A 33-year-old Riverside man pleaded guilty Friday and was immediately sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for a deadly crash that killed a woman and her dog in an unincorporated area near Costa Mesa.
Ali Zohair Fakhreddine pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury and driving drunk.
Fakhreddine killed 72-year-old Cleusa Moraes Coffman of Newport Beach and her Shih Tzu, Bob, on Sept. 6, 2020.
Fakhreddine was charged with second-degree murder instead of vehicular manslaughter because he was convicted of drunken driving in a Rancho Cucamonga court, in San Bernardino County, in 2008 and in Orange County in 2015.
When drivers are sentenced for drunken driving they are warned they could face a murder charge instead of a manslaughter charge if they are involved in a deadly collision while driving under the influence.
The victim was crossing Irvine Avenue at Mesa Street with her dog in a crosswalk when she was struck by a 2014 Hyundai about 6:34 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.
Fakhreddine ran a red light at the intersection before hitting the victim and her dog and not stopping, the CHP reported.
Riverside police found Fakhreddine passed out behind the wheel of his car, which sustained front-end damage, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. When the officers attempted to rouse him he drove off, prosecutors said.
The defendant had a blood-alcohol level of .10, as well as fentanyl and marijuana in his system, Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue said.
The sons of the victim attempted to write an impact statement to Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger, but found it to be too painful an exercise, Orue said. They wrote the following statement:
“We are not going to write any statement to the court. We thought about it and it’s just too painful and at the same time brings a lot of anger and frustration about the tragedy and this whole process. I tried writing but it brought back so many emotions that I had to stop.”
The defendant offered to apologize publicly to the family, but that was rejected, Orue said.
Fakhreddine broke down several times as he struggled to make a statement to the judge.
“There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t prayed for your family,” Fakhreddine said to the victims, who did not attend the hearing.
“Every day, I pray to God to take away your pain, your grief,” he added. “I’m sorry for the mental, physical and spiritual harm I caused. I apologize for the actions I’m responsible for, for taking the precious life of (the victim). I wish I could take them back. The decision I made that day will haunt me. I have no excuse. I have to live with that. I will pray for you to the end of my days.”
Menninger said, “I hope and pray there is some comfort in your words” for the family.
“In these cases, there is no winner. Everyone suffers,” Menninger said.
Deadly crashes involving alcohol or drugs usually involve “decent people who make a horrible mistake,” Menninger said, adding that the defendants still have to pay the consequences.
The judge said the defendant’s plea and apology should be “impactful” when he appears before a parole board.
The defendant was given credit for 922 days so far in custody.