By AMY LINDBLOM
Christine Ortiz died in a jail cell, alone and most likely in pain from cancer.
The last people to see her alive were law enforcement officers and hospital personnel, after she was picked up by Sonora officers on suspicion of being drunk in public.
When a jail nurse decided Ortiz was too intoxicated to be booked, she was taken to a hospital, released, then taken back and put in a holding cell the standard procedure for drunken inmates.
But Ortiz died before she sobered up.
Her friends and family said she was not a drunk; she was kind and caring, and used to be a vibrant human being until the cancer overtook her.
Nearly all of 30 or so people attending Ortiz's memorial service four days after her Oct. 15 death had only nice things to say about the diminutive 53-year-old woman.
"She was just a sweetheart who would take kids and stray animals in in a heartbeat," said Steve McClendon, a friend for more than 16 years. "There was a loving friend and mother inside that aching body."
McClendon, a former neighbor on Gunsight Road, said Big Hill kids knew Ortiz would give them a soda or a bite to eat, and would listen to their tales from school when no one else was around.
That was before Ortiz, her husband and youngest son moved to Sonora a couple of years ago, perhaps a mile from where she was arrested.
Carol Harrell, Ortiz's younger sister from Oakland, said Ortiz came to Tuolumne County in the early 1970s with her eldest two sons and worked in janitorial services while she went to school to earn a nursing credential.
For 10 years, until 1993, Ortiz worked at a San Andreas convalescent hospital. But when her third son was born, she decided to stay home to raise him.
"She loved her kids and she was a good mom," Harrell said. "I'm hurting because she was my sister and she tried she really tried but for the last seven years she was always in pain."
Ortiz's husband, Ian Grambergu, declined to be interviewed for this story.