Baseball Players Who Survived Bus Wreck Return To Ohio

Monday, March 5th 2007, 6:20 am
By: News On 6

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) _ Jon Betts stepped off a charter flight wearing the same baseball cap that his son wore when he died.

Betts returned home to Ohio on Sunday, two days after a bus crash in Georgia claimed the lives of his son, three of his Bluffton University baseball teammates and two others.

Since the accident, Betts said, he has spent a lot of time telling the players who came away with only minor injuries that ``it was OK that they survived.''

About 30 people walked off the flight _ one player limping, another with his arm in a sling _ and greeted those waiting on the tarmac at Toledo Express Airport with hugs. A hearse drove to the back of the plane to transport two players' bodies.

``He died doing what he loved and who he enjoyed being with,'' Jon Betts said of his son, David, a sophomore. ``That's all that is important to us.''

Also killed in Friday's crash were sophomore outfielder Tyler Williams of Lima; Scott Harmon, a freshman from Lima; and Cody Holp, a freshman from Arcanum. The driver and his wife, Jerome and Jean Niemeyer, also died.

The team from the Mennonite-affiliated university was traveling to its annual spring training in Florida when the charter bus crashed before daybreak. The bus was carrying 35 student-athletes, coaches and bus drivers. The 1,200-student school will be closed this week for spring break.

Investigators said the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp for a regular lane, and the bus crashed into a barrier at a T-shaped intersection and plummeted off the overpass onto the highway below.

On Sunday, investigators interviewed two players and a coach who were recovering from injuries.

One player said they had seen nothing unusual up until the time of the accident, and the driver was not talking on a cell phone or radio, said Kitty Higgins, who is leading the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation.

There are tire marks at the scene, but they do not suggest the driver slammed on his brakes, Higgins said. The bus showed no mechanical problems.

Georgia transportation officials said Sunday they had no immediate plans to close or add safety signs to the highway exit ramp where the bus crashed.

The state Department of Transportation wants to see recommendations from the NTSB before adding any new safety devices such as signs or stoplights to the Interstate 75 ramp, spokesman David Spear said.

``We won't wait until their final published report. If during the course of their conversations it might make this better, we're going to act on it,'' he said.

There are two ``Prepare to Stop'' signs on the ramp, which exits off the left lane, and the same words are painted on the ramp itself, Spear said. The NTSB has said that the accident site has had numerous crashes and can be difficult for drivers to navigate.

Fred Hanscom, director of independent consulting group Transportation Research Corp., said the ramp could have larger signs, a stoplight at the top or pavement grooves that make a noise to warn drivers to slow down.

``The fact that this ramp went almost parallel with the main line (of the interstate) was a confusing factor,'' Hanscom said. ``Drivers normally expect ramps to go to the right and not the left.''