GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A man authorities believe shot Colorado Trooper Eugene Hofacker on Interstate 70 Thursday is a convicted killer who was arrested months ago in an attempted murder case.
Thomas Ornelas, 40, of Montrose, allegedly shot six-year patrol veteran Hofacker, 31, according to Adrienne Jacobson, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections.
The Garfield County Coroner’s Office will confirm the identity of the shooting suspect.
Friday morning, Colorado State Patrol chief Scott Hernandez posted that: “Trooper Hofacker is awake this morning and communicating with us. He is in good spirits as he prepares for additional surgery today. Please keep Eugene and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Ornelas had a lengthy, violent criminal record.
At the time of Thursday’s shooting, Ornelas out on a $75,000 bond in a case out of Mesa County from March 1, 2013. In that case, he pleaded not guilty to nine counts, including two counts of att empted second-degree murder. He was scheduled to go to trial in September.
According to state records, in August 1990 Ornelas pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a Denver case and was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Feb. 1, 1991, Jacobson said.
Ornelas was first paroled on Oct. 24, 2002, after serving 12 years for the murder. He violated parole conditions and was sent back to prison on July 9, 2003. He was paroled a second time on Aug. 26, 2004, and completed his sentence in October 2005, she said.
Hofacker was in critical condition but is stable, according to Hernandez.
Authorities said Hofacker and another trooper, who were riding in the same car on their way to a training session, stopped to assist a motorist pulled over on the side of westbound I-70 at mile marker 129 near the Dotsero exit at about 9:10 a.m. The incident occurred about 9:10 a.m. west of the Dotsero exit. The shooting happened within five minutes.
Garfield County Sher iff Lou Vallario said Hofacker was shot when he approached the driver-side window. The second trooper, who was approaching the car on the passenger side, returned fire and killed the driver, Vallario said.
Hofacker, who was based in Vail, was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Hernandez did not comment on Hofacker’s injuries but did say the trooper had been wearing his body armor.
After completing his sentence for murder, Ornelas was charged with multiple crimes in Montrose County. He was sentenced to unsupervised probation in 2007 after he pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, and in 2010 he was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to obstructing a peace officer.