Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Victim in Matt Bush DUI crash trying to make best of what he has

PORT CHARLOTTE — Tony Tufano was running again, back to circling the three-quarters of a mile walking trail at a nearby park until he reached— 8 miles.

The hamster cage, he called it.

He was losing weight, too, shedding pounds he collected since his wife of 50 years died 10 months earlier from Crohn's disease.

Tufano was 72 and his life was a struggle. Pat was in and out of the hospital 16 times during her last 22 months. Tufano dropped everything to be by her side.

"I had a tough time getting over it," he said.

But the fog was lifting. He was running again, three days a week, and that was important, because he was a runner who once finished the Boston Marathon in less than 3 hours.

Matt Bush was a promising yet troubled pitching prospect in the Rays organization.

He had a high 90s fastball and a history of alcohol abuse. He was in camp with the Rays during spring training 2012, inching toward his major-league debut.

On a March afternoon on a highway in Port Charlotte, not far from the Rays' spring complex, not far from Tufano's home, the lives of both took a tragic turn.

Bush is at Tropicana Field this weekend, a member of the AL West-leading Texas Rangers.

On a recent afternoon, Tufano sat in a back booth at a Perkins Restaurant near his Port Charlotte home, less than a quarter-mile from the spot on U.S. Highway 41 where Bush ran over him. He sipped coffee and poked his fork at a cinnamon bun.

He talked about running marathons and sub-36-minute 10Ks when he was in his 40s.

Tufano remembered the time he ran the Disney Marathon in 3 hours, 14 minutes at age 57 so he could give the Mickey Mouse-shaped finishing medal to his granddaughter Chelsea.

He paused, and his smile disappeared.

"The mind is a terrible thing in what it remembers," Tufano said. "It bothers me because I know I can't straighten myself out."

In 2012, Bush was in big-league camp, inching his way toward pitching in the majors. Bush, the No. 1 overall pick by the Padres in 2004 as a shortstop, rented a house with teammate Brandon Guyer.

That morning, Bush borrowed Guyer's SUV to drive home after the morning workout.

But Bush headed to Sarasota for the start of a drinking binge that led to three accidents. He hit a pole in Sarasota and sideswiped a car in Venice before heading back to Port Charlotte.

Bush had been kicked out of an adult dance club about a mile from the Rays' spring complex when he got back into the Durango and headed south on U.S. 41.

Up ahead was Tufano, who was riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle home after spending the afternoon babysitting his granddaughter Iris in nearby North Port.

Needing to move to the left lane so he could turn into a Publix to pick up milk, Tufano said he checked his left mirror and checked his blind spot to make sure the lane was clear.

He never saw the Durango.

Tufano's only memory of the accident is lying in the street, reaching for the handlebars.

When arrested 45 minutes later, Bush told police he thought he ran over a motorcycle.

"No," Tufano said. "That was me he ran over."

Ten of the 12 ribs on his right side and two on his left were broken. He fractured eight vertebrae. His right lung was collapsed and bruised. He fractured his right cheek bone, his left shoulder blade and his left hand. There was bleeding on his brain. He had road rash on his arms and back.

He was wearing a helmet. He always did. His granddaughter Willow insisted. It was cracked on the right side.

Bush was charged with three felonies, including his third DUI and leaving the scene of an accident with bodily injury. He bargained for a 51-month sentence with time served and no probation over a shorter sentence that included probation.

He was released Oct. 30 from a North Florida prison, then lived in a halfway house in Jacksonville while he worked at a Golden Corral restaurant, riding a bicycle 3 miles each way.

It was there that Bush reconnected with Roy Silver, who used to run a baseball academy in Clearwater. The two met in 2009. They began playing catch in the Golden Corral parking lot.

Silver, a player adviser for the Rangers, persuaded a team scout to come watch Bush throw. He was clocked in the mid 90s while wearing a department of corrections GPS tracking device strapped to his left ankle.

The Rangers, who once took a chance on a more famous and troubled former Rays prospect named Josh Hamilton, signed Bush to a minor-league deal. He reached the majors in May and won his first big-league game May 15.

It's easy to think you blew everything when sitting in prison for almost four years. There was, though, a small part of Bush that believed another team would give him a fourth chance.

It helped that Silver was already working full time for the Rangers. It helped that the Rangers had success with Hamilton.

