Cleveland Indians Tragedy in Spring Training, 1993: the Death of Steve Olin and Tim Crews

The Indians had a day off from their spring training in Winter Haven, Florida, on March 22, 1993. Pitchers Steve Olin, Tim Crews, and Bob Ojeda drove to Crews’ house on Little Lake Nellie, near Tavares, for a barbecue and some fishing. Sometime before 8 p.m., Crews and his teammates took his bass boat out on the lake. In its initial story about what happened soon after, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Olin, 27, died instantly when an 18-foot open-air bass boat in which he was riding ran head-high into a new dock extending some 220-250 feet into Little Lake Nellie from a private home.

The boat, equipped with a 150-horsepower engine capable of powering it at speeds up to 50 m.p.h., apparently was traveling at a high rate of speed in the dark.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Jetta Heinrich, who owns the dock, heard the boat strike it and called the Lake County Sheriff’s Office at 7:52 p.m. . . .

When paramedics arrived, they found all three men unconscious.
Paramedics said that Ojeda, a passenger, was found covered in blood and drifting in and out of consciousness.

Lt. Vinard Hitt, regional public affairs officer for the Florida Fish and Game Commission, said neither the boat nor the dock was seriously damaged, and that the boat had its running lights on at the time. He noted that most of the injuries seemed to be at head level.
“It was dark and apparently they didn’t see the dock,” Mock added. . . .

Crews sustained an injured lung and a “very serious head injury,” said Joe Brown, a spokesman at Orlando Regional Medical Center. He is in the intensive care unit.
No surgery was planned for Crews until his condition could be stabilized, Brown said.
With the Dodgers last season, Crews was 0-3 with a 5.19 earned-run average in 49 games.

Ojeda, 35, a left-handed starter who had pitched two seasons for the Dodgers before signing with the Indians as a free agent this winter, had surgery for head lacerations and was expected to make a full recovery. He is in stable but serious condition in the intensive care unit of South Lake Memorial Hospital in Clermont.

Crews’ wife, Laurie, said: “They just had the day off and we had a barbecue at home. They wanted to see Tim’s boat. Boys will be boys, and things don’t always turn out the way they are supposed to.”

Crews died early the next morning, while Ojeda, who had a lacerated scalp, was operated on at South Lake Memorial Hospital. In a follow-up story, the L.A. Times reported:

The Crewses already owned six horses and planned for more. Crews, who loved to fish, was from Florida. He grew up in Tampa and went to King High. On the Friday before he died, Crews attended a ceremony there to retire his jersey. The school painted a sign on the outfield wall in his honor and unveiled it during festivities.

Monday was the only day off the Indians had scheduled during spring training, so Crews decided to entertain in his new home. The afternoon was spent horseback riding and dinner was scheduled for 6 p.m. followed by night bass fishing.

The Florida Game and Fish Commission later interviewed Ojeda, who said the boat had hit the dock as a complete shock, and that the players had made a couple runs around the lake before hitting the dock.

In response to the accident, Indians pitcher Kevin Wickander said:

“What you have to understand is we had an off-day. We were just trying to enjoy ourselves. They had a family picnic. I’m sure there were a few beers. It was a relaxing day. It was one of those things that just happened. They don’t need to be remembered like that. Steve was a good person. Timmy was a good person. It’s not fair. It could happen to anybody.
“I’m not dealing with it very well at all. He [Olin] was my best friend. He was the best man at my wedding. The reason I am where I am is because of him. He taught me as much about life off the field as on.”

On June 26, Ojeda, who was returning to the Indians, said: “We were going, and bam! I don’t remember the bam part. 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 explained his surviving the crash like this: “I was inches away from the guys, but I slouch. That’s why it missed me by half an inch.”

He added of tests that found Crews was legally drunk as he piloted the boat: “That became an issue. 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. . . . Everybody does things, then something bad happens, and we all look for reasons-why did that happen?”

Patti Olin, Steve’s wife, added:

“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. 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.”

Last winter, Mike Hargrove, the Indians’ manager in 1993, looked back at the accident in an interview. You can also read the transcript of an ESPN retrospective on the accident 10 years after it happened here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Olin and Crews, you can read some material I’ve gathered about their early careers here and here.

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 3:20 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I cried that day.

  2. I still remember that day like it was yesterday.
    And it still sends a chill up and down my spine when I think about that day, even now, almost 18 years later.
    Steve Olin seemed like good people, as did Tim Crews. I was fortunate enough to get Olin’s Autograph on a Baseball Card at Old Comiskey Park when he was just a rookie. I still have and cherish the card, and I will forever.

  3. Very sad. I remember it still. This story always touched me.

  4. I have always wondered why Steve Olin had died in 1993… I have a baseball card of him from 1991. He was a submarine reliever for the Cleveland Indians with a career record of 16-19 with a 3.10 ERA. I am shocked of what happened.

  5. […] force trauma to the head” and injured Ojeda. A very good write up of the events can be found here, as well as links to an interview with former manager Mike Hargrove and a transcript of an ESPN […]

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