SANTA ANA, Calif. – A construction worker who killed a promising rookie pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels and two other people in a horrific drunken driving crash said Wednesday he had all but ended his own life that night by getting behind the wheel after drinking.
Andrew Gallo, 24, acknowledged his deadly mistake to the grieving relatives of his victims and said he expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars before a judge sentenced him to 51 years to life in prison.
"I know whatever I say will not change anything or the way you think or feel about me," said Gallo, who faced the judge because he was not permitted to look at the courtroom audience.
"You're right. I am a horrible person, a drunk driver who took your beautiful kids away," he said.
Gallo was convicted in September of three counts of second-degree murder and single counts of drunken driving, hit-and-run driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol and causing great bodily injury.
Judge Richard F. Toohey gave Gallo 15 years to life on each of the murder counts and six additional years for the other crimes.
Prosecutors said Gallo, who was on parole for a felony DUI conviction, had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit when he blew through a red light at 65 mph on April 9, 2009, and T-boned the car carrying pitcher Nick Adenhart and three friends.
Also killed were 20-year-old Courtney Stewart and 25-year-old Henry Pearson. A fourth passenger, Jon Wilhite had his spine separated from his skull by the impact and survived.
"Enjoy your life in that cage in which you belong, because you are no longer here on Earth," Wilhite said in a letter to Gallo that was read aloud in court. "I can assure you are headed to a much darker place."
Scores of people attended the hearing, including relatives of the victims who clutched giant, smiling photos of their loved ones. They pleaded with Toohey to sentence Gallo to life.
"I am hollow inside. I will never be the same," said Stewart's mother, Carrie Stewart-Dixon. "I pray to God every day to bring her back."
Adenhart's family sent a letter saying his parents hoped the sentence would bring some peace to their dead son, but justice could never be achieved.
"There is no balancing of the scales. There is no justice so long as Mr. Gallo is drawing breath," the letter said.
Prosecutors said Gallo drank beer and shots at three different bars with his stepbrother before driving off in the family minivan. Jurors saw a videotaped interview in which he told police he didn't remember driving that night and apologized to the victims' families.
Defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman had asked that Gallo be given just one sentence of 15 years to life, saying he never intended to hurt anybody.
"I don't think he should be treated like a cold-blooded killer," she said after the hearing. "I don't think he's irredeemable."
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said his office has won 49 convictions for drunk driving homicides since 2008. With the holidays approaching, he urged residents to remember this case as they celebrate.
"There's just no good in this, there's just no good in this kind of thing anywhere," he said. "It's all tragic."