By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
At first, the crimes committed that day seemed uncomplicated. Sonia Ortiz drove without a license and caused the death of a man who had spent 12 years on the force. She killed a cop with a daughter at home. Her husband's Honda wasn't registered, and she didn't have insurance. Police placed Ortiz in the county lockup under a charge called "driving without a drivers license causing a death."
In the blink of an eye, Ortiz had gone from homemaker, mother of three with a fourth on the way, her children's half-prepared lunch still warming on the stove, to "cop killer." The public defender assigned to her case couldn't manage to get bail for her, and Ortiz, whose primary concern up to that point had been feeding her children three times a day, was suddenly facing a year or more in jail before her trial even began. After that, the prospect was -- and is -- even more hopeless. Her crimes could land her in prison until her unborn child is in school.
But the law isn't always as simple as guilt or innocence, and people who had heard about the tragic accident saw things differently from the black and white of state statutes. The antiques dealers who had lobbied for a traffic light banded to support her. People gave diapers for her kids and food for her family and offered hundreds of dollars to get her out of jail. Most of them said that they didn't think she should face prison for an honest mistake and that the courts ought to consider her three kids at home and another on the way.
Still, few people seem to have a simple answer for what should happen to Ortiz. Many of those who were close to Officer Morash say bluntly that Sonia Ortiz should learn what it's like raising your kids from a prison cell. Even the sympathetic antiques dealers and pedestrians and other drivers who saw it all that day -- every one of them -- seem dumbfounded when asked what should happen to her. "Putting her in jail seems harsh," Earnhart said recently, sitting in the Victorian chair in front of his shop where he saw it all that afternoon. "But just letting her go, that can't happen either. It would be like his death meant nothing."
Morash's family, not surprisingly, wants her behind bars. She killed a cop, a husband, a father; and for some, it's that simple. "What happens to her?" his brother, Mike Morash, asked rhetorically. "Who the hell cares?"
Truth is, many people seem to care what happens to Ortiz. But so far, no one has a plan for the punishment of a pregnant cop-killing mother of three who made an honest mistake one day.
There are still plastic Halloween ghosts hanging in the scraggly hibiscus tree above her as Maritza Figueroa plops down in a plastic lawn chair in front of the rundown cottage on Morton Avenue. A lot of household tasks got neglected back at the end of October. Her sister, Ortiz, was in jail, and it was her job to care for the six kids. From inside the open windows, what seems like a horde of them talks in a mix of Spanish and English over Maury Povich blaring from the TV. "My sister," Maritza begins, "is so sorry for what happened. I can't tell you how much."
She casually pops some Skittles into her mouth. "She's a good girl and a good mother," she continues. "All she cares about is being a mom to her kids." After all, it's what she learned from her own mom, who left a good life in Guayama, Puerto Rico, two decades ago for her children. Back then, they lived in the sprawling house of Ortiz's grandparents. But her mother wanted the children to be raised in the States, so she left her husband and moved the family to Florida. Here, they lived in poverty.
Ortiz was always the pretty one, with her thin cheek line and round eyes a shade lighter than her chestnut skin, Maritza says. She was one they say had that motherly instinct early on. She tried to adopt a stray when she was 14 years old, and the alley cat clawed her face, leaving a jagged scar that stretches from her left eye to her lips.
Ortiz became a mother early on. She was 16, and her first boyfriend, Geamny, promised to stay with her forever. She quit school, and last year they had their third child. The kids share a room with Maritza and her three children. Ortiz's mother and the man she married a few years ago get the other bedroom, and Ortiz and Geamny sleep on the rickety pull-out couch with its cushions that seem to lack any padding at all. "My sister never drove," Maritza says. "In Spanish culture, when the wife is pregnant, she stays home, and the husband takes care of her. She don't go to work or need to drive to the store." Maritza doesn't know why Ortiz took the car the day of the accident. When they talked at the jail, Ortiz couldn't explain it either.