Trial ordered in beloved woman's road rage death

Posted at 12:23 PM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 16:44:16-04

SAN DIEGO -- A man accused in the hit-and-run road rage death of a 69-year-old woman while she was cleaning graffiti off the Mission Beach seawalls will stand trial.

A San Diego County Superior Court judge Thursday ordered 23-year-old Jonathan Garcia to stand trial on vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run and drunken driving charges in the death of Maruta Gardner in the early evening of Feb. 12.

The trial was set for Sept. 9.

Police said Garcia was driving a black Toyota Corolla when he and the driver of a white Ford Mustang became involved in a case of road rage. Garcia, according to police, tried to speed onto the shoulder when he struck Gardener at around 5:45 p.m. at the entrance to the jetty at 800 San Diego Place. She suffered a skull fracture and later died at a hospital.

Garcia was arrested later that night after being stopped nearby by officers.

During the preliminary hearing, police officers testified they found drugs, alcohol and knives in Garcia's car following the crash. They said his blood-alcohol level was .08 and he had marijuana in his system. They also testified that a witness reported seeing Garcia drinking and slashing tires in a parking lot in Belmont Park earlier that day.

Garcia's lawyers argued that Gardner was standing in the street when she was struck. They alleged that Garcia left the scene because he did not know that he had struck her.

Garcia was emotional and wiped away tears during the preliminary hearing.

Gardner, known around Mission Beach as the "graffiti eradicator," spent years painting over graffiti in the community trying to make it better.

The San Diego City Council recently declared Nov. 3 as "Maruta Gardner Day" to honor her years of service.

Gardner was a former principal at Mission Bay High School.