Trial Begins for Alleged Hit-and-Run Driver in Nick Adenhart Death
Andrew Gallo, 23, knew the dangers of driving under the influence because he was convicted of the offense in 2006 and signed court papers indicating he understood that if he killed someone while driving drunk he could be charged with murder, Deputy District Attorney Susan Price told jurors in her opening statement.
"The evidence will show that this case is about an evening of pure indulgence and a night of total disregard," Price said.
Gallo has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of the 22-year-old Adenhart, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart and 25-year-old Henry Pearson.
He has also pleaded not guilty to felony hit-and-run and two counts of driving drunk and causing injuries to his stepbrother Raymond Rivera and the fourth person in the other car, Jon Wilhite.
Gallo's blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit at the time of the crash, prosecutors said. He could face a maximum sentence of more than 50 years to life in prison if convicted of all counts.
Gallo's attorney Jacqueline Goodman acknowledged in her opening statement that Gallo drove while intoxicated but stressed that he did not intend to kill anyone. Gallo believed his stepbrother, who pressured him to keep drinking, was his designated driver, she said.
Gallo blacked out before the accident and doesn't know why he was driving, although he assumes he was, she said.
"He did it and he has to live with that for the rest of his life," Goodman said. "But Andrew Gallo is not a murderer."
Prosecutors said they took the unusual step of charging Gallo with second-degree murder -- and not the lesser charge of manslaughter -- in part because of his prior drunken-driving conviction and because he was driving on a suspended license.
Jurors do not have the option of finding Gallo guilty of manslaughter if they decide to convict.
Goodman previously accused the district attorney's office of overcharging the case because of Adenhart's celebrity status. But Tuesday, the judge cut her off twice during her opening statement when she tried to introduce that concept to jurors.
After being admonished, Goodman advised jurors to closely examine the evidence.
"If those are the facts, you don't have a murder," she said. "If those are the facts, then you'll find that he did it, but your job is going to be to determine what 'it' is."
Data from the minivan showed Gallo accelerated from 55.9 mph to nearly 66 mph in the five seconds before the crash and took his foot off the accelerator one second before impact, Price said.
"Within seconds of the collision, the defendant turned to his stepbrother and said, 'Run, bitch, run,'" the prosecutor said. "Then he opened the door of the minivan and fled."
The first prosecution witness, Anaheim police homicide Detective Daron Wyatt, testified that he searched for the minivan's driver as a crowd of about 60 people gathered and rescue crews worked to help the victims.
Wyatt broke down when asked to describe Courtney Stewart, whose body was pulled from the mangled car as he watched. Pearson was also pronounced dead at the scene. Adenhart died later in surgery.
Stewart, a student and former cheerleader at California State University, Fullerton, did not have any external injuries on her body, Wyatt said.
"She was beautiful," he said, adding later that Stewart "looked like she was asleep."
Adenhart's family was not present in court, but Stewart's family members dabbed their eyes during the testimony.
Price has said it wasn't true that Gallo's case was being handled differently because of Adenhart's status.
Prosecutors in Orange County are increasingly charging drunken-driving deaths as murders, not manslaughters, and formed a special homicide unit two years ago to focus on such cases, the prosecutor said.
Judge Richard Toohey previously rejected a defense motion to introduce evidence about the blood-alcohol level of Stewart, who was driving the car in which Adenhart was a passenger.
One test showed Stewart's blood-alcohol level was .06 percent -- anything over .05 percent is illegal for a driver under 21 -- and another pegged it at .16 percent, twice the standard legal limit.
An expert witness testified before a grand jury that Stewart would not have been impaired at the time of the crash, and the higher level was likely because of trauma to her body.
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