Activist painting over graffiti killed by driver in road-rage incident, police say

A well-known San Diego community activist was painting over graffiti Friday evening when she was struck by a driver involved in a road-rage incident and suspected of intoxication, officials said.

Maruta Gardner, 69, suffered massive head injuries and died Saturday after being taken off life support.


Her death stunned friends and supporters.

The San Diego City Council had recently honored Gardner by declaring Nov. 3 “Maruta Gardner Day.” Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf were among many posting condolences on social media.

"She was a great friend and neighbor, and worked hard in the community to make it better," Karen Mitchell, who had known her since Gardner moved into their Mission Beach neighborhood 30 years ago, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

At 5:45 p.m. on Friday, Gardner was at the entrance to the jetty on San Diego Place and Mission Boulevard. At that moment, a black Toyota Corolla passed a white Ford Mustang on the right, went onto the shoulder and struck Gardner.

The drivers were engaged in a road-rage altercation, San Diego police said. The Toyota driver then pulled into a nearby parking lot and sped out a few minutes later. Officers stopped the Toyota a short distance away and arrested Jonathan Domingo Garcia, 23. He is booked on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, DUI and hit and run, with bail set at $550,300.

Police did not know the Mustang driver's identity.

Kristina Davis, Pauline Repard and David Hernandez write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.