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Published: Monday, 5/4/2009

Survivor of Bluffton baseball team bus crash graduates

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BLUFFTON, Ohio Two years ago, Tim Berta was fighting to survive head injuries that left him in a coma following a bus crash that killed five Bluffton University baseball players.

A year later, he was learning to walk and read again.

Now he's a college graduate and planning to go to nursing school.

"When they told me I would never do it, that just fueled me, because if you tell me, 'You're not ever going to do this,' well, I'm going to do it," he said.

Doctors didn't think Berta, 24, of Ida, Mich., would ever walk again, let alone finish the four courses he needed to get his biology degree.

He was just two months from graduating in March 2007 when the Florida-bound bus he was on with the team plunged off a freeway overpass in Atlanta. Of those who survived, Berta's injuries were the worst.

He suffered critical damage to areas of his brain that control his muscles and speech. He also broke all of his ribs on the left side, his collarbone and a shoulder blade.

He eventually recovered and learned to walk again. He completed his degree by taking classes online.

On Sunday, Berta walked onto a stage at Bluffton wearing a cap and gown and received a standing ovation.

University president James Harder said it seemed like a miracle that Berta was able to graduate. "Based on his own strength and his own determination he's achieved his diploma, but he's also inspired all of us," Harder said.

Berta was a catcher his first two years at Bluffton before he decided to concentrate on school and football. But he stayed involved with the baseball team as a student coach. That's why he was with the team when the bus crashed.

The National Transportation Safety Board later said that confusing highway signs and driver error contributed to the accident. Investigators said the bus driver who also died in the crash along with his wife mistook an exit ramp for a regular highway lane, crashing the bus into a concrete barrier before it flipped off the overpass and fell 30 feet back onto Interstate 75.

Doctors weren't sure Berta would live through the night. He spent more than three months in hospitals in Atlanta and Ohio before going home.

He still goes to therapy three times a week and says he'll keep with it until his therapists are tired of seeing him.

"Every single day I make small gains and they're waiting for that day when they don't see any more improvement and that's not going to happen as of right now," he said. "It just keeps getting better and better as I go on."

He plans to start nursing school at Lourdes College near Toledo either this fall or next year.

How long his next step will take doesn't really matter.

"The impossible just takes a little bit longer," Berta said.



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