The Obit For Nick Adenhart

Angels' Adenhart killed by drunk driver, police say

The Los Angeles Times
By Mike DiGiovanna and Bill Shaikin
1:10 PM PDT, April 9, 2009

Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others were killed today when a minivan driven by an alleged drunk driver broadsided their car after running a red light, authorities said.

The crash occurred hours after the 22-year-old appeared in Wednesday night's Angels game. He died shortly after midnight when the minivan slammed into the car in which he was riding at the intersection of Orangethorpe Avenue and Lemon Street in Fullerton, police said.

Police arrested Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of San Bernardino, on suspicion of felony driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, said Lt. Kevin Hamilton of the Fullerton Police Department, who appeared at a news conference this morning at Angel Stadium. Gallo has a prior DUI conviction and his driver's license had been suspended, Hamilton said.

Police said the accident occurred after Adenhart, Courtney Stewart, 20, of Diamond Bar, and two other men left a nearby dance club.

After the accident, Gallo allegedly fled on foot, but officers caught up with him a mile away and took him into custody on suspicion of hit-and-run, police said.

Stewart died in the crash, along with another occupant of Adenhart's car, Henry Pearson. According to friends of Adenhart at Cal State Fullerton, Pearson was a law student who wanted to be a sports agent. The fourth occupant, Jon Wilhite, survived the wreck. Wilhite is a former catcher for the Cal State Fullerton Titans.

A passenger in the minivan was taken to a hospital, but that person's condition was unknown. A third vehicle also was involved, but there were no reports of injuries.

The death of a promising pitcher left the Angels organization in mourning. The team announced that tonight's game with the Oakland Athletics had been postponed.

By noon today, a memorial at Angel Stadium was covered with flowers, stuffed animals and a sign that read: "No. 34. One more Angel in Heaven."

A makeshift shrine to Adenhart appeared on the brick pitcher's mound outside the entrance to Angel Stadium, where fans left bouquets of flowers, a rally monkey and a foam Angels finger.

Adenhart's Angels jersey, with his name and No. 34 on the back, was draped over the dais at the news conference, where Scott Boras, Adenhart's agent, was overcome by emotion.

"Nick's parents, Jim and Janet, wanted me to convey to the entire Angel organization the privilege and . . ." Then he stopped. The tears came out. His head dropped into his hands. "He's a great kid," Boras said.

Angels General Manager Tony Reagins said the feeling in the organization went beyond disbelief.

"We're all in shock," he said. "Nick had such a bright future. He was such a bright kid. We're going to deeply miss him. It's just so difficult to put into words how much he will be missed. He was a great person."

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia added: "For those of us who got to know Nick in the last four years, I can't tell you how proud we are in growth we have seen."

A few blocks away from the stadium, at the A's team hotel, Oakland players were trying to come to grips with the news.

"I'm just devastated for Nick's family and friends and for the Angels," said pitcher Brett Anderson, who was scheduled to make his major league debut tonight. "It's terrible. Whatever happens with the game, I'll take in stride."

Dallas Braden, the A's opening-night starter, had pitched against Adenhart in the minor leagues.

"I'm in shock," Braden said. "I'm at a loss. Talk about a guy who was on his way, about to take baseball by storm. He was ready to bring it to the main stage, and it was all cut so short for no reason whatsoever."

Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis said he could see Adenhart's confidence grow throughout Wednesday night's game.

"You could tell he was enjoying himself, you could see he was confident," Ellis said. "He should have felt good, he pitched great. It's just so awful he's gone. It's really, really sad. Twenty-two years old, his whole life and career ahead of him."

Adenhart's rise with the Angels reflected his faith in the team and the team's faith in modern medicine. As a senior at Williamsport High School in Williamsport, Md., in 2004, Adenhart was projected to be one of the top picks in baseball's annual draft, which would have made him an instant millionaire.

But two weeks before the draft, Adenhart suffered an elbow injury so severe that reconstructive surgery was required.

The Angels picked him anyway, in the 14th round of the draft, where signing bonuses generally run four figures instead of seven. At that point, Adenhart had planned to have the operation, then attend the University of North Carolina, play for its baseball team after rehabilitation and rebuild his status as a prospect.

But the Angels, confident in the success of what's known as Tommy John surgery (for the former Dodger who had that reconstructive procedure), convinced Adenhart to sign with them and rehabilitate under their care. They persuaded him in part with a $710,000 signing bonus, roughly what he would have made had he been drafted in the second round.

News of the car crash hit home in the Baltimore area, where Adenhart grew up.

"What a tragedy; he was just an incredible, incredible kid," said Dean Albany, an Orioles scout who coached Adenhart in summer and fall leagues. "Forget about the baseball. Just a fun-loving kid. He had a lot of talent, and he knew he had a lot of God-given talent, but he never was bigger or better than the team."

The Adenhart accident is just the latest in a string of tragedies that has befallen the Angels. Infielders Chico Ruiz and Mike Miley and pitcher Bruce Heinbechner were all killed in separate car accidents between 1972 and '77, and pitcher Minnie Rojas and catcher Ed Kirkpatrick were paralyzed in car crashes. Outfielder Lyman Bostock was killed in a drive-by shooting while riding in a car with friends in Gary, Ind., during the 1978 season.

Early in the 1992 season, one of two buses carrying the Angels from New York to Baltimore was involved in a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike that left first-year manager Buck Rodgers with a fractured rib, a broken knee and a fractured elbow. And last season, special assistant Preston Gomez was gravely injured when he was hit by a truck at a gas station on his way back from spring training.

Gomez never recovered, dying in January at a Fullerton care center not far from the site of Adenhart's accident this morning. Adenhart was wearing a memorial patch with Gomez's name on it when he took the mound Wednesday night.

In a statement released by Adenhart's family, his parents called the Angels their son's extended family.

"Thanks to all of Nick's loyal supporters and fans throughout his career," the statement read. "He will always be in everyone's hearts forever."

Memorial services are pending.