Crash victim works to forgive former Ray Bush

Tony Tufano, left, says he hopes former Rays prospect Matt Bush gets his life on track.
Tony Tufano, left, says he hopes former Rays prospect Matt Bush gets his life on track.
Published May 17, 2013

Tony Tufano tries not to be bitter, but there are days, like Wednesday, when he struggles to get out of bed and he can't help it.

Tufano, 73, is grateful to be alive after he was nearly killed last year on March 22 in North Port, when his motorcycle was struck by a Dodge Durango driven by former Rays right-handed pitcher Matt Bush. Bush, 27, baseball's top overall pick in 2004, is in jail serving a 51-month sentence after pleading no contest in December to driving under the influence with serious bodily injury.

Tufano, speaking publicly for the first time, said Wednesday that while he doesn't remember the crash, the pain he feels is a daily reminder. Tufano hopes Bush can turn his life around, but he believes both Bush and the Rays should share some responsibility in what happened.

"He (messed) me up, plain and simple," Tufano told the Tampa Bay Times. "To put it in a nutshell, and it sounds crazy, but I still feel deformed. I don't feel like I have the body I had before. … They say, that's what happened to me. But if that … jerk wasn't out there drunk, we wouldn't be talking right now."

The Tufano family's $5 million civil lawsuit against both Bush and outfielder Brandon Guyer, whose vehicle Bush was driving, has been settled, attorney Richard Hirsch said. Though Hirsch wouldn't discuss the amount because of a confidentiality agreement, it is believed to be about $400,000. Hirsch said the Rays haven't been included in the lawsuit yet, but he has left the door open if they can prove foreseeability.

Bush admittedly had an alcohol problem, with several previous arrests leading to his release by the Padres and Blue Jays. The Rays signed Bush to a minor-league deal in 2010 and had him enter the Winning Inning Baseball Academy in Clearwater for two months before playing. Bush, who never reached the big leagues, got as high as Double-A Montgomery.

The Rays, who released Bush in October, declined to comment.

"It was just wrong that this person was here in our community; knowing that he's a loose cannon," Tufano said. "It is true, how do you keep a leash on these guys? But, like I said, there should be some accountability."

Tufano said he hasn't heard directly from the Rays, Bush, or Guyer since the accident, though he has heard they've asked about his well-being. Rays vice president Rick Vaughn said he checked in with the family in the first few days after the accident, but he was asked not to contact them again, so he respected the family's wishes.

Tufano said he doesn't remember the crash or the several days following. He was in a coma after suffering brain hemorrhaging, a collapsed lung and several broken bones. He did recall hospital staff calling him "Edward McGray," an alias because of all the media attention. He had baby-sat two of his granddaughters that day and was going to get groceries on his way to his Port Charlotte home when he was hit.

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Scott Sugden, a witness to the accident, said Bush hit the motorcycle, knocking Tufano off, and Bush "kept on driving." A rear tire ran over Tufano's head. Bush, who had a blood alcohol level of 0.180, more than twice the limit the state presumes a driver is impaired, fled the scene.

"That's the part that bothers me, is he kept going," Tufano said. "I get bitter once in a while, but for me to dwell on it, I'm not going to do it. For me to wish him to go to hell or anything, I'm not going to do it. I hope he does straighten his life out. When he gets out, he'll still be a young person."

Tufano, a former marathoner, is far from the "youthful" 72-year-old he was at the time of the crash. He can take care of himself, drive and walk, which he does, around a three-quarter-mile track at a nearby park. "They call me the hamster," he said. But Tufano can no longer do the pushups or crunches that helped him stay in shape and doesn't have the lung capacity to run anymore. Though he has nerve damage, daily medication has removed the tingling feeling in his feet and the pounding noise in his head. He still does physical therapy.

But Tufano said nothing bothers him nearly as much as when he lost his wife of 50 years, Patti, to Crohn's disease 10 months before the crash. He revels in being able to hang out with his grand kids and plans to buy a motorcycle and ride again.

"I'm getting better," Tufano said. "Little by little."