A veteran Miami traffic cop less than two years from retirement was killed Tuesday when an SUV rear-ended his motorcycle in a left-turn lane, setting off a violent chain reaction that damaged five other cars, left two other people in critical condition and sent 11 people to the hospital.
The domino effect of the collision that left a white car on its side, several other vehicles badly damaged and the officer’s black motorcycle mangled almost beyond recognition four lanes from where the accident occurred, caused a traffic nightmare.
The intersection of Southwest Eighth Street and 137th Avenue and several blocks leading to it in each direction were closed for most of the afternoon Tuesday and well into the evening as investigators combed the street for clues and the wreckage was hauled away.
The officer killed was Jorge Sanchez, 53, a 21-year veteran on the force who worked traffic detail and was set to retire in early 2018. He has a son on the force also named Jorge Sanchez, and also leaves behind his mother, a fiance, another son and a daughter.
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Sanchez was on his way to work and heading west on Southwest Eighth Street when he stopped in the left-turn lane at Southwest 137th Avenue. He was rear-ended by an SUV. The violent force jettisoned his motorcycle into the intersection, where he was hit again by oncoming traffic. The second hit was so violent it knocked him forward and back onto Southwest Eighth Street, coming to rest four lanes from where he was initially struck.
“You never know when you’re going to come home. You kiss your children goodbye every day,” said Florida Highway Patrol Spokesman Joe Sanchez, no relation and a former Miami commissioner who knew the officer.
The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the crash. No other names of the injured were released Tuesday and police had not yet issued any tickets or made any arrests.
FIU student Mario Milan was driving a gray Nissan that was struck by Sanchez’s motorcycle as it hurtled through the intersection.
“I’m just numb to it,” said Milan. “I don’t know how to feel yet.”
It was the second time in a week that a motorcycle patrolman got into bad accident. Last week, Pinecrest police officer Maikel Rodriguez crashed his bike, but escaped with broken bones in his arms while escorting presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a Miami visit. Clinton later called to wish him well.
The FHP was alerted to Tuesday’s accident at 1:47 p.m. When the state troopers arrived they found so much mayhem it took hours to determine exactly how many people were injured and who exactly was involved in the crash.
People from nearby businesses ran out to help and tried in vain to save Sanchez, who was dead at the scene. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue gathered the injured and transported them to local hospitals.
Troopers expected to be there until about midnight sifting through the damage and collecting evidence. By Tuesday night the law enforcement agency had not yet issued a report with information about the accident.
“It’s a big scene. So it takes them a long time,” said FHP Lt. Yosdany Veloz.
Policing for Sanchez, who was 17 months from retirement, came later in life than most. He joined the department at age 32, working as an officer in the Coral Way neighborhood and later being promoted to a detective in major investigations. At the time of his death he worked traffic detail in Little Haiti.
Sanchez worked under former Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa for several years.
“He was a good guy. A hard worker. Soft spoken,” said Orosa.
The officer’s death struck a nerve in the department. Several of his fellow officers showed up at a hastily called press conference at Miami police headquarters Tuesday night. Police waited patiently for several hours reaching out to family members before speaking about the accident publicly.
“He served with honor and distinction for 21 years,” said Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes. “Jorge and I worked together about 20 years ago. He was a consummate pro. He wore the uniform proudly.”