Family says Gallo isn't a 'monster'

Updated: April 17, 2009, 6:54 PM ET
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

FULLERTON, Calif. -- Andrew Thomas Gallo, the man charged with killing Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others in a car accident April 9, is an alcoholic, his family told ESPN.com.

But the family, in its first public interview, stressed that they feel Gallo is a good man who is being demonized by the media in the wake of the crash, which killed the 22-year-old Adenhart, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson, and seriously injured Jon Wilhite. Wilhite is currently at UC Irvine Medical Center with serious internal injuries.

"It was an accident," Gallo's mother, Sandra Sagahon, said. "He never meant to hurt anybody, ever."

The Gallo family has temporarily left its home after receiving death threats in the week since Gallo was charged with three counts of murder, driving under the influence of alcohol and fleeing the scene of an accident. He could receive 55 years to life if convicted on all charges.

He remains in the Orange County jail, with bail set for $2 million. He is set to be arraigned on June 8. Police say he had nearly triple the legal blood-alcohol level at the time of his arrest.

"People think my son is a monster," says Thomas Gallo, Andrew's father and a real estate agent from San Gabriel, Calif. "He's not."

Andrew Gallo was born in El Monte, Calif., on Dec. 10, 1986, to Thomas and Sandra Sagahon. Andrew is the younger of two children, and lived in Baldwin Park, Calif., before Thomas and Sandra divorced when Andrew was 5.

According to his father, Andrew took the divorce especially hard. "I saw a lot of anger," Thomas Gallo said. "He was devastated."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Gallo
AP Photo/Pool, Joshua SudockAndrew Gallo, right, talks with his lawyer at a court hearing April 13.

Sandra moved the family to San Bernardino, Calif., when Andrew was 14. Sandra said she was growing her family with her new husband, and they wanted to be closer to his work.

Away from his friends and starting anew, Andrew found the move difficult, according to his mother. "Maybe he was lonely," Sagahon said.

Over the next few years, Andrew bounced between living with Sandra and Thomas, who also had remarried and lived in Covina, Calif. Always moving between two families, Andrew seemed to feel out of place, his family said.

At some point, he began drinking. Thomas Gallo does not allow alcohol in his home, so Andrew usually went out with friends and his stepbrother, Raymond Rivera, who is two years younger than Andrew.

Lilia Gallo, Andrew's stepmother, said Raymond Rivera -- who was with Gallo in the red minivan on the night of the crash -- is an alcoholic, and that Raymond and Andrew are often together. Andrew worked construction jobs while living at home with Thomas. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI for the first time in 2006.

"I didn't think he was out getting into trouble," Sagahon says. "It was an accident. It's not like he was a bad kid or a gang member."

As part of Gallo's plea deal on that arrest, he went to the Bible Tabernacle New Life Institute, a rehabilitation facility in Canyon Country, Calif., which is also a Christian ministry. Bible Tabernacle uses faith instead of therapy to heal. Mario Harper, who runs the facility, said its intent is to put discipline back into men's lives.

Gallo was required to stay at Bible Tabernacle for six months, waking each morning at 5:30, reading his bible for 90 minutes, then working each day as a grounds crew member, raking leaves and taking out trash, among other tasks.

In September, Gallo returned to the Bible Tabernacle. Harper says the family sent him through a friend of the church, but the Gallo family says he went on his own. They said they were shocked when he called them and said he was back in rehab.

Gallo People think my son is a monster. He's not.

-- Thomas Gallo, Andrew's father

At the time, Gallo was unemployed and trying to stay clean. Debra Rivera, Andrew's sister-in-law, says he would come to her house to escape.

"It was sort of a haven for him," she said.

Just a few months into his second stint at the Bible Tabernacle, Gallo was expelled. Harper says he was talking back to the staff, disrespectful of authority.

"A kid with an attitude like that usually ends up in jail," Harper said.

Gallo went home and lived with his father in San Gabriel.

On the night of April 8, he and Raymond Rivera borrowed Thomas Gallo's minivan to drop off a job application at a Sears. The two men then went to The Redwood Inn, a bar in a West Covina strip mall, sometime before 8 p.m. that night, according to Chuck, the owner of the bar who declined to give his last name. Gallo had a shot and a beer, according to Chuck, then left.

He and Rivera walked six doors down to The Well Bar, a watering hole where the bartenders wear bikinis. John Miles, one of the owners, confirmed that Gallo and Rivera were there, drinking Bud Light, and left around 10 p.m.

Miles said the men "got hammered" elsewhere, and that his bar is not culpable for what happened. "It's a shame what happened to those people," Miles said. "Our system doesn't seem to work."

Where Rivera and Gallo went afterward is unclear. Just more than two hours later, they were barreling down Orangethorpe Avenue in Fullerton, almost 20 miles south of West Covina. They collided with Courtney Stewart's silver Mitsubishi Eclipse around 12:20 a.m. PT.

"Those angels that [died] were good people," Sagahon said. "And so [is] my son. He's a wonderful kid.

"I don't want another tragedy like this," she said. "I don't wish this upon nobody, not those parents that lost their three little angels. Would someone want to be in my shoes right now? I don't think so, and I don't wish it upon anybody. ... We don't want to be there either, and unfortunately, we were put here and left here for a reason for people to see, to react and think before they do."

The Gallo family says Andrew was trying to pull his life together, that he told them he was set to start a new construction job on April 9 -- the day of the accident -- and was talking about long-term goals of owning his own construction company.

That means little to the families of the victims. When Gallo was in an Orange County court Monday, Carrie Stewart-Dixon, mother of Courtney Stewart, brought 16 friends and family with her. All of them were wearing T-shirts with Courtney's picture and her full name written underneath. Carrie entered the courtroom at 2:30 p.m. and walked to the front row, standing up to make sure Gallo saw her. Gallo, wiping his eyes, made eye contact, but never looked up again.

"I wanted him to see her mother," Stewart-Dixon said afterward. "I didn't feel sorry for him in the least. I'm sure his attorney told him to [cry]."

Stewart-Dixon scoffed at the notion this was an accident.

"Accidents happen; when you're drinking and driving, it's murder," she said. "You know what you're doing."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.