Atlanta (CBS/AP) - A charter bus carrying a college baseball team from Ohio plunged off a highway ramp early Friday and slammed into the pavement below, killing six people, injuring 29 and scattering sports equipment across the road, authorities said.
The bus, carrying the team from the close-knit, Mennonite-affiliated Bluffton University, toppled off the Northside Drive bridge onto a pickup truck on Interstate 75 shortly before dawn, police spokesman Joe Cobb said.
A.J. Ramthun, an 18-year-old second-baseman, was asleep in a widow seat when the bus hit the overpass wall, jolting him awake.
"I just looked out and saw the road coming up at me. I remember the catcher tapping me on the head, telling me to get out because there was gas all over," he told reporters. "It was just chaos."
Ramthun said the bus was not scheduled to make its next stop until 8 a.m. for breakfast.
"It looked to me like a big slab of concrete falling down," said truck driver Danny Lloyd, 57, of Frostburg, Md. "I didn't recognize it was a bus. I think when I saw the thing coming, I think I closed my eyes and stepped on the gas."
The impact broke his windshield, pushed his truck into the concrete and wrecked the front bumper, but Lloyd wasn't injured.
Four students, the bus driver and the bus driver's wife were killed, said police Maj. Calvin Moss.
Ramthun, who suffered a broken collarbone and had various cuts and bruises on his face said while fighting back tears, "I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm gonna heal. The cuts and bruises will go away."
His brother, a fellow team member, was trapped underneath the bus and damaged his hip. "He might not recover from that," Ramthun said.
I heard some guys crying "I'm stuck, I'm stuck," while the rest of the team helped the most injured players off the bus, said Ramthun, from Springfield, Ohio.
"It was what you'd expect out of any college team — more concern for others than you have about yourself," he said.
Nineteen students — three in critical condition — were being treated at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Dr. Leon Haley said. He said all but two students were awake and talking Friday morning, and doctors were checking them for broken bones.
"All things considered, they are pretty calm," Haley said. "They are very aware of what's going on."
Three other injured people were taken to Piedmont Hospital, and seven were taken to Atlanta Medical Center, Haley said. Officials at the three hospitals said 28 of the 29 were college age, and the age of the other injured person could not immediately be determined.
Piedmont hospital spokeswoman Diana Lewis said the team's coach, James Grandey, 29, was in serious condition and expected to improve.
"This is a profound and tragic day in the life of Bluffton University," school President James Harder told reporters Friday morning in Ohio.
Classes were canceled. The school called off other sports trips planned during next week's spring break, Harder said. He said he had no details on the identities of those killed and injured.
"This is deeply impacting all of our students, faculty and staff. We know these people on a first-name basis," he said. "For now we're pulling together and supporting each other as best we can."
On campus, students and residents of the community filled the school's basketball gym to grieve together and learn more about what had happened. Some wiped away tears as they came in. The university, with about 1,150 students 50 miles south of Toledo, is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA. It's one of about 20 Mennonite groups in North America, all of which trace their roots to the 16th-century Anabaptist movement that called for more radical reforms than those promoted by Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation.
The baseball team had been scheduled to play its first game of the season in Sarasota, Fla., Saturday against Eastern Mennonite College of Harrisonburg, Va., and it had eight more games scheduled in Fort Myers, Fla.
Cobb said the bus was southbound on I-75 when it crashed about 5:30 a.m. The driver may have mistaken an exit ramp for a lane, he said. It was dark at the time, but the weather was clear.
The bus went off the bridge and landed on its side in the southbound lanes of the interstate.
The National Transportation Safety Board was called in to investigate.
Five fire trucks were at the scene as firefighters pulled crash victims through the roof of the bus. Baseball equipment bags littered the scene after the crash, and luggage spilled from the vehicle when it was set right side up.
There was blood on the overpass near where the bus went over.
When the bus was righted, it was clear that all the windows on the driver's side had been shattered, and there was considerable damage on the front of bus and on the roof above driver's seat.
Calls Friday to the charter company, Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc. of Ottawa, Ohio, were not immediately returned. Harder said the school had used the company in the past.
Steve Rogers, a Bluffton University assistant football coach, said he was working out in the weight room with members of the football team around 6 a.m. when they saw news of the bus crash on television. When they saw the markings on the bus, "that's when reality hit everybody," he said.
"Nobody knew what to say or what to feel," he said.
His players started calling friends on the baseball team, trying to reach some by cell phone. "It hits home harder than it would if it had happened at a bigger school. Everybody knows each other," he said.
Matt Ferguson, a freshman on the baseball team from Pleasant Hill, Ohio, said most of the freshman position players stayed behind.
"We were bummed out we didn't get to go. Now we don't know what to think," he said.
The team is close-knit, he said. "It's one huge family. We spend all day together. We go to classes together. We do everything together."
At a chapel service the night before, students a had offered a prayer for their sports teams and other students to travel safely over spring break, said Barrington, a junior from Brooklyn Heights, Ohio.
"Sometimes you take that stuff for granted," she said.
Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran Airways, which has its hub in Atlanta, has offered to fly in from Ohio the families of the victims at no charge, airline spokesman Tad Hutcheson said.
"We don't have a whole lot of seats because it's spring break," Hutcheson said. "We'll do what we can."
Hutcheson said the airports serving Dayton, Ohio, and Detroit are the closest airports to the families that the airline serves into Atlanta.
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