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Drunken driver sentenced to 51 years for killing baseball pitcher

By Michael Martinez, CNN
Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, 22, was beginning his first full season in the majors when he was killed in 2009.
Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, 22, was beginning his first full season in the majors when he was killed in 2009.
  • Andrew Thomas Gallo, 23, was on probation from a prior drunken driving conviction
  • Gallo killed Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others
  • Adenhart had just pitched his fourth-ever Major League game hours earlier

(CNN) -- A convicted drunken driver was sentenced Wednesday to 51 years to life in prison for a crash that killed Los Angeles Angel pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others, the Orange County, California, district attorney said.

Andrew Thomas Gallo, 23, of San Gabriel, California, received the maximum sentence after a jury found him guilty in September of three felony counts of murder, felony drunken driving and two other felonies, according to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and court spokeswoman Carole Levitzky.

Gallo had previously been convicted in San Bernardino County, California, for driving under the influence in 2006 and was on probation at the time of the April 2009 crash, the district attorney said.

Authorities say Gallo's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he sped through a red light and crashed into a car.

Adenhart, 22, of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who was beginning his first full season in the majors, was killed. He had pitched just his fourth Major League game hours earlier.

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The crash also killed Courtney Stewart, 20, a student and former cheerleader at California State University at Fullerton, and law student Henry Pearson, 25, who was working toward becoming a sports agent, authorities said.

A fourth victim, 24-year-old Jon Wilhite, a former baseball player for the Cal State-Fullerton Titans, was critically injured and is now in stable condition, the prosecutor said.

"Before drinking, set up a plan to have a sober driver," Rackauckas said in a written statement. "If you make the decision to drink and drive, we will make the decision to charge you with vehicular manslaughter or murder and you may spend the rest of your life in prison. During this holiday season, think about the pain on the victims' families' faces before you drink and drive."

In addition to being drunk and on probation, Gallo was driving on a suspended driver's license when his minivan, going about 65 mph in a 35 mph zone, crashed into Adenhart's vehicle at 12:23 a.m. on April 9, 2009, authorities said. His license had been suspended because of a prior drunken driving conviction, the prosecutor said. Gallo's 21-year-old step-brother was a passenger in the minivan.

After the collision, Gallo fled on foot, but was arrested less than 30 minutes later about two miles away by Anaheim police officers, authorities said. Two hours after the crash, Gallo had a blood alcohol level of 0.19%, well above the legal limit of 0.08%, authorities said.

Rackauckas released remarks made during Wednesday's sentencing by relatives of the crash victims.

In a written statement submitted to the court, Adenhart's family said: "Our pain is not a state of being but a condition of life. We live with this hole in our family, our heart, our belief and our lives. No amount of words will ever fill that hole or in any way replace the loss of our dear Nick. Nick was beautiful. That phrase describes him best."

Jon Wilhite's mother, Elizabeth, said her son has had "to learn to walk, talk, swallow, and eat."

"All the things we take for granted, Jon had to learn. His life before the crash was very active. He will never be able to turn his head to look up at the moon or to play baseball, which he loves so much. But he takes it in stride. Jon is the strongest person I know. He's our hero and didn't deserve what happened to him," the mother said.

Jon Wilhite wrote a statement that was read to the court, explaining how his life is forever changed. He said he believes Gallo should be severely punished for taking the lives of three people whom he thinks about every day.