Trial Begins for SUV Driver Who Allegedly Killed Toddler in City Heights

Annaleeh Rodarte
Annaleeh Rodarte. Photo credit: GoFundMe

A man drove drunk and fatally struck 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 Annaleeh Rodarte with a Toyota 4Runner at about 6:45 p.m. on Sept. 24, 2022 on Redwood Street near 40th Street. The girl was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead just after 1 a.m. the following morning.

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

Prosecutors allege that Angeles Vargas had a blood alcohol level of .206 percent in the current case, and had a .21 percent blood alcohol level in the 2016 case, both of which are more than two times the legal driving limit in California.

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

Defense attorney Marie Maloney conceded her client had been drinking prior to fatally striking the girl, but told jurors that due to various factors, he was not been able to see the girl as he drove along Redwood Street.

Maloney said the girl and her siblings crossed the road at an unmarked crosswalk and due to the girl’s short stature and the height of the SUV, Angeles Vargas had a “limited line of vision and was not able to see Annaleeh enter the roadway.”

Maloney told jurors to “hold him accountable” on all charges he faces — including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI — but find him not guilty of the murder charge for what she described as “a tragic and horrific, but unavoidable vehicle accident.”

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

As his 4Runner turned onto the street, Annaleeh and three of her siblings were crossing the roadway about midway down the block.

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

He testified that he was outside changing the oil on his car when he heard the collision. When the driver who struck the girl did not stop, he said he followed the SUV until he saw the driver stop at a food stand near the intersection of Thorn Street and Central Avenue.

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

Maloney cited this encounter in her opening statement as evidence that Angeles Vargas had no clue he’d even struck the girl.

— City News Service