Trooper wounded, assailant killed
Second officer returns gunman’s fire in interstate stop
Colorado State Patrol troopers don’t commonly travel two to a car.
But Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez considers it “a great thing” that another patrolman was with Trooper Eugene Hofacker when Hofacker was shot on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon Thursday morning.
“I believe it was life-saving,” Hernandez said.
The second trooper shot and killed the shooting suspect, who reportedly had a lengthy criminal record including arrests for violent crimes, and Hofacker was rushed to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. He underwent surgery there and was in critical but stable condition, Hernandez said.
Hofacker, 31, is a six-year veteran of the State Patrol. He is single, and his girlfriend was with him at Valley View Thursday, Hernandez said.
The incident happened just after 9 a.m. Thursday and resulted in westbound I-70 being closed for much of the day. Eastbound I-70 also was closed sporadically.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said the troopers had stopped to assist a pulled-over vehicle and Hofacker was shot by the driver after approaching him. The second trooper then returned fire.
The shooting occurred around mile marker 129 of westbound I-70, just east of the Bair Ranch I-70 exit in Glenwood Canyon.
Authorities haven’t released the second trooper’s name.
Hofacker and the fellow trooper worked out of Eagle County and were among a group of troopers headed to Glenwood Springs for training. Vallario said a third trooper was right behind them and was able to assist Hofacker until an ambulance arrived. He said Hofacker was alert and conscious before going into surgery, “so that’s a good sign.”
A suspect’s name was being reported by some media outlets Thursday, but hadn’t been formally released because the Garfield County Coroner’s Office had yet to be able to notify family.
Vallario said, “I would be willing to say at this point he probably has an extensive violent criminal history.”
The man identified in the media reports was arrested last year and charged with attempted murder and other charges in connection with a drive-by shooting in Mesa County, and as a juvenile was prosecuted as an adult for homicide and sent to the Territorial Correctional Center in Cañon City.
He has a lengthy Colorado arrest record, including convictions in Montrose County on charges of assault and obstructing a peace officer, and arrests in parole violation, drug and other cases.
Hernandez said he was proud of the response by troopers Thursday, and that they “acted in an absolutely heroic fashion.”
He told reporters at a press conference, “This has been a very tough day and I hope all of your thoughts and prayers go out to (Hofacker).”
“Your Trooper is in our thoughts and prayers,” the Aurora Police Department tweeted in one of dozens of social-media messages to the Colorado State Patrol.
Said Hernandez, “You know, ultimately this highlights the job that troopers and all of law enforcement do, pulling up on a vehicle and the danger that exists with what we do,” he said.
He said he didn’t know the nature of Hofacker’s surgery.
“I know that I am very relieved and thankful that he is alive right now,” Hernandez said.
He said Hofacker was wearing body armor but he doesn’t know if that helped save his life.
Due to the preliminary nature of the investigation, Vallario didn’t have immediate information Thursday on details such as what kind of gun the suspect had, the total number of shots that were exchanged and what evidence may have been found in the suspect’s car. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation worked the crime scene.
Vallario said he expected investigation details to be released in fairly short order because there is no other suspect other than the one who died.
The sheriff’s office also will be handling the investigation into the second trooper’s role in the fatal shooting, and planned to interview him, Vallario said.
“Right now he’s secure, he’s trying to gather his thoughts,” Vallario said late Thursday afternoon.
Garfield County also was the site of another trooper shooting in 2006. Trooper Brian Koch was seriously wounded during a traffic stop south of Silt. That led to a manhunt, and the shooting suspect, Steven Appl, later killed himself at a police checkpoint while hiding in a car someone else was driving. Koch’s injuries were so bad that he was forced to leave the State Patrol.