One With The Angels

added 4/9/2009 by Bob Hulsey

The jolting news of the death of Los Angeles Angels rookie Nick Adenhart in a hit-and-run traffic accident in Fullerton, CA soured what should have been a week of celebration for Major League Baseball. The sport has been through this sort of thing before, but it never gets any easier.

On the last night of his life, Adenhart, a right-handed pitcher, tossed six shutout innings against the Oakland A's but was denied the win after his bullpen blew a 4-0 lead. Afterwards, the Maryland native went to a club then climbed into a Mitsubishi Eclipse with three friends. Their joy was shattered when a man driving a red minivan ran a red light and crashed into the Mitsubishi, spinning both vehicles in the intersection.

Two of Adenhart's friends, 25-year-old Henry Nigel Pearson and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Frances Stewart, were pronounced dead at the scene. Adenhart was rushed to a local hospital where he died in surgery. The fourth passenger was last reported in critical condition but was expected to survive.

The driver of the minivan, 22-year-old Andrew Gallo, fled the scene and was apprehended a half-hour later. Gallo's blood alcohol level was far above the legal limit in California. He was driving with a suspended license from past DUI convictions.

And so ended three young lives with so much potential whose only crime was driving through the intersection at the same time as a drunk driver who should have been behind bars instead of behind a steering wheel.

The Colt .45s/Astros suffered more than their fair share of tragedies in their early years, as documented in our compilation Astros In The Sky. Young men like pitchers Jim Umbricht, Jay Dahl and Don Wilson and outfielders Walt Bond and Johnny Weekly were robbed from us in the prime of life, some from accidents and some from illnesses.

But the modern-day baseball kings of tragedy are the ironically-named Angels who have lost players like Fritz Brickell, Dick Wantz, Chico Ruiz, Bruce Heinbechner, Jim McGlothlin, Mike Miley, Lyman Bostock, Donnie Moore and Gus Polidor in their less-than-50-year history.

Now another name can be added to that unhappy list. Tragically so. What makes the loss hurt more is that the victims were truly that - people in the wrong place at the wrong time doing nothing worse than millions of us do on an average Wednesday night.

Allow me to preface my next remarks by saying that I have never been drunk in my 50-plus years of life. My maternal grandmother was an undiagnosed alcoholic so I was never tempted to have more than one alcoholic drink in a 24-hour period, a policy I have never violated.

I fear the loss of personal control brought on by taking illegal drugs or getting drunk. I find no appeal in the thought of altering my state of reality if I only have to come back and face the aftermath.

I realize not everyone wants to live that way and I don't judge them for it. All I ask is for everyone to pledge one simple rule: If you are drinking, don't drive. If you know you'll soon be driving, don't drink. If you've been out somewhere and you or your friends sense that you've had too much to drink, PLEASE don't be brave and don't be in denial. Get a cab. Ask a friend to drive you home. Call someone to get you. In many towns, cab companies have struck deals with local bars to drive inebriated people home without charge.

Among the other demons he must now face, Andrew Gallo must live for the rest of his life with the knowledge that his carelessness killed three innocent strangers. Such tragedies happen every day around the world and, sadly, the only reason this one made the news is because it killed a big league player. The others aren't bigger news because, typically, nobody "important" dies. But every victim of a drunk driver has family members whose lives are forever changed by one night, one road, one intersection.

And while I support heavy penalties for repeat offenders, drunk drivers can be anyone. A family friend lost his younger brother that way when the brother was 14. It happened two days before Christmas. The brother was riding his bicycle on a street near his home when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver who was also an off-duty policeman. Our friend's family couldn't bear to open the presents left around the Christmas tree. They gave them away. The thought of Christmas was never the same for them after that.

So I beg anyone who reads this to take that pledge with me. If you are drinking, don't drive. If you know you'll be driving, don't drink. It's really very simple and easy to follow. But if you won't do it for me, do it for all the Nick Adenharts who could have had a great career were it not for one random drunk on the road.

Every DUI death is avoidable. That's why the laws have become so harsh and why they may become still harsher after tragedies like this. How stiff does the punishment need to be before people stop driving drunk and before judges stop giving drunk drivers second and third chances?

- Bob Hulsey