INDIO – The Coachella Valley Chapter of the NAACP demanded today that Cathedral City police wrap up their investigation into the death of an 18- year-old pregnant woman struck by an alleged hit-and-run driver last month.
“It’s already a month since this event occurred. To draw it out any longer is ridiculous,” said Kenneth Booth Jr., president-elect of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Danica Denton and her unborn child were struck and killed Feb. 11 as she and her boyfriend were crossing East Palm Canyon Drive at Van Fleet Avenue in Cathedral City.
Denton’s family, local clergy and members of the NAACP gathered outside the Larson Justice Center today to demand justice for the victims.
Gina Garcia, 34, of Palm Springs, was arrested Feb. 12 on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and booked into the Palm Springs Jail. She was freed the same day on $25,000 bail. She is tentatively scheduled to appear in court March 16 for arraignment, said police Sgt. Earl Moss.
The perceived slow pace of the investigation has troubled some who allege that Garcia is being given preferential treatment because her husband is an investigator for the district attorney’s office.
Cathedral City police are still investigating the deaths and will be presenting the case on March 13 to the California Attorney General’s Office, which will be handling the case, Lt. Earl Moss said today.
“We are still wrapping up some loose ends right now,” Moss said. “It’s a very serious crime, and it’s a very serious investigation and it’s very serious charges we’re requesting.”
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has asked police to forward the case directly to the Attorney General’s Office because employees from the office are “related to both the defendant and the victim,” said district attorney spokesman Michael Jeandron.
Booth contends that the District Attorney’s Office gave preferential treatment to Garcia, alleging that Garcia’s husband, who is an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, called the jail and instructed “certain officers” to arrange his wife’s bail.
Booth said the minimum bail amount for a felony hit-and-run should have been at least $300,000 for the death of Denton and her unborn child.
But Jeandron has said the District Attorney’s Office was not involved and “is not handling the case.”
Booth said the Cathedral City police investigation has gone on too long. He called for the Attorney General’s Office to step in and take over prosecution of the case immediately.
“For this to remain on any local level at all is a conflict of interest,” Booth said.
Moss said these types of investigations are complex and time consuming.
Also at the rally was Denton’s grandfather, Joe Moya, who also demanded justice from police.
“It still hurts,” Moya said. “I have her on my heart all the time. Her face, you can’t erase it.”
A protest is scheduled Saturday in front of the Mary Pickford Theater in Cathedral City near the area where Denton was struck.
Edward Sommers, the 18-year father of Denton’s child and her boyfriend of nearly one year, said today that he still sees the scene of the accident in his mind everyday.
“She stepped into the street first and that’s when the car came,” Sommers said. “It was like it hit her and I couldn’t believe it, like, I couldn’t believe the lady wouldn’t stop.”
The pair had just left from a movie at the Mary Pickford Theater and were trying to catch a bus when she was struck. He said at first he hoped she just had a broken arm, but now he feels like he can’t wake up from a nightmare.
“I still wake up thinking, you know, I will wake up from a bad dream, but it is real,” Sommers said.
He was planning on proposing to her on Valentines Day.
“Me and Danica had a lot of plans,” Sommers said. “We was going to get our own place. I just found a job. I was just trying to do everything I can to help her. She was a good person.”
Rev. Carl McPeters said that the NAACP is speaking out for the family.
“Danica’s voice is crying from the grave,” McPeters said. “And that unborn child has a voice, and we are that voice for this family and for those two individuals.”
Booth said the NAACP is involved simply because “the family is seeking justice.” He said no one from Cathedral City police or the District Attorney’s Office have offered to help Denton’s family through the ordeal.
“We are the only ones who have stepped up to help out this family,” Booth said.