letting out for spring break, Bluffton University will have its first chance to officially mourn on Monday evening. Administrators plan a memorial service. "I don't know how everybody's going to react to this," said Birkey. "People are going to care and probably be crying. It's going to be tough.
Funeral services for four of the five students killed in the crash happened last week. Mourners also remembered Jerome and Jean Niemeyer at funeral services last week. They were the two bus drivers.
Four people from the bus crash are still in the hospital. Tim Berta of Ida, Michigan is listed in critical condition, but is considered stable. Berta's father says his son is still on a respirator, but is improving. Head Coach James Grandey is in the Piedmont Hospital intensive care unit, where he has been upgraded to good condition. Pitcher William Grand-Lynnard was last listed in fair condition at Atlanta's Grady Hospital. Player Kyle King of Dover, Ohio is recovering from a broken back at the Atlanta Medical Center.
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, and the team played its first game in 1905. Its all-time record is 622-807-24.