Indianapolis, Ind. (November 26, 2015) - A dark-eyed little boy, not much older than four, opened the front door to the recently finished Franklin Township home.
“Welcome to the Cortez house.”
He’s called Junior in the Santos Cortez house, while there are many in the city who call his dad Hero.
“What do they give you that for?” Officer Cortez is asked as he unfurls a medal attached to purple ribbon from a black felt-covered box dug out from deep in a desk inside his new home. “People who are injured in the line of duty,” the cop answered with a shrug. “People say I did something. But in my mind I didn’t do anything. I just did a job that I signed up to do and took one for the team, basically.”
Cortez took one for the team, and the city, on June 10, 2012, when his patrol car was slammed broadside by the very drunk driver for whom he was searching on Indianapolis’ westside that warm Sunday night.
A year later the man who drove intoxicated behind the wheel walked out of court and into prison to serve a three-year sentence.
Cortez lived most of the next three years in a series of hospital rooms, healing up, fighting infections, undergoing surgeries.
Thursday marked the patrolman’s first Thanksgiving out of the hospital and in a new home partially financed by the community and fellow officers and Drees Builders.
Santos and Fran Cortez needed Indianapolis’ help to buy a house because they spent the down payment they have saved up on bills that came in while he recovered from injuries suffered in the line of duty.
“You know, I’ve said so many times, it takes a village,” said Fran in a kitchen big enough for her husband to navigate in a wheelchair so that he might cook a holiday feast. “There’s no family that epitomizes that statement more than this family. It has taken a village. We have an amazing village. They’ve risen to every occasion, every aspect that we could have ever needed.
“I cannot say thank you enough. I cannot explain the gratitude you hold for some people you will never ever meet.”
The builders constructed the Cortez family a house roomy enough for the kids to run through and practical enough for a man who spends all day sitting in a chair with wheels.
“I’ve seen such a difference in him that he doesn’t have to ask me to help him take a shower or reach a cup or microwave something for him because he’s hungry,” said Fran. “I’ve never seen him happier, healthier, and I think that its played a huge part in the fact that there’s nothing that he can’t do for himself now.”
“This is a house that will definitely be filled with memories and good times,” said Cortez. “The main thing is having room for the kids to run around.”
Cortez hails from Chicago, the son of a Cook County Sheriff’s detective and the brother of a Chicago cop.
On a day dedicated to family and faith and football, Cortez wore a faded Chicago Bears jersey and reminisced about his favorite player of all time, a running back named Brian Piccolo who threw the blocks that let NFL Hall of Famer Gayle Sayers run to daylight before he himself was tackled by cancer.
“He struggled and he still made something of himself and did good things with the Bears and he got sick and no matter how much he fought and persevered,” Cortez, gazing down at a framed picture of the unsung Bears back, “he did big things for them.
“Gayle Sayers got a lot of the publicity but he was the one that was there,” Cortez recalled about Piccolo. “He made it happen for them.”
“He threw a lot of blocks,” the cop was reminded. “He took one for the team.”
“Yeah,” said Cortez, his eyes watering and voice choking, a Purple Heart in his lap, the photograph of a doomed Bears legend in his hands.
Officer Cortez said he will apply for a medical disability early in 2016 and then volunteer to advise new mayor Joe Hogsett on disability issues.
“From Day One of my accident, I couldn’t be more appreciative of everyone that was behind us,” he said, “from Day One of the accident.”
From the other room, the Cortez kids squealed as Mom announced it was time for dinner and Dad prepared to give the blessing of Thanks in a new house he had paid for with his legs and his life.