Hit-run driver who killed Mission Beach activist sentenced

Posted at 6:45 AM, Aug 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 22:03:17-04

SAN DIEGO - A hit-and-run motorist who was under the influence of alcohol and drugs when he struck a community activist removing graffiti in Mission Beach was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison.

Jonathan Domingo Garcia, 24, is expected to get out of state prison after serving about 5 1/2 years of his sentence. He pleaded guilty in June to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and had faced a maximum term of 15 years.

Garcia's mother, Angelica Maria Villalobos, tearfully apologized to the family of Maruta Gardner, throwing herself onto her knees in the courtroom.

Villalobos said her son had a "heart of gold" and was worried because she had been very ill.

"He's never made a mistake in his life," she said. "He did not mean to hurt anyone."

According to testimony at his preliminary hearing in April, Garcia was fleeing from another motorist he had rear-ended at North Jetty Road and Mission Boulevard around dusk on Feb. 12 when he stopped at a stop sign, then accelerated, hitting Gardner near the curb. The victim was one week short of her 69th birthday when she was killed.

Gardner's husband said his wife of 45 years was putting her Kindle reading device in the basket of her tricycle -- which was parked in the road -- when she was struck.

Gardner had been on a break when she got a call about new graffiti in the area and returned to Mission Beach, Deputy District Attorney Steven Schott said.

Garcia drove off and pulled into a parking lot, then drove back past the crash scene. A police officer followed Garcia and pulled him over. The defendant couldn't even stand up because he was so drunk and high, the prosecutor said.

When told the person he hit was near death, Garcia asked if there was any damage to his car, Schott said.

About three hours before the crash, Garcia and a friend were seen slashing tires on cars a few blocks away, according to testimony.

A detective testified that Garcia admitted drinking beers and smoking marijuana that day.

Garcia's blood-alcohol content was at least .08 percent after the collision, and marijuana and Xanax were also in his system, Schott said.

In court Tuesday, Schott told Judge Kathleen Lewis that Garcia's conduct that night was "egregious and callous" and deserving of punishment. The prosecutor noted that Garcia had been charged with a similar hit-and-run incident a month earlier, which should have been a wake-up call for him.

A probation officer wrote that even though Garcia had no prior criminal record, "certain cases call for prison," according to the judge.

Gardner, a former principal at Mission Bay High School, was honored by the San Diego City Council last year, which declared Nov. 3 "Maruta Gardner Day."