Shortly after midnight on April 9, Andrew Gallo drove his van through a red light at Lemon Street and Orangethorpe Avenue in Fullerton and smashed 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 was the other car's driver, Courtney Stewart, a 20-year-old college student from Diamond Bar, and passengers Henry Pearson and Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old Anaheim Angels pitcher--all of whom died at the scene--and Jon Wilhite, who 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 quickly 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, weren't 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."
Yesterday, 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, I obtained a copy of a toxicological report this morning showing that Courtney Stewart was also driving while intoxicated, with a blood alcohol content of .16 percent, twice the legal limit assuming that Stewart, who was 20, was allowed to drink. The legal limit for underage drivers is actually .01 percent, meaning that Stewart was 16 times drunker than the law allows.
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, had a blood alcohol level roughly three times the legal limit, and eyewitnesses state that he was at fault by running the red light.
Randall Longwith, Gallo's attorney, confirmed that he received a copy of the toxicological report yesterday 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 said. "We have two people, both are intoxicated, and we are having a murder trial over a traffic infraction with tragic consequences."
[UPDATED 10:02 a.m., 6/11/09]: As I mention above, I wasn't able to get the coroner's office to comment on the toxicology report, nor was I able to reach Deputy DA Susan Price, who is prosecuting Gallo, but Price has told the OC Register that the correct blood alcohol content for Stewart is actually not her postmortem reading of .16 but her peripheral reading of .06, meaning that Stewart was six times drunker than the legal limit of .01 percent for underage drivers, not 16 times. The debate over postmortem versus peripheral blood alcohol readings in cases involving trauma, which apparently can contaminate postmortem blood alcohol readings, has come up before, most notably the 1999 crash that killed Princess Diana.
The Register isn't the only one to pick up on this story---so did the Associated Press, TMZ.com and various sports blogs--but the Reg is the only outlet to actually (kind of) credit the Weekly with breaking the story. Wait..just learned KFI credited us, too.
The coroner's report follows . . .
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