A mother and community leader, cleaning up graffiti in Mission Beach Friday, has died after being struck by a hit-and-run driver suspected of being under the influence, loved ones confirmed Saturday.
The victim, a 69-year-old woman not yet formally identified by police, was hit around 5:45 p.m. at the entrance to the Jetty at 800 San Diego Place.
A former educator and school principal, the victim was identified by many friends and neighbors as Maruta Gardner, who was well-known for making the community a better place.
Residents describe her as a beloved mother who often found ways to give back to Mission Beach, including clearing graffiti from public spaces.
“She’s a wonderful, dedicated person,” the victim's friend, Dr. Ed Thile, told NBC 7. “You know, there are givers and takers. She was a giver. She was sensitive and responsive and she gave to this community. “
For years, residents say the victim has ridden around Mission Beach and Pacific Beach on her bike, carrying supplies that she uses paint over graffiti. Thile said the victim has been recognized by the San Diego City Council for her graffiti-clearing efforts and other efforts to upgrade the playground at Bonita Cove.
Officers with the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) said the victim was in the process of cleaning up some graffiti on Jetty Road and Mission Boulevard Friday when she was struck by a black Toyota Corolla driven by a 23-year-old man.
She was standing on the curb when the Toyota Corolla driver was involved in what police believe was a road rage incident with the driver of a white Ford Mustang.
The driver in the Toyota Corolla sped to the right of the Mustang, driving along the shoulder, and struck the woman on the curb. He turned into a nearby parking lot for a few minutes, and then sped away.
Police stopped the hit-and-run suspect a short distance away and arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The woman suffered a skull fracture and was taken to Scripps La Jolla hospital with life-threatening injuries. The hit-and-run is under investigation.
The victim was in the surgical intensive care unit on Saturday. Just before 3 p.m., officials at Scripps hospital also confirmed her death.
Two neighbors told NBC 7 Gardner died just before 11 a.m. Saturday.
"[It's] a real loss to us all," one neighbor said.
The Mission Beach Women's Club, a group the victim was very involved with, also said she passed away, confirming the sad news on Twitter:
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer posted a message to his Twitter feed Friday night in which he identified the victim as “community leader Maruta Gardner.” The mayor said he was praying for her.
On Saturday, San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf also tweeted about the unfortunately incident and identified the victim as Gardner: