CLERMONT, Fla. -- You can't find Little Lake Nellie on a map. You just drive to this central Florida town, and ask directions. "If you've got two minutes, you can follow us," a farmer told a reporter yesterday. "We're going to pick some fruit up there."
Steve Olin got lost Monday trying to find Tim Crews' home on the lake, 40 miles west of Orlando. But it was the Cleveland
Indians' only day off of the spring, and he promised his 3-year-old daughter, Alexa, he'd take her horseback riding. Crews owned six horses and nearly 50 acres of land. Olin couldn't turn back.
The drive north from the Indians' training site in Winter Haven takes about an hour. About a dozen homes surround the lake, and many of the residents keep powerboats in their back yards. On most days, all you can hear is birds chirping. This isn't the kind of place death visits, not by a long shot.
But here Perry Brigmond stood yesterday, recalling the boating accident that killed Olin and Crews and left Bobby Ojeda seriously injured Monday. Here Brigmond stood, describing how Crews turned the boat around, and, in the darkness, never saw the 185-foot-long dock.
How did it happen? Had Crews been going too fast? What about the beer and vodka found on the boat? The questions exploded around him yesterday, but all Brigmond knew was what he heard, and what he saw. "The last thing on my mind was smelling for alcohol," he said. "I was just trying to help."
Crews owned a Skeeter bass boat with a 150-horsepower motor. Olin and Ojeda had brought their families to his ranch for a day of fishing, horseback riding and grilled steaks. But it rained all day, and the three players didn't get on the boat until about 7:30 p.m.
Brigmond, Crews' hunting-and-fishing buddy from Orlando, was late for dinner, and thus late for fishing. Fernando Montes, the Indians' strength and conditioning coach, had stayed behind to escort him. After dinner, they hopped in Crews' pickup, and drove to the edge of the lake.
"I flashed my lights," Brigmond said. "I couldn't hear the motor -- we were across the lake. But I saw the bow light rise, and I knew they were coming. Then I saw the bow light go down. When I saw that, I knew they hit something. I just thought they hit a stump or ran over the top of the dock."
Such crashes, Brigmond said, are not uncommon. Later -- after he and Montes frantically circled the lake in the pickup, found the players in the boat and screamed for the owner of the nearest home to dial 911 -- a paramedic told him it was the fourth accident this year.
Even with the recent rain in Florida, the water was so low, the adjoining Big Lake Nellie was not navigable. The dock, one of four on the lake, rose only four feet above the water. Crews had been following the shoreline. He, Olin and Ojeda were sitting when their heads struck the end of the dock.
Montes got to the boat first, and Brigmond followed. Olin was dead. Crews would be pronounced dead 10 1/2 hours later. Ojeda was barely conscious. "The only words he could get out of his mouth was, 'Help 'em. They need help,' " Brigmond said. "He was more concerned with their well-being than his own."
Ojeda suffered lacerations on his upper forehead and scalp, went into shock and experienced kidney failure, but is expected to recover. Olin and Crews are gone, and the questions will keep coming. Was the length of the dock illegal? Why wasn't it illuminated? How fast were they going?
A Skeeter bass boat travels up to 60 mph. Investigators found the throttle in Crews' boat thrust forward, but Brigmond doubts the players were moving at an excessive speed. "If they had opened the throttle," he said, "they'd have been out in the middle of the lake somewhere."
That didn't happen. Lt. Tom Croft of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission said the impact of the crash forced the dislodging of three boards on the dock, and damaged a few posts as well. Brigmond said the boat emerged unscathed.
Indians general manager John Hart said: "I spoke with Tim's father. Tim had very strict rules on his boat. He was a very careful person, as most outdoors people are." But Brigmond said Crews had moved into his new home only two months ago. "I would think he didn't know the lake at night," he said.
Peaceful Little Lake Nellie offered no answers. Investigators roped off the yard at 11124 Point Nellie Drive to prevent bystanders from walking onto the dock. In the yard, there was a doghouse, a swing set and two rusty yellow toy trucks.
Every so often, the dog barked.
Otherwise, it was quiet, real quiet.