Lessons to be Learned

He had just pitched the game of his life, and what Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart did afterward was do what any 22-year old kid would do.  He wanted to celebrate his good fortune with friends.

Unfortunately, Adenhart died only hours after shutting down the Oakland Athletics; pitching six scoreless innings in the process. It was the best performance of his short career.

Adenhart was a passenger in a silver Mitsubishi Eclipse that was broadsided by a red van apparently blowing through a red light in Fullerton.  The horrific crash not only killed the young pitcher, but also claimed the lives of the driver, another passenger, and sent a third passenger to the hospital in critical condition.

The driver of the van, Andrew Thomas Gallo, 23, split the scene, leaving the wake of destruction behind him.  He was identified by a passenger in his van and Gallo was located and arrested one-half hour later.

According to authorities, Gallo failed a blood-alcohol test and reported his BA level was nearly 3 times the legal limit of .08 in California.  It was also learned that Gallo was driving on suspended license for a previous driving under the influence conviction.

At a news conference Friday Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Gallo was being charged with three counts of second degree murder, felony drunk driving, and felony hit and run.  If convicted, Gallo faces 55 years to life in prison.

This tragedy goes far beyond the accident scene.  Now the Adenhart family is without a son, but it doesn’t end there.  Along with Adenhart, the driver of the Mitsubishi, 20-year old Courtney Frances Stewart, a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton and 25-year old Henry Nigel Pearson are lost to their families too.  The fourth victim, 24-year-old John Wilhite, was critically injured and remains in the hospital.

Gallo’s alleged acts didn’t just affect his victims’ families they also affected his own family as well.  It has to be a gut wrenching feeling knowing that within the Gallo family one of their own is probably responsible for killing three innocent people and that he may spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The worst part of this situation is that it all could have been avoided.

Gallo was convicted in 2006 for drunk driving and his license was suspended.  He knew it was suspended.  He was advised of that in court and it was part of his sentence.  A suspended license means NO DRIVING, unless an exception is made by the court to allow someone to drive to and from work or for some other stipulated hardship.  Other than that, you walk, get a ride or take the bus.  No exclusions.  The second Gallo got into the van and put the key into the ignition he broke his probation and the law.  The now fatal catastrophe was put into motion.

This accident also affects those outside the families that were also close to the victims.  It’s like when you throw a stone in the middle of a still pond and you watch the ripple affect spread out from the point of the splash and get bigger and bigger as it moves away from the center point.  Something like this has a profound impact on more than just the six people who were involved in the collision.

However, out of all the anguish and agony, something positive can come out of this situation.  It can be a profound object lesson to others.

Take Joba Chamberlain for example.  While in his home state of Nebraska in October of 2008 Chamberlain was pulled over by state troopers while driving his 2006 BMV.  After smelling an alcoholic beverage and seeing an open container of Crown Royal on Chamberlain’s seat Chamberlain was busted for DUI.  On April 1, after numerous postponements, Chamberlain pled guilty to driving while drunk in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A few days ago a police video of Chamberlain’s encounter with state troopers surfaced on thesmokinggun.com and it showed Chamberlain poking fun at New York drivers and Yogi Berra’s height, or lack thereof.  Funny how alcohol will make you do and say some pretty stupid things.  Now Chamberlain is answering questions and making apologies about those comments, and he put it this way.

“If I don’t put myself in the situation to begin with, I don’t have to answer any of these questions,” Chamberlain told reporters. “You take it, you understand that’s what it’s about and there are going to be a lot of questions. I’m never going to run from them.”

He also said something very reflective of his situation.

“Life is full of second chances; I got a second chance, and a lot of people don’t in this situation,” Chamberlain said. “I’m very, very thankful for that….I put myself in a bad situation, but came out unharmed. A lot of people don’t get to say that. I’m fortunate enough that nothing happened to me. I can take this and help a lot of people, or maybe even just one person. That’s gratifying for me.”

I can imagine Andrew Gallo was saying or thinking pretty much the same thing when he was convicted in 2006.  He was given a second chance and he blew it.  Now it appears he’ll have the rest of his life behind prison walls to reflect on the decisions that changed the lives and fortunes of so many people.

Nevertheless, his situation can be a sobering reminder to those of us left behind.  Drinking and driving don’t mix.  If you drink, DON”T DRIVE.  That’s a pretty simple rule.  Sadly, there are a lot of people out there who don’t follow it.

It is naïve to think that this will be the last alcohol related incident involving metal and human flesh, but what if just one person who follows this heartbreaking story makes the decision not to get behind the wheel after reading about it?  If that can happen, think of how many sons, daughters, husband, wives, friends and teammates will make it home and walk through their front doors.

Nick Adenhart and his friends died senselessly, but not without purpose.  We can hold these young people up and point them to others to show them they can end up like Mr. Gallo if they contemplate getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking.

If these awful deaths can do that, then there will be a lot less funerals to attend.

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