Final details emerge in Glenwood Canyon shooting
Ryan Summerlin June 30, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Convicted felon Thomas Ornelas sustained 11 gunshot wounds and Trooper Eugene Hofacker received at least three in the May 8 shootout that killed Ornelas and put Hofacker in the hospital, according to documents obtained by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and the Garfield County Coroner.
In a same-day interview with investigators, Trooper Shane Gosnell described the circumstances that led him to shoot and kill Ornelas.
TROOPERS ACCOUNT OF EVENTS
Gosnell reported that Hofacker was giving him a ride to a training in his patrol car and were in the left lane when they observed a red BMW parked to the side of the road at around 9 a.m. According to Gosnell, State Patrol policy instructs troopers to stop for all motorist assists in the Glenwood Canyon, abandoned or otherwise, due to narrow lines, small shoulders, and lack of cell reception.
The pair pulled over, though the process of merging from the left lane reportedly brought the patrol car closer to the stopped vehicle than is standard for such stops.
Trooper Hofacker then approached the passenger side of the vehicle, opened the door, and conversed with the occupant, later identified as Thomas Ornelas, 40, of Montrose.
After getting out of the car, Gosnell heard what appeared to be an argument between Hofacker and the driver and called in an intoxicated, uncooperative driver. Hofacker then approached the drivers side door, which was slightly ajar, told the Ornelas to stay in the car and asked for documentation.
As Hofacker handed Gosnell the documents and asked him to run them, Gosnell reported that Ornelas told the troopers, “I don’t want you here. I don’t need you here. Just leave me alone.”
Hofacker then asked the suspect to step out of the vehicle while Gosnell walked back to the patrol car to radio the information in.
As he turned away from the road to block the wind, Gosnell heard a shot, followed by a scream and another shot as he turned back to the scene. He drew his gun and came around the patrol car to the front driver’s side. From this vantage point, he observed Ornelas holding a black semiautomatic handgun and Hofacker retreating backwards and attempting to take cover.
After his first few shots had no apparent effect, Gosnell kept firing until Ornelas dropped to his knees, then fired more when Ornelas failed to drop the weapon.
Gosnell does not recall either himself or Hofacker issuing any verbal commands to Ornelas once the shooting began.
GOSNELL FIRED 14 ROUNDS
In all, Gosnell fired 14 rounds from his duty weapon, likely a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson M&P. The weapon’s capacity was reported as 15 rounds in the magazine and another in the chamber. Gosnell therefore had at least one and probably two shots remaining, as well as two more 15 round magazines on his person.
Once the suspect was on the ground, Gosnell approached and kicked away the handgun. He observed that Ornelas was moaning but not moving much, and turned his attention to Hofacker, who was visibly bleeding from the leg.
Hofacker reportedly told Gosnell that Ornelas had pulled the gun from under the driver’s seat, and that Hofacker had tried to pull his taser and his gun.
Shortly thereafter, Cpl. Coby Smart arrived on scene and tended to Hofacker. Trooper Gosnell then surrendered his weapon to Smart and Smart provided Gosnell with his own weapon while the scene was secured. He advised Gosnell to handcuff Ornelas, who had not appeared to move since the final shot.
ORNELAS DEAD ON SCENE
When paramedics arrived, they tried unsuccessfully to revive Ornelas. He was pronounced dead at the scene by the Garfield County coroner at 10:45 a.m.
Meanwhile, Trooper Hofacker was transported to Valley View Hospital where he underwent surgery beginning at around 10:30 a.m.
At least three bullets were removed in the operation, with shots to his right elbow, right thigh and right calf.
According the Garfield County coroner’s report, most of Ornelas’ 11 gunshot wounds were confined to his chest and abdomen.
Gosnell’s first shot passed through Ornelas’ left wrist before striking him in the chest, where it grazed his left lung and pierced his diaphragm and spleen. Ornelas sustained six more shots in the chest and abdomen before a bullet passed through his heart and lungs.
“This gunshot wound was not instantly incapacitating, but was rapidly fatal,” read the report.
Gosnell fired at least three more shots, hitting Ornelas in the abdomen, hip and crotch. The forensic pathologist found no evidence that any of the gunshot wounds occurred at close range, indicating an approximate distance of 10 feet.
The autopsy also found evidence of past cocaine use by Ornelas, a blood alcohol level of .186 percent, and indications of steatohepatitis, a type of liver failure associated with alcoholism.
Ornelas was visually identified and had several distinguishing tattoos, including the name “Ornelas” across his upper back. He arrived at the morgue handcuffed and bearing two defibrillation pads from the attempted resuscitation.
NARCOTICS FOUND IN CAR
The subsequent investigation into the shooting revealed that Ornelas was en route to his home in Montrose from the Denver area. He had indicated to a friend earlier in the day that he was having mechanical trouble and that he may need to be picked up. A search of Ornelas’ vehicle, a 2006 BMW that was registered to Ornelas, revealed a pair of bindles of suspected drugs, one on the driver’s side floor board and one under the driver’s seat. Each 4-ounce bindle field tested presumptive positive for cocaine, as did a pair of smaller bindles found on Ornelas’s person. Additional suspected narcotics were later identified as methylbenzylpiperazine. Two flip phones and a smartphone were also found in the car and logged as evidence.
A Hi-Point 9-millimeter handgun was also found at the scene and matched to a bullet removed during Hofacker’s operation. Those retrieved from the Ornelas were matched to Gosnell’s weapon.
The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office turned over all reports, photographs, and other evidence to the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office for their review. Included in their official report is a statement from the District Attorney.
“The Office of the District Attorney finds that Trooper Gosnell’s actions in shooting and ultimately killing Ornelas were justified and in self-defense and in defense of Trooper Hofacker,” it reads. “Accordingly, no criminal charges will be filed against Trooper Gosnell for his conduct in this incident.”
It is the first time Trooper Gosnell has used deadly force since joining the State Patrol in January 2011.
With Ornelas dead, the DA’s verdict effectively closes the investigation into the events of May 8.