From The Bahamas To the Bluffton Tragedy

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Published March 11, 2007

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Click Here for Laura's Photo Essay

Reporting on someone's death is never easy, whether it's a murder, an accident, or a medical condition, you are talking about someone's daughter or son, maybe a wife or a husband, a beloved member of a stranger's family.

Over the last few days, I have been in the Bahamas to cover the funeral of Anna Nicole Smith, and to Atlanta, Ga., reporting on the tragic bus accident involving members of the Bluffton University baseball team. Both events were very different from each other, and left me thinking a lot about the lives of those who are gone.

Anna Nicole's Funeral I Bluffton Bus Tragedy


Anna Nicole Smith

I was sent to the Bahamas on Thursday morning to get in place to do live shots from the cemetery on Friday morning.

There had been so much back and forth over where she should be buried, it felt like a relief to be in a place where she would finally be laid to rest. I found the battle exhausting to watch, but riveting to see how it would all play out. After meeting up with the FOX News team at the new bureau, built at a hotel in Nassau, I took a drive with one of our crews to see the cemetery and watch the set-up of our cameras and positions we would have.

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Some tourists came by to snap pictures of the gravesite that was covered by green tents to keep those very pictures from being taken. A local TV personality was eagerly interviewing the security guards, all of us setting up, and strangest of all, the Domino's pizza delivery person, who arrived to bring pies to the people digging Anna Nicole's grave. (She didn't divulge what they ordered.)

The next day started off slow; Todd Connor and I were perched across the street from the cemetery high atop a scaffolding that had been built for FOX overnight. As the hot Bahama sun rose at daybreak, tourists and locals started to form a line on the street to stand behind the barricade and get a position to watch Anna Nicole's hearse go by.

As her funeral took place down the road, which was attended by her mother, her attorney and partner, Howard K. Stern, and her ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead, the anticipation grew stronger. The crowd broke out in to a string of beautiful sounding Bahamian hymns. I went to talk to people in the crowd, to ask what they were singing, and they told me it was their tradition to sing these songs at a funeral. Their voices sounded sweet, in unison, and with the sort of pitch you hear from a church choir that can sometimes give you goosebumps.

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Despite the wild and crazy life Anna Nicole Smith led, I couldn't help but think this would be something that she would have liked. A few minutes later, her hearse and a line of limos came creeping up the road, slowly making their way into the cemetery. The crowd cheered, took photos and held pink roses (pink was her favorite color, and everything for the funeral was done in pink). As I was watching all of this, my BlackBerry went off. There was a horrible bus accident in Atlanta Georgia… and I would need to get on the next flight out to do live shots from a hospital there first thing in the morning. As I drove to the airport down the ocean front two-lane highway back to the airport, I looked at the bright blue water and saw people laughing while walking down the beach. I imagined Anna Nicole driving this same strip of road, thinking that she probably had done the same thing, and for what ever reason, I thought of her doing this in a convertible, laughing and having fun.

I understand why she wanted to live in the Bahamas, and then thought of how her little girl will never know the sound of her mom's laughter.

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The Bluffton Tragedy

Who could imagine such a nightmare? A chartered bus, full of students from Bluffton University on their way to spring training from Ohio to Florida, flys off a freeway overpass and comes crashing down 30 feet below.

When our FOX team arrived in Atlanta from the Bahamas, we went straight to the Mariott Marquis hotel, which was very close to Grady Memorial Hospital. The hotel, as it turned out, was the command center for the Red Cross helping survivors and their families, and for the National Transportation Safety Board investigators to meet up and interview the victims. After I checked in, I felt like I was walking around a hospital triage unit. The baseball players who had been treated at the nearby hospitals, came straight to the Marriott.

The walking wounded were everywhere. One young man had his entire head bandaged up and I could see the blood stains coming through. Others were limping and looked like they were in a daze. You could see they were all still in shock. Some were waiting by the sliding glass doors for their moms and dads to arrive from Ohio. The parents' eyes were filled with tears and relief when they saw their boys. Others were being consoled by each other with the news that their child didn't make it.

After interviewing doctors and injured players being released at Grady Memorial, our FOX team headed to the overpass in question to film what we call a "POV" — a Point of View video, to show what something would look like if you were in their shoes, or behind the wheel, looking out an airplane, etc.

Investigators with the NTSB had gone over the overpass with a fine-tooth comb, and were taking a good look at the exit signs for this particular section to see if there were any changes that need to be suggested to the State of Georgia. The bus driver apparently mistook the exit for Northside Drive as a continuation of a car pool lane, and took the exit ramp at full speed. Evidence suggests he was confused by the exit sign, before sailing through six lanes on the overpass, crashing over a concrete wall and through a chain link fence, before launching into the air and coming down on the traffic lanes below.

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The exit ramp is on the LEFT hand side of the Interstate, which is why investigators say they think the driver might not have realized what lane he was in, until it was too late. I took pictures at the scene as work crews were putting up a new fence to show you what it looks like during the day, and the flowers and signs people started putting up as news spread in the community of the tragic accident.

A fifth player died on Friday, and one is still in critical condition at Grady Memorial. The team's coach, who was sitting in the front of the bus when it went over, had a lot of surgery to his face this weekend, and doctors tell us he may be in the hospital for weeks. Others had crush injuries that will most likely prevent them from playing ball ever again.

The day we left Atlanta, I had a chance to interview 21-year-old Michael Ramthun from his hospital room. He was such a lovely young man, and just heartbroken over the loss of his friends. His brother "A.J." was onboard the bus as well, and escaped with a lot of cuts and bruises. Michael told me that the first thing that went through his head is "where is my brother?" as he could hear the screams of his teammates, some yelling that they were stuck under the bus. As he laid there with his left thigh pinned under the weight of the crashed chartered coach, he could see the back of the head of the teammate he was sitting next to — Scott Harmon. He said he wanted to make sure he was OK, but as he reached for him, his arm couldn't stretch that far because of how he was pinned. He hollered, "Hey! Help is on the way… we are going to get out of here, so hang on!"

When the firefighters arrived, they didn't tend to Harmon right away, and walked by him after checking his pulse. Michael said that's when he realized his friend was dead. Michael got choked up during our interview when talking about his teammates and about the idea of playing ball again. He said, "I suppose not being able to play baseball again isn't that big of a deal, when I got to remember some people aren't going to have a son to be there at Christmas, or Thanksgiving with them."

The investigation won't be complete for months — and the recovery will be a long one for those who made it out alive. It looks as though this whole thing was a horrible mistake made in a split decision moment by the driver, who was said to have been known for his safety on the road.


Laura Ingle has been a correspondent with FNC since 2005, and most recently reported for the Gerardo At Large syndicated news magazine program. She currently is based in New York.

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http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/03/11/from-bahamas-to-bluffton-tragedy