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Published: Friday, 3/16/2007

Bluffton coach released from hospital, eager to reunite with baseball team

FROM THE BLADE'S WIRE SERVICES
James Grandey was released from Piedmont Hospital yesterday afternoon and said he is ready to return to Ohio to help his close-knit team find a way to turn the tragedy into something positive.
James Grandey was released from Piedmont Hospital yesterday afternoon and said he is ready to return to Ohio to help his close-knit team find a way to turn the tragedy into something positive.
GENE BLYTHE / AP Enlarge

ATLANTA - After spending nearly two weeks in an Atlanta hospital recovering from injuries he suffered in a bus crash that killed five of his players, the Bluffton University baseball coach said yesterday he's eager to get back home.

James Grandey was released from Piedmont Hospital yesterday afternoon and said he is ready to return to Ohio to help his close-knit team find a way to turn the tragedy into something positive.

Mr. Grandey said he had a message to the surviving members of his team: "We've got to try to play baseball. [Let's] honor the memory of the guys who passed away."

The coach addressed the media, sitting in a wheelchair with his right leg stabilized by a metal brace. In addition to a compound fracture of his lower right leg, the coach "basically broke every bone in his face," Thomas Berry, Mr. Grandey's oral surgeon, said.

Dr. Berry said Mr. Grandey, 29, broke his cheeks, eye sockets, upper and lower jaws, and his nose.

Still, his doctors described him as a model patient who rarely complained during his nearly two-week hospital stay. Wearing a Bluffton baseball pullover, Mr. Grandey said he is eager to reunite with his team.

"In some way we'll have to find a way to turn this into a positive," he said.

Mr. Grandey was injured along with 28 players in the March 2 crash on Interstate 75 in Atlanta. Four players, and the bus driver and his wife, were killed. Another one of the injured players died a week after the wreck.

Grandey Grandey
GENE BLYTHE / AP Enlarge

Mr. Grandey said at a news conference that God brings only situations that people can handle.

"I wonder why I survived. I was in the front seat. ... I don't know, God has a reason," he told reporters outside the hospital. "There's a reason for those that didn't survive as well. We'll never know that answer until we ourselves pass away."

Mr. Grandey said he remembers nothing of the crash.

"The last thing I remember is turning the DVD player off and laying down to go to sleep," he said. "The next thing I know I'm sitting in the median, trying to figure out how we fell."

Mr. Grandey said the hardest part for him is that his team has been grieving without him.

"It's hard not to be there as their coach," he said. "I want to help them through the process."

Mr. Grandey said it was a week after the crash before he could take his first sip of water. He said he has been drinking nine protein drinks a day.

His jaw will remain wired shut for another month, doctors said.

Investigators said the bus driver apparently mistook the ramp for a regular highway lane, traveling up it at "highway speeds." The bus then crashed into a concrete barrier at a T-intersection at the top of the ramp, flipped off the overpass, and fell 30 feet back onto the interstate.

The Bluffton students who died the day of the crash were David Betts, 20, of Bryan; Scott Harmon, 19, and Tyler Williams, 19, both of Lima, Ohio, and Cody Holp, 19, of Arcanum, Ohio. Bus driver Jerome Niemeyer, 65, and his wife, Jean, 61, of Columbus Grove also were killed.

Zachary Arend, 18, of Oakwood, Ohio, died a week later.

Tim Berta, a student coach and senior from Ida, Mich., remained in critical condition yesterday at Grady Memorial Hospital, said spokesman Denise Simpson. Mr. Berta is the only player to remain hospitalized from the crash.

His father, Rob Berta, said his son, who remains on a respirator, squeezed his hand after he spoke to Tim early Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, state road workers began adding safety features, such as signs and reflective stripes, to several commuter-lane exits along the interstate in Atlanta, including the one involved in the bus crash.

Paul Schlamm, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said a preliminary report on the crash likely will be released next week.



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