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. Players planned to gather to remember their teammate, manager Mike Scioscia said.
"It is a tragedy that will never be forgotten," he said at an Angel Stadium news conference.
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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 above the legal limit of .08 percent, police Lt. Kevin Hamilton said.
He said Gallo would be booked on charges of hit-and-run and driving under the influence, both felonies, along with vehicular manslaughter and possibly murder. A spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney's office said charges against Gallo likely wouldn't be filed Thursday because police were still investigating.
Adenhart died in surgery at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center. A 27-year-old man in the car and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Frances Stewart of Diamond Bar, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Another passenger, 24-year-old Jon Wilhite of Manhattan Beach, was in critical condition at UC Irvine Medical Center. Wilhite played baseball from 2004-08 at Cal State Fullerton.
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 scattered seven hits over 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.
"He lived his dream and was blessed to be part of an organization comprised of such warm, caring, and compassionate people," his family said in a statement issued through the team.
"The Angels were his extended family. Thanks to all of Nick's loyal supporters and fans throughout his career. He will always be in everyone's hearts forever."
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.
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.
Tony Reagins knew Adenhart from working with the Angels' developing players before becoming the team's general manager.
"Nothing ever really fazed this kid. He would deal with the peaks and valleys of development," Reagins said. "Last night we saw one of his peaks. He's just going to be missed. He's going to be greatly missed."
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 a 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, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, 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 on Thursday. 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 during the offseason 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.