Adan Sanchez, 19; Latino Singer Was Rising Teen Idol

Times Staff Writer

Adan Sanchez, the son of slain narco-corrido music legend Chalino Sanchez who was nurtured in Southern California's burgeoning immigrant music scene and emerged this year as a star in his own right, has died in a car crash in Sinaloa, Mexico. He was 19.

Sanchez, of Paramount, was on a promotional trip through northwestern Mexico on Saturday when the 1989 Ford Crown Victoria he was in blew a tire and overturned, the Mexican highway patrol said.

The handsome singer, who was not wearing his seat belt, sustained severe head injuries and died instantly, said Julieta Olivas, owner of Funeraria San Fernando, a mortuary in Escuinapa, Sinaloa, about 45 miles southeast of Mazatlan.

Three others were injured in the crash -- the singer's manager, a friend and the driver.

Sanchez's father, a singer/songwriter who had gained notoriety for his musical tales, known as narco-corridos, about criminal escapades, was slain execution-style 12 years ago in the same state. The coincidence of his son dying in an area known for its drug cartels and violence fueled speculation that the car crash had not been an accident. But police said there was no indication of foul play.

Sanchez was 8 in 1992 when his father was kidnapped and killed after a performance in Sinaloa. But unlike his gun-slinging father, the younger Sanchez nurtured an image as a suave, sharply dressed, romantic teenage idol.

"There was just this wholesome quality about him, very down to earth," said Marco Antonio Gonzales, a spokesman for Univision Music Group who worked closely with the younger Sanchez. "He was one of the very few good role models for Latino kids. I can say, from what I know, that he led quite an impeccable life. He was just a good kid."

Within hours, news of the accident sparked tearful calls to radio stations from fans and public vigils on both sides of the border, signals of the growing popularity of the charismatic artist who had made an impressive debut as a mainstream headliner 10 days ago at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. Mourners gathered from East L.A. to Escuinapa, lighting votive candles and playing Sanchez's CDs and singing along to his simple but catchy love songs.

"Almost the whole town of Escuinapa came out when they heard the news, carrying placards and playing his records and singing and dancing all through the night," Olivas said. "It was something so impressive and unprecedented here, and that's when I realized how famous this young man was and what a great loss this has been for all of us."

In Southern California, thousands of mourners gathered Sunday at Lincoln Park in East Los Angeles. Others took flowers and candles to the Burbank office of radio station KBUE-FM (105.5), La Que Buena, which broadcast 24 hours of the singer's music over the weekend. Pepe Garza, the station's program director and an early supporter of the careers of both Sanchez and his father, said the station had taken calls from parents who expressed concern about how hard their adolescent children were taking the news.

"The reaction of people continues to be stunning," Garza said Monday. "His fans were mostly teenagers, kids with a lot of dreams, and this has just left them heartbroken."

At a record store in East Los Angeles on Monday, Sanchez fan Nancy Gallegos, a 38-year-old South Gate resident, said she was scouring several record stores for a Sanchez record. She said the news was shocking.

"He was so sincere, he sang with such emotion," said Gallegos, who also was a fan of Chalino Sanchez. "His music was more romantic than his father's. There's been a lot of comments at work, that something strange might have happened. He was ours, a Latino. We all followed him."

Sanchez, who adopted Chalino as his middle name, grew up in the shadow of his father. He began singing -- badly at first, he once admitted -- and recorded seven undistinguished albums for local labels before signing with Univision, the leading Latin music company in the United States.

His first Univision release, last year's "Un Sonador," continued to burnish his matinee image but marked no new musical direction.

It wasn't until his surprisingly successful Kodak concert that the baby-faced performer in the Stetson hat and pinstripe suit proved that he could do more than make girls swoon. He earned praise for his stylistic flexibility and a natural command of the stage that displayed a maturity beyond his years. Writing in the Spanish-language daily La Opinion, critic Enrique Lopetegui labeled Sanchez "the Mexican version of Garth Brooks: spectacular, imaginative and willing to stretch the border of his own style."

Singer Lupillo Rivera, a protege of the elder Sanchez and a friend and mentor to the younger, was said to be too distressed to comment on the death. Coincidentally, Rivera was injured in a car accident in northern Mexico in December.

Sanchez is survived by his mother, Marisela, and his sister, Cynthia, of Paramount. His body is being returned to Los Angeles, where funeral arrangements are pending.

Times staff writer Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report.

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