Drunk driver who killed Mission Beach anti-graffiti activist sentenced

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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 behind bars.

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

Jonathan Domingo Garcia, Maruta Gardner

Jonathan Domingo Garcia, Maruta Gardner

According to testimony at a 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 69-year-old Maruta Gardner near the curb.

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

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.

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

Before the judge handed down her sentence Garcia's mother, step-father, father and brother spoke on his behave - apologizing to the family of Maruta Gardner and begging for forgiveness and leniency.  At one point Garcia's mother, Angelica Maria Villalobos, got down on her knees and begged the Gardner family for forgiveness.

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.''

At his preliminary a detective testified that Garcia admitted drinking beers and smoking marijuana that day.

Garcia's blood-alcohol content was nearly .08 percent after the collision, and marijuana and depressants were also in his system, said Deputy District Attorney Steven Schott.

The prosecutor, asking for the maximum sentence of 15 years, described what he called callus behavior by Garcia when he was finally pulled over.

"When the officer told him the victim would die, he asked if there was any damage to his car," the prosecutor said.

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.''