ATLANTA (BP)–Mennonite churches across the country are mourning the deaths of six people and the injuries of 29 others on a charter bus carrying a baseball team from one of their affiliated universities that crashed in the early morning hours March 2 on an interstate in northwest Atlanta.
The bus, carrying a team from Bluffton University in Ohio, was attempting to negotiate a turn when it crossed several lanes of traffic, crashed through a bridge’s 2-foot-high retaining wall and 10-foot-high fence and plunged onto Interstate 75, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The bus landed on its side, perpendicular to the interstate lanes, around 5:30 a.m. Officials closed I-75 in both directions for about five hours while crews removed the wreckage.
Mike Morris, a reporter for The Journal-Constitution, was on his way to work when he came upon the crash. As he got out of his car and walked closer to see if there were any injuries, he saw students trying to crawl out through the bus’s emergency hatch.
“A cold chill ran down my spine,” Morris wrote in a first-person account for the newspaper. “… Myself and several other motorists who had gotten out to help began trying to get the injured to the side of the road, where they could sit on a short concrete wall. Some of the injured collapsed in the roadway, while others were able to walk to the wall. Almost all were covered in blood.”
The 35 people on board had been traveling nonstop from Ohio to Florida, where the team was scheduled to play in a baseball tournament during spring break. Among the dead were the bus driver, his wife and four students, The Journal-Constitution said.
“This is a sad tragedy for the students, families, friends and Bluffton University campus community. We are asking for prayers of support during this time,” James M. Harder, president of the university, said in a statement posted on the school’s website.
Bluffton is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA.
A.J. Ramthum, 18, was one of the first survivors to speak to the media in a news conference outside a local hospital, describing the team as “tightly knit.”
There was an urgency to get out of the bus because gasoline had spilled, Ramthum recounted. “I heard some guys crying, saying, ‘I’m stuck; I’m stuck,’” Ramthun said with a broken collarbone and cuts and bruises covering his face.
He searched for his older brother, Mike, who was trapped under the bus and had a hip injury, The Journal-Constitution reported.
The newspaper said four passengers, some luggage and baseball equipment were thrown from the bus even before it left the bridge. Though they were ejected, those four passengers were not badly injured.