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Mystery man emerges in investigation of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Bush's accident

PORT CHARLOTTE — Was there a second man in the sport utility vehicle in the wreck last week that left a motorcyclist grievously injured and Rays minor-league pitcher Matt Bush in jail?

Yes, suggests the owner of the sports bar and strip club Bush was kicked out of twice that day.

No, says a main witness.

Bush's attorney?

"Interesting," Russell Kirshy of Port Charlotte said Friday.

And the daughter-in-law of Port Charlotte's Tony Tufano, 72, who has a broken wrist, broken bones in his back and broken ribs that make breathing difficult?

"Hopefully, this person would come forward and be able to shed some light on what happened," Shannon Moore said. "I would like to know. Who is it?"

Here's what's known: Just after 5 p.m. on March 22, the black Dodge Durango crashed into the back of the Harley-Davidson on U.S. 41 about 500 feet south of the bar. Bush, 26, was arrested just before 6 p.m. after getting pulled over in a North Port neighborhood 3 miles away.

He was the only person in the SUV at that time.

He told Florida Highway Patrol troopers he had been shopping in Sarasota earlier and "stopped and bought a few." His blood-alcohol content was .180 and .171 — both twice the limit at which Florida considers a driver impaired. He didn't remember seeing or hitting Tufano.

Bush is charged with DUI with serious bodily injury, DUI with property damage, leaving the scene, driving with a suspended license and careless driving and is being held in Charlotte County Jail on $1.015 million bail. An arraignment is scheduled for May 21.

The events leading up to the accident are more muddled.

Sometime after 4 p.m., Bush and a black man walked into the sports bar portion of the Emerald City Gentlemen's Club, owner Kipp Whaley and bartender Shane Pointon said.

Whaley described Bush's companion as "a fit, good-sized guy," who looked to be in his 30s.

Bush "wasn't stumbling-around drunk," said Whaley, but "he had too much energy, and he was rowdy." Bush's companion ordered two double shots of Patron tequila and paid $32.

In the time it took him to prepare the drinks, Pointon said, Bush grabbed a dancer near a small stage and dropped her to the floor. Pointon told the men to leave. Whaley watched them get into the Durango.

They came back "20 to 25 minutes later, maybe," Whaley said. Pointon told them they still weren't welcome. Bush "flared up like a rooster," Pointon said, and got into an argument with a customer. He then dragged a dancer to the ground and threw a bag of peppermints at her. She threw one of her shoes at him.

Whaley watched them leave again. Did they get in the car together? Who was driving?

"I can't remember," he said.

Scott Sugden of St. Petersburg, who was driving south on U.S. 41, saw the Durango pull out of the parking lot. The Durango tried to cut around another car, he said, an aggressive maneuver that caught his attention. The front windows were down. Sugden saw just one man inside.

"This was a white male," he said. "I'm 100 percent sure. I stared right at him."

The Durango pulled out behind Sugden in the center lane. Tufano was in front of him. They crossed State Road 776. Sugden saw Tufano's motorcycle move into the left lane. He saw in his rearview mirror the Durango move into the left lane, speed up and smash into the back of the motorcycle without slowing.

The impact "snapped" Tufano's head back, Sugden said, and sent him to the pavement, where the Durango's rear right wheel ran over his helmeted head.

Tufano is no longer in an induced coma and was coherent Friday, Moore said, but he had trouble identifying family.

Who, she wondered, was the man with Bush?

"Somebody probably knows," Moore said. "Does he know anything?"

Was it another Rays player?

"No idea," Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn said via email.

Kirshy has met with Bush several times over the past week and said Bush hasn't mentioned another man. But now Kirshy is going to ask him about it.

"A lot of it will depend on whether they identify the person," Kirshy said. "It may turn out to be critical. It may not."

A key question: Did the accident happen after the men left the first time or the second time? Whaley noticed a dent in the Durango's front right fender when they returned. But that could have happened when Bush says he hit a pole in Sarasota.

Emerald City has surveillance cameras inside, but they weren't on that day, Whaley said.

"It's possible they left and got into the accident and came back," Whaley said. "I'm not positive because I don't know the times.

"Whatever happened here was not a big deal," he said. "What happened down the street was a big deal."

Staff writer Joe Smith and news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8751.

. Fast facts

Bush goes on

Rays restricted list

The Rays placed right-hander Matt Bush on the restricted list Friday. The procedural move means Bush will not get paid and does not count toward the 40-man roster.

Marc Topkin, Times staff writer

Mystery man emerges in investigation of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Bush's accident 03/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 30, 2012 10:23pm]
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