DENVER – A jury on Monday convicted a man of two traffic charges and found him not guilty of another count in connection with the November 2016 crash that killed Colorado State Trooper Cody Donahue.
The 18th Judicial District jury found Noe Gamez-Ruiz, 46, guilty of one count of careless driving – passing of an emergency vehicle resulting in death and of a count of failure to stay in his lane. But the jury found Gamez-Ruiz not guilty of one count of careless driving resulting in death.
Gamez-Ruiz is scheduled to be sentenced on July 30. He faces a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail but will also be eligible for probation, a spokesperson with the district attorney’s office said.
Donahue was investigating another crash along I-25 near Castle Rock on Nov. 26, 2016, when a semi-truck driven by Gamez-Ruiz drifted over the shoulder line and struck the state trooper. Lawmakers created the Move Over for Cody Act in the wake of his death, which requires drivers to move over a lane if emergency or highway workers are present.
Gamez-Ruiz was originally charged with criminally negligent homicide as well, but there were two mistrials in the case stemming from prosecutorial discovery violations. After the second mistrial, the judge dismissed that felony charge.
Closing arguments were made Friday in the third trial and the jury was sent to deliberate for several hours Friday afternoon before going home for the weekend. Monday’s verdict was read around 10:30 a.m.
Velma Donahue, Cody's widow, said it had been a long 4 1/2-year wait for Monday's verdict.
"It doesn’t really feel like a win. But it is a relief to know that he’s found guilty and that he’s responsible for my husband’s death." she said after the verdict was read. "For us, this will never be over. We’re always going to miss Cody. And he’ll always be with us. But for our family to move forward, it was important to finish this trial."
But she said she did not believe justice had been served because "Cody is gone forever."
"I don’t know what the sentencing will be. How do you serve justice on somebody who is gone, who was murdered? How do you do that? But I am glad for the courts and having this opportunity to hopefully take some responsibility for his actions," Donahue said.
Col. Matthew Packard, the Chief of Colorado State Patrol, thanked the jury, district attorney’s office and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office for their work on the case in a statement following the verdict.
“Throughout this process I recognized that regardless of the outcome, this was going to be hard. I have gained a whole new respect for what a victim goes through. This has been an incredibly challenging time for all of our Patrol members, but particularly hard for the Donahue family. To them, I say ‘We miss him too,’” Packard said.
“Finally, to our communities, our Colorado State Troopers are unshaken in their commitment to keep our State’s roadways safe. And, we need your help. Pay attention when you are behind the wheel and take action when you see anyone on the side of the road – a Trooper, a firefighter, a tow truck driver, or another driver like you – when you see anyone – slow down, move over. This simple action, not only is the law in Colorado, it saves lives.”
"We are so glad and thankful to the people of Colorado for helping us make a difference. The Move Over law really is making a difference in people’s lives," Donahue added. "It’s just a lot more known about. It wouldn’t have been done without Cody and his sacrifice. So, yes, we take comfort in that."
George Brauchler, now the chief deputy district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, said he was relieved to learn the outcome "given the history of this case" but said it won't bring back Donahue.
"I’ve been doing this long enough that this can’t put everything back together again. This can’t give back what was taken. This can’t fix what was broken. I’m satisfied for the victim, for State Patrol, for law enforcement in general. The message that this reminds the public about moving over. But it’s just hard to describe it as closure," Brauchler said.