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Former Rays pitcher Matt Bush finalizes plea deal

PUNTA GORDA — Matt Bush was once the envy of many as baseball's top overall pick in 2004, boasting plenty of potential and millions in the bank.

But with Bush's alcohol problem and several related arrests rendering him broke, and after he squandered every chance he was given to reach his big-league dreams, the former Rays pitching prospect quietly accepted the fate of his stunning fall Tuesday.

Bush, 26, pleaded no contest to driving under the influence with serious bodily injury, receiving a 51-month prison sentence that will equate to 31/2 years with time already served.

It could have been a lot worse, as the plea agreement with the state resulted in the other six charges from his March DUI hit-and-run arrest being dropped. Bush won't have any post-prison probation, but because it's his third DUI conviction in 10 years, there will be a 10-year license revocation in Florida. He has to pay $578 in court costs.

To the family of the victim, Tony Tufano, 72, who nearly died in the crash in North Port, it wasn't enough. They were disappointed Bush didn't receive probation.

"When he gets out he doesn't have to account to anybody," said Shannon Moore, Tufano's daughter-in-law. "He's already done this, what, three times? So, we're not too confident that he's not going to do it again."

Bush didn't have a license, or own a car, on March 22 when police say the Dodge Durango he borrowed from teammate Brandon Guyer ran over Tufano's motorcycle and fled the scene. Police say Bush had a blood alcohol level of .18, more than double the legal limit.

Bush originally pleaded not guilty, saying he didn't remember seeing — or hitting — a motorcycle. But attorney Russell Kirshy said the state's investigation, which included testimony from several witnesses, convinced them there would be a conviction on at least one charge, which could have meant more prison time.

Tufano was in intensive care for a few weeks after the crash, with injuries including a collapsed lung, brain hemorrhaging and several broken bones. He's at home now, but Moore said he's not the same, a former marathoner who struggles to walk the family dogs.

Said Moore: "Tony will deal with this the rest of his life."

The state gave Bush two plea offers: three years in prison and seven years probation; or four years and no probation. Kirshy said with Bush's history of alcohol issues, the seven years probation was a "disaster waiting to happen."

"The wakeup call should have happened so long ago, that anybody who is looking at this from the outside, says, 'Dude, seriously?' " Kirshy said. "But for him, certainly it's a wakeup call. I think the nine months in jail, I think being in 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."

Bush, who signed a minor-league deal with the Rays in 2010, had said and done all the right things until his arrest, moving his way up to Double-A Montgomery. But soon after the arrest, Bush was put on the restricted list, and he was released by Tampa Bay in October. Kirshy said he has not heard from anyone in the organization.

The Tufano family has filed a $5 million civil suit against Bush and Guyer. While the Rays aren't named in the lawsuit, Moore believes they bear some responsibility.

Said Moore: "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?"

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Former Rays pitcher Matt Bush finalizes plea deal 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 11:45pm]

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