TAYLORSVILLE — Michael Gallegos had a goal to coach high school sports for 20 years.
After that he would reevaluate and decide what, if anything else, he wanted to do next. At 39 years old, it seemed he had plenty of time. But in the early morning hours of June 23, Gallegos was struck from behind while stopped at the intersection of 9800 South and Bangerter Highway.
Police officers said the impact buckled the frame of his car until the back of the vehicle touched the back of the front seats, killing him on impact.
He had just finished his 18th year of coaching football at Cottonwood High School.
"At his funeral ... one of the speakers had everyone in the room that Mike had coached in some way stand up and probably half of the audience stood up," Gallegos' wife, Debbie, said Saturday. "It was an amazing sight to see how many young kid's lives he touched and worked with throughout the years."
Debbie Gallegos said her husband had coached at Highland, East and Cottonwood high schools, in sports as varied as wrestling, football, girls' golf and softball and that it was his passion. Their first date was an East High football game. He assured her that he had invited their entire LDS Church single's ward and that there would be plenty of people there to keep her company.
She said she was, in fact, the only one who showed up and she sat alone during the game, prompting him to treat her to ice cream. They were married in April 2003 and now have two children, Kyrsten, 7, and Nathan, 5.
She spoke publicly for the first time since the crash with KSL and the Deseret News Saturday, remembering the man she loved and to continue her search for answers.
"Both my kids loved their daddy and loved playing with him," Debbie Gallegos said. "Mike loved to cook and Kyrsten loved to help him prepare food, stir the food, and Nathan just loved wrestling with him."
Trying to raise them alone, especially Nathan, who is high-functioning autistic, has been "rough," but the family has been helped through the support and prayers of those around them. She also takes comfort in her children
"They're doing really amazingly well," she said. "They're very active and very busy, so that keeps me going — keeping up with them."
But she still has questions about what happened to her husband. Blake Molder, 23, was arrested in connection with the death of her husband and has since been charged in 3rd District Court with automobile homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a second-degree felony. He also faces misdemeanor traffic-related violations.
Police said there were no skid marks or signs of braking before the crash and speed was estimated at more than 90 mph.
Debbie Gallegos said her husband left around 10 p.m. on June 22 for a birthday party in downtown Salt Lake City. She doesn't know what took him to Bangerter and 9800 South at 3 a.m.
"That's the biggest question I have right now," she said. "That, 'What was he doing? Was he taking someone home?' I'm just assuming that he was, because he did it all the time."
She said that, as a non-drinker, he would field calls from inebriated friends looking for a designated driver once or twice a month. She believes that must have been what he is doing, but she is seeking information from anyone who knows for certain.
"He was just a great friend to everyone," she said. "If you knew Mike, you loved him. I would just like to have that knowledge that he was taking someone home and that he died doing what he would do for anyone."
As for Molder, she said anger is a wasted emotion. She is trying to let it go. But she hopes that he has learned from what has happened.
"Just know that your actions don't affect just you," she said. "I mean, I have two young kids who don't have their daddy here," she says, as her children play in the background and she sits among photographs of her husband, framed and signed by the kids he coached.
"Loved the game. Loved the kids. We all loved you. You were a great man. RIP."
"Mike, You are a great man. You will be missed."
"He loved interacting with the kids, and not just the coaching aspect, but teaching them life skills," Debbie Gallegos said. "Through coaching, how to develop those life skills that will help them in the future. ... His whole life was coaching. He loved working with the youth."
Memorial funds have been set up in Michael Gallegos' name at America First Credit Union and Granite Credit Union.
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