State trooper shooting suspect had previous murder conviction
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Authorities have identified the suspect in the Thursday shooting of a Colorado State Patrol trooper in Glenwood Canyon as 40-year-old Thomas Albert Ornelas, who was shot and killed by a second trooper during the incident.
The shooting took place around 9:10 a.m. Thursday as Trooper Eugene Hofacker and a fellow trooper stopped to assist Ornelas, who was pulled over to the side of Interstate 70 near the Bair Ranch exit on the east end of the canyon.
According to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, Hofacker approached the driver’s side of the stopped car when Ornelas fired at Hofacker, seriously injuring him. The second trooper, who was approaching from the rear of the vehicle, returned fire and fatally shot Ornelas.
There were no other occupants in the car and no other suspects in the shooting, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said.
Hofacker, 31, a six-year veteran with the State Patrol who is assigned to the Vail Troop office, was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs where he underwent emergency surgery Thursday afternoon.
As of mid-day Friday he was reported to be doing well and in high spirits despite his injuries.
“I want to let you know that Trooper Hofacker is awake and communicating with us,” Scott Hernandez, chief of the Colorado State Patrol, said in a prepared statement. “He is in good spirits as he prepares for additional surgery today.”
Authorities have not said how many times or where Hofacker was shot during the incident.
The ensuing investigation required the closure of I-70 in both directions for an extended period of time Thursday.
Media sources have cited Colorado Bureau of Investigation records indicating Ornelas had a long criminal history, including a murder conviction when he was a teenager and attempted murder and parole violations as an adult.
According to state records, in August 1990 he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a Denver case. Details and information about sentencing in that case were not immediately available.
Later, 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.
Ornelas was out on a $75,000 bond in a case out of Mesa County. In that case, he pleaded not guilty to nine counts, including two counts of attempted second-degree murder.
He was scheduled to go to trial in September.
Anyone wishing to send Hofacker well wishes may send them to: CSP Troop 4C, 202 Centennial St., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.
The Denver Post contributed to this story.
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