EAGLE COUNTY — A section of Interstate 70 near Dotsero was closed Thursday after two Colorado State Patrol troopers were involved in a shooting.
A pair of troopers were driving to a training session when they stopped to help a motorist, said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallero.
One trooper approached the car, while the other stayed in the cruiser to run the license plates, he said.
As the CSP trooper approached the vehicle, the suspect shot the trooper, Vallero said. The trooper inside the cruiser returned fire, hitting the suspect.
The suspect died at the scene, and the wounded trooper, later identified as Eugene Hofacker, 31, suffered critical injuries, CSP spokeswoman Cpl. Heather Cobler said.
The family of the man who may have pulled the trigger on the trooper spoke to FOX31 Denver News. His brother talked about the suspect’s violent past.
The family of Thomas Ornelas believes he was the gunman, and they acknowledge he served a 12-year sentence for 2nd degree murder in 1991. They say he received the light sentence because he was defending a friend at the time.
While they can explain what happened back then, they say they can’t explain what he’s accused of doing on I-70 Thursday morning. “We all love my brother … he had a bad childhood … he was trying to do good as far as I know,” says Johnny Ornelas.
“I need to talk talk to somebody to verify it was my brother that got killed. I’m waiting to hear from the coroner. I want to go see what we have to do,” Ornelas says.
A spokesperson for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office said Hofacker was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. He was listed in critical but stable condition Thursday night following surgery.
Hofacker is a 6-year veteran of the Patrol. He has a girlfriend who was with him in the hospital, CSP spokesman Scott Hernandez said.
“I feel very grateful that he’s alive right now,” Hernandez said.
Authorities have not released information about the suspect. The coroner’s office will release his name.
Investigators did not disclose a motive for the shooting citing their active investigation. They did say the suspect had a violent criminal history.
Both directions of Interstate 70 were closed at mile marker 129 between Dotsero and Glenwood Springs after the shooting. Officials reopened the Interstate around 5:30 p.m.
Hofacker worked sometimes dangerous I-70 corridor
Hofacker has had his fair share of dangerous calls including helping drivers in accidents.
In 2011, the Vail Daily reported Hofacker was the first on scene after a truck caught fire on I-70 near Vail.
He tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher, it didn’t work. Hofacker then shut down traffic in the area.
Hofacker is quoted in another Vaily Daily story about slick driving conditions on I-70 during the winter.
Hernandez said Hofacker has been with the Colorado State Patrol for six years and he’s assigned to the Patrol’s Vail division. His LinkedIn profile said he also works as a snowboard instructor at Vail Resorts since January 2003.