This post has been corrected. See note below for details.
Veteran Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officer Chris Cortijo, who died Wednesday after being hit by a driver accused of being high on cocaine, had arrested more than 3,000 DUI suspects in his career, Police Chief Charlie Beck said.
"The ultimate irony is that Chris spent his life keeping other people safe from people who drive under the influence," Beck said. "The ultimate in tragedy is that he gave his life up because of somebody who callously ... operated a vehicle under the influence."
Cortijo, a 27-year veteran of the department, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a two-time LAPD officer of the year, Beck said.
Qaneak Shaney Cobb, 33, faces a felony DUI charge, and prosecutors allege she was under the influence of cocaine in her Chevrolet Blazer when she rear-ended Cortijo as he was stopped at a traffic light in North Hollywood. Cobb pleaded not guilty Tuesday.
Jorge Villegas, the commanding officer of the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, said he first met Cortijo in 2006 and over the years had “observed him to be an absolute quality, outstanding individual,” adding that Cortijo was “very humble.”
Late last week, just days before he was struck, Cortijo was awarded “Valley motor officer of the quarter” – a commendation given for an officer’s all-around performance in the field, Villegas said.
Villegas recalled a recent encounter he had with a woman, who approached him in a North Hollywood store. She launched into a story about a motorcycle officer who had pulled her over for a traffic violation and explained at length why her misstep had been dangerous.
At the end, the officer let the woman off with a warning. It 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.
Plans for a memorial service are being discussed with family members.
At the hospital, Villegas said, "there's been a vigil, if you will, since the day of the accident." All day and night, officers would stop in to check on the family and Cortijo. Anonymous members of the community sent food and flowers for the officers and family.
"Chris went to work every day to protect and serve us all," said L.A. Police Commission President Steve Soboroff in an email. "It was a tragic and unnecessary accident, and horrible to lose him. The entire department is saddened."
The past few months have been particularly rough for the LAPD. Officer Nicholas Lee was also crushed to death when his patrol car was struck by a out-of-control truck. Lee’s partner was injured. Two other officers have received relatively minor injuries in separate shootings. On Monday night, a gunman opened fire at the LAPD Wilshire division station, wounding an officer.
[For the Record, 6:25 p.m. PST, April 9: A previous version of this story said Cortijo died Thursday. He died Wednesday.]