Prosecutors say suspect beat 88-year-old woman with cane

The San Francisco man at the center of an alleged crime spree that left an 88-year-old woman clinging to life appeared in court for the first time Thursday on various charges including attempted murder.

Keonte Gathron, 18, allegedly beat the elderly grandmother with her own cane before stealing her keys and leaving her to die in the sandbox of a playground across from her Visitacion Valley home on Jan. 9.

Prosecutors said in court records that Gathron then went on to rob more “vulnerable Asian victims” in the days that followed. In separate robberies Jan. 19, he allegedly stole the cellphones of 14- and 16-year-old girls.

Gathron is facing 16 counts in connection with the three robberies. Prosecutors have not charged him with a hate crime, or filed any charges in connection with a carjacking that he is alleged to have carried out at a gas station on Jan. 16.

The beating of 88-year-old Yik Oi Huang has prompted safety concerns in Visitacion Valley and stirred racial tensions in the neighborhood. Politicians have since called for more police and security cameras in the area.

At a brief court appearance, family members of the elderly victim watched as Gathron walked into the courtroom in an orange jail sweatsuit. Gathron shook his head “no” when San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa Cafesse asked whether he could afford his own attorney.

Cafesse ordered him held without bail pending a detention hearing Monday. At the hearing, he is also expected to enter a plea. A deputy public defender has not yet been assigned to handle the case.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Kao alleged new details about the crime spree in court records filed ahead of the hearing.

Huang was found in the park after her neighbor called the police to report a man walking down the stairs of her upper-unit home on Visitacion Avenue between Delta and Cora streets.

Her brother-in-law arrived at the scene and told police she often went on early morning walks around the park. At around 7:25 a.m., he found Huang unconscious and lying on her back in the sandbox there.

Huang had suffered a skull fracture, brain bleeding and numerous facial fractures. She was bleeding heavily from her head, face and nose.

Police found her cane on a nearby rood. Prosecutors say Gathron threw the cane up there. Officers also found a bloody napkin and a black glove at the scene.

At a Wednesday press conference, police brass said DNA evidence from the glove connected Gathron to the crime. Authorities had his DNA profile from previous arrests, but police could not detail the arrests because he was a minor at the time.

A week later Jan. 16, prosecutors say Gathron carjacked a Jeep Cherokee parked at a gas station at Sawyer Street and Visitacion Avenue.

As the driver entered the Jeep, Kao wrote that Gathron “ambushed him and shoved a pistol into his back, demanding, ‘Give me the keys.’”

Police found the stolen vehicle parked at another gas station in The City that same day and recovered surveillance footage of the driver.

By the time investigators identified the suspect as Gathron, Kao said he “was already in custody for having committed additional robberies on vulnerable Asian victims.”

Prosecutors say Gathron rode up to both girls on a red bicycle and robbed them at gunpoint. He allegedly stole a purse and the phone from the 14-year-old girl at Woolsey and University streets. The second girl, 16, was robbed while crossing the overpass above Interstate 280 near St. Charles and Belle avenues.

Prosecutors say he punched the second girl in the face when she tried to get her iPhone back from him. Police later tracked the phone to Crocker Amazon Park.

As officers “began to zero in on the iPhone,” Kao said Gathron was running away at full sprint. They tracked the iPhone to Heritage and Schwering streets, blocks from where the elderly woman was beaten, and found him hiding in a minivan.

The District Attorney’s Office is still considering filing charges in the carjacking.

This story has been updated.

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