Memorial held for 10th anniversary of Bluffton's tragic bus accident

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Thursday marked ten years since a deadly bus accident in Atlanta that killed 5 members of a college baseball team.  The driver and his wife were also killed.  Dozens of others were hurt.

The five-student athletes who died were: Zachary Arend (Oakwood, Ohio); David Betts (Bryan, Ohio); Scott Harmon (Elida, Ohio); Cody Holp (Verona, Ohio) and Tyler Williams (Lima, Ohio). The bus driver and his wife Jerome and Jean Niemeyer also died. Twenty-eight others were injured including James Grandey, head coach.

A charter bus was carrying the baseball team from Bluffton University in Ohio to a tournament in Florida.  As they were passing through Atlanta, investigators says the driver mistakenly took the Northside Drive exit and couldn't stop.  The bus flew off the overpass and crashed onto I-75 below.

Atlanta Fire Captain keith Schumacher was the first on the scene.  He remembers seeing the 19 and 20 year old players trying to help their friends.  "The coach was critically injured, so we had to rely on the team captain to take charge and help us identify the bodies, for a 20-year old kid, that's hard," says Capt. Schumacher.

Last week Capt. Schumacher had a chance to meet up with the team.  Capt. Schumacher and the Atlanta Fire Department were honored as the 2007 Bluffton baseball team was inducted into the University's Hall of Fame. 

On this tenth anniversary, the University held a ceremony on campus to remember those lost.  While here in Atlanta, Capt. Schumacher marked the day the same way he does every year.  "I go by the bridge every year on March 2 and take a photo then send it to the coach and to some family members, and every year, someone puts flowers on the bridge, and today there are flowers," says Capt. Schumacher.

President James Harder, who had just begun his time leading Bluffton University when the accident took place, spoke of the significance of the accident to the life and memory of Bluffton’s campus community.

“The experience of the 2007 baseball team became a collective journey for this campus community—and the account of that remarkable journey has become inseparable from the identity and history of this 117-year-old university,” said Harder.

Dr. Harder also quoted the words of Coach Grandey, who spoke two weeks earlier during the 2007 team’s Feb. 18 induction into Bluffton’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

“We must move forward in a way that shows others who are in need the love and support that was given to us in our darkest times… I know there is no getting over or getting past the accident. What there is, is moving forward, which is what all of you started doing by completing the 2007 season.  While moving forward, we will always remember our friends and teammates that we lost and their families. We remember their time on our beautiful campus and the contributions they made while they were here.”

The team was inducted in the first year of eligibility due to their remarkable courage and strength in responding to the March 2, 2007, bus accident.

Austin Every, a senior pitcher on the 2017 baseball team and information technology major from Zanesville, Ohio, spoke of the connection between the two teams.

“Every single day as a group of my teammates and I walk to practice, we take a lap around the Circle of Remembrance. We do our own thing from gliding our fingers across the imprints or simply tapping home plate,” said Every. “We take on this daily ritual to say to Zachary, David, Scott, Cody, Tyler and the 2007 team, ‘We remember. We remember you played our position. We remember you wore our number. We remember you are our teammates. We remember why we play this game’.”

The 2017 team will wear black jerseys featuring a special insignia throughout this season to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the bus accident. Austin’s brother, Kevin Every, who is also a pitcher on the team, designed the patch.

This is just the second time the team has  worn black jerseys. The first time was in 2007 when Nike donated black jerseys to the baseball team after the uniforms were destroyed in the crash.

Austin Every finished his remarks with these words: “To this year’s team the 2007 team is more than alumni. They are our constant reminder to play every pitch, every out, every inning like it is your last, because one day it will be.”

In addition to the service, the university had a continuous 12 hours of presence of faculty and staff at the Circle of Remembrance starting at 5:30 a.m., the approximate time of the accident, and continuing until 5:30 p.m. to greet visitors who came to pay their respects at the memorial. 

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