GARFIELD COUNTY — Police on Friday identified the sole suspect in a Thursday incident in which a Colorado State Patrol officer was shot and wounded in Glenwood Canyon as a Montrose resident with a long, violent criminal record. Meanwhile, the officer the suspect shot continues to recover from his wounds.
Thomas Albert Ornelas allegedly shot Trooper Eugene Hofacker in the Thursday morning incident near the Bair Ranch exit along Interstate 70. A second trooper riding with Hofacker that morning — Shane Gosnell — shot and killed Ornelas.
Hofacker and Gosnell were riding together from the Eagle-Vail office where both are stationed to a training session in Glenwood Springs. The troopers saw Ornelas’ red BMW sedan parked on the right shoulder of the road and stopped to see if he needed help.
Listening to the recording from the State Patrol’s dispatch center, the stop seemed routine until Ornelas allegedly shot Hofacker twice. Gosnell returned fire immediately, killing Ornelas.
The entire incident lasted less than 15 minutes, from the time Hofacker first reported stopping to Gosnell’s radio report that of “suspect ... deceased.”
Other officers were also traveling to the training session and were quickly able to stop traffic and provide first aid to Hofacker. Hofacker was transported to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood, where he had emergency surgery. He had more surgery Friday. A release from Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez indicated that Hofacker was “awake and communicating. ... He is in good spirits.”
A midday Friday report in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent — a corporate sister of the Vail Daily — indicated Hofacker was doing well.
The dispatch recording is a chilling account of the incident. It starts as would any contact with a motorist — an officer stopped to check on what appeared to be a stranded motorist on the side of the road. Those on the recording have done this countless times.
Then, a voice — Gosnell’s — reports, “Officer down.” That’s when listeners hear the adrenaline jump of everyone involved in the call. The voices on the recording remain professional, but urgency has destroyed the routine — voices are faster and edgier.
An ambulance is called for, “We need an ambulance — stat!” one voice says.
The recording has plenty of rapid back-and-forth: Where is the incident? Is it in westbound lanes? Has anyone closed the highway?
Then there are the matter-of-fact, but urgent statements from Gosnell. Hofacker has lost a lot of blood ... he’s drifting in and out of consciousness ... there’s still a pulse ... and where’s that ambulance?
In moments, the interstate was closed in both directions. The eastbound interstate was re-opened and closed several times during the course of the day, while westbound traffic was eventually turned around and the canyon emptied for the investigation. The interstate was fully opened just after 5 p.m.
In a Friday evening statement on the State Patrol’s Facebook page, State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez wrote, “Undoubtedly the heroic actions of Trooper Gosnell saved the life of Trooper Hofacker. We are extremely proud of Trooper Gosnell, as well as the other members of the Colorado State Patrol, who acted swiftly when arriving on scene.”
The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office is the investigating agency in the case, and that investigation is going to take some time. But the person who started the incident took to his grave many of the answers investigators want.
Ornelas was free on bond in a pending case in Mesa County. Charges included attempted second degree murder, weapons possession and attempted first-degree assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a 2013 drive-by shooting at a mobile home park in Fruita. He was free on $75,000 bond.
Ornelas pleaded guilty in 1990 to a second-degree murder charge, avoiding a first-degree murder charge in the process. He was 17 at the time. He was paroled in 2003 and jailed again less than a year later. He was paroled a second time in 2004 and completed his sentence in 2005. Between that year and the 2013 shooting in Fruita, he had pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree assault and obstructing a peace officer in Montrose County and had spent time in the county lockup on those charges.