SANTA ANA, Calif. – A 31-year-old man has been charged with murder and driving under the influence of alcohol in the death of a 72-year-old Newport Beach woman who was killed while crossing the street after the driver ran a red light and hit her Sunday morning. The woman’s dog was also killed.
Ali Zohair Fakhreddine, of Riverside, has been charged with one felony count of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence causing injury, one felony count of hit and run with permanent and serious injury, and one felony count of driving with a blood alcohol level of .08% or more causing bodily injury.
He faces a maximum sentence of 19 years to life if convicted of all charges. He is currently being held at the Orange County Jail on $1 million bail.
Fakhreddine was convicted of driving under the influence in San Bernardino County in 2008 and in Orange County in 2015.
Drivers convicted of driving under the influence in California are required to be given what is known as a Watson advisement that informs them that if they kill someone while driving under the influence they can be charged with murder. The Steve Ambriz Act, authored by then-Assemblymember Todd Spitzer, requires people applying for a California driver’s license to sign a form acknowledging that they can be charged with murder if they kill someone while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
On September 6, 2020 at around 6:33 a.m. Cleusa Moraes Coffman was crossing Irvine Avenue at Mesa Street in an unincorporated area of Orange County near the border of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Fakhreddine is accused of running a red light while driving southbound on Irvine Avenue and hitting Coffman and her Shitzu. Coffman and her dog were both killed.
The driver fled the scene and was found by the Riverside police passed out behind the wheel of his silver Hyundai Sonata which had sustained front end damage. When officers attempted to wake him up, he drove off. He was contacted again by officers and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
“Orange County roads have become incredibly deadly over the last few months because drivers are ignoring multiple warnings not to drink or use drugs and drive. Our county is experiencing a crisis when it comes to fatal crashes involving impaired drivers. Innocent people should not be dying as a result of the selfish decisions by impaired drivers to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “If you drink or use drugs, don’t drive. The life you save maybe someone else’s, or it may be your own. If you decide to drive under the influence and you kill someone, you may be charged with murder.”
Over the last two months the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has filed numerous cases involving fatal DUI crashes. District Attorney Spitzer has declared Orange County is facing a serious crisis that has resulted in the senseless deaths of so many innocent people. In response, District Attorney Spitzer last week formed the Task Force for the Prevention of Impaired Driving Fatalities with local law enforcement leaders, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the state Office of Traffic Safety, and statewide trainers to develop urgent and immediate recommendations for what can be done to stop this disturbing trend and save additional lives. The task force’s recommendations will be announced in the next two weeks.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.