Could You Have Killed Nick Adenhart?

The death this month of 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart – killed by a drunk driver just hours after making a spectacular season debut – has lead to outrage against drunk driving in general and in particular against the driver who killed Adenhart.

Nick Adenhart (1986-2009)

Nick Adenhart (1986-2009)

The drunk driver who killed Adenhart — Andrew Thomas Gallo, also 22-years-old – has been charged with three counts of murder, one felony count of fleeing the scene of a traffic collision involving death or permanent injury, one felony count of driving under the influence causing injury and one felony count of driving with a blood-alcohol level above the .08 percent that is the legal limit in California – Gallo’s blood alcohol level was three times higher than the legal limit – and causing bodily injury.

If convicted, Gallo could spend 55 years in prison.

Gallo is a  particularly unsympathetic figure: he was on probation for a prior drunk driving conviction, was driving on a suspended license, and fled the scene after the crash.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas expressed the community’s anger toward Gallo: “As the District Attorney, over the years I have seen some heart-wrenching things,” Rackauckas said during a media conference. “They don’t get much tougher than this. This Angel and his two friends were too young to be sent to heaven, but the defendant selfishly and recklessly got behind the wheel after getting drunk, and they didn’t have a choice…The defendant has acknowledged that he knew the dangers of drinking and driving based on his participation in this alcohol program… Knowing that he had caused this crash, Mr. Gallo cowardly fled the scene on foot without checking on the welfare of those he had just hurt.”

Of course, Rackauckas is correct.

But I question whether many of us are in a moral position to condemn Gallo.

There are people who don’t drink.

There are people who don’t drive.

Just about everyone else has driven drunk.

Especially in the car culture of Southern California – where it is just about impossible to get anywhere without getting behind the wheel – I venture to say that nearly everyone leaving a bar — or most people leaving a social occasion where they’ve consumed alcohol – are driving drunk.

Of course, most of these people don’t kill anyone.

But that’s just luck.

Coincidentally, in the midst of the outrage over Adenhart’s death, the Los Angeles Times reports that 70 sworn and civilian employees of the Los Angles County’s Sheriff’s Department were arrested for alcohol-related offenses last year, the majority for driving off-duty while under the influence of alcohol.

Each of them – and the hundreds more sherrif department employees who drove drunk but didn’t get caught — could easily have killed someone.

As could all of us who have ever gotten behind the wheel after drinking.

I am not suggesting that we should go easy on Gallo or other drunk drivers.

But in our culture of drinking and driving it is pure chance that many of us are not sitting in his place.

Michael D. Fox

Michael received a B.A. degree in philosophy and literature, magna cum laude, from Queens College, and a J.D. with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he was an editor of the Wisconsin Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif. He also received an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. Following law school, Michael served as law clerk to the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, then as an appellate attorney with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., and as a national staff counsel for the United Steelworkers Union. He has successfully briefed and argued numerous cases before the federal and state appellate courts. He has also taught communications, speech, acting, and dramatic literature at the University of California, Irvine, Long Beach City College, and the Laguna College of Art and Design. Among his publications are books and articles on topics ranging from economics, real estate and labor relations to Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and contemporary drama. As a theatre director, Michael has staged more than 50 plays. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Moving Target Theatre, which produces socially conscious plays in cooperation with activist organizations and presents them directly in the community. He is also a member of the Executive Board of the Democratic Party of California, president of The Duck Club Democrats, and has received an AFL-CIO Award for Meritorious Service for Commitment to Human Rights. Michael is married and has one son, one dog, two cats and five guitars. 

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  2 comments for “Could You Have Killed Nick Adenhart?

  1. Northcountystorm
    April 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    I don’t know what bars and parties you go to but claiming nearly everyone who leaves a bar and most people who leave a social occasion having drunk alcohol were drunk is so overreaching one would think you worked for Fox News. And it certainly leaves out probably a huge chunk of the driving population who either don’t drink, don’t go to bars or don’t drink at social occasions. This says more about the people who frequent the bars and parties that you go to. It’s not my experience. Sure, good people can drink to much and cause great bodily harm and death. And for that they will be punished and condemned, especially as here with a repeat offender, for they should know better. The culture has been changing thanks to tough sentencing laws and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

    Look at your example—a majority of 70 employees of the L.A. sheriffs department were arrested for driving under the influence fails to add perspective–using 40 as a majority(57%), that means that just a little more than 1/4 of one percent of the employees were arrested. Even conceeding others drove under the influence and were not arrested, its speculation to suggest a significant number of LA sheriffs employees drive drunk.

    And please don’t compare Gallo with others–as you noted, he was a repeat drunk driving offender. And he wrote out in his last drunk driving case ” I understand that if I continue to drink and drive it may result in death or serious bodily injury.” 55 years of room and board is a pretty light sentence for what this guy did.

    If your point was people should not get behind the wheel after drinking you should have stated that. If you don’t think you have the moral right to condem Gallo, suit yourself. But please don’t throw your blanket of moral insecurity over the rest of us who have the moral right to and will condem Gallo.

  2. karen
    April 16, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Bring a breathalyzer to Memphis tonight. If someone has had too much booze, don’t let them drive. When will people get it?

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