Back-Country Car Crash Kills Corrections Officer, Service Dog, From Riverside County

WARNER SPRINGS – A Riverside County-based state corrections officer and his service dog were killed today while on duty in a solo car crash on State Route 79, east of Lake Henshaw, in San Diego County.

Gilbert Cortez, 46, was driving at the front of a small caravan of southbound prison vehicles when he lost control of the marked Ford Crown Victoria about a half-mile south of San Felipe Road in the Warner Springs area shortly before 7:30 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.

The sedan skidded out, overturned and rolled over side to side, coming to rest on its wheels, the CHP reported.

Medics took Cortez to a nearby fire station, where he died before he could be put into an emergency-services helicopter for a flight to a trauma center.

The dog, a Belgian Malinois named Mattie, succumbed to her injuries at the scene of the crash.

There were no other occupants of the sedan, the CHP reported. The cause of the accident was under investigation.

The wreck occurred as corrections personnel in five vehicles were en route to inspect La Cima Fire Camp, an inmate-staffed back-country firefighting outpost in the Julian area, said Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Authorities closed the two-lane rural road in the area until mid- afternoon to allow for investigations and cleanup.

Cortez, a 23-year veteran of the state corrections agency, worked at California Rehabilitation Center in Riverside County and was part of its Southern Regional K-9 Unit. He is survived by his wife and two children.

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