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Student travel safety tops University priorities

Kaitlynn Riely | Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When Notre Dame student athletes or members of the University Marching Band travel away from campus to play at other locations, their safety is “always number one,” said Pat Walsh, the vice president of business services at Anthony Travel.

Walsh said the travel agency in LaFortune arranges approximately 300 bus trips a year for the varsity sports teams – and during those trips, there’s always the possibility of an accident like the one last week involving the Bluffton University baseball team.

A bus carrying the team from Toledo, Ohio to spring training in Florida drove off an overpass in Atlanta and crashed onto a pickup truck traveling below. Six people were killed – including four students – and 29 others were injured.

That means for each of these trips, safety is a huge concern, Walsh said.

“Notre Dame does absolutely everything to ensure the safety of student athletes, coaches, staffs and administrators,” he said. “The nice part about an athletic department of Notre Dame’s size is that they can afford the best safety possible.”

Notre Dame lived through a tragic accident of its own 15 years ago, Walsh said.

The women’s swim team was returning to South Bend from a meet at Northwestern University in January 1992 when its bus turned over on the Indiana Toll Road. Sophomore Colleen Hipp and freshman Meghan Beeler were killed and 38 others were injured.

This was a “horrible accident,” Walsh said, and one that will “never ever be gone from people’s memories here.”

“It was an extremely difficult moment for everyone in the University,” Walsh said. “It’s a very close reminder that is always foremost in everyone’s minds that safety is number one.”

When Anthony Travel arranges trips, it uses bus services that meet high standards of safety, Walsh said.

“Everyone looks at costs too … but Notre Dame always makes the decision with the safety standards of that company foremost in mind,” Walsh said.

Robert Zerr, the director of Risk Management and Safety for the University, said his department makes sure the bus companies the University hires meet all necessary federal requirements.

“The federal government requires bus companies to have a minimum amount of insurance and if they are a charter bus company it’s five million dollars,” he said.

For local travel – like if the lacrosse team is taking a bus to Chicago to take a flight to the East Coast or if a team is playing at DePaul University – Walsh said Anthony Travel uses mostly the Royal Excursion or the Cardinal bus companies.

“Out of town, we use a number of different bus companies, but ones that are prescreened and are the biggest and safest and most trustworthy bus lines,” Walsh said.

And Notre Dame also hires enough buses so passengers can be comfortable during the drive.

Sophomore Charlie Vogelheim, a trumpet player in the marching band, said he has always felt safe when traveling on the buses to away games.

“The bus driver will sometimes get on the intercom and tell us not to walk around or stand in the aisles too much,” he said.

The longest trip he has taken with the band was to Pittsburgh last year, a trip that lasted about seven or eight hours, he said.

“We travel on the bus a lot and like any sports team or any other team like that, you just get used to it,” Vogelheim said. “Sometimes you forget that you are on a moving vehicle that is traveling 60 miles an hour.”