ANAHEIM, Calif. - Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others were killed by a suspected drunk driver Thursday, a shocking end to the life of a rookie who had overcome major elbow surgery to realize his big league dreams.
The accident in neighbouring Fullerton occurred hours after the 22-year-old pitcher made his season debut with his father in the stands, throwing six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics. The Angels ultimately lost the game, 6-4.
The team postponed Thursday night's game with Oakland, the final one of their season-opening series.
"It is a tragedy that will never be forgotten," manager Mike Scioscia said at an news conference.
Adenhart's father, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, walked onto the field in the empty stadium Thursday and spent several moments alone on the pitcher's mound. Wearing a red sweatshirt, the Angels' colour, he briefly covered his eyes with one hand.
Jim Adenhart also spoke during a closed-door meeting of players and team officials.
"He just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity, thank you for raising his kid in minor league ball on up through the system in the Angels' organization," outfielder Torii Hunter said.
Nick Adenhart was a passenger in a silver Mitsubishi Eclipse that was broadsided in an intersection about 12:30 a.m. by a minivan that apparently ran a red light, police said.
The impact spun around both vehicles, and one then struck another car but that driver was not hurt, police said.
The minivan driver fled the crash on foot and was captured about 30 minutes later. Police identified him as Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of Riverside, and said he had a suspended license because of a previous drunken driving conviction.
Preliminary results indicated Gallo's blood-alcohol level was "substantially over the legal limit" of .08 per cent, police Lt. Kevin Hamilton said.
Gallo was interviewed by investigators before he was booked in jail Thursday on three counts of murder, three counts of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and felony driving under the influence of alcohol, Hamilton said. Gallo was being held without bail.
A spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney's office said charges against Gallo likely wouldn't be filed Thursday because police were still investigating. Hamilton said he didn't immediately know if Gallo had an attorney.
Adenhart died in surgery at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center. Henry Nigel Pearson of Manhattan Beach, a 25-year-old passenger in the car, and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Frances Stewart of Diamond Bar, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Stewart was a student at nearby Cal State Fullerton, where she was a cheerleader in 2007-08.
Another passenger, 24-year-old Jon Wilhite of Manhattan Beach, was in critical condition at UC Irvine Medical Center, although he was expected to survive, a hospital spokesman said. Wilhite played baseball from 2004-08 at Cal State Fullerton.
Stewart's mother said her daughter and Adenhart had known each other since last season but were not dating as far as she knew, Hamilton said.
The mother said Adenhart and the others had gone dancing at a club about a block away from the crash site, although the crash scene appeared to indicate the car was heading in the direction of the club, Hamilton said.
At the ballpark Wednesday night, Adenhart did his job. He scattered seven hits over six scoreless innings and escaped twice after loading the bases in just his fourth major league start.
"I battled early and it felt good to get out of some jams," he said.
Adenhart left with a 4-0 lead before the bullpen gave away what would have been his second major league victory.
During Thursday's closed-door session, "we were just kind of reminiscing about what Nick brought to the team, to the clubhouse," Hunter said as he drove out of the players' parking lot.
"He was a very funny kid and he's going to be missed," he said. "Every time you come to the stadium and you go in that clubhouse, you're looking at Nick Adenhart's locker."
"A lot of these guys in here have never lost anybody in their family that's close to them. I hate that this happened, but this is part of life. This is the real deal," he said. "That's why you've got to kiss your kids, kiss your family every day when you get up in the morning and before you leave for work."
Adenhart had made a slow climb to reach the majors.
He hurt his pitching elbow two weeks before the June 2004 major league draft, when he was projected as a top-five pick out of Williamsport High in Maryland.
But the setback dropped him to the 14th round, where the Angels selected him. He underwent Tommy John surgery - a reconstructive operation on an elbow ligament - later that month and spent most of next four seasons in the minors.
Adenhart struggled with a 9.00 ERA in three starts for the Angels last season, but Scioscia said last month the right-hander had worked hard over the winter and arrived at spring training with a purpose.
He was made the No. 3 starter as the season began this week because of injuries to John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, all of whom are on the disabled list.
Adenhart's father had flown out from Baltimore to attend the game.
"He told his dad that he'd better come here, that something special was going to happen," said Scott Boras, Adenhart's agent, who wept at the stadium news conference.
After the game, "He was so elated ... he felt like a major leaguer," Boras said.
The agent said he spoke with Adenhart and his father, in the clubhouse lobby until about 11:30 p.m. The pitcher and his father were staying at a nearby hotel.
Adenhart's mother, Janet, was flying to Anaheim. His parents were divorced.
"To, I think, focus on his loss is not what we need to do here today, we need to focus on who Nick was and his achievement," Boras said. "His parents really want to communicate to everyone that it's a very difficult moment, but it's also a very special moment because Nick was most accomplished and his life's goal was to be a major league baseball player and he certainly achieved that standard."
The tragedy adds another chapter to the Angels' string of misfortune over the years.
Just this week, a 27-year-old fan died after being assaulted at Angel Stadium on opening day.
Infielder Chico Ruiz and rookie pitcher Bruce Heinbechner were killed in car accidents in the early 1970s, as was shortstop Mike Miley in 1977. The following year, star outfielder Lyman Bostock was shot and killed late in the season in Gary, Ind.
In 1989, reliever Donnie Moore shot his wife and then killed himself three years after giving up a big home run that kept the Angels from winning the American League pennant.
A small but steady stream of sombre fans came to the stadium Thursday to add flowers to a makeshift memorial on the pitcher's mound on the brick "infield" outside the stadium entrance.
A poster among the bouquets read, "No. 34, You are one more Angel in heaven." Scribbled on a baseball was, "Now you play for another Angels team."
There was a moment of silence to remember Adenhart before several major league games Thursday, including the Toronto-Detroit contest at Rogers Centre.
AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.