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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2007

Bluffton riders say bus driver s wife shouted alarm before deadly crash

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA Bluffton baseball team members who survived Friday s fatal bus crash say the wife of their charter bus driver tried, in the last moments before the crash, to warn her husband that something was terribly wrong.

Brandon Freytag was sleeping on his side when he was thrown against the seats in front of him.

Up front, he could hear the shrieking voice of driver Jerome Niemeyer s wife, Jean, before the bus toppled off a highway overpass, killing four Bluffton University baseball teammates, the driver, and his wife.

I could hear her screaming right at the end, the pitcher said.

They didn t have much time to react.

Mr. Niemeyer apparently mistook an exit ramp for a regular lane, and the bus crashed about 5:45 a.m. Friday into a concrete barrier and plummeted off the overpass onto I-75, investigators said.

Mrs. Niemeyer was sitting close to the front when the bus crashed.

Kyle King, who was sleeping like most of his teammates, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that he awoke and heard the driver s wife yelling, It s not the highway!

Mr. King, of Dover, Ohio, suffered serious injuries and was in stable condition yesterday at Atlanta Medical Center.

Bluffton head baseball coach James Grandey, 29, is on the mend after facial surgery Sunday. He was in serious condition yesterday at Piedmont Hospital with injuries to his face and ankle.

He s still progressing as expected, but he ll be here a while, said Nina Montanaro, the hospital s spokesman, noting that Mr. Grandey s parents and wife are with him. He is still in intensive care in serious condition, but he s expected to improve.

Four other players and coaches were still hospitalized yesterday in Atlanta: Student coach Tim Berta and three players; Zach Arend of Oakwood, Ohio, William Grandlinard of Berne, Ind., and Mike Ramthun of Springfield, Ohio.

Mr. Berta and Mr. Arend were listed in critical condition, Mr. Grandlinard in fair condition, and Mr. Ramthun was in good condition.

Baseballs with memorial messages and names of the
four Bluffton University baseball players who died in Friday s bus crash in Atlanta lie next to a fence near the team s playing diamond in Bluffton. Baseballs with memorial messages and names of the four Bluffton University baseball players who died in Friday s bus crash in Atlanta lie next to a fence near the team s playing diamond in Bluffton.
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Mr. Ramthun, during an interview with The Blade in his hospital room, said he was grateful that Coach Grandey is recovering, especially because he heard the outlook was grim in the hours after the crash.

When I first got to the hospital, I got wheeled out of the trauma center into the emergency room and they said, Hey, Mike did you hear about Coach Grandey? I said I didn t know what had happened to him and they were like, Coach Grandey died, recalled Mr. Ramthun, 21, who suffered leg injuries after being pinned under the bus.

That was the worst possible scenario I could have pictured just because he had a daughter a couple months ago and leaving his wife and his daughter I knew his daughter meant the world to him.

Plastic netting replaces the fence where a bus crash in Atlanta killed six people, including four Bluffton University athletes. Plastic netting replaces the fence where a bus crash in Atlanta killed six people, including four Bluffton University athletes.
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Mr. Ramthun said he has classes with Mr. Grandey in addition to having him as his baseball coach.

In every class he would say something about his daughter and how she gets up a couple times a night and everything, Mr. Ramthun said.

I knew that him being gone was just going to devastate Bluffton and all the guys on the team.

I was so happy when I found out he was alive, Mr. Ramthun said. Every time I hear about him it seems the news gets better. It s encouraging to know he s on the track to getting well again.

The team was en route to Florida for a set of games during spring break when its bus crashed.

Bluffton players David Betts, of Bryan, Ohio; Tyler Williams and Scott Harmon, both of Lima, Ohio, and Cody Holp, of Arcanum, Ohio, near Dayton were killed in the crash, along with the bus driver and his wife, residents of Columbus Grove, Ohio, in Putnam County.

Several players and coaches were pinned under the bus and the teammates rushed to save each other.

The players carried Coach Grandey from the wreckage.

Mike Ramthun s younger brother, A.J. Ramthun, whose collarbone was broken in the crash, said Coach Grandey refused help from his players until everybody else was rescued.

That s more than you could ever say about a person with their actions under pressure like that, said A.J. Ramthun, who returned home to Ohio on Sunday.

Bluffton University spokesman Robin Bowlus said yesterday that the university is supporting families who still have players or coaches hospitalized in Atlanta financially and with travel arrangements.

The university is sending school officials to Atlanta to help support the hospitalized team members and their families.

As long as we have people down there, we will most likely have at least one administrator down there as well, Ms. Bowlus said yesterday.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact Steve Eder at:seder@theblade.comor 419-724-6272.

BLUFFTON, Ohio - A community memorial service for the four Bluffton University baseball players and the Columbus Grove couple killed in a bus crash in Atlanta Friday will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Founders Hall on campus.

James Harder, Bluffton University president, said at a news conference this morning that a committee today would begin planning the event, which is open to the public. He said he and his wife would be attending every visitation and funeral for the six victims which are being held this week in Bryan, Columbus Grove, Elida, Lewisburg, and Lima.

Calling the 1,200-student Mennonite school "a small university with a big and caring heart," Mr. Harder expressed gratitude for the support that has been extended from around the world and particularly thanked the emergency responders, hospitals, churches, and people of Atlanta.

"People who came to our assistance, people who have been praying for us, people we didn't even know, have been like the hand of God," he said.

David Betts of Bryan Scott Harmon and Tyler Williams, both of Lima, Ohio, and Cody Holp of Arcanum, Ohio, died in the early morning crash on I-75 in Atlanta. Bus driver Jerome Niemeyer and his wife, Jean, of Columbus Grove, also were killed. Six people - four players, a student assistant, and head coach James Grandey - remain hospitalized in Atlanta.

The baseball team was on its way to Florida for spring games when Mr. Niemeyer apparently mistook an exit lane for a regular lane and the bus crashed into a barrier and careened off the overpass back onto I-75 below.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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