Originally posted at 12:57 p.m. April 22, 2014. Edited with new details.
Relatives, friends and thousands of uniformed officers gathered today for the funeral of 51-year-old Los Angeles police motorcycle Officer Chris Cortijo, hailing him as a guardian angel who watched over Southland motorists for more than two decades.
Cortijo, a 26-year-veteran and former Marine, was struck April 5 by an SUV driven by an allegedly drug-impaired driver while stopped at a red light at Lankershim Boulevard and Saticoy Street in Sun Valley. He died four days later.
During a funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck joined the throng of mourners paying tribute to Cortijo. Garcetti called Cortijo a "guardian angel" of Los Angeles, patrolling roadways for drunken and impaired drivers in an effort to keep other motorists safe.
His former colleagues told stories of Cortijo's dedication to his work at the Valley Traffic Division -- he was twice named officer of the year, having made more than 3,000 DUI arrests.
Cortijo's 10-year-old nephew, Jonathan Navarro, was among those speaking at the funeral, calling his uncle his hero.
"Uncle Chris, I will always remember you," he said. "You have done so much for me, it's impossible for me to forget you. You will always be in my heart. You took your time with me and treated me with tough love. You are my hero.
"You always made me laugh and have a good time. Remember Taco Bell? You would tell me it was healthy food because it had fresh lettuce and tomato," Jonathan said, drawing laughs from the crowd. "... I will never break the promise I made to you when I said goodbye. I love you and you are my inspiration. I will always try to be a good person like you. I will never give up as you always used to tell me. You always told me that practice makes perfect and to keep trying. I will promise you that. You are my guardian angel that is no longer here with me, but you will continue to be my guardian angel from Heaven."
Cortijo's daughter, Christina Beal, called the LAPD her father's "second family," and she praised his fellow officers for the support they have given the family.
"Everything you all have done for us has been more than he could have wished for," she said. "From the moment we walked into that hospital room, we had 100 percent support. ... Thank you for immortalizing him in your hearts. We couldn't ask for anything else. Thank you. Thank you all."
Cortijo's commanding officer at the Valley Traffic Division, Capt. Maureen Ryan, said Cortijo will be honored in Sacramento on May 31, receiving a California Hero Award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"The bond of brotherhood between cops is strong, and the bond between motor cops is powerful," she said. "The bond we have with Chris Cortijo will never be broken. He will always be honored and remembered by all of us. As Chris' commanding officer ... I am proud to say for the last time, '35MX101, end watch, good night."'
Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez presided over the funeral service, which was followed by a procession to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills for the burial service.
The California Highway Patrol closed the northbound Hollywood (101) Freeway between the Pasadena (110) Freeway and Barham Boulevard to accommodate the motorcade to Forest Lawn, but the stretch was reopened shortly after 12:30 p.m.
Cortijo is survived by his partner, Lillie Price, his son Jonathan Cortijo, his daughter Christina Beal, and his brother.
A Pacoima woman accused of striking the officer has pleaded not guilty to charges of driving under the influence of a drug and possession of cocaine.
Qaneak Shaney Cobb, 33, is accused of slamming her Chevrolet Blazer into the veteran officer as he was stopped at the intersection. The impact left the officer trapped between the Blazer and a Honda Accord that was in front of him.
Beck called it the "ultimate tragedy" that the officer died because someone "callously and wantonly" drove under the influence of drugs.
Cortijo was the second LAPD officer to die in the past seven weeks. On March 7, Los Angeles police Officer Nicholas Choung Lee, 40, was killed when an out-of-control truck on steep Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills struck his patrol car head-on.
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.
--City News Service