Mourners Remember Ohio Baseball Players Killed in Bus Crash

Just over a week ago, Ryan Baightel ushered his teammates out of the smoke-filled wreckage of their charter bus.

On Monday night, the team captain led them into a memorial service to honor five Bluffton University players and the bus driver and his wife who were killed in the crash in Atlanta.

Carrying a candle, Baightel lit the first of seven candles to remember those who died. Behind him, teammate Mike Ramthun, whose legs had been pinned under the bus, limped along using a walker.

Family members wiped away tears at the campus memorial service, the latest in a week of funerals and memorials for the players at the small Mennonite-affiliated school.

"Right now we're mourning in a big way," said campus pastor Stephen Intagliata. "It's hard to picture a time when our hearts will no longer ache."

But he said that time will come.

"Death didn't have the final say with Jesus, and it doesn't have to have the final say with us," he said. "To use a baseball analogy: the game is still in progress."

Administrators praised those who reached out to the university in the last week.

"We've felt the hand of God reaching out to provide comfort when we've experienced so much pain and loss," said James Harder, president of the school with about 1,200 students.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and emergency workers from Atlanta attended, and the service was telecast live in Atlanta — "a city that shared its large heart with Bluffton," Harder said.

Prayers were offered for those killed — the bus driver and his wife, Jerome and Jean Niemeyer, and players Scott Harmon, Tyler Williams, Cody Holp, David Betts and Zach Arend — and for the coach and one player still in Atlanta hospitals. Two other players were released from hospitals in Atlanta on Monday.

About a half dozen students wore T-shirts with pictures of Williams. On the back, the shirts read, "Great friend, brother and athlete."

"Tyler was a funny guy," said freshman Alfonso Arteche, a football player who was wearing one of the shirts. "We're still talking about stuff he said in the past."

There were also amusing stories about the young victims who had been so full of life, bringing smiles to the 2,000 people at the service.

Betts was full of curiosity and asked so many questions that he earned the nickname "Q." Holp had flowing long hair until he allowed the women in his dormitory to cut it.

And Williams didn't just march to the beat of a different drummer, he "provided his own beat," said former school vice president Donald Pannabecker.

Earlier in the day, players and students returning from spring break somberly shuffled to classes. "It's been grim today," said freshman Robert Simmons.

The most difficult part of the day for Simmons was seeing members of the team who survived. "You don't know what to say," he said.

Purple ribbons tied to trees and light posts were a constant reminder of the grief.

Flowers, cards, and letters, some written in crayon, filled the center of the student union. "You're my favorite baseball team," wrote one girl. "May God Bless You," said another.

Letters of condolence came from athletes and administrators at Georgia Tech, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Arizona and dozens of other schools.

Visitors lingered and looked at photos of the five players and their teammates.

"In some ways, they've touched everybody's lives," said Dawn Ledyard, an education professor.

A.J. Ramthun, a freshman player whose left arm was in a sling, said it was a relief to be back at school. "I'm surrounded by the greatest people I've ever known," he said.

He and his brother Mike, a sophomore who used a motorized scooter to get around campus, said they were amazed by the support they've received from their friends and even people they don't know.

The team's bus plunged off an overpass March 2 onto Interstate 75. Four players died at the scene and Arend died on Friday, a week after the accident.

Investigators have said the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp for a highway lane, continued along it without stopping at a "T" intersection at the top of the ramp and then went over the edge.

Sophomore Kyle King, who broke vertebrae, went home Monday morning. His parents said he was in good spirits and feeling good.