Kristopher Baca, 17, was shot to death in Palmdale last week, adding a grim new chapter to the ongoing debate surrounding what critics say was the too-lenient sentence he received after pleading guilty in a 2021 hit-and-run case in Venice.
Surveillance footage of Baca hitting a mother as she walked her infant son in a stroller while driving a stolen car the wrong way on a one-way street captured national attention. So did his sentence of five to seven months in a juvenile detention facility in San Dimas, a penalty that bolstered arguments that Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón is recklessly soft on crime. Though Baca was 16 at the time of the hit and run, he had already faced a felony conviction for spiking a teenage girl’s drink in highschool 2019, sending her to the hospital, FoxLA reports.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Detective Ray Lugo of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Baca’s death, saying the shooting took place at around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday when a red sedan pulled up behind Baca and fired multiple shots while he was walking to his grandmother’s house. He died at the scene. Authorities have no evidence connecting Baca’s murder to the hit and run. The woman he hit—who has chosen to be identified as only Rachel—said the news brings both sadness and relief.
Rachel told Fox, “The universe delivered the justice we weren’t given in court, but a much harsher punishment then he’d have been dealt in a court of law.” She went on to blast Gascón for his handling of the case, accusing him of completely disregarding victims. In her victim’s impact statement at the time of sentencing, she wrote, “I thought those were the last moments of our lives; we were dead. That feeling, along with the memory of a car accelerating directly into us, will haunt me forever.”
Gascón has faced outrage and blame over his policies pretty much since he took office. Early last year, he had to modify his controversial blanket ban on trying juveniles as adults following backlash over a Supreme Court case that allowed a 26 year-old California woman, Hannah Tubbs, to plead guilty in juvenile court for sexually assaulting a child in a Los Angeles Denny’s when Tubbs was 17. Tubbs—who prosecutors say began identifying as a woman only after molestation charges were brought, later faced murder charges in Kern County.
Veteran prosecutor Mark Burnley also called Gascón incompetent, accusing him of turning the DA’s office into a “managerial dumpster fire.” He has survived two recall efforts already, and is facing another campaign calling for his removal. It has already garnered thousands of signatures and over $6 million in the latest effort to remove him. The home page of the latest recall campaign features surveillance footage of Baca’s 2021 hit-and-run.
At the time of Baca’s sentencing, Gascón’s office reportedly called the sentencing an “appropriate resolution.”
Rachel doesn’t see it that way. She argues that a more serious sentence would have protected not only the public but Baca as well. “I think I feel shorted,” she said, “by the system because they didn’t hold him accountable, and sad, not for him, but for his mom a little, because if George Gascón actually did his job this kid would still be alive in jail.”