Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon became a crime scene on Thursday, after a man with a long criminal history shot a Colorado State Patrol trooper and was subsequently killed by another officer.
Trooper Eugene Hofacker, 31, was reported to be in critical but stable condition Thursday evening after undergoing surgery at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs following the shooting.
He was carpooling to a training exercise in Glenwood with another trooper out of the State Patrol’s Vail/Avon post when the incident occurred about 9:10 a.m.
The pair observed a vehicle stopped on the shoulder of I-70 westbound near mile marker 129, just before the Bair Ranch exit at the east end of the Glenwood Canyon.
Hofacker reportedly approached the car on the driver’s side, and the driver, later identified at Thomas Albert Ornelas, 41, shot him, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said. The second trooper returned fire and killed the suspect, the sheriff said.
Several troopers in the area were also on their way to the training and were able to administer first aid within moments and secure the scene, according to Vallario.
Hofacker was taken by ambulance to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, and was reported to be in and out of consciousness and had lost a lot of blood, authorities said.
Meanwhile, I-70 was shut down from the Wolcott exit to Glenwood Springs. Eastbound lanes were intermittently open and closed throughout the day as emergency vehicles and police maneuvered through the canyon.
Westbound lanes remained closed most of the day, while police secured the crime scene and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation collected evidence.
Colorado Department of Transportation crews and the State Patrol worked to clear vehicles out of the canyon while Eagle County Sheriff’s officers worked to keep traffic off of the road over Cottonwood Pass.
Westbound traffic was rerouted through Wolcott, northbound over State Highway 131, then westbound on U.S. Highway 40 through Steamboat Springs.
“We have a crime scene literally in the middle of the highway,” Vallario said as the investigation continued Thursday afternoon. “A state trooper was shot, and the investigation will take time. We hope motorists understand that.”
Around 4 p.m., Ornelas’s body was transported to the Garfield County Coroner’s office, and his vehicle was towed to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Annex near Rifle pending a search warrant.
At 5:15 p.m., westbound traffic was allowed into the canyon and normal traffic resumed in both directions.
Vallario declined to identify the suspect at a press conference late Thursday afternoon, but said that, based on second-hand information he had received, “he probably has an extensive violent criminal history.”
Vallario had few additional details on the ongoing investigation, but confirmed that the deceased suspect was the sole occupant of the vehicle.
“It was an isolated incident. We have no other suspects to deal with,” he said. “I don’t know how many shots were fired or what caliber was used.”
Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez spoke to the luck of having two patrolmen in one vehicle, an uncommon occurrence.
“I believe it was life saving,” he said.
According to Hernandez, Hofacker was wearing body armor. Hernandez said the State Patrol will conduct an internal investigation of the incident.
“We’re going to look at it as a shooting and really review the [trooper’s actions],” he said.
Meanwhile, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office will continue its criminal investigation.