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Guilty Plea in Wheelchair Crash Death

INDIO, Calif. - A Cathedral City man who was drunk when he got behind the
wheel and crashed into a man in a wheelchair, then took off, pleaded guilty today to felony charges stemming from the victim's death.
Randy David Merida, 27, pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence and hit-and-run causing death or injury in the May 27, 2011, crash that killed 24-year-old Cathedral City resident Pedro Cervantes.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Victoria E. Cameron accepted Merida's plea and scheduled a Sept. 17 sentencing date at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, according to court records.
The collision occurred in the 31-500 block of Avenue Maravilla around 8 p.m., and Cervantes died the following morning at Desert Regional Medical Center, Cathedral City police Sgt. Corwin de Veas said.
Merida sped off after striking Cervantes, but a witness called 911 and provided a description of the vehicle. The tipster followed Merida to San Joaquin and San Jose Roads in the Dream Homes neighborhood, where the suspect disappeared before fleeing on foot into the desert, according to police.
Information provided by witnesses enabled investigators to identify and locate Merida, who was arrested early the next morning.
Cervantes was born with spina bifida and had been in a wheelchair for about a decade, according to his family. In spina bifida, the bones of the spine do not form properly around the spinal cord.
De Veas said Merida did not have a driver's license and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of the crash.
Merida remains in custody in lieu of $150,000 bail pending sentencing.
The district attorney's office could not be immediately reached about what sentence he faces.

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