March 2, 2017, marked the 10-year anniversary of the 2007 Bluffton baseball team’s tragic bus accident in Atlanta. Stories continue to be told recounting the same details about the accident and how the team recovered from the trauma of losing Zachary Arend, David Betts, Scott Harmon, Cody Holp and Tyler Williams.
But what people don’t hear about are the stories of those who weren’t directly involved in the accident themselves.
Players, coaches, families, rescue squads and even the city of Atlanta were affected by the accident. The stories these people have from the 2007 accident have never been publicly told. Their perspectives are never shared. After spending some time talking to these people, it became clear that a lot more had happened than what was shared in the news.
John Betts, father of David Betts, talked about how he found out about the bus accident.
“I didn’t get a phone call. That’s not how it happened,” said Betts. “I was in Dayton at the airport and I looked up at 6:45 a.m. at a screen and CNN had shown a bus on its side.”
Betts turned to his father, with a frantic look and explained that’s where Bluffton’s bus was supposed to be. His father stopped him and told him not to worry. The two men boarded the plane and once they landed in Charlotte, Betts received a call from his wife.
“My wife had called me telling me that it was the Bluffton bus,” said Betts. He said she told him, “You need to get to Atlanta now and find David.”
“We rerouted, and actually Delta stopped a flight on the tarmac and put one of those stairway things up and got my father and I on the plane and we went to Atlanta,” said Betts.
After arriving in Atlanta, Betts went to Grady Memorial Hospital and was told that David was not at any of the three trauma centers in Atlanta. He was advised to go to the to the Fulton County Morgue because there were three to four people there who were not identified from the accident.
“I went to the Fulton County Morgue, and that’s how I found out that my son was dead,” said Betts.
Stories like Betts’ have been shared between the various families, students, even teammates who were affected by the accident. Even though Betts’ story is somber, encouraging stories also came from the accident.
Captain Keith Schumacher of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department was one of the first people on the scene of the accident. Schumacher recalled something entirely different than what many might normally see in this type of situation.
“One of the things, probably the biggest thing, that got my attention that morning was the strength that these young men showed and the commitment that they showed to each other, and I really believe that it was based on their faith,” said Schumacher. “There wasn’t hysteria, there wasn’t a panic. They just were just taking care of each other.”
Schumacher provided a more detailed description of what the conditions of that morning were like for these men.
“You [have] to understand that it was 30 degrees out, it’s the middle of the night. They were asleep when this happened. They were soaked in diesel fuel, they didn’t have shoes. There were so many things going against them that morning that they just took it in stride and said ‘OK, let’s move forward, let’s get done what’s needed to get done,’” said Schumacher.
No one was in charge of the team when the fire department and rescue crews arrived on the scene. Coach James Grandey, the assistant coaches and the bus driver were unable to help due to injuries.
“When I walked up to the group, the 13 that were, which we considered to be walking wounded, I asked them, ‘Who’s in charge?’ And there wasn’t anybody. That was when one young man stood up and said ‘I guess it’s me.’ And that was Ryan Baightel,” said Schumacher.
Baightel assisted the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department with some of the more unpleasant things the crew had to do on the scene.
“He really stood up and was a true leader that day. They all were. That was the biggest thing I remember about the team. What you instill here at Bluffton really helped get them through that day,” said Schumacher.
Both Betts and Schumacher’s stories showed a different side of the bus accident that is still widely talked about and shows that even though 10 years have passed, people continue to think about the 2007 baseball team.
“If I could say anything to the 2007 team,” said Betts, “I’d say thank you for all that you have meant to me and my family. You honor the five teammates that died by living your lives everyday and making a positive different in other people’s lives.”