The trial of the SUV driver who allegedly killed a toddler begins in City Heights

The trial of the SUV driver who allegedly killed a toddler begins in City Heights

Annaleigh Rodarte
Annaleigh Rodarte. Image source: GoFundMe

A man was driving drunk and hit a toddler in City Heights with his SUV, then left the scene, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while a defense attorney said her client could not have avoided striking the child.

Margarito Angeles Vargas, 47, is accused of hitting 19-month-old Analeigh Rodarte with a Toyota 4Runner at approximately 6:45 p.m. on September 24, 2022 on Redwood Avenue near 40th Street. The girl was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead after an hour. One in the morning the next day.

Angeles Vargas, whose trial began Tuesday, was arrested later that day at his home in the Bay Terraces neighborhood. He faces a charge of second-degree murder — which carries a penalty of up to 15 years to life in prison — stemming from a DUI conviction from 2016.

Prosecutors allege that Angeles Vargas’ blood alcohol level was 0.206 percent in the current case, and his blood alcohol level was 0.21 percent in the 2016 case, both more than twice the legal driving limit in California.

According to Deputy District Attorney Hailey Williams, Angeles Vargas never had a driver’s license. He remains in custody without bail.

Defense attorney Mary Maloney admitted her client had been drinking before he fatally struck the girl, but told jurors that due to various factors, he was unable to see the girl as he drove along Redwood Avenue.

The girl and her siblings crossed the road at an unmarked crosswalk, and because of the girl’s short stature and the height of the SUV, Angeles Vargas had a “limited line of sight and could not see Analeigh enter the road,” Maloney said.

Maloney asked jurors to “hold him accountable” for all the charges he faces — including vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence — but found him not guilty of murder for what she called a “tragic and horrific, but inevitable, car accident.”

According to testimony, Angeles Vargas attended a baby shower on nearby 39th Street just before the collision. After leaving the event, he allegedly drove south on 40th Street and turned left onto Redwood Avenue.

When his 4Runner turned into the street, Annaleigh and three of her siblings were crossing the road about halfway down the block.

Antonio Rodriguez, a neighbor of the victim’s family, was one of the first witnesses in the trial.

He testified that he was outside changing the oil in his car when he heard the collision. When the driver who hit the girl didn’t stop, he said he followed the car until he saw the driver stop at a food stand near the intersection of Thorne Street and Central Street.

Rodriguez said he confronted the driver and told him, “You just ran over a little girl.” The driver allegedly denied this, telling Rodriguez: “You’re crazy,” before driving off.

Maloney cited this encounter in her opening statement as evidence that Angeles Vargas had no evidence that he had beaten the girl.

– City News Service

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