April 14, 2008 12:00 PM

Black leather pants. Hot guitar riffs. Screaming fans. It was business as usual for Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora at the Pepsi Center in Denver on March 31—until he spoke a few words to the crowd at the end of the night: “I just want to thank everyone for their support. Sometimes friends need the help of their friends to get by.”

Times like now. On March 25 Sambora, 48—who entered rehab for his drinking addiction last year—was arrested on suspicion of DUI. That night Sambora joined his girlfriend, stylist Jenn Mallini, his 10-year-old daughter Ava and her teenage cousin for dinner and a movie near his home in Laguna Beach. While driving the group home in his Hummer, he was pulled over. Says Police Sgt. Jason Kravetz: “He smelled of alcohol.” (Results of a blood alcohol test are due later this week.) “Richie admits he made a mistake,” says his longtime friend Tony Ciabattoni. “He had some drinks before he took the girls out, [but none] before that night. It was a slip.”

What caused it? “He’s been going through personal stuff,” says Ciabattoni, who adds that speculation of lingering heartache over Locklear or ex-flame Denise Richards is “stupid—he’s moved on.” Nor, he says, is touring to blame: “It’s a disciplined life. The ’80s craziness is behind them.”

Sambora, who will be arraigned May 7, could face up to 60 days in jail—or more if prosecutors also charge him with child endangerment, which is a felony. Whatever the D.A. decides, Ciabattoni says, “no way was he harming his child. Richie is a great dad. It’s his mess-up, and he’s taking responsibility. He’ll come out on the other side of this.”

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