A 26-year-old man Jesus Cortez loved coming home everyday to the sight of his 4-year-old son running to him, shouting ‘daddy’ and begging him to take him along to work the next day. Cortez, a 38-year-old day laborer from Gilroy, lost his son, Jose, on July 11 when a drunken driver crashed into the back of his Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck stopped on the side of U.S. Highway 101 in unincorporated San Jose. Cortez had pulled over onto the right shoulder after his car became disabled. He got out of the truck and called his brother-in law, and because it was a hot day, his wife and daughter decided to do the same. Jose was sleeping in the back when a 1989 Ford F-250 truck swerved from the far right southbound lane onto the shoulder and struck the Chevy from behind. Jose suffered major head injuries and was pronounced dead later that night at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. California Highway Patrol officers arrested the driver of the Ford, 44-year-old James Francis Lee, of Gilroy, in connection with the crash. Lee’s blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit, CHP Officer Jaime Rios said. Prosecutors have charged Lee with gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI. He is expected to plead to the charges on Sept. 3. Cortez said he and his family haven’t been the same since that day. Cortez held his wife and daughter close as he shared his story at a news conference in San Jose this afternoon with reporters and officers from various law enforcement agencies. Photos upon photos of a smiling and cheerful Jose lay scattered on a table along the wall. One of Jose’s photos was pinned to Cortez’s shirt, on the left side of his chest. “In my life, there’s a big empty space,” Cortez said tearfully through a translator. “We miss our son very much. Because he was a very happy child, and in his short life he left us many memories, very beautiful memories.” Returning to his seat Cortez held his head and wept loudly, prompting not only his daughter and wife to sob quietly next to him, but several others around the room as well. “I’m not sure what else needs to be said,” Ryan Wright, Santa Clara’s police chaplain, said. “The tragedy began that day, but it is ongoing. It is hourly, it is minute-by-minute.” Los Altos police Chief Tuck Younis presented the Cortez family with a check worth nearly $4,000 contributed by officers from the Santa Clara County Police Chiefs Association, as well as the Los Altos, Palo Alto, Morgan Hill, and Campbell police departments. Younis said the Avoid the 13 Labor Day campaign, which kicks off today, would be dedicated to the memory of Jose and other victims like him. The family can use the money however they want, Younis said. Cortez said the injuries he sustained in the crash prevent him from working. He stretched out his left arm and explained he was unable keep it straight.
Cortez said he also suffered a broken jaw, and has pain on the right side of his chest and in the back of his neck. He said every time he stands up, he experiences a sudden rush of noise in his head. When a woman loses her husband, she’s called a widow, and when a child loses a parent, he or she is called an orphan. But, there is no word for a parent who loses a child, Cortez said, because the emotion is too painful.