Family of hit-and-run victim: 'can't fathom the thought of somebody taking off'

Family of hit-and-run victim: 'can't fathom the thought of somebody taking off'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Moon Rainbow Cortez was a free-spirited individual who would strike up a conversation with just about anyone.

"Very outgoing, got along well with everybody and made friends very easily," said his cousin Brandon Cortez.

But, his life ended too soon and tragically on the streets of east Bakersfield.

Police say that on Monday night, shortly before midnight, Moon Rainbow Cortez was crossing Monterey Street just west of Robinson Street when he was struck and killed by a vehicle. The driver never stopped.

"I just can't fathom the thought of somebody taking off like that," said Brandon Cortez.

He is the latest victim of hit-and-run drivers. According to Bakersfield police, there were a total of 6,906 cases of misdemeanor hit-and-run accidents and 351 felony cases of hit-and-run in the city between 2009 and 2013.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that calls for stricter penalties for hit-and-run offenders. The legislation, AB 184 by assemblyman Mike Gatto of Los Angeles, allows law enforcement officers investigating hit-and-run offenses by extending the statute of limitations for such offenses to three years from the date of the offense, or one year after a possible suspect is identified by law enforcement, whichever is later.

"We should force drivers to stop, to do the right thing and to make sure that person's are OK," said Gatto.

Brandon Cortez knows the proposed bill comes too late to help his cousin's case. But, he said he supports the effort.

Police got a break in the case when a tip lead officers to an apartment complex parking lot in the 1400 block of Oregon Street.  Officers from the Traffic Enforcement Detail were able to locate a vehicle with evidence consistent with it being the suspect vehicle that fled the scene of the fatal collision involving the pedestrian. Police arrested 20-year-old Mario Martinez and say Martinez was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the accident.

Martinez was arrested and booked on suspicion of felony hit and run, vehicular manslaughter and driving without a license.

The Cortez family is struggling to raise funds to pay for funeral expenses. A car wash will be held on Sunday, March 16, at the corner of Niles and Virginia streets from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Online donations can be made through gofundme.com.