Roger Mooney covers the Tampa Bay Rays for The Tampa Tribune, TBO.com and News Channel 8. He has covered the Rays since their first season in 1998, including 11 years for the Bradenton Herald. Roger has also covered Florida, South Florida and Florida State football, the Bucs and the Lightning.
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Former Rays prospect Bush accepts plea in DUI case
Posted Dec 18, 2012 by Roger Mooney
Updated Dec 18, 2012 at 04:55 PM
PUNTA GORDA Former Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Matt Bush pleaded no contest this afternoon to DUI with bodily harm and accepted a plea agreement that calls for 51 months of prison time less 272 days time served.
This is the third DUI-related conviction for Bush. As a result, he had his licensed revoked for 10 years in the state of Florida. He will also pay $578 in court costs.
Bush, 27, faced a total of seven charges stemming from a hit-and-run March 22 in Port Charlotte in which Tony Tufano, 72, of Port Charlotte, received multiple injuries, including fractures of all his ribs. Tufano was riding his motorcycle along U.S. 41 when he was crushed underneath the SUV driven by Bush.
The accident occurred a mile from the Rays spring training complex.
Bush, who does not have a driver’s license, was driving an SUV owned by Rays outfielder Brandon Guyer. Both players are being sued for $5 million each by the Tufano family in a civil lawsuit.
When asked why Bush accepted the plea deal, his attorney Russell Kirshy said, “There were a lot of different factor. One, the evidence in this case is pretty dramatic, a lot of information to synthesize, four eyewitnesses, we tracked down some other folks that witnessed aspects of this. We’ve also heard from previous hearings, heard from different officers who saw all or part of these incidents, and ultimately, there was just enough evidence there to convince us all that there was going to be a conviction of at least one charge, and should he get that one charge, the concern is obviously he could get more time. God forbid if he had been convicted of more than one charge, the time could have been dramatically higher than the 51 months.”
Bush, a pitcher in the Rays minor league system at the time of the accident, rejected one deal in which he would have served three years in prison plus seven years probation.
“I think we would have liked to have seen some probation,” Shannon Moore, Tufano’s daughter-in-law said after the hearing. “When he gets out he’s completely on his own. We were a little bit disappointed in that. … Because when he gets out he doesn’t have to account to anybody,” she said. “He’s already done this, what, three times? So, we’re not too confident that he’s not going to do it again. We felt it would be good for him to be accountable and have to check in with somebody.”
Kirshy said Bush almost agreed to the three-year prison term plus seven years of probation moments before entering the court room at the Charlotte County Justice Center. Kirshy was relieved that his client opted for the longer jail time.
“It’s kind of well known idea among defense attorneys and prosecutors… probation is very, very difficult to finish, especially seven years. For someone who has a history of alcoholism, its just a disaster waiting to happen,” Kirshey said. “From my perspective, having 18 years of experience in my criminal justice system, I’m not sure I could finish seven years of probation, particularly with all the conditions that go with DUI charge. It’s just would be very, very difficult to imagine somebody successfully completing that, particularly after three years in prison.”
Moore said her father-in-law is having trouble recovering from the injuries suffered nine months ago.
“Depends on the day,” he said. “He had every single one of his ribs broken, so when it gets cold, he was planning on going up north to see his daughter and grandchildren, but when it got cold here he scratched that idea. A lot of time he spends in bed. We try to get him up to hang out with the kids, but it’s still difficult. People say is this closer? No. I don’t like that. Closer, no. if this never happened, that would be, you know. I don’t see four years in prison, that’s not closer. (Tufano) is still dealing with this every day, so Matt Bush gets out in four years and he goes on with his life, but my father-in-law has all the broken ribs. He was a marathon runner and can no longer do that. It’s not closer. I hate that question, actually.
“We try to get him up to hang out with the kids and be up with us and involved in things but he’s still taking medication, he still doesn’t remember a lot of things. I try to get him to walk the dogs with me, and walking down the road he’s like I don’t think I can do it. And going from being a marathon runner to not being able to walk the dogs … I attributed him living to being in such good condition prior to the accident.”
Moore said she believes the Rays, who signed Bush as a minor league free agent before the 2010 season, should share some of the responsibility.
“I think as far as the Rays go, they brought Matt Bush here, so I think the family kind of feels like they’re the ones that brought him to town. He wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Rays, so I think the family is a little upset with the Rays, knowing Matt Bush’s history, all the DUIs, why would they bring him to this area? So that is another thing the family has a question about. Why would you scout out a person who has a history like that? So, that’s a whole other deal.”
When asked what are the guarantees that Bush, with his history of alcohol abuse won’t drink and drive once he leaves prison, Kirshy said, “Certainly I don’t think he’s ever spent nine months in jail, so thats a wake up call for anybody. I know that he’s certainly a nice gentleman. It’s tough. The wakeup call should have happened so long ago that anybody who is looking at this from the outside in, says, ‘Dude seriously? I mean on the highway in San Diego.’ At some point you have to wake up, and that should have happened along time ago. But for him, certainly it’s a wakeup call. I think the nine month in jail, I think being in little Podunk, USA, and being held on a million dollar bond, I think that horrified him. Then getting $440,000 bond, then prison sentence, I don’t think this turned out nearly like all the other cases that he’s had. They don’t play in Florida. The third offense, this is some tough stuff right here.”