A veteran LAPD motorcycle officer died Wednesday, several days after he was struck by an SUV driven by a woman suspected of being under the influence of cocaine.
Fellow officers and family members had been holding vigil for Chris Cortijo — a member of the department for nearly 27 years — at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center since the Saturday accident.
A visibly shaken LAPD Chief Charlie Beck on Wednesday called Cortijo's death the "ultimate irony," noting that the officer had arrested more than 3,000 drivers suspected of being under the influence and "in doing so saved countless lives."
"The tragedy is that he gave his life up because of somebody who callously … operated a vehicle under the influence," Beck said during a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department's downtown headquarters.
The chief was joined by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said that "today, a city mourns."
Cortijo's death comes during a particularly rough stretch for the department.
Last month, Officer Nicholas Lee was crushed to death when his patrol car was struck by an out-of-control dump truck. Lee's partner was injured. Two other officers have been injured recently in separate shooting incidents — including one Monday night when a man walked into a police station in Mid-City and opened fire.
Cortijo, who had been assigned to the LAPD's Valley Traffic Division, was rear-ended by a Chevrolet Blazer while stopped on his motorcycle at a red light near Saticoy Street and Lankershim Boulevard in Sun Valley, authorities said.
Los Angeles Police Protective League President Tyler Izen said Cortijo ended up pinned between two vehicles.
"Our hearts are broken," Izen said.
Prosecutors allege that Qaneak Shaney Cobb, 33, was under the influence of cocaine when the vehicle she was driving struck Cortijo. She has pleaded not guilty to a felony DUI charge and could face as many as 10 years in state prison if convicted.
Just a few days before the accident, Cortijo had been named "Valley motor officer of the quarter" — a commendation given for all-around performance in the field, LAPD officials said. He also twice had been named LAPD officer of the year, Beck said.
Raised in Southern California, Cortijo served in the Marines before joining the department.
Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas, the commanding officer of the LAPD's Operations-Valley Bureau, said he first met Cortijo in 2006 and over the years had "observed him to be an absolute quality, outstanding individual."
Villegas recounted how a woman recently had approached him in a North Hollywood store and told him about a motorcycle officer who had pulled her over for a traffic violation.
She said the officer explained at length why her misstep had been dangerous and, in the end, let her off with a warning.
That officer was Cortijo.
"She wanted me to know how appreciative she was, not only because he didn't give her a ticket, but because he had spent so much time politely explaining what she had done wrong and why it mattered," Villegas said.
Police Commission President Steve Soboroff was among those Wednesday who said Cortijo would be missed.
"Chris went to work every day to protect and serve us all," Soboroff said in an email. "It was a tragic and unnecessary accident, and horrible to lose him. The entire department is saddened."
California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris said in a statement that Cortijo was a dedicated officer whose service would not be forgotten.
"The Los Angeles Police Department and California's entire law enforcement community have lost a brave and dedicated colleague," she said.
Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times