Skip to main content

71-year-old driver who killed girl, 4, escapes jail in ‘lenient’ sentencing

A car crash scene on a city street with police, vehicles, and caution tape.
San Francisco police officers tape off Fourth and King streets as they gather evidence after a car hit a family near Oracle Park in August. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

A 71-year-old driver who killed a 4-year-old girl in a stroller after a crash just blocks from Oracle Park in August will escape jail time but serve two years of probation, 400 hours of community service and have to pass a driving safety course before being allowed behind the wheel again, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said Thursday.

The girl's father, a South Korean national, was seriously injured after the crash when Karen Cartagena made a right turn at Fourth and King streets while he and his daughter were crossing the intersection.

Cartagena pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge Wednesday.

Transit activist Luke Bornheimer has slammed the sentencing decision.

"I think there's a dangerous precedent set when you give very lenient sentencings for people killing other people with their cars," Bornheimer told ABC7, who first reported the sentencing. "We know that cars are multi-ton machines that can easily kill or maim a person in seconds."

Jenkins said the agreement was reached with Cartagena in consultation with the deceased family's wishes, who preferred not to go to trial.

"Although nothing that we do can bring their beloved daughter and granddaughter back, I hope that this settlement brings them some solace as they work to heal and rebuild their lives in the wake of the terrible tragedy last summer," Jenkins said in a statement.

"The South Korean family (whose appearance was remote) is devastated, permanently, by the loss of their 4-year-old daughter," Gregory Mendez, Cartagena's lawyer, said in an email. "The letter written by Ms. Cartagena, which she read to the family, was overwhelming and overpowering. The depth of her sorrowful emotional grief, too, is beyond measure."

Mendez further told ABC7 that leading up to the incident, the traffic signal indicated she should make the turn, and "at least one person behind her was honking her horn, indicating that she was holding up traffic and that she should continue driving."

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated Cartagena escaped prison time; the DA's Office later explained she avoided jail time for the misdemeanor offense.

Joe Burn can be reached at