ATLANTA – Georgia transportation officials said Sunday they had no immediate plans to close or add safety signs to the highway exit ramp where a bus carrying a college baseball team crashed and killed six people, including the driver.
The state Department of Transportation wants to see recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board before adding any new safety devices such as signs or stoplights to the Interstate 75 ramp, said spokesman David Spear.
"We won't wait until their final published report. If during the course of their conversations it might make this better, we're going to act on it," he said.
The team from the Mennonite-affiliated Bluffton University was traveling to its annual spring training in Florida when the charter bus crashed before daybreak Friday. Investigators said the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp for a regular lane, and the bus crashed into a barrier at a T-shaped intersection and plummeted off the overpass onto the highway below.
The NTSB said Saturday that the accident site has had numerous crashes and can be difficult for drivers to navigate. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that an analysis of the state transportation database showed 82 other accidents on the ramp with two deaths. Spear said he could not confirm that number.
"I don't believe that's an inordinately high number in a major metropolitan area," Spear said. "Certainly there have not been any accidents with the severity of what we witnessed."
There are two "Prepare to Stop" signs on the ramp, which exits off the left lane, and the same words are painted on the ramp itself, he said.
"Our view of that ramp has been that it is in total compliance with industry design standards," Spear said.
Fred Hanscom, director of independent consulting group Transportation Research Corp., said the ramp could have larger signs, a stoplight at the top or pavement grooves that make a noise to warn drivers to slow down.
"The fact that this ramp went almost parallel with the main line [of the interstate] was a confusing factor," Hanscom said. "Drivers normally expect ramps to go to the right and not the left."
There are tire marks at the scene, but it is unclear when the driver realized his mistake and tried to correct it, said Kitty Higgins, who is leading the NTSB's investigation.
It was hours before the players, and those at their tight-knit Ohio campus about 55 miles south of Toledo, knew the toll: Four teammates dead, plus the driver and his wife. Twenty-nine were injured, and eight remained hospitalized Saturday night. Five were in serious or critical condition, and the rest were in fair or stable condition.
Family members of killed and injured students were to return to Toledo Sunday afternoon on board a charter flight.
Killed were two freshman, Scott Harmon and Cody Holp, and two sophomores, Tyler Williams and David Betts. The driver and his wife, Jerome and Jean Niemeyer, also died.
"We are sincerely grateful for the outreaching of family and friends. We find comfort in knowing that our parents were loved by so many," the Niemeyer's family said in a statement issued Saturday night.
A.J. Ramthun woke up in his window seat to see the ground come up at him as the bus was falling. It was only when his seriously injured coach grabbed his arm afterward that he realized his collarbone was broken.
"We looked, and thought 'How did we survive that?"' Ramthun said.