Angels pitcher killed in crash

Updated: April 10, 2009, 3:36 PM ET
Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others were killed by a suspected drunk driver Thursday, a shocking end to the life of a rookie who had overcome major elbow surgery to realize his big league dreams.

The accident in neighboring Fullerton occurred hours after the 22-year-old pitcher made his season debut with his father in the stands, throwing six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics. The Angels ultimately lost the game, 6-4.

The team postponed Thursday night's game with Oakland, the final one of their season-opening series.

"It is a tragedy that will never be forgotten," manager Mike Scioscia said at an Angel Stadium news conference.

The Angels planned to pay tribute to the pitcher before Friday night's opener of a three-game series against Boston in Anaheim. They will wear a patch or emblem on their jerseys the rest of the season to honor him.

Adenhart's father, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, walked onto the field in the empty stadium Thursday and spent several moments alone on the pitcher's mound. Wearing a red sweatshirt, the Angels' color, he briefly covered his eyes with one hand.

Jim Adenhart also spoke during a closed-door meeting of players and team officials.

"He just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity, thank you for raising his kid in minor league ball on up through the system in the Angels' organization," outfielder Torii Hunter said.

Nick Adenhart was a passenger in a silver Mitsubishi Eclipse that was broadsided in an intersection about 12:30 a.m. by a minivan that apparently ran a red light, police said.

The impact spun around both vehicles, and one then struck another car but that driver was not hurt, police said.

The minivan driver fled the crash on foot and was captured about 30 minutes later. Police identified him as Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of Riverside, and said he had a suspended license because of a previous drunken driving conviction.

Preliminary results indicated Gallo's blood-alcohol level was "substantially over the legal limit" of .08 percent, police Lt. Kevin Hamilton said.

Gallo was interviewed by investigators before he was booked in jail Thursday on three counts of murder, three counts of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and felony driving under the influence of alcohol, Hamilton said.

Gallo is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday at North Justice Center in Fullerton. It is not known if he has an attorney.

On Friday, the Orange County district attorney planned a 5:30 p.m. ET news conference, during which charges will be announced.

Adenhart died in surgery at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center. Henry Nigel Pearson of Manhattan Beach, a 25-year-old passenger in the car, and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Frances Stewart of Diamond Bar, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

[+] EnlargeNick Adenhart
AP Photo/Nick UtNick Adenhart was a passenger in the Mitsubishi that was broadsided; two others were killed, and a fourth is in critical condition.

Stewart was a student at nearby Cal State Fullerton, where she was a cheerleader in 2007-08.

Another passenger, 24-year-old Jon Wilhite of Manhattan Beach, was in critical but stable condition Friday at UC Irvine Medical Center, and doctors believe he will survive, hospital spokesman John Murray said.

Murray said Wilhite, who played baseball from 2004 to 2008 at Cal State Fullerton, was being medically sedated.

Stewart's mother said her daughter and Adenhart had known each other since last season but were not dating as far as she knew, Hamilton said.

The mother said Adenhart and the others had gone dancing at a club about a block away from the crash site, although the crash scene appeared to indicate the car was heading in the direction of the club, Hamilton said.

At the ballpark Wednesday night, Adenhart did his job. He gave up seven hits in six scoreless innings and escaped twice after loading the bases in just his fourth major league start.

"I battled early and it felt good to get out of some jams," he said.

Adenhart left with a 4-0 lead before the bullpen gave away what would have been his second major league victory.

During Thursday's closed-door session, "we were just kind of reminiscing about what Nick brought to the team, to the clubhouse," Hunter said as he drove out of the players' parking lot.

We were just kind of reminiscing about what Nick brought to the team, to the clubhouse. He was a very funny kid and he's going to be missed.

-- Angels outfielder Torii Hunter

"He was a very funny kid and he's going to be missed," he said. "Every time you come to the stadium and you go in that clubhouse, you're looking at Nick Adenhart's locker."

"A lot of these guys in here have never lost anybody in their family that's close to them. I hate that this happened, but this is part of life. This is the real deal," he said. "That's why you've got to kiss your kids, kiss your family every day when you get up in the morning and before you leave for work."

Adenhart had made a slow climb to reach the majors.

He hurt his pitching elbow two weeks before the June 2004 major league draft, when he was projected as a top-five pick out of Williamsport High in Maryland.

But the setback dropped him to the 14th round, where the Angels selected him. He underwent Tommy John surgery -- a reconstructive operation on an elbow ligament -- later that month and spent most of next four seasons in the minors.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Gallo
Courtesy Fullerton Police DepartmentPolice apprehended Andrew Gallo half an hour after he fled the scene of the crash.

Adenhart struggled with a 9.00 ERA in three starts for the Angels last season, but Scioscia said last month the right-hander had worked hard over the winter and arrived at spring training with a purpose.

He was made the No. 3 starter as the season began this week because of injuries to John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, all of whom are on the disabled list.

Adenhart's father had flown out from Baltimore to attend the game.

"He told his dad that he'd better come here, that something special was going to happen," said Scott Boras, Adenhart's agent, who wept at the stadium news conference.

After the game, "He was so elated ... he felt like a major leaguer," Boras said.

The agent said he spoke with Adenhart and his father, in the clubhouse lobby until about 11:30 p.m. The pitcher and his father were staying at a nearby hotel.

Adenhart's mother, Janet, was flying to Anaheim. His parents were divorced.

"To, I think, focus on his loss is not what we need to do here today, we need to focus on who Nick was and his achievement," Boras said. "His parents really want to communicate to everyone that it's a very difficult moment, but it's also a very special moment because Nick was most accomplished and his life's goal was to be a major league baseball player and he certainly achieved that standard."

The tragedy adds another chapter to the Angels' string of misfortune over the years.

Just this week, a 27-year-old fan died after being assaulted at Angel Stadium on opening day.

Infielder Chico Ruiz and rookie pitcher Bruce Heinbechner were killed in car accidents in the early 1970s, as was shortstop Mike Miley in 1977. The following year, star outfielder Lyman Bostock was shot and killed late in the season in Gary, Ind.

In 1989, reliever Donnie Moore shot his wife and then killed himself three years after giving up a big home run that kept the Angels from winning the American League pennant.

A small but steady stream of somber fans came to the stadium Thursday to add flowers to a makeshift memorial on the pitcher's mound on the brick "infield" outside the stadium entrance.

A poster among the bouquets read, "No. 34, You are one more Angel in heaven." Scribbled on a baseball was, "Now you play for another Angels team."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press