LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE / AP Enlarge
The National Transportation Safety Board's 16-month investigation of a bus crash that killed five Bluffton University baseball players is likely to conclude tomorrow when the board hears its staff's report on the accident.
But what John Betts, the father of victim David Betts, wants to hear more than the NTSB's conclusions about the crash's cause is its recommendations for safety measures that could prevent similar crashes.
Mr. Betts, who plans to attend the safety board meeting tomorrow in Washington - accompanied by his wife, Joy; son, Jacob, and daughter, Rachel - said he expects the report to recommend seat belts, reinforced roofs, and ejection-resistant window glazing on motor coaches like the one in which the Bluffton team's 33 players and coaches were riding when it crashed on I-75 in Atlanta during the predawn hours of March 2, 2007.
"They've been making these recommendations since 1999," Mr. Betts said. "The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration needs to move on these recommendations a little faster."
Today, the Betts family of Bryan plans to meet with U.S. senators who are considering a bill that would require those safety features on motor coaches.
"It includes everything the safety board has been calling for for the last 10 years," Mr. Betts said.
The safety board declined to make any staff available for interviews last week after announcing the meeting tomorrow, and by law its staff members are forbidden to release details of investigative reports until they have been reviewed and approved by the board.
But crash survivability is a standard element in NTSB accident investigations, as are such factors as highway engineering, weather, vehicles' mechanical condition, and the performance of human vehicle operators - be they bus or truck drivers, airplane pilots, train engineers, or ship's crews.
The Bluffton baseball team's charter bus was headed south on I-75 toward a tournament in Florida when it took a left-hand exit from a high-occupancy vehicle lane on Atlanta's north side, skidded across a major street at the ramp's top, and flipped over the side of a bridge carrying that street over the freeway. It landed on its side on I-75 below after plunging about 30 feet.
Along with David Betts, ballplayers Tyler Williams and Scott Harmon, both of Lima, Ohio; Cody Holp, of Arcanum, Ohio, and Zach Arend, of Oakwood, Ohio, were fatally injured. Bus driver Jerome Niemeyer, and his wife, Jean, both of Columbus Grove, also died.
Very early in the investigation, investigators indicated a belief that Mr. Niemeyer mistook the exit lane for the through route on the freeway and was too late in realizing his mistake.
Two weeks after the crash, officials placed larger Stop and Stop Ahead signs on the ramp and added other markings on the ramp, including the word "Exit."
While the team had ridden the bus overnight from Bluffton, Mr. and Mrs. Niemeyer had been aboard for only about an hour before the 5:30 a.m. crash, so fatigue appears unlikely to have been a factor. Players reported hearing Mrs. Niemeyer shouting to her husband about being on the ramp seconds before the crash.
The safety board's meeting tomorrow won't be a full public hearing, but Mr. Betts said he expects to have an opportunity to pose questions through an agency liaison "if what I hear conjures up questions."
The session is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. in the Board Room and Conference Center at the NTSB's Washington headquarters. The safety board plans to Webcast the meeting on the Internet.
"It does take time. I knew it would take a year to a year and a half for them to do this investigation," Mr. Betts said.
Also representing crash victims' survivors will be Dana and Caroline Arend, who planned to leave Oakwood today for Washington.
"We just feel we need to be there, as good parents to Zachary," Caroline Arend said Saturday.
Kim Askins, Mr. Holp's mother, said she won't make the trip but will watch the proceedings on the Webcast.
"I hope they will take care of the [safety] issues at hand, so this won't happen to anybody else," she said yesterday.
The motor-coach safety bill about which Mr. Betts plans to visit Senate offices today was introduced by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R., Texas). It is pending before the Senate's Transportation Committee, Mr. Betts said.
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