Ex-Ray RHP Bush pleads no contest to DUI causing serious bodily injury

Published Dec. 18, 2012

Former Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Matt Bush pleaded no contest to driving under the influence with serious bodily injury Tuesday afternoon, receiving a 51-month prison sentence.

With time already served, Bush will be in prison for 3 1/2 years, but the other six charges stemming from his Mar. 22 DUI hit-and-run arrest will be dropped. As part of the plea agreement with the state, there will be no probation. However, because it will be Bush's third DUI conviction in the past 10 years, there will be a 10-year license revocation in the state of Florida. He also has to pay $578 in court costs.

It's been a stunning fall for Bush, baseball's top overall pick in 2004. Bush, 27, has been in Charlotte County jail since his Mar. 22 arrest in North Port, where police say he hit the motorcycle of 72-year old Tony Tufano and fled the scene. Police say Bush had a blood alcohol percentage of .180, more than twice the legal limit. It took authorities a half hour, with a search that included deputies and a helicopter, to find and arrest Bush.

Bush pled not guilty in March, 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 and police officers - convinced them there would be a conviction of at least one charge, which could have meant more prison time.

Tufano was in intensive care in a Fort Myers hospital for a few weeks following the crash, with serious injuries including broken bone in his back, broken ribs and brain hemorraging. He's at home now, but daughter-in-law Shannon Moore said he's not the same, a former marathoner who now has trouble walking his dogs. Tufano is on pain medication, sleeps a lot, and has trouble remembering things.

"Matt Bush gets out in four years and he goes on with his life, but my father-in-law has all the broken ribs," Moore said. "He was a marathon runner and can no longer do that. It's not closure...

Tony will deal this the rest of his life."

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

Moore said her family was "disappointed" probation wasn't included in the sentence.

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

That's something that even Kirshy can't even promise.

"I don't think he's every spent nine months in jail, so that's a wake-up call for anybody," Kirshy said. "I know that he's certainly a nice gentleman. It's tough. The wake-up call should have happened so long ago, that anybody who is looking at this from the outside, says, 'Dude, seriously?' At some point you have to wake up and that should have a long time ago. But for him, certainly it's a wakeup call. I think the nine months in jail, I think being in Podunk, U.S.A, 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."

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Kirshy said Bush is doing well, "dramatically better" emotionally and mentally since Tufano's release from the hospital, as the victim's pain was "really weighing on him heavily." Kirshy said Bush told him he plans to get alcohol treatment.

Bush was trying to resurrect his once-promising career with the Rays when he got arrested. Bush, signed to a minor league deal in 2010, had said and done all the right things, moving his way up to Double-A Montgomery and getting an invite to major league camp in spring training. But after the arrest, Bush was soon put on the restricted list and released by Tampa Bay in October.

Kirshy said that, other than a few team pastors, he has not heard a word from the Rays, whether that was coaches, former teammates. Tufano's family has filed a $5 million civil suit against both Bush and Rays outfielder Brandon Guyer, whose Dodge Durango Bush was driving during the accident. While the Rays aren't named in the lawsuit, Moore believes they bear some 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," Moore said. "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."