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"


Mike Morash doesn't make eye contact with the judge. He whispers to a couple of the motorcycle cops and then quickly ducks out of the courtroom.

Later, in an interview, Rosendahl insists the law is on Ortiz's side. The charge of causing a death while driving without a license requires the state to prove that Ortiz was driving negligently, which means the state would have to prove she was at fault. No one's accused Ortiz of actually doing anything wrong aside from her failure to get a driver's license. In addition, the Department of Motor Vehicles has bolstered Ortiz's case, Rosendahl insists, by concluding that the intersection is dangerous. Since the accident, DOT officials told her they agreed to trim the trees, get rid of a few parallel parking spots, and make it a right-turn-only intersection. And finally, the attorney promises to hire a specialist who will reconstruct the crash to show it wasn't Ortiz's fault. At some point, Ortiz will plead guilty to driving without insurance or registration, both misdemeanors. The trial, which could begin as early as January, will prove Ortiz's innocence on the charge that she caused Morash's death, Rosendahl concludes. "I think people need to look to their hearts," she says, "and determine what's reasonable."

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.


After the hearing and coverage of the case by local newspapers, Rosendahl says, her office was flooded with calls offering money for Ortiz's bail. But Ortiz still needed another $170 to pay for a bracelet she would have to wear while she was out, to make sure she stayed at home. Three days after the hearing, Geamny is trying to figure out how to pay for it. He has only $8. "I haven't got it," Geamny says by cell phone from his tow truck. "We have the money for bail but not more. I had to pay the rent. We don't have any more money." Finally, Rosendahl says the prosecutors agreed to waive the court fees for the monitoring equipment. The attorney took it as a sign that the state acknowledges the public's outcry over the prosecution.

Either way, Ortiz gets out of jail a day before the first birthday of her youngest daughter, Victoria. The family makes hot dogs and hamburgers and cake for the neighborhood kids. Ortiz gives her daughter hand-drawn cards she made in her cell, ones she thought she would have to send from jail.

Two days later, Rosendahl arranges for the public to meet her client by way of a television news crew from West Palm's Channel 25. The attorney forbids Ortiz from speaking of the accident or whether she's sorry about what happened. Reporter Angela Rozier sits Ortiz in a kitchen chair with Victoria on her lap. Ortiz says the accident has changed her, made her fearful of many things. "I'm scared of nighttime," she says through constant tears; they run down the channel of the scar below her eye. "If I fall asleep, I dream. I have nightmares," she says. "And every time I hear a police car siren or ambulance, I think it's for me, and I'm so scared and terrified."

The reporter asks about all the people donating food and money and diapers. "I thank my angels from heaven," Ortiz says, Victoria squirming on her lap. "They donate food for my kids when I'm in there. And money. Every time I pray, I tell the Lord to bless them."

Ortiz's kitchen chair is under the archway that separates the tiny foyer of the cottage from the even smaller living room. Through a side door is the kids' mattress-covered bedroom. As the interview winds down, the wrestling match on the mattresses gets louder, and Ortiz ducks away to silence them. Rosendahl, in a red skirt suit with matching Chanel accessories, also tries a few times to quiet the horde. After the television reporter wraps up the interview, Ortiz opens the bedroom door and the kids spill out into the living room to catch SpongeBob SquarePants on the old RCA. With the kids distracted, Ortiz admits she told the kids she had been in the hospital for those couple of weeks. They ask her about the ankle bracelet she's required to wear. "I tell them it's for the baby," she says, a hand on the bulge above her jeans. "I tell them it monitors the heartbeat. I don't want them to know what's going on. They don't need to know this about their mom."

Some day soon, she might have to tell the kids what's going on. If she goes to prison, they'll probably come visit her, and they'll know she's not at the hospital. Her oldest, 5-year-old Geamny Jr., is in first grade now and is likely to figure it out. Someday, she might have to tell them that a car she was driving killed a respected police officer and that she's going to jail for a while because of it. They'll have to help raise the baby while she's there. It's due in April.

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