Bluffton bus tragedy: 10 things to know 10 years later

  • Melisa Lyons
  • Staff Writer
7:46 a.m. Thursday, March 2, 2017 Homepage
John Spink/AJC
ATLANTA/ FULTON COUNTY, GA -- A coach bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team is seen on its side after crashing and falling off an exit ramp on to Interstate 75. (JOHN SPINK/AJC staff)

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the Bluffton bus tragedy. 

The Bluffton University baseball team, which included 33 players and head coach James Grandey, was traveling to Sarasota, Fla., for a double header on March 2, 2007, when the accident occurred.

Nine hours into the trip, their coach bus driver mistakenly traveled up an HOV exit ramp at 65 mph, tried to veer right at the T-shaped intersection and subsequently hit and went over the three-foot high safety barrier.

A view of the Northside Drive exit on May 9 HOV, high occupancy vehicles only, lane where Jerome Neimeyer drove the bus up the ramp, left and over the other side of the overpass.Staff Photo by Teesha McClam

In the months afterward, this news organization published an award-winning series about the crash, the aftermath and the people involved. Here are some things to remember about this tragedy:

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Seven people died as a result of this accident; bus driver Jerry Niemeyer and his wife Jean, who were the only people wearing seat belts, and five Bluffton players: Cody Holp, Tyler Williams, Scott Harmon, Zach Arend, and David Betts.  

After hitting the barrier, the momentum of the bus caused it to “trip” over the wall and spin 180-degrees in mid-air. It landed in the middle of southbound I-75. Miraculously, the bus missed all traffic, coming closest to hitting a lone truck.

Much of the Bluffton contingent was able to leave Atlanta shortly thereafter, but seven remained hospitalized and would have to wait to return home. 

A coach bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team is seen on its side after crashing and falling off an exit ramp on to Interstate 75.

Mike Ramthun, then a sophomore from Springfield, had his leg pinned under the bus for 45 minutes, but remarkably suffered from no broken bones.  

On May 6, 2007, the wake for Jerry and Jean Niemeyer was held at Hartmon Sons Funeral Home in Columbus Grove, Ohio. Chuck Niemeyer, Jerry’s brother, told this newspaper he would understand if not a single Bluffton player, coach or official showed up at his brother’s wake, but that was not the case. Shortstop Ryan Baightel, university President James Harder and other players and coaches filed in that day to pay their respects to the Niemeyers. 

A.J. Ranthum poses with his new tattoo in memory of his 5 teammates who died in the bus crash in Atlanta. Staff Photo by Teesha McClam

The news broke on March 9, 2007, almost a week to the minute after the bus crash, that Zach Arend had died. Arend suffered from severe head trauma, a lacerated liver, a crushed sternum, collapsed lungs, and a fractured pelvis. 

Bluffton President James Harder started to talk with players and coaches less than two weeks after the crash about getting back on the field. Ninety percent of their equipment was lost in the bus crash, and many of the coaches and players were still recovering from injuries. 

The baseball community came together and responded to Bluffton’s need for equipment. The Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds sent balls and other equipment. The Florida Marlin sent baseball gloves, and Nike agreed to donate new jerseys. 

More than 2,500 people attended Bluffton’s game against the College of Mount St. Joseph, the first game since the bus crash. At the beginning of their season opener, on March 30, 2007, the team took a moment to pray and remember their five fallen teammates. 

During this game, the team wore black uniforms, instead of their school colors, white and purple, to honor their teammates. The five teammates were also honored by five white banners in the outfield. 

The Bluffton University baseball team pauses near the numbers of their fallen teammates before the start of their first game back since a tragic bus accident in Atlanta. Staff photo by Chris Stewart

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