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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2007

Tragedy in Atlanta

WHY an accident as devastating as the Bluffton University tragedy occurred at all will be thoroughly dissected in the days ahead. But no amount of hand-wringing or finger-pointing can undo what happened before dawn Friday on I-75 in Atlanta.

When the chartered bus carrying the 2007 university baseball team took its ill-fated course on a left-hand exit ramp and plunged off an overpass, four young lives, in addition to the driver and his wife, were lost. What was supposed to be a trip full of anticipation for a spring break week packed with baseball abruptly turned into a journey of disbelief.

In the early morning hours the news bulletins from the dramatic crash scene stunned the small Ohio community about 50 miles south of Toledo.

Bluffton is a town of roughly 3,900 people and most of the university's 1,200 students come from a 60-mile radius of the area. So the enormity of six deaths along with serious injuries to several ballplayers and a coach shook a place where everyone knows everyone.

The searing pain of such loss is widely borne in such communities. The student players who died leave behind families and friends numb with grief. The bus driver and his wife leave two sons and a daughter in a state of shock and sorrow.

But in Bluffton, where life revolves around the Mennonite-affiliated university, mourners at least seem to gather strength from their faith and their heritage of acceptance and service. While maintaining a strong commitment to its Mennonite roots, the university is likewise committed to pursuing peace and social justice issues.

The grieving survivors draw comfort from their solidarity of spirit. In this time of immense heartache and indescribable sadness they hold each other together.

The time for assessing what went wrong Friday for a busload of young men on their way to play baseball in Florida will come soon enough. How preventable was the driver's tragic mistake on the confusing I-75 ramp leading straight onto Northside Drive in Atlanta? An analysis of Georgia Department of Transportation shows 82 other drivers have crashed at the same overpass with two fatalities in 10 years. While the configuration and signs at the fatal wreck site all apparently meet federal safety standards, should other measures have been applied to better warn drivers?

If only the questions had been asked before Bluffton suffered such a devastating blow.



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