The Blink of an Eye

Before she could hit the brakes, Sonia Ortiz was transformed from homemaker and pregnant mother of three to "cop killer"

Maritza talks about the accident like some destined encounter that ought to have some good come of it some day, as if there's a colored candle to light on the mantle to make sense of it all. "I don't know why. I don't know why it happened," Maritza says. "I'll tell you that I guess it was meant to be."


That morning, not long after Maritza's morning break under the shade of the hibiscus, a thousand cops filed into the stadium where the Florida Marlins play spring training games in Jupiter. They came from across the state, many of them in the shiny, knee-length boots and round helmets of motorcycle cops. Morash's family sat on folding chairs behind home plate as his flag-draped coffin was rolled into the stadium on a gurney. His daughter, Tatyana, sat on the end, a couple of her girlfriends crowding around her. Coworkers and family told the gathering about a cop who was the second-youngest of seven kids. He was into motorcycles from the moment he got his Green Machine Big Wheel as a boy on Long Island. He spent a couple of years as an electrician before becoming a cop. Nobody talked about what should happen to the woman who killed him, whether she should go to jail. Nobody talked about whether that intersection should finally get a traffic light. Only Mayor Lois Frankel alluded to what's next. "Our commitment to you," she said toward the coffin, "is that our city will do right by you."

Colby Katz
Clockwise from top: Antiques dealers Jerry Earnhart and Doug Spain were among the first to try to comfort Sonia Ortiz after the accident. Sonia and her sister's children play in the mattress-covered room that serves as sleeping quarters and wrestling mat in the family's tiny home. The deadly intersection is now adorned with flowers and flags as a memorial to Officer Morash. Antiques dealers who had lobbied for a stoplight at the intersection hired attorney Kristine Rosenthal.
Colby Katz
Clockwise from top: Antiques dealers Jerry Earnhart and Doug Spain were among the first to try to comfort Sonia Ortiz after the accident. Sonia and her sister's children play in the mattress-covered room that serves as sleeping quarters and wrestling mat in the family's tiny home. The deadly intersection is now adorned with flowers and flags as a memorial to Officer Morash. Antiques dealers who had lobbied for a stoplight at the intersection hired attorney Kristine Rosenthal.

As tragically unforeseen as Morash's death was, the way he died has become all too common. In fact, motorcycle accidents are the third most-frequent way cops die, after shootings and car crashes, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Motorcycle accidents have accounted for more than 1,100 dead officers in the United States. Seven motorcycle cops have died this year alone, and all but one lost their lives in routine collisions. Like Morash, they were all wearing helmets. And while many of those officers might have lived if riding in cars, police officials swear by motorcycles and their ability to weave through traffic.

It's not the motorcycle that Mike Morash blames for his brother's death. Shortly after the funeral, Mike stood in his orderly garage at his Port St. Lucie home and talked about the woman he wants to see behind bars. Ortiz shouldn't have been driving that day, he explained, and if she weren't, his brother would be alive. Ortiz made his sister-in-law a widow, his niece became fatherless, and Mike's own children lost a man they called a role model. Mike's son Billy even went with Morash last year on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York. "He was a special man, he really was," Mike said, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans shorts. Mike, a firefighter, even looks a lot like his brother. They were both wide-shouldered and constantly tanned. They wore the same bushy mustaches and crew cuts and spoke in the abrupt New York way. "He was a guy who would do anything for anybody, and that's what made him a good cop."

So what should happen to the woman who killed him, accident or not? "Are you kidding?" Mike barked, his bushy eyebrows pushing together. "I could frankly care less."


Every Tuesday afternoon for about three years, Officer Thomas Morash had a date with a bunch of retirees. He'd swing by at about 3:30 and block traffic on Spencer Drive, in front of the Darcy Hall retirement home. Then, a group of 20 or so of the home's residents would make their way across five lanes of traffic in wheelchairs and walkers to the Walgreens across the street. He'd wait with them as they got prescriptions filled and perused the aisles on their weekly outing, then blocked traffic again to help them back across. So it's not a surprise that Darcy Hall is home to some of Morash's biggest fans. "He was our cop," says Mamie Cross, an 85-year-old resident from Indianapolis with bushy gray hair and bundled in a grandmotherly knit sweater. "T.J., we called him. He'd come by every week, and we loved him for it."

Not long after Morash's death, Cross sat in a wheelchair in the home's lobby at the request of activities director June Allfrey. She had assembled a few of the people who knew Morash. A couple of them made it out to the wallpapered lobby on walkers, and the home's activity assistant, Winnie Lamont, came out too to talk about Morash. Lamont would join the pharmacy field trip and chat with Morash as they waited for the prescriptions. "He would talk about his daughter and his wife all the time and retiring to Colorado," Lamont recalled, teary-eyed. "We even got his daughter a present at Christmas."

The home's residents heard about his death on the TV news the night it happened. Most of them have televisions in their rooms, and Allfrey assembled a bunch of them not long afterward to talk it through. Many of the residents and employees are still bitter about what happened. Some of them talk about how that woman who caused it needs to pay. "She was old enough to know better than to get behind the wheel," Lamont said. "What should happen to her? You don't want that in print."

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