A correctional officer assigned to the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco and his dog were killed early Monday, March 25, in a rollover crash on Route 79 in San Diego County.
Eastvale resident Gilbert Cortez and his K-9, Mattie, died when his car rolled off the road in the Warner Springs area. He was leading three other K-9 teams in separate cars driving south on State Highway 79 in San Diego County on their way to conduct a contraband search of La Cima Fire Camp, a corrections department news release stated.
The cause of the accident is under investigation. No other vehicles were involved.
Cortez, a 46-year-old sergeant, was part of the Southern Regional K-9 Unit. He started his career in 1990 at the California Institution for Men in Chino. A year later, he transferred to Calipatria State Prison and was assigned to the Investigative Services Unit. In 2001, he was transferred to the Norco prison to complete K-9 training.
Cortez is survived by his wife, their two children and his parents.
"All of us at CDCR mourn the tragic death of Officer Gilbert Cortez," California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard said in the news release. "He was a valued member of our department and his untimely passing, in the line of duty, is a huge loss to all who worked with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Gil's family, friends and colleagues. We are also deeply saddened by the death of Gil's K-9 partner, Mattie."
Mattie was a Belgian malinois, donated by a private citizen in the San Diego area. She began serving with Cortez in August 2011 and was certified to search for contraband and narcotics. The K-9 program uses dogs and skilled handlers to detect cell phones and drugs in prisons.
Martin Alexi, public information officer at the prison, said a memorial service likely will be held for Cortez "since he died in the line of duty," but his family would ultimately decide on that.
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