Sons of Newport Beach woman killed in DUI hit-and-run speak out; DA announces criminal charges

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The sons of a Newport Beach woman, who was struck and killed by a suspected DUI driver while walking her dog, spoke out Wednesday as prosecutors announced criminal charges against the alleged driver.

Ali Zohair Fakhreddine, who has two prior DUI convictions, faces 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, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Cleusa Moraes Coffman, 72, or "Cleo" as loved ones knew her, smiles in a photo provided by her sons. (KTLA)
Cleusa Moraes Coffman, 72, or “Cleo” as loved ones knew her, smiles in a photo provided by her sons.

Fakhreddine, 31, allegedly struck and killed Cleusa Moraes Coffman, 72, when he ran a red light at the intersection of Irvine Avenue and Mesa Drive, in an unincorporated area on the border between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, authorities said.

Coffman was walking her dog through a crosswalk at the intersection, according to California Highway Patrol. She and her pup, a Shitzu named Bob, were both pronounced dead at the scene.

“Just to think that a person with two DUIs had the right to drive — it’s just unbelievable. I can’t even process that,” said Marcus Coppini, one of Cofffman’s sons. “He destroyed my family.”

Authorities said Fakhreddine fled the scene and kept driving southbound along Irvine Avenue without stopping to help.

Later Sunday, Riverside police found Fakhreddine passed out behind the wheel of his silver Hyundai Sonata, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. The sedan had damage to its right front end, prosecutors and CHP officials said.

DUI homicide suspect Ali Zohair Fakhreddine, 31, appears in a photo released by the Orange County District Attorney's Office on Sept. 9, 2020.
DUI homicide suspect Ali Zohair Fakhreddine, 31, appears in a photo released by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office on Sept. 9, 2020.

“When officers attempted to wake him up, he drove off,” the DA’s office said in a news release. “He was contacted again by officers and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.”

Fakhreddine is currently being held in Orange County Jail on $1 million bail. He faces up to 19 years to life in prison if convicted of all charges. His prior DUI convictions include an offense in San Bernardino County in 2008 and another one in Orange County in 2015, prosecutors said.

Last week, DA Todd Spitzer formed a task force on drunk driving that involves local law enforcement agencies, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and state traffic officials. The task force is expected to announce recommendations to the county within the next two weeks.

The crash has left Coffman’s family changed forever, they say, but they’re holding onto the memories they have. For her son, Carlos Coppini, it’s a short video he shot on his phone the day before she died.

“My best memory was the very last time that I saw her, and I actually managed to get little pictures, and I managed to make a little video of her just smiling to the camera,” he said. “It’s so beautiful.”

A GoFundMe fundraiser has been set up to help Coffman’s family with funeral expenses.

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