Suspect in ‘heinous’ beating of grandmother linked to SF crime spree

The brutal beating of an 88-year-old grandmother in Visitacion Valley was only the first in a series of crimes that Keonte Gathron allegedly went on before his arrest over the weekend, police said Wednesday.

Gathron, 18, is suspected of carjacking a vehicle and robbing two teenage girls at gunpoint in the weeks after viciously beating Yik Oi Huang on Jan. 8 at a park on Visitacion Avenue between Cora and Delta streets, according to police.

Police brass detailed the alleged crime spree at a noon press conference where Police Chief Bill Scott seemed baffled by the “heinous” assault and questioned Gathron’s character.

“Somewhere, something went wrong,” Scott said. “I mean, who does that?… I can’t make a personal assessment about this individual but I can say his actions speak to somebody that doesn’t value human life very much.”

The assault struck fear into the Visitacion Valley community and prompted two city supervisors to call for an increased police presence in the neighborhood and the installation of additional security cameras.

“People are afraid that this might be something that could be repeated,” Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee told reporters. “If it happened to an 88-year-old woman, it could happen to anybody.”

Yee and Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents the neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors, have joined community members in calling for the security improvements. They also want the department to park a mobile-command unit in the area like the one stationed at United Nation Plaza to cut down on drug dealing.

“This is one of the most heinous crimes to occur to a senior in Visitacion Valley,” said Rex Tabora from the Asian Pacific American Community Center. “We do need more police presence there.”

Huang was found suffering from severe head injuries in the park after a witness saw a man walking down the staircase of her home. Investigators now believe that the suspect stole her keys after the assault and was in the process of burglarizing her home when a witness saw him and called police.

Last Friday, DNA evidence from gloves found at the scene linked Gathron to the beating, according to police Cmdr. Greg McEachern. Police said they had his DNA profile because of prior arrests, but could not discuss his past contacts with law enforcement because Gathron was a juvenile at the time of the incidents.

About an hour after the results came back, McEachern said investigators circulated surveillance images of the suspect in an armed carjacking at a gas station last Wednesday on the 1600 block of Visitacion Avenue.

Police also identified the suspect in that case as Gathron.

As officers searched for him Saturday, a man on a red bicycle robbed two girls of their cellphones at gunpoint within two hours of each other.

At around 4:45 p.m., the man robbed a 14-year-old girl on Woolsey Avenue between Colby and University streets near the Portola neighborhood.

Then at 6 p.m., the same man robbed a 17-year-old girl and also punched her in the face at Charles and Belle avenues near the border of Daly City.

Officers tracked the second phone back to the Sunnydale neighborhood where they found Gathron wearing the same clothes as the robbery suspect. After a brief foot chase, Gathron was found hiding in a vehicle and arrested.

Gathron (Courtesy SFPD)

Gathron was booked into County Jail on suspicion of numerous charges including attempted murder, two counts of robbery and elder abuse.

The District Attorney’s Office plans to file charges against him Wednesday.

Gathron is expected to be arraigned at the Hall of Justice Thursday afternoon.

The Public Defender’s Office plans to represent him but an attorney has not been assigned to the case.

Huang remains at the hospital in critical condition.

Cynthia Choi, a representative of the family from the nonprofit Chinese for Affirmative Action, told reporters that the family is overwhelmed by the details of the case but “trying to be cautiously optimistic.”

“They are really going through a range of emotions,” Choi said.

More than $15,000 has been fundraised for the family on GoFundMe.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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