Fresno immigrant success story ended by repeat DUI driver

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A repeat drunk driver pleaded not guilty to murder Tuesday, on the same day his victim's family and friends held his funeral.

Ildo Correia was the opposite of a slumlord. He kept a fresh coat of paint, trimmed grass, and well-maintained palm trees at his East Gate Gardens apartment complex in southeast Fresno. Tenants say he usually did the maintenance himself, except when his 14-year-old son helped out.

"When I would see him come around, he always had his son with him and he would help him out at work in these apartments," said Jesse Avila, an East Gate Gardens tenant. "And he was always a good example, always motivating him, trying to teach him right from wrong."

Correia immigrated to the United States from Portugal with almost nothing in his pockets, but his hard work got him ahead, and eventually he owned properties in Fresno and the Bay Area.

But tenants haven't seen him for a couple weeks now. They thought maybe he was taking a Christmas vacation.

They won't ever see him again.

Correia died in a car crash on Highway 180 near Mendota two weeks ago.

CHP officers say Narciso Mejia was drunk when he drifted into oncoming traffic, killing Correia and badly injuring two other people.

In 2014, Mejia was convicted of a prior DUI and signed paperwork saying if he did it again and someone died, prosecutors could charge him with murder. He pleaded not guilty to murder Tuesday.

"Those cases are very difficult to defend," said legal analyst Jeff Hammerschmidt.

Hammerschmidt says it's a second degree murder case because of what the prior DUI with what's called a "murder advisement" means.

"That the person is choosing to engage in behavior they know is incredibly dangerous and could seriously injure or kill someone," Hammerschmidt said.

Hammerschmidt says the details in a search warrant Action News dug up show Mejia seemed to be aware of how serious the situation was.

CHP investigators say a witness heard Mejia on the phone trying to get a ride, and planning to report his Mitsubishi stolen. He told a witness not to say anything to anyone about it and then walked away, leaving behind a victim a lot of people will miss.

"He was a good man," Avila said. "He took care of everybody. He always protected the neighborhood from bad people, didn't let anybody come in and took care of everybody in here."

Correia can't protect them anymore, but his alleged killer could face life in prison.
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