Last updated: August 23. 2013 3:27PM - 112 Views

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BLUFFTON — Bluffton University students will prepare for spring break today. The baseball team will in a few days be playing ball in sunny Florida. It will be much like what would have been five years ago today, also a Friday, when in an instant the campus and so many lives were forever changed. Bluffton's student body is different today, as is the baseball team. Yet, the March 2, 2007, bus crashed that killed five players and two others stays with the campus now and likely forever.“As time passes, memories come and go, but clearly this one will stay,” President James Harder said. “It is a very significant part of our collective experience in history.”For some, today is no different than every other day since the accident. “Whether it is the fifth March 2 or the 35th Tuesday after the accident, it is the same day for me,” Baseball Coach James Grandey said. “Just because it is March 2, it doesn't mean I don't relive or remember something from the bus accident, or the aftermath or one of the guys we lost every day.”Grandey for years thought about things like where certain players were sitting and what happened to them. Finally, he is able to move beyond that and think about the guys and who they were. Becoming a father for the second time less than two years ago (the first time just two months before the accident) Grandey thinks a lot about the families.“Knowing my daughter for just five years and thinking of how each and every day I love her more, multiply that by 18 or 19 or 20 years, I cannot imagine what that is like,” he said.Julie Harmon, whose son Scott, an Elida graduate, died that day, lives the accident every day of her life. Every part of the day is crystal clear, including the hours and hours that passed when she didn't know Scott's fate, even though he had died early that morning. The emotions are the same today as five years ago, she said, because of what Scott meant to her family and so many others and how he touched so many lives.“It is definitely devastating and heartbreaking, and the emotional and physical exhaustion we experience every day you feel in every fiber of your body,” she said. “We understand the calendar goes on and we know what the calendar says, but our hearts tell us something different.”Marking the dayThe school will hold a Fifth-year Service of Remembrance at noon today at the Circle of Remembrance, the permanent memorial built near the baseball field after the accident. The program will include a reflection from Harder, Scripture and meditation.“It will be a time of reflection as a community and remembering particularly the good memories we have of the lives of Zachary, David, Scott, Tyler and Cody,” Harder said. “Just being together and thinking and supporting each other.”Geneva Williams, who lost her son Tyler, a Lima Senior High School graduate, will spend tonight with her other children. They'll talk about Tyler, including his infamous sense of humor, like they do daily. “We'll just talk about him, period,” she said. “He will always be a part of our family whether he is at the touchable mode or not. He is in our hearts.”The family of David Betts will honor the day by dedicating a 14,000-square-foot indoor baseball and softball complex in his memory. The complex is in Betts' hometown Bryan.Forever presentThe Bluffton team was headed to Sarasota, Fla., when the bus crashed in Atlanta. Driver Jerome “Jerry” Niemeyer drove the bus up a left-side exit ramp that feeds into a bridge over Interstate 75. The bus went off the bridge and landed on the interstate below. It's believed Niemeyer mistook the ramp for a highway lane. Confusing highway signs were later also cited as a factor. The crash on that day killed Niemeyer and his wife, Jean, of Columbus Grove, and players Tyler Williams, of Lima, Scott Harmon, of Elida, David Betts, of Bryan, and Cody Holp, of Arcanum. Zachary Arend, of Oakwood, died a week later. The fifth anniversary marks the first year the campus is void of students who were there when the accident occurred. Grandey is the only one remaining on the team. Regardless of time, Harder said, the accident will always be a part of the school.“I think five years later, we are moving beyond the accident, as we should be, but no doubt the impact and memories of that are forever woven into our collective thoughts and identity,” he said. “It brought us together five years ago and it is a shared experience that continues to do that.”Memorial Field, renovated and renamed after the accident, and the Circle of Remembrance keeps the accident ever present on campus. Players walk by it every time they take the field. Grandey finds himself there often.“It is a collective where we remember all five of the players that we lost,” he said. “But again, I don't need it to remember them.”The Harmons honor Scott with a yearly scholarship to a male and female student at Elida High School, where he graduated from. It's one way to make sure Harmon's work ethic, competitiveness, ability to lead by example, be a loyal friend and of course his genuine smile is always remembered. Young men became heroesThe accident garnered national attention, and piled accolades onto the young men who handled the day and media frenzy that followed with great poise. Sports Illustrated deemed them heroes. Stories came out of teammates helping each other at the scene. We learned how Capt. Ryan Baightel, of Wapakoneta, stepped forth to identify those who died. The public watched as they endured funeral after funeral.Today, the teammates are spread around the country, teaching, coaching, working in sports information, accounting and much more. Many are married. One is a father. “It is exciting for me to know that most of them have moved onto bigger and greater things,” Grandey said. “There is still a great bond between the players because of what they went through.”This year's team heads back to Florida on Saturday. The team has continued to travel south for spring break tournaments since the accident, but travels by plane now.The team and school saw great support in Atlanta, Florida, back home and around the country. It was helpful for his guys to know people were thinking of them, Grandey said. The support is one of the things that stands out most for Harder.“God's presence in those difficult moments and in the times of healing that followed stand out,” he said. “It was felt through the love and care of human beings ministering to each other.”Things undone, forever difficultThrough the five years, many have waited for legislation they believe could save future people in similar crashes. U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, first introduced their motorcoach safety bill in November 2008. It requires safety belts, stronger seating systems, anti-ejection glazing windows and other safety features.John Betts, father of David Betts, has pushed for such legislation since the accident. The bill has been introduced on its own three times since. Currently, it is an amendment to a five-year transportation funding bill, which is currently before the Senate. The current transportation funding expires March 31. Harder commends Betts for his efforts and said it is frustrating to see safety improvements to bus travel still not happen.“Every year we hear of additional accidents where use of seat belts, had they been available, could have prevented injuries,” he said. “It is very frustrating that in spite of the significant support that seems to exist that it has proven difficult to get the final legislation passed.”Five years may seem like a long time, but for many the accident seems just like yesterday. Grandey never thought moving on would take so long.“I think we all thought it wouldn't take as long to recover as it has,” he said. “It has taken five years to get back to even somewhat remembering and recognizing who I was before the accident.”Time doesn't heal as people say, Harmon said. Her family has experienced joys over the past five years: A child for Scott's older sister, Jill. The eldest son, Mark, walked down the aisle. The youngest, Ross, excelled on the football field. Scott would have liked to seen it all, Harmon said.“Things that bring joy, even a few bright moments in the day, are still kind of weighed down with the fact of what should have been,” she said. It never gets truly better, Williams said, because the void is always there.“You never expect stuff like that to happen and it happened,” she said. “We just try to go through it the best we can and keep God in our lives these trying times because it will be with us until the day we die.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.

Bluffton crash forever present

Bluffton crash forever present

Bluffton crash forever present
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