Similar Wrecks Reported at Site of Ga. Fatal Bus Crash

March 13, 2007

Catherine Hartman is familiar with the concrete barrier where a bus carrying a baseball team from a small Ohio college crashed last week. Five years ago, she and her husband were in an accident at the same spot after she mistook the exit ramp for a commuter lane.

Today, with her left knee still not healed from the 2002 accident, she feels upset that more hasn’t been done to prevent accidents there.

“It really bothered both of us,” she said of the Bluffton University accident that killed seven. “In retrospect, we probably should have done more as far as insisting they do something to correct the situation.”

Investigators said the driver of the Bluffton team bus also apparently mistook that same exit ramp for a highway lane on March 2 and overshot a stop sign at the top of the ramp. The bus slammed into the concrete barrier, flipped and fell 30 feet onto the pavement below. Six people were killed and 28 people were hospitalized. One of the injured died a week later.

Atlanta police released to The Associated Press through the Georgia’s Open Records Act three reports on accidents at the intersection of Interstate 75 and Northside Drive from 2002 to 2003, all involving drivers who didn’t know they had left the I-75 high occupancy vehicle lane. In all three, including in Hartman’s accident, the drivers said they were confused by the exit or did not realize they had left the highway.

Before the March 2 Bluffton University accident, the Georgia Department of Transportation said there had been two deaths from seven accidents involving that exit ramp in the last nine years.

“It’s horrible to categorize fatalities but two fatality accidents, all involving motorists who ran stop signs, is not an inordinate number over a 9-year-period,” said spokesman David Spear. “I don’t think it speaks to the design of the ramp or signalization of the ramp.”

As a result, the Georgia transportation department has no plans to close the ramp. But Spear said the agency is trying to “come up with potential additions” to alert drivers, including additional signs or traffic control devices.

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