INDIANAPOLIS - An officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department was left paralyzed after he was struck by a drunken driver.
Officer Santos Cortez spoke as part of a victim impact panel to an audience of previous offenders about how he is spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair – what he refers to as his prison.
"I was the dad that would always run and play with my children. I was the husband that promised his wife that they would dance through life together, but that all changed when I was hit by a drunk driver," Cortez said.
Last June, Cortez was responding to a call of an impaired driver. Minutes later, that driver, Jerrel Watkins, crashed his car into the side of Cortez’s cruiser, sending him into oncoming traffic where he was struck head-on.
"And at that point, I was thrown from my driver's seat, and I'm a big guy, I was thrown out of my driver's seat through my passenger-side window," Cortez said.
Cortez joined the group Advocates Against Impaired Driving to tell his story. He is paralyzed from the waist down, but told his audience the worst part was what was taken from his children.
"It's the little things that I'm going to miss out on, it's the little things like walking my daughter down the aisle when she finally decides to get married. Now I have to roll next to her, I won't be able to hold her hand," Cortez said.
The happily married father-of-five said he can’t play sports with his son or dance with his wife. He said he can’t return to patrol to serve and protect, which he swore to do as a police officer.
To make matters worse, Watkins served the same amount of time in prison as Cortez spent recovering in the hospital.
"He essentially does nine months in jail, and he's free to go home while I'm still stuck in a prison, of a wheelchair. I don't get any freedom from that," Cortez said. "So please, if you take anything from this, don't do it."
Cortez said when he became a police officer, he knew he would be putting his life on the line, but he never imagined his career as a patrol officer would end this way.