Trooper wounded in I-70 shootout in critical condition; suspect shot dead ID'd as convicted killer

DOTSERO, Colo. - A state trooper was rushed to the hospital Thursday morning after he was shot while helping a driver who was stopped on the side of Interstate 70 near Dotsero.

The Colorado State Patrol identified the trooper as Eugene Hofacker, a 6-year veteran, who is listed in critical but stable condition at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Hofacker is assigned to the Vail Troop Office.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said the trooper was shot as he approached the driver-side window of the suspect's car. A second trooper returned fire and killed the suspect.

"I know there was some exchange of gunfire but, again, it's too preliminary, and that's what they're doing at the crime scene now -- to determine how many shots were fired and by whom," Vallario said.

Vallario said it was fortunate that there were two troopers who responded to the call for a "motorist assist" and that there were other troopers nearby.

"Fortunately, there was a second trooper to take care of the suspect, before he could do any more harm to the trooper who was already injured. But beyond that there were several troopers in the area that were on their way to training and literally, within seconds, if not moments after that, they were able to help secure the scene and they were able to start first aid and administer aid to the wounded trooper," Vallario said.

Authorities haven't released the name of the suspect.

But CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia learned from several sources the dead man is Thomas Ornelas, 41, who has a long criminal history that dates back to a murder he committed as a teenager. His history also includes several parole violations, repeated violations of a protection order, resisting arrest and attempted murder.

Ornelas has six other aliases listed on his record with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. One of the aliases includes the first name, "Sick."

He was awaiting trial on attempted murder and other charges in Mesa County in September.

Ornelas' criminal record begins in 1991, when he was still 17. The CBI record shows the teenager was convicted as an adult of homicide and sent to the Territorial Correctional Facility in Canon City.

He next appears on the CBI report in 2003, with entries related to parole violation. Two years later, in 2005, he has a recorded probation violation.

Ornelas was found guilty of misdemeanor assault in 2007 and sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation. A drug charge was dismissed by prosecutors in that case.

During 2008, he was twice arrested for violation of a protection order in Montrose County. In one of the incidents he was also alleged to be publically intoxicated.

Two other alleged violations of protection orders in Montrose County appear on the record during 2009. He was convicted of one. In the other, that charge and resisting arrest were dismissed but he was convicted of obstructing a police officer.

In 2013, the CBI arrested Ornelas on behalf of the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.

Charges filed in that pending case include criminal mischief, attempted-second degree murder, assault with extreme indifference, assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a weapon by previous offenders and illegal discharge of a firearm.

In February 2014, a judge briefly vacated Ornelas' bond after he failed to make a court appearance in the attempted murder case.

Ornelas was free on $75,000 bond and awaiting trial when he was shot and killed by a trooper on Thursday.  

"There is nothing routine about traffic contacts, including motorist assists. Our troopers assist motorists every day as part of our patrolling activities. All traffic contacts pose inherent risk to law enforcement on a daily basis," said CSP chief Col. Scott Hernandez. 

CSP employees were told to keep the trooper in their prayers, sources told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

It's not clear why the suspect's vehicle was stopped, and if he had hit a guard rail, as was reported earlier.

"The initial call was for a motorist assist. He was on the side of the road. What transpired and what led to the (shooting) I don't know," Vallario said.

Both sides of I-70 were shut down after the incident, but have since reopened.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Glenwood Springs Police Department and the Gypsum Fire Department are all helping with the case.

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