Prosecutor: Defendant drank tequila, beer for hours before crash killed Angels pitcher

By Gillian Flaccus, AP
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Prosecutor: Man drank for hours before fatal crash

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A man charged with murder in a drunken-driving crash that killed rookie Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others fled on foot, even as people gave chase and yelled at him to stop, witnesses testified.

Andrew Gallo, 23, talked on his cell phone and then began walking away from the accident as one bystander followed him in his car and a security guard shouted at him, accordiing to testimony Tuesday at the trial.

Gallo has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder in the April 2009 deaths of the 22-year-old Adenhart, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart and 25-year-old Henry Pearson.

He has also pleaded not guilty to felony hit-and-run and two counts of driving drunk and causing injuries to Jon Wilhite, another person in the car carrying Adenhart, and Gallo’s stepbrother Raymond Rivera, who was in the minivan with the defendant.

Rivera, who drank with Gallo that night, was expected to testify Wednesday as a hostile witness for the prosecution. He previously said that he and Gallo spent hours drinking beer and tequila at three different bars the night of the crash.

Gallo’s blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, prosecutors said. He could face a maximum sentence of more than 50 years to life in prison if convicted of all counts.

Gallo’s attorney Jacqueline Goodman acknowledged in her opening statement that Gallo drove while intoxicated but stressed that he did not intend to kill anyone. Gallo believed Rivera, who pressured him to keep drinking, was his designated driver, she said.

Gallo blacked out before the accident and doesn’t know why he was driving, although he assumes he was, she said.

“He did it and he has to live with that for the rest of his life,” Goodman said. “But Andrew Gallo is not a murderer.”

Prosecutors said they took the unusual step of charging Gallo with second-degree murder — and not the lesser charge of manslaughter — in part because of his prior drunken-driving conviction.

Jurors do not have the option of finding Gallo guilty of manslaughter if they decide to convict.

Goodman has previously accused the district attorney’s office of overcharging the case because of Adenhart’s celebrity. But Tuesday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey cut her off twice during her opening statement when she tried to introduce that concept to jurors.

After being admonished, Goodman advised jurors to closely examine the evidence.

“If those are the facts, you don’t have a murder,” she said. “If those are the facts, then you’ll find that he did it, but your job is going to be to determine what ‘it’ is.”

An attorney hired to represent the victims’ families said outside court his clients were angered by her remarks.

“Three of these families, three of these parents, they lost their children,” said attorney Michael Fell. “The person that commits murder is the murderer. For him not to be classified as a murderer is offensive to the family.”

Data from the minivan showed Gallo accelerated from 55.9 mph to nearly 66 mph in the five seconds before the crash and took his foot off the accelerator one second before impact, Price said. The speed limit on the city street was 35 mph.

“Within seconds of the collision, the defendant turned to his stepbrother and said, ‘Run, bitch, run,’” the prosecutor said. “Then he opened the door of the minivan and fled.”

One of the first prosecution witnesses, Randy Nunez, said he heard a loud crash and watched as a man later identified as Gallo got out of the driver’s side and began walking away. Nunez said he followed Gallo in his car because he realized he was fleeing.

“When I got across the street, he was standing there,” Nunez recalled. “I just wanted to tell him, ‘Don’t do it.’ We locked stares for a couple of seconds. He walked away. I followed. I lost him in the crowd.”

Another witness, George Gamez, said he was working the graveyard shift as a security guard for a local furniture store and Gallo passed within 20 feet of him as he fled the scene.

“I tried to talk to him, but he was trying to run,” Gamez said.

Police eventually found Gallo walking against traffic on the side of a freeway two miles from the accident scene.

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