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Service held for bus victims

A memorial service was held Monday night at Bluffton University for seven people, including five members of the school's baseball team, killed in a March 2 bus crash in Atlanta.

BY P.J. HELLER | BLUFFTON, Ohio | March 13, 2007

A memorial service was held Monday night at Bluffton University for seven people, including five members of the school's baseball team, killed in a March 2 bus crash in Atlanta.

The service at Founders Hall drew several thousand people. Players who survived the crash lit candles for each of their five teammates who died as well as for the bus driver and his wife, who were also killed.

The service came on the first day that students returned to school from spring break. They were greeted with purple ribbons tied to trees and lamp posts around campus and in town. Those attending the memorial service were given purple ribbons to wear.

University President James Harder said he was touched by the outpouring of support from across the nation.

"We've felt the hand of God reaching out to provide comfort when we've experienced so much pain and loss," he said.

Among those attending the service was Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and rescue workers from Atlanta.

One team member remains hospitalized in Atlanta in critical condition. On Thursday, coach James Grandey was released from the hospital.

Six people, including the bus driver and his wife, died at the scene of the crash. The seventh victim, 18-year-old Zachary Arend, died a week later of his injuries. Arend, a freshman from Oakwood, Ohio, had been in critical condition since the bus plunged off an overpass and onto Interstate 75. More than two dozen others were injured.

Funeral services for Arend were scheduled for Friday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Paulding, Ohio.

The charter bus was bringing the Bluffton Beavers team from the Ohio campus to Sarasota, Fla., to play a doubleheader against Eastern Mennonite University. The team was then slated to continue on to Fort Myers to compete in the Gene Cusic Classic tournament.

The accident happened about 5:30 a.m.

The bus was southbound on Interstate 75 in Atlanta when the accident occurred. Authorities said they believe the driver may have unknowingly exited the freeway and gone up an exit ramp before crossing T roadway, going over a barrier and plunging back down into the southbound lanes of the highway. Two motorists on the freeway narrowly missed having their vehicles crushed by the bus, which came to rest on its side.

News of the accident sent shock waves through the tight-knit Bluffton University campus community, which has a student population of about 1,150. The school is located about 50 miles south of Toledo and is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA.

Two funds have been established at the school, one to provide support for the players and their families, the other to create a permanent memorial on the campus.


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