By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Adenhart’s Driver Also Was DUI
Will the autopsy report showing that Courtney Stewart had been drinking before she died have any influence on the murder charges against alleged drunk driver Andrew Gallo?
Shortly after midnight on April 9, Andrew Gallo drove his van through a red light at Lemon Street and Orangethorpe Avenue in Fullerton, smashing into a car passing through the intersection. Gallo escaped the collision unharmed, got out of his van and ran from the scene. Not so lucky were the other vehicle’s driver, Courtney Stewart, a 20-year-old college student from Diamond Bar, and passengers Henry Pearson, Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old Anaheim Angels pitcher, and Jon Wilhite. Stewart, Pearson and Adenhart died at the scene; Wilhite is recuperating at his parents’ home in Murietta from what doctors described as an internal decapitation.
Gallo, an alcoholic who had a prior DUI arrest on his record, was arrested and charged with three counts of murder as well as fleeing the scene of an accident. Worried that he might face the death penalty for the crime, Gallo’s family has defended him, calling the crash an “accident.” Others, including Stewart’s family, understandably, haven’t been so forgiving, even after Gallo cried in the courtroom on April 13. “I didn’t feel sorry for him in the least,” Carrie Stewart-Dixon, the bereaved mother of Adenhart’s driver, told ESPN.com. “I’m sure his attorney told him to [cry]. . . . Accidents happen; when you’re drinking and driving, it’s murder. You know what you’re doing.”
On June 9, the Orange County Coroner refused to grant a request to review autopsy reports from the accident. “The district attorney’s office still has this under investigation and asked us not to release it,” a records clerk told the Weekly. However, on June 10, the Weekly obtained a copy of a toxicological report that shows that Stewart was also driving while intoxicated, with a postmortem blood-alcohol content of 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit assuming that the 20-year-old was allowed to drink, and a peripheral blood-alcohol content of 0.06 percent. The legal limit for underage drivers is actually 0.01 percent, meaning that Stewart was either six or 16 times drunker than the law allows, depending on which reading is more accurate.
After the Weekly posted Stewart’s toxicology report on the Navel Gazing blog on June 10, a wave of news organizations, including the Associated Press and The Orange County Register, inundated the coroner’s office with requests for comment. Jim Amormino, a department spokesman, released a statement to the media asserting that Stewart might not have been impaired: “The absence of alcohol in the brain, liver and eye fluid indicates that the alcohol level of the post-mortem chest-cavity blood drawn at autopsy is . . . not indicative of a level where conclusions about driving under the influence can be drawn.” But in a separate interview with the Weekly, Amormino emphasized that the conflicting data didn’t diminish the fact that Stewart had been driving under the influence. “There is no question Courtney Stewart was drinking and too young to purchase alcohol,” he says.
Gallo reportedly faces a potential sentence of 55 years to life in prison if convicted on all counts. (Susan Kang Schroeder, a DA spokeswoman, says he isn’t eligible for the death penalty.) Gallo, who was driving on a suspended license because of a previous DUI, allegedly had a blood-alcohol level roughly three times the legal limit, and eyewitnesses state he was at fault by running the red light.
Randall Longwith, Gallo’s attorney, confirmed that he received a copy of the toxicological report last week in discovery materials provided by the DA’s office, which has an obligation to share potentially exculpatory information with the defense. “Ultimately, we are talking about a murder allegation here based on, in essence, a traffic violation,” he says. “We have two people, both are intoxicated, and we are having a murder trial over a traffic infraction with tragic consequences.”
Susan Price, the deputy district attorney prosecuting Gallo, says that Stewart’s blood-alcohol content at the time of her death is “irrelevant” to the case. “There was no evidence she was negligent,” Price says. “She was not weaving [on the road], and she was within the speed limit.” Gallo, on the other hand, Price asserts, was driving 30 miles over the speed limit when he broadsided Stewart’s vehicle. “The conduct of the defendant was a substantial factor,” she adds. “He ran on foot for approximately 2 miles and was caught walking on the side of the freeway.”
In an interview with the Weekly, Stewart-Dixon says that the release of her daughter’s toxicology report, which she blamed on Longwith, was “devastating” to her family. “We’ve been through hell, and his attorney just made it worse,” she says. “[Longwith] is trying to steer away from what his client did, but this don’t change what happened. [Gallo] killed these kids, and they would have made it fine and safe to their destination. They were just 300 feet away.”