Family of 4-year-old victim given donation by sheriffs

Itzel and Jose Cortez share a special moment. Jose was killed in

Speaking in English and other times through an interpreter,
Jesus Cortez often broke into tears while talking about his
4-year-old son who died in July in a car crash when his family’s
car broke down on the side of U.S. 101.
Speaking in English and other times through an interpreter, Jesus Cortez often broke into tears while talking about his 4-year-old son who died in July in a car crash when his family’s car broke down on the side of U.S. 101.

“In his short life, he left us many memories,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “Anyone out there that drinks and drives, please think about it first because it can destroy lives.”

Later, he sat slumped in his chair, sobbing over his son whose picture he wore taped to his shirt pocket.

For the first time since their son Jose Cortez-Diaz was killed, the family spoke publicly Thursday morning at the San Jose Sheriff’s office about the incident. Jesus Cortez was trying to undo the child’s seatbelt when another Gilroy resident, James Francis Lee, 44, slammed into their vehicle with an alcohol level twice the legal limit, according to police.

The impact sent a toolbox from the Cortez’s vehicle through the rear window, striking the boy in the head.

Jose was life-flighted to Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead less than two hours after the crash.

The Santa Clara County Police Chiefs’ Association presented the family with a donation as part of its launch of the Avoid the 13 summer mobilization campaign against drunken driving.

Cortez’s daughter Itzel, 11, had just started 6th grade Wednesday and missed school to be at the press conference.

Itzel said Jose had celebrated his 4th birthday in June at a park with a mariachi band.

“His favorite part was breaking the piñata and getting all the candy. He even gave some of mine away,” she said. Jose was scheduled to start preschool in the fall.

“They’re hurting,” said Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner. “This has just made our mission that much more clear.”

Turner said there will be several DUI checkpoints throughout the county during the next few weeks, with increased saturation patrols. In Gilroy, four additional officers will patrol specifically for drunken driving now through Labor Day.

Cortez plans to look for work in the next few months, but the accident left him with limited mobility in one of his arms and he doesn’t have health insurance for follow-up care. As a day laborer, he used to take his son to work with him sometimes, but now he can only cut plants with his injuries.

“I want to get back to a normal life,” he said. “But I don’t think there can be any normal.”

Donations can be sent to any Bank of America, Gilroy branch, 7825 Monterey St., Gilroy, CA 95020. The Jose Cortez-Diaz memorial fund account number is 2004969920. Contact Liz Panduro at (408) 722-2002 or [email protected] for more information.

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