The annual bus ride from the Minnesota Twins’ base in Fort Myers, Fla., to their summer home in Elizabethton was supposed to signify a new beginning for 32 young men and a second-year coach.
One second, however, changed everything.
Twelve hours after the involvement of their charter bus in a tragic wrong-way collision on Interstate 295 in Jacksonville, a somber group of minor league baseball players arrived at Joe O’Brien Field to make the transition to the next step of their athletic careers.
“In my mind, I can still see the guy, 10 to 15 feet still in front of us, headlights coming at us 70 miles an hour,” Twins pitching coach Henry Bonilla recalled. “We were real lucky.”
At 4:25 Tuesday morning, 28-year-old Corshane Brown of Jacksonville was driving south on the northbound lane of Interstate 295 when his Honda Civic collided with the left side of the charter bus carrying members of the Appalachian League baseball club.
Brown, who was not wearing a seat belt, was pronounced dead at the scene.
But thanks to a split-second decision by the Twins’ driver, no one in the bus was injured.
Bonilla said the drive from Southwest Florida, where the team was training, was following the usual course until the team arrived in Jacksonville to switch bus drivers for the remainder of the trip.
“The plan was to switch bus drivers in Jacksonville,” Bonilla said. “We were with Pete, who works with us all spring. He knows every player by first name and we know him really well. He got on the bus and we helped move some bags downstairs and got on the road.”
The team’s charter bus moved onto Interstate 295 and was in the midst of passing a slow-paced semi-truck when Bonilla and the driver saw headlights coming from a distance.
“We got about two-thirds of the way past the semi, about the rear tire on the bus, when I saw headlights coming at us,” Bonilla said. “And they were coming at us fast. … It was four in the morning, I’m tired, and they keep coming. This can’t be happening.”
Bonilla said the driver, Pete, yelled across the bus: “Oh my God! Hold on, guys, hold on!”
At that point, both the bus driver and Brown, who was 15 feet in front of the bus, swerved toward the median. A split-second move by the bus driver to shift hard back toward the highway prevented a head-on collision.
The car clipped the left corner of the bus and careened away from the inside lane near Pritchard Road. The bus pulled to an immediate stop, each of the 32 players, Bonilla and the driver escaping without injury.
“He ended up hitting us pretty square,” Bonilla said of Brown. “Thank God all of the kids were OK. Nobody was hurt on the bus.”
The Twins’ personnel remained at the scene in Jacksonville until a second bus picked up the players around 7:30 a.m. to resume the trip to East Tennessee. Bonilla said highway patrol officers responded almost immediately to the scene following reports of a driver traveling in the wrong direction.
“We were talking with the officers there and they said they had a report five minutes earlier, so that guy was driving the wrong way for quite some time,” the coach said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, but in the end I’m thankful we’re all OK. Pete, the driver, did an outstanding job missing the guy. When you think about it, it could have been a lot worse. We were really lucky.”