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Tampa Bay Rays prospect Matt Bush tears up as he addresses court

PUNTA GORDA — Rays minor-league pitcher Matt Bush broke down in tears Monday during limited testimony in a bail reduction hearing, which will be continued Thursday in Punta Gorda.

"I have no desire to drink again," Bush told the court.

Bush, held in Charlotte County Jail on $1.015 million bail, was arrested March 22 when police said he hit the motorcyle of 72-year-old Tony Tufano and fled the scene. Police said Bush had a blood alcohol percentage of .180, more than double the level at which Florida considers a driver impaired.

Tufano was in an intensive care unit at a Fort Myers hospital for a few weeks and is now at home, though attorney Paul Sullivan said he's clearly "not the same man," using a walker and unable to laugh, cry or pick up his grandkids due to 10 broken ribs.

Tufano's son Tony and daughter-in-law Shannon Moore were at the hearing, sitting barely 5 feet behind Bush, who was handcuffed and wore a brown Charlotte County jail uniform.

"We don't want him out, he's had many, many chances to go through rehab," Shannon Moore said. "Obviously he's failed."

Bush's attorney, Russell Kirshy, argued Monday for much lower bail, citing 10 similar cases in Charlotte County the past five years, where the highest — even in a DUI manslaughter case — was $96,000. The decision won't come until Thursday, giving the state and new judge John Duryea time to review them.

Kirshy brought in a witness, retired pastor Rafael De Armas, who said Bush could live with him and his wife in Port Charlotte. That would be if Bush posts bail and after he enters a local rehabilitation program, Mission Unity, which would be for 28 days, with 30 days of transition and up to two years supervision in sober housing. De Armas said he has worked with Bush and other Rays players at their spring training complex the past two years.

Bush could only testify in matters related to his bail hearing, from his previous arrest record to financial status. He was questioned for 20 minutes, spoke softly and cried when he was asked about his family. Bush, who received $3.15 million as the 2004 top overall pick by the Padres, said he has $1,000 in the bank and no significant assets he could sell.

"It's kind of an amazing fall for a fellow who once had $3 million in the bank," Kirshy said. "It's a really shocking fall."

The Rays have put Bush on the restricted list, so he will not earn a salary. Bush said he has had no direct contact with the Rays, but when asked if he thought his status with the team could change if he gets out on bail, he appeared optimistic. "I believe it's possible," Bush said.

Prosecutor Richard Simpson brought in three witnesses, including police officers who delivered more details on the chase involving Bush on March 22, when Bush was linked to three hit-and-run accidents. In the 30-plus minutes it took for police to apprehend Bush following the Tufano crash, the officers described the Dodge Durango that Bush was driving reaching speeds of 80 mph, weaving erratically, going on the shoulder and running a red light, refusing to stop when police sirens were on.

Simpson went over Bush's previous arrest record, which includes a DUI conviction, a reckless driving conviction and a guilty plea for failure to appear in an excessive speeding case in Arizona in 2007. Simpson pointed out Bush had already been through a four-month rehab program in California and the Winning Inning program in Clearwater in 2010 when first signed by the Rays.

Kirshy said alcohol addiction can be a long and painful process, and many don't do well the first time they get treated. Kirshy said he has spoken with Bush two or three dozen times since his arrest, with Bush mostly concerned with how Tufano is doing.

Kirshy said Bush's mental state is "terrible," but that's a small issue compared to bigger issues in the case, "like is Mr. Tufano okay, and is Matthew going to spend the next 15 years in prison." Kirshy said it's unclear when Bush's problem with alcohol resurfaced.

"There are people that have only known him since he came to the Rays, and those people would testify that … they've never seen him drive a vehicle or seen him drink an alcoholic beverage in 21/2 years," Kirshy said. "I'd say he was doing pretty well, but it's certainly not an easy thing."

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

Tampa Bay Rays prospect Matt Bush tears up as he addresses court 04/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, April 23, 2012 10:18pm]
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