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Five years later, Adenhart murder still surreal

Flowers left at a Fullerton streetcorner, from this 2009 file photo, memorialize the deaths of Nick Adenhart, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson.
William Martinez/

Five years.

Though the calendar says that much time has passed, it still seems like only yesterday when the Angels' organization, fans, and the families of five people awoke to the tragedy that occurred in an intersection on the border of Fullerton and Anaheim.

Nationally, the headlines would talk about Nick Adenhart because he was the young up-and-coming pitcher whose life was cut short just hours after pitching six solid innings. However, much more happened at Lemon Street and Orangethorpe Avenue than the loss of a major league ballplayer.

There was the driver of the vehicle that Adenhart was riding, Courtney Stewart. A bright young student at Cal State Fullerton, she never had a chance to react to the red minivan that came barreling through the red light that night.

There was Henry Pearson, the aspiring sports agent sitting in the back seat headed to apparent safety after a night out on the town.

There was Jon Wilhite, the lone survivor in Stewart's car, who suffered an internal decapitation physically, and also lives daily with the reality that his three friends are gone forever.

Finally, there was Andrew Gallo, the driver of the minivan that blew through the red light that night. Gallo, previously warned by a judge that if he drove drunk again and killed someone he would face murder charges, ignored it and got behind the wheel anyway with his cousin in the passenger seat.

On this anniversary, Gallo sits in a prison cell, serving out a 50-plus year sentence for three counts of murder, the warning turned into a stone-cold reality by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and prosecutor Susan Price.

But the one that everyone talks about, that got a special patch, that everyone will always memorialize just a few miles south on State College Boulevard, is Adenhart. Yes, the Angels lost a fine young pitcher much too soon.

But what we should always remember is this: that drunk driving is no joke, and the punishments other than an arrest, a criminal record and much higher insurance can be even more life-changing if someone gets injured or killed.

So on this fifth anniversary of the loss of three young lives and the permanent changes in five families, lets remember to have the conversation regularly about either having a designated driver or taking a cab home after a night out drinking alcohol. Nick Adenhart, Courtney Stewart, Henry Pearson and Jon Wilhite would want nothing different.

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