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Published: Tuesday, 7/8/2008

NTSB rules driver error primary cause of Bluffton bus crash in Atlanta

WASHINGTON A bus driver's mistaken identification of an exit ramp as the through-traffic lane for high-occupancy vehicles on an Atlanta freeway was the primary cause for a crash that killed five Bluffton University baseball players 16 months ago, the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded.

But in the report that the safety board adopted Tuesday, it also faulted the Georgia Department of Transportation for inadequate, and in some cases, confusing signs and lane markings at the Northside Drive interchange as contributing to the crash.

The NTSB also reiterated previous recommendations for enhanced safety systems on motor coaches that it said would have reduced the crash's severity.

The safety board recommended that GDOT immediately make sign and marking changes beyond those it performed shortly after the March 2, 2007 crash, in which bus driver Jerome Niemeyer and his wife, Jean, both died, along with ballplayers

David Betts, Tyler Williams, Scott Harmon, Cody Holp, and Zach Arend. All except Mr. Arend were killed instantly. The board also advised the Federal Highway Administration to pursue changes in sign and marking standards for such ramps on a nationwide basis, and urged the National Highway Transportation Safety

Administration to follow-through on bus-safety measures that the NTSB first proposed in 1999.

Mark V. Rosenker, the board's chairman, pledged to personally call James Ray, the acting Federal Highway administrator, to promote the NTSB recommendations, and called on relatives of those who died or were hurt in the crash to support that cause.

"It is also our [the NTSB's] job to advocate for the recommendations we have made," he said, and the survivors and relatives can be "great partners" in that effort.

During testimony, NTSB staff noted that Mr. Niemeyer's medical certificate for commercial driving had expired on March 1, 2007 -- the day before the crash. But the agency drew no conclusion that Mr. Niemeyer was unfit to drive in any other sense than that violation.

Ohio officials subsequently determined that Executive Coach Luxury Travel, the Ottawa, Ohio-based charter bus operator, had been delinquent in overseeing its drivers' certifications. The company, which has been named in wrongful-death lawsuits filed by the victims' estates and relatives, has since gone out of business, NTSB staff member Bruce Magladry said.

Article appeared in earlier editions of toledoblade.com.

Feds to issue finding on Bluffton bus crash

WASHINGTON The National Transportation Safety Board is set to release findings in the March 2007 bus crash in Atlanta that killed five baseball players from Ohio s Bluffton University.

The report will come Tuesday at an NTSB meeting in Washington.

The crash, which also killed the bus driver and his wife, has become a flashpoint in a decades-long debate over requiring seat belts and other safety features on buses. Parents of the victims have joined advocacy groups in pressing for new regulations.

Investigators say the bus driver mistakenly drove onto an exit ramp that dead-ends on a bridge over Interstate 75, sending the bus plunging off the overpass. The NTSB has said it was looking specifically at how the passengers died, as well as the operator s safety record.



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