The suspect in a shooting incident along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon Thursday morning that left a Colorado State Patrol trooper seriously injured and resulted in the perpetrator being killed, had a lengthy criminal record dating back more than 20 years, including a second-degree murder conviction as a teenager.
Thomas Albert Ornelas, 40, of Montrose, who was fatally shot by a second trooper involved in the Thursday incident, was also awaiting a September trial related to a drive-by shooting at a trailer park near Fruita in March of 2013, according to criminal records.
He was out of jail on $75,000 bond, according to information obtained through a LexisNexis search.
On Friday, authorities identified Ornelas as the motorist who shot Trooper Eugene Hofacker after he and fellow Trooper Shane Gosnell had stopped around 9:10 a.m. to assist Ornelas, whose red BMW was parked against a guardrail near the Bair Ranch exit on the east end of Glenwood Canyon.
Hofacker, 31, a six-year veteran of the force, was approaching the driver’s side of the car when Ornelas opened fire, wounding the officer, according to Garfield County Sheriff’s officials.
Gosnell, who was approaching from the rear of the vehicle, returned fire and fatally shot Ornelas, according to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
There were no other occupants in the car and no other suspects in the shooting, Sheriff Lou Vallario said.
Hofacker, who works out of the Vail Troop office, was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs where he underwent emergency surgery Thursday afternoon and additional surgery on Friday.
“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 Friday. “He is in good spirits as he prepares for additional surgery today.”
Hernandez also credited Gosnell for his actions, which he said likely saved Hofacker’s life.
“Undoubtedly, the heroic actions of Trooper Gosnell saved the life of Trooper Hofacker,” Hernandez said in a followup statement. “We are extremely proud of Trooper Gosnell, as well as the other members of the Colorado State Patrol who acted swiftly when arriving on the scene.”
Hofacker and Gosnell were riding together to attend a training session in Glenwood Springs when the incident occurred. Several other troopers were also on their way to the training and stopped to help.
The ensuing investigation resulted in the closure of I-70 in both directions for several hours Thursday while the investigation was ongoing.
Murder record as teenager
Meanwhile, according to records obtained from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Ornelas has a long rap sheet in the state.
At the age of 17 in 1991, he was charged and convicted as an adult of second-degree murder and subsequently did time in the Colorado Department of Corrections.
He was later arrested for a parole violations in Denver and Grand Junction in 2003, and a probation violation in Montrose in 2005.
In 2007, Ornelas was picked up by the Montrose Police Department for third-degree assault and drug possession charges. Over the next couple of years, he was arrested for violation of a protection order on five separate occasions.
Most recently, he was suspected in a drive-by shooting at a trailer park near Fruita. His warrant listed attempted first-degree assault “with extreme indifference,” criminal mischief, illegal discharge of a firearm, and possession of a weapon by a previous offender. The court later added second degree attempted murder to the official charges.
According to a March 5, 2013 article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the case was turned over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation by the Fruita Police Department, which indicated it was too understaffed at the time to investigate the incident.
Witnesses of the trailer park incident reported hearing anywhere from eight to nine shots fired. A vehicle associated with Ornelas was found abandoned in the vicinity the next morning, and Ornelas surrendered to authorities in Montrose later that day, according to the Sentinel article.
Records in the case indicate his bond was set on March 12, 2013, at $75,000.
Recording sheds light on incident
Also Friday, a dispatch recording obtained via www.radioreference.com revealed the circumstances around the state trooper incident in Glenwood Canyon Thursday.
The recording indicates that Hofacker and Gosnell ran plates on Ornelas’s red BMW, which came back as belonging to him, but hadn’t yet received indication of his criminal history.
A short time later, the call of “shots fired … officer down,” went out. There are several references to Hofacker losing a lot of blood in the aftermath as the other troopers arrived to assist, and a confirmation that the suspect had been shot and killed.
Based on the dispatch recording, Hofacker was shot at least once in the leg, and was “in an out of consciousness with serious blood loss.”
Sheriff Vallario emphasized on Friday that, due to the ongoing investigation, he could not reveal the number of rounds fired or the type of weapons involved.
That information “will be addressed in future press releases, after the forensic analysis, the crime scene investigation and a search of the involved vehicles has been completed.
“At that point, we will provide accurate, rather than speculative, information,” Vallario said. “We can state that multiple shots were fired by those involved, but we are still in the process of determining the details of this event.”
State Patrol Chief Hernandez added in his statement that anyone wishing to send Hofacker well wishes may address them to: CSP Troop 4C, 202 Centennial St., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.