DOTSERO — The man who wounded a Colorado state trooper on Interstate 70 was a convicted killer who was facing trial on attempted murder charges in Mesa County, authorities said Friday.
Thomas Albert Ornelas, 40, of Montrose, was stopped on the side of the highway Thursday when he shot 31-year-old Trooper Eugene Hofacker, the Garfield County Sheriff's Office said.
The state patrol said Hofacker and Trooper Shane Gosnell, a three-year veteran of the Colorado State Patrol, were on their way to a training session and had pulled over to see if Ornelas needed help.
Ornelas fired at Hofacker as he approached the driver's side of Ornelas' car, sheriff's spokesman Walt Stowe said. Trooper Gosnell, who approached the vehicle on the passenger side, then shot and killed Ornelas.
Investigators are still searching for a motive.
According to state records, Ornelas was convicted of second-degree murder in a 1990 case in Denver. He was a teen at the time but was prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
He was paroled for the first time in 2002 but put back behind bars for violating the terms of his release. He was paroled a second time in 2004, and his sentence was declared complete in October 2005, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson said.
In March 2013, Ornelas was arrested in Mesa County in connection with a drive-by shooting in a Fruita trailer park.
The Denver Post reports he had been out on bond in that case after pleading not guilty to attempted murder charges.
On Friday, Hofacker, a six-year veteran of the patrol, remained in Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, where he was scheduled to undergo more surgery. The patrol's chief, Col. Scott Hernandez, described him as being in good spirits and said he was awake and communicating with officials.
"Please keep Eugene and his family in your thoughts and prayers," Hernandez said in a statement.
Stowe said Hofacker and Gosnell weren't on patrol and were about 15 miles from their training session in Glenwood Springs when they stopped to help Ornelas.
"They were just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts," Stowe said.
The timing of the shooting might have helped save Hofacker.
Troopers usually patrol alone, but the presence of the other trooper might have prevented Ornelas from firing more shots. In addition, other troopers also headed to the training were in the area and were able administer first aid quickly.