The Rangers have a zero tolerance policy with Bush. He can't drink alcohol. He can't drive. He can't carry any more than $20. His lives with his dad when the Rangers are home and rooms with Silver on the road.

Bush knows there likely won't be a fifth chance.

He said Tufano is never far from his mind.

"Just being back here in Florida kind of reminds me of everything that happened," Bush, 30, said Friday. "It's something I'll definitely never forget and will continue to learn from and never make the same mistake again."

Bush makes public appearances, as do all members of the Rangers. He said he's approached by fans with similar backgrounds who see him as a role model, an example of how all is never lost even when it appears to be so.

"It's very good to be a role model in that aspect and show you can get back on your feet and still accomplish goals and dreams in your life," Bush said.

He said he wants to deliver this message on a wider platform someday. He wants to show people there is always hope. He'd like to talk to teenagers so they "can learn from my mistakes before they do the same."

Silver said he helps Bush handle life one day at a time. He makes sure Bush stays on his 12-step program. Bush is a recovering alcoholic. Tomorrow is never promised.

Tufano publicly forgave Bush 14 months after the accident during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

"It was a blessing from Tony," Silver said. "Part of (Bush) moving forward was (that) the gentleman who was most affected by this gave Matt his blessing, and that was important to me. Forgiveness is a great thing, and it's appreciated, but it's not forgotten."

Shannon Moore, Tufano's daughter-in-law who serves as the family spokesperson on all things related to Bush, understands how Bush can be seen as a success story. From prison to the big leagues in less than a year. Lessons learned during time behind bars. Redemption.

"But when you know the victim, it's different," she said.

Tufano is 77 now. He takes 26 pills a day. Some are to stop the knocking in his head and ringing in his ears. Some are for the pain in his feet, the result of nerve damage. His chest constantly tingles where a tube was once inserted to clear his lungs. He said the sensation is similar to what you feel when your hand falls asleep.

Asked how he's doing these days, Tufano answers, "Not wonderful."

It's not unusual for Tony Jr. and his family to stop by his house only to have his father sleep through the entire visit. He sleeps a lot because the medication makes him drowsy.

"He doesn't act or look like he did before the accident," Moore said. "It's really sad to see."

Tufano, the once taut marathoner, weighs more than 200 pounds.

"The way I look at it is I'm deformed," he said. "I was crushed."

Tufano is a baseball fan. He watches the games on the MLB Network. He recently saw Bush pitch an inning for the Rangers. He said he had no reaction. He knew Bush, armed with his high-velocity fastball, would get another chance.

"His life went on," Tufano said. "It was a blessing that he was in prison. He was fortunate the right people got a hold of him. I wish him well, but I don't want to meet him."

Tufano thought about the big-league life Bush leads and the life he now leads.

"How ironic is it that his life was turned around, which is good, but now my life was turned into something bad," Tufano said. "When Bush was in jail he had a chance to think about his life, reflect on his choices. If only I got another chance. I didn't get those choices."

He was asked if he is angry.

"No, not really," Tufano said. "I look at it if I'm angry, if I'm bitter, it's only going to affect me. I can't do anything about it. This is the way I am. This is the way it is."

Moore gets angry when she reads comments on the stories posted online about Bush and her father-in-law.

People write that he was too old to ride a motorcycle.

People write that the family is angry it didn't receive a bigger settlement. Moore, who won't reveal how much Tufano received, said money is not the concern. Tufano could have received 10 times more, 100 times more, and he still wouldn't be able to run or go for long walks or stay awake long enough to enjoy company.

Photos of Pat and their three children and five grandchildren clutter the living room in Tufano's home.

On a table by the front door sits the black, full-face motor­cycle helmet Tufano was wearing that afternoon, the one Willow made him wear when he went riding. Patches of paint are missing on both sides from when it scraped along the pavement.

"It's there as a reminder," Tufano said.

Of what?

"That I'm thankful I had the helmet on."

Tufano does own another motorcycle, a 2006 Harley Road King. He doesn't ride it much. He seldom leaves the house.

"I'm kind of a recluse," he said.

His family has shown concern that he might be suicidal. Tufano laughed at that.

With all he has been through, with the pain he endures on a daily basis, Tufano said he still has a lot to live for.

"Oh God, yes, because I still got the kids and the grandkids," Tufano said. "When I see them, I see Pat in all of them. They all have her mannerisms. When I see that, I appreciate life more."

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