Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Charges filed in death of Angels pitcher

April 11, 2009|Tony Barboza
  • Students and faculty at Cal State Fullerton remembered Courtney Stewart.
Students and faculty at Cal State Fullerton remembered Courtney Stewart. (www.fullertontitans.com )

As Orange County prosecutors Friday filed murder charges against an accused drunk driver, loved ones of the three young people killed -- a promising Angels pitcher, a Cal State Fullerton communications student and an aspiring sports agent -- mourned their loss.

Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of San Gabriel was charged with three counts of murder, hit and run and drunk driving in connection with the accident in Fullerton early Thursday.

Authorities said Gallo had a blood-alcohol content three times the legal limit of .08 when he blew through a red light. The Toyota Sienna minivan he was driving, prosecutors said, broadsided a Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by Courtney Frances Stewart, 20, killing her, Angels rookie Nick Adenhart, 22, and Henry Pearson, a 25-year-old law student from Manhattan Beach.

Jon Wilhite, 24, also of Manhattan Beach and a former catcher for the Cal State Fullerton Titans, remains hospitalized.

"This Angel and his two friends were too young to be sent to heaven," Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said at a news conference.

For Friday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, the Angels wore patches with No. 34 in memory of their teammate, who had pitched an impressive six scoreless innings hours before the fatal accident.

At Cal State Fullerton, the cheer squad, sorority sisters, professors and classmates came together to mourn Stewart, a communications student, member of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority and former cheerleader.

Stewart was remembered as a fun-loving sweetheart with a warm smile and a recognizable laugh who made friends easily.

Classmates such as Bobby Foster, a business marketing student, poured out their grief online by posting status updates to their Facebook pages.

"Such a sweet and charismatic girl, taken away from this cold, heartless world," he wrote of Stewart. "May we all dry our crying eyes and realize she's flying with angels in the skies."

Stewart's professors said she always sat in the front row, beaming a contagious smile.

"She was so beautiful, so bright," recalled Alana Northrop, who had been Stewart's political science professor, in a memorial of comments on a Web page set up by Cal State Fullerton: "There was no stuck-up-ness, she was genuine, a very special person."

Pearson was an aspiring sports agent who had attended Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach with Wilhite. Both of them had played on the baseball team there.

"What a great kid," Mira Costa baseball coach Mike Neily told insidebayarea.com. Pearson, he said, was a team captain and "one of these very likable boys."

"He loved life and he was going to be a superstar at something," Neily said. "I'd always call him a young Tom Cruise."

Stewart was driving the foursome to a nightclub they liked to go to on Wednesdays, which were 18-and-up nights, friends said.

As Stewart drove into the intersection of Orangethorpe Avenue and Lemon Street, police said, Gallo barreled through his red light at 50 to 65 mph and slammed into the sports car.

The speed limit in the area is 35 mph. Everyone in the car except Pearson was wearing seat belts.

Knowing he had caused the crash, prosecutors said, Gallo fled on foot without checking on the victims. He was arrested less than 30 minutes later on the shoulder of the 91 Freeway.

Gallo had a suspended license at the time of the crash. His license had been taken away after a 2006 DUI conviction in Riverside County, for which he was ordered to take alcohol education classes.

When police questioned Gallo for several hours early Friday, they said, he was calm and lucid and answered clearly.

"He was very matter-of-fact," said Fullerton Police Lt. Kevin Hamilton.

Prosecutors decided to charge Gallo with murder instead of vehicular manslaughter because he was "doing an inherently dangerous act" without regard for the safety of others, Rackauckas said. "When their conduct is this egregious -- high speed, high blood alcohol content, priors -- it's more preferable to prosecute as murder."

If convicted on all counts, Gallo faces a sentence of 55 years to life.

He is being held in a Fullerton police holding cell and is scheduled to appear in court Monday.

--

tony.barboza@latimes.com

Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|