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6 killed, 29 injured after bus carrying college baseball team drives off Atlanta highway ramp

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ATLANTA (AP) - A charter bus carrying a college baseball team from Ohio plunged off an interstate ramp early Friday and slammed into the highway below, killing six people, injuring 29 and scattering sports equipment across the road, authorities said.

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At least three people were listed in critical condition.

The bus, carrying the team from Bluffton University, a Mennonite-affiliated school south of Toledo, toppled off the Northside Drive bridge on Interstate 75 in clear, pre-dawn weather, police spokesman Joe Cobb said.

It crashed onto a pickup truck.

'When I saw the thing coming, I think I closed my eyes and stepped on the gas,' said Danny Lloyd, who was driving the truck and escaped uninjured. 'It looked to me like a big slab of concrete falling down.'

The impact broke his windshield, pushed his truck into the concrete and wrecked the front bumper, said, Lloyd, 57, of Frostburg, Md.

Firefighters pulled people through the roof of the bus, which landed on its side.

At Bluffton University's campus, clergy organized a campus gathering to give students a venue to express their feelings about the crash, said Pastor Steve Yoder with the First Mennonite Church. Students and residents of the community wiped tears from their eyes as they came in, and the gym was quiet with people talking muffled voices.

Nineteen male students were being treated at Grady Memorial Hospital, said Dr. Leon Haley. Three were in critical condition, and all but two students were awake and talking, he said. Doctors were checking them for broken bones, he said.

'All things considered they are pretty calm,' Haley said. 'They are very aware of what's going on.

He said the driver was not taken to Grady. Three injured people were taken to Piedmont Hospital and seven to Atlanta Medical Center, Haley said.

Officials at the three hospitals said 28 of the 29 people being treated were of college age. The age of one injured person, at Piedmont, could not immediately be determined, they said.

A university spokeswoman, Jill Duling, confirmed the bus that crashed was carrying the team, but said she could not provide any other information. The school canceled Friday classes and scheduled a news conference for later Friday.

The team was scheduled to play its first game of the season in Sarasota, Fla., on Saturday against Eastern Mennonite College of Harrisonburg, Va. It had eight games scheduled in Fort Myers, Fla., beginning Monday.

Cobb said the bus was traveling southbound on I-75. He said the bus driver may not have planned to exit the interstate, and may have mistaken a car pool exit ramp for the regular car pool lane that continues down the interstate.

When the bus went off the bridge, it landed in the southbound lanes of the interstate, blocking all four lanes. Five fire trucks and at least three dozen firefighters were at the scene.

The charter company, Executive Coach Luxury Travel Inc., of Ottawa in northwest Ohio, did not immediately return telephone or e-mail messages.

On campus, assistant football coach Steve Rogers said he was working out in the weight room with members of the football team around 6 a.m. when they saw news of the bus crash on television. He said when they saw the markings on the side of the bus, 'That's when reality hit everybody.'

They recognized the bus company as one all the school's sports teams may have used, he said.

'Everybody was in shock. Nobody what to say or what to feel,' he said.

His players started calling friends they knew on the baseball team, trying to reach some by cell phone. The campus, with 1,150 students, is small enough that everyone will know someone who was on the bus, Rogers said.

'It hits home harder than it would if it had happened at a bigger school. Everybody knows each other,' he said.

The worst part is waiting to find out who was injured and who was killed, Rogers said.

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