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TWO DEATHS LEAVE GAP IN COMMUNITY – CRASH KILLS NIGERIAN IMMIGRANT, DAUGHTER

TWO DEATHS LEAVE GAP IN COMMUNITY – CRASH KILLS NIGERIAN IMMIGRANT, DAUGHTER
 
Rocky Mountain News (CO) – Thursday, June 9, 2005
Author/Byline: Clayton Woullard , Rocky Mountain News
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: 33A
The work day started at Ike’s Motors when owner Ike Chukwuka flashed his smile and greeted his employees with a joke.

“He’d call me ‘old man’ every time,” Daniel Meshesha said of Chukwuka, with whom he’d worked and been friends for 10 years. Chukwuka, 50, was well-known in the Denver area’s Nigerian community.

But Chukwuka’s smile and good humor were snuffed out Tuesday night when he and his 16-year-old daughter, Ifeoma, both of Aurora, were killed in a collision with a suspected drunken driver.

According to police, a Chevrolet Blazer ran a red light at the intersection of East Mississippi Avenue and South Sable Boulevard, struck a pickup and then collided with the Honda Accord driven by Chukwuka. Both Chukwuka and his daughter were transported to a nearby hospital, where they were pronounced dead.

The driver of the Blazer, Gabriel Zamarripa, 33, of Aurora, is suspected of being drunk or on drugs at the time of the accident, said Aurora police spokesman Lt. Charles Holzheimer. He has been charged with two counts of vehicular homicide.

Ike Chukwuka came from Nigeria to the United States in 1983 to get a better education, said Chris Ozor, a cousin who grew up with Chukwuka in the small Nigerian village of Umuezukwe. Ozor said Chukwuka was the only person he could go to for financial help and advice.

“This is the biggest loss of my life,” Ozor said.

“It is going to be very very hard for people to understand that such a great life was snatched away because of a drunk driver,” Ozor said.

Ike Chukwuka was driving home with his daughter from Six Flags Elitch Gardens, where she worked, when the accident occurred about 8:30 p.m.

Ifeoma Chukwuka also worked with her father at his car lot, where the quiet, well-mannered teen did everything from cleaning her father’s office to washing cars, Meshesha said.

“They were very close, they communicated very well,” he said. “She’s not like a kid, she’s not spoiled. She knows the meaning of work.”

Members of the metro area’s Nigerian community, friends and family gathered at the the Chukwuka home Wednesday, where Ozor wept as he talked of the teen girl who listened to rap music and wanted to become Miss America.

“She was so beautiful. I cried so much for Ifeoma, more than I ever cried before,” he said.

Ike Chukwuka also had four sons, ages 8, 9, 10 and 13. Chuck Egbune, a friend of Chukwuka’s for 23 years, said the boys were holding up well, but Chukwuka’s wife, Ngozi, is devastated. She declined to talk with the media.

Holzheimer said Ifeoma Chukwuka was a DARE student of his when she was in elementary school. The course teaches the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

“I wished Mr. Zamarripa had learned the same lessons Ifeoma did in DARE class,” he said.

Zamarripa was convicted of indecency with a child in 1999 in Texas and is registered as a sex offender.

A memorial fund has been set up for Ike Chukwuka’s children at Wells Fargo Bank, 999 S. Sable Blvd., Aurora, CO 80012. The account number is 5533034061.

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