The case involving a DUI suspect accused of running down a community activist cleaning graffiti in Mission Beach will go to trial, a judge ruled Thursday.
Jonathan Domingo Garcia, 23, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from an alleged road-rage fueled, hit-and-run crash that killed 69-year-old Maruta Gardner. His attorney said his client denies all charges.
Deputy District Attorney Steven Schott said at about 3 p.m. Friday, Garcia and a friend were drinking 40-ounce cans of beer near 3100 Mission Boulevard. They were seen slashing tires on random vehicles and otherwise vandalizing the cars.
Less than three hours later, Garcia was behind the wheel of his own car, with alcohol, marijuana and another depressant drug in his system, Schott said.
As he drove through Mission Beach, he rear-ended a white Mustang and continued to drive off. When he returned to that same intersection, the white Mustang’s driver was in pursuit.
The Mustang got in front of Garcia, Schott said, so Garcia made an illegal maneuver and zoomed to the right of the Mustang, driving along the road’s shoulder and speeding up to nearly twice the posted speed limit.
According to the prosecutor, he was going that speed less than two seconds before he struck Gardner, who was cleaning graffiti on the curb of Jetty Road and Mission Boulevard.
At his preliminary hearing Thursday, his attorney argued the woman's death appeared to be a result of her head hitting the pavement, not a result of the vehicle collision. He said his client had begun to break and was driving less than ten miles an hour when he struck Gardner.
At the time, she was on the shoulder of the road, as she had stepped back to look at what she was working on.
"The problem we have here is we have an individual who stepped out into the roadway," his attorney argued, stating Garcia was driving eight miles an hour when he hit Gardner.
He asked for the gross vehicular manslaughter charge to just a misdemeanor, saying his client has "no recollection of the accident, no memory of hitting anyone."
Garcia allegedly did not stop after the fatal blow. Garcia stopped to check out his car and then got back in, droving back to the crime scene and again refusing to stop as an officer tried to waved him down, according to the prosecutor.
Three hours after the incident, investigators said Garcia’s blood alcohol content was still 0.06, and he had tested positive for marijuana and a depressant drug.
Gardner, known for being a pillar of her community, suffered fatal head injuries and died at the hospital.
As the autopsy report was read at the hearing, Garcia sobbed.
Judge Jay Bloom sent the case to trial.
He now faces a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with an allegation that he fled the scene. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 15 years in state prison.