Spared, he reflects amid Indian grief

OJEDA: WHY DIDN'T I DIE?

March 24, 1993|By Ken Daley | Ken Daley,Los Angeles Daily News

CLERMONT, Fla. -- Bob Ojeda had one question for his docto yesterday morning, a question to which no one knows the answer.

"He said, 'Why didn't I get killed?' " Dr. Allan Zubkin recalled.

Zubkin was with Ojeda and his wife, Ellen, early yesterday when the pitcher was informed that Cleveland Indians teammates Tim Crews and Steve Olin had died from massive head injuries suffered in their Monday night boating accident on a lake near Crews' Central Florida ranch.

The three pitchers had been bass fishing for about 90 minutes when Crews turned his 18-foot fiberglass craft toward home on Little Lake Nellie. It was an hour after sunset and no moonlight or spotlight lit his way. The 150-horsepower engine, capable of speeds in excess of 50 mph, hurtled them across the water, straight into an unlit wooden dock jutting off a point down the slope from a neighbor's back yard.

Ojeda recalled little of the crash. The boat was coming out of a left turn, probably tilting Ojeda lower than the two teammates who sat to his right on the bench seat of the craft. Olin, who was in the middle, was killed instantly. Crews, sitting on the right side and steering, never regained consciousness and died yesterday 5:40 a.m., 10 hours after the crash was reported.

Ojeda suffered severe head lacerations but is expected to recover.

"He'll probably be able to pitch with no problem within a couple of weeks," said Zubkin, the surgeon who operated on him at South Lake Memorial Hospital in Clermont.

Ojeda, married and a father of four, was the lucky exception in an accident that left two wives widows, six children fatherless and two ballplayers dead.

Perry Brigmond was supposed to be on that boat. Crews, whose second home in Orlando is across the street from Brigmond's, invited his frequent hunting and fishing partner along with his teammates on their only scheduled day off during spring training.

"I was supposed to be here at 6 o'clock to go with them," Brigmond said yesterday, staring out at the dock with the three ** 4-by-4 wood pilings missing near the end. "I was running late and it was about 7:30 when I got here. I had my truck up the hill by Tim's barn and blinked my lights. I think they were going to come around and get me.

"It was dark and then I heard a noise like they hit something. Then I didn't hear nothing."

Brigmond hopped in his truck and rumbled down the dirt road that rings the tiny lake. He pulled up at the home of Jetta Heinrich, who had heard a loud thud as she came out of the shower. Heinrich was already calling for help as Brigmond rushed to the boat, which bobbed silently atop three to five feet of water. No passengers were visible.

"They were all in the boat, by the dock," Brigmond said. "I pulled it to shore manually. The boy who's going to make it [Ojeda, 35], he was conscious. He was worried about them other two. That's all he said, that he knew they needed help.

"It was just a freak accident. And a dock stickin' out like that, it's decapitation-height. My honest opinion, they never knew what hit 'em."

Trauma-unit personnel at Orlando Regional Medical Center didn't disagree. The first paramedics at the scene advised the unit by radio that one man, Olin, was dead. A second, Ojeda, was covered in blood from an open head wound and was in shock, but he could be safely transported by ambulance to South Lake Memorial, about 15 minutes away.

The third man, Crews, was unconscious and had suffered a severe head injury. His respiration was shallow and deteriorating, and a breathing tube was inserted. It was 8 p.m. By 8:20, an emergency helicopter was en route to the scene to airlift Crews to Orlando, where neurologist Dr. Bruce Brunson was waiting. But it was too late.

"We tried everything," said Dr. Charles Burke, director of trauma service at the hospital. "But it was obvious our resuscitation efforts were not going to be successful. He was essentially without any response whatsoever.

"During transport, it became obvious there was more intercranial injury. He had no other apparent injuries, but there was really no surgery that could be done."

Laurie Crews, Tim's wife and mother of their three children (Tricia, 9, Shawn, 4, and Travis, 2), was en route to Orlando. Brigmond, the family friend who missed the boat, was driving.

"She was in shock," Brigmond said.

Thirty miles away at South Lake Memorial, another operating room was a flurry of activity. Though he also struck his head on the dock, Ojeda had somehow suffered a more glancing blow. But he was bleeding profusely.

"He came in with a head injury and in shock," Zubkin said. "It was a head laceration, and it was severe enough that if he was not treated quickly he would have bled to death."

Ojeda emerged from surgery around 11:30 p.m. Ellen, mother of their 19-month-old daughter, Katherine, and stepmother to Ojeda's three children from a previous marriage (Janna, 16, Robert, 14, and Jocelyn, 7), was already at the hospital.

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