He was a Los Angeles motorcycle cop who'd arrested more than 3,000 drunk drivers across the San Fernando Valley, preventing an untold number of potential DUI traffic deaths.
So, when Los Angeles laid Officer Christopher A. Cortijo to rest Tuesday, it was not only with a hero's burial, it was a funeral fit for an "angel of the road," in the words of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
"If you pause for a minute, you can feel the breaking of 13,000 hearts -- the hearts of the members of the Los Angeles Police Department," Beck said, his voice breaking.
Hundreds of motorcycle officers from throughout the region converged on downtown early Tuesday to celebrate the life of the decorated LAPD motorcycle officer, who was killed by a suspected drug-impaired driver.
The 51-year-old Cortijo died April 9, four days after his bike was rear-ended by a Chevy Blazer while stopped at a traffic light at Lankershim Boulevard and Saticoy Street in Sun Valley.
Qaneak Shaney Cobb, 33, of Pacoima has pleaded not guilty to one count each of driving under the influence of a drug causing injury and possession of a controlled substance, cocaine. Police said Cortijo had been en route to help with a DUI arrest.
In response, wave upon wave of motor cops from San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix -- including one mounted by the LAPD chief himself -- accompanied the flag-draped casket Tuesday to a final tribute at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
They were joined by a towed LAPD Harley-Davidson, like the one Cortijo rode but with empty boots facing backward on the floorboards.
Under gray skies and preceded by a piper playing "Amazing Grace," Archbishop Jose Gomez conducted a funeral Mass attended by 2,500 cops. "We're here to celebrate his life and his service to us all," he told the rows of badges. "We pray for his family."
With some unable to contain their tears, L.A.'s most seasoned officers recalled the U.S. Marine who'd 26 years ago decided to become an L.A. cop.
Cortijo loved surfing and VW Beetles as a boy growing up in Torrance, Simi Valley and North Hollywood. In 1995, he was assigned to the Valley Traffic Division, where he served 17 years on its DUI Task Force.
He became a king of L.A.'s public-safety boosters, with a special nose for sniffing out drunks on bicycles. With nearly 130 commendations for police professionalism, he was twice named LAPD Officer of the Year.
A burly mustachioed cop affectionately called "The General," Cortijo -- badge No. 10775 -- was known for his raucous laugh, wicked humor, hearty appetite and heart big enough to help the poorest Angelenos.
"Each one of us needs to recall something of the love, the competence and commitment, the integrity, the laughs, the jokes and truly the accomplishments of this fine soul, this outstanding motor cop, this giant of a man," said LAPD chaplain the Rev. Frank Hicks, pastor of St. Basil Catholic Church in Mid-Wilshire, who delivered the homily.
Mayor Eric Garcetti took to the podium, clearly moved by Cortijo's impact on his colleagues. "On behalf of the city and of the family of LAPD officers, we're here as one family today," he said. "We mourn the great man Christopher Cortijo. I never knew him, but I knew him.
"The men, women who serve here today -- I knew Chris because I see him on their faces. I feel him in their souls. He didn't just see this as a job, he saw it as a mission," he said, referring to the sober drivers he protected from DUI motorists. "There isn't a person in Los Angeles who doesn't know Chris Cortijo and what he did for the them. He touched an entire city."
Among the speakers was Cortijo's 10-year-old nephew Jonathan Navarro, who remained precociously composed; Valley Traffic Division Cmdr. Capt. Maureen Ryan, his former partner; his former LAPD partner Bill Tatem, who also had to contain himself; and his adult son Jonathan Cortijo, whose sister, Christina Beal, had to rise from her pew to comfort him.
"Everything he's done for us is more than we could have wished for," Beal said, staring out at the sea of well-wishers. "The joy in each of us over our memories of him is more than we could ever ask for.
"Thank you for making our dad a hero -- thank you, all."
The service was followed by traditional police honors and a motorcade to Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Hollywood Hills, where Cortijo was laid to rest to "Some Gave All" sung by country singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
An account benefiting Cortijo's family has been established at the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union. Checks payable to the Blue Ribbon Trust for Christopher Cortijo can be sent to the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union, attention Blue Ribbon Christopher Cortijo, Post Office Box 10188, Van Nuys, CA 91410.
Copyright 2014 - Daily News, Los Angeles
McClatchy-Tribune News Service