Bob Ojeda trusted Tim Crews with his life three months ago and would do so again without reservation.
"What happened was nothing more, nothing less, than a tragic accident," Ojeda said Friday during his first meeting with the media since the March 22 boating accident that killed Crews and Steve Olin. "Tim Crews was the safest boatman I know, the safest, most cautious guy I know."Ojeda sustained serious scalp injuries when the boat carrying the three Cleveland Indians pitchers slammed into a dock in early-evening darkness on Little Lake Nellie in central Florida. The accident occurred with Crews at the controls as the three went fishing following a family picnic on the team's only day off during spring training.
"If you had a day, your last day on this planet, and it started with family and friends, and then you're gone - well, a lot of people wish they'd have that," Ojeda said. "My friends are gone, but they went out on a great day. I wish they didn't, but they did."
Nervous and with a scarred forehead visible beneath the bill of his cap, Ojeda recalled the tragic suddenness of the collision with the dock.
"We were going, and bam! I don't remember the bam part," Ojeda said, sitting in his Indians uniform in the dugout at Cleveland Stadium. "Then I heard some lady hollering, `Are you guys OK?'
"And I told her, `No, we need help.' EMS got there in five minutes, and if they hadn't, I would have bled to death. They were tremendous."
Ojeda said he saw Olin and Crews two seconds after impact and knew they could not be saved. Olin, 27, was killed instantly, and Crews, 31, was pronounced dead the next morning, both with severe head injuries.
"I was inches away from the guys, but I slouch," Ojeda said. "That's why it (the dock) missed me by half an inch."
Ojeda, 35, needed surgery to "put the top of my head back on."
Beer and vodka were found on the boat, and tests showed that Crews was legally drunk at the time of the accident. Only negligible amounts of alcohol were found in Olin and Ojeda.
But both Ojeda and Olin's widow, Patti, said Crews was perfectly capable of operating the 18-foot boat.
"That became an issue," Ojeda said. "I can't sit here and try to rebuff whatever. I know Crewser. I know he could have done brain surgery, if he was a brain surgeon. Certainly we're not choir boys.
"That was an accident waiting to happen. That dock just stuck too damn far out."
Mrs. Olin, who has attended about a dozen Indians games this season, also contended that alcohol did not cause the accident.
"I suppose I could say that Steve was a passenger and Steve was sober, but people would say he should have been smart enough to not get on that boat in the first place," she told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in a story published Friday. "We spent the whole day with them, and I'm telling you, Steve would never have gotten on that boat if there was any doubt.
"I don't care what the legal limit was, Tim Crews was not drunk. If he was, I wouldn't have let my husband go out on a boat with him. It has never been an issue and it never will be. Nothing will ever change my mind."
Ojeda said he went into seclusion for about a month after getting out of the hospital.
"I certainly went through the `Why am I here?' " he said. "I left the country for a while. I had money in my pocket and I wasn't coming back. I went as far as Delta goes non-stop. I spent a lot of time alone."Comment on this story
But he soon decided the best thing was to get on with his life. He has rejoined the Indians to continue rehabilitating from arthroscopic surgery performed in April for a shoulder problem unrelated to the accident.
The Indians have tentatively set July 17 for his return to the rotation.
"You get knocked down, you've got to get up," Ojeda said. "I don't want to get up. If I did what I wanted to do, I'd be in Montana fishing and raising buffalo and not dealing with this.
"But that's not what I need to do. I need to get up. I need to go forward. I need to turn the page."