CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — A jury found the man accused of hitting and killing Colorado State Patrol (CSP) Trooper Cody Donahue along Interstate 25 in November 2016 guilty on two charges and not guilty on another Monday morning.
The case went to the jury Friday afternoon, which deliberated for the rest of the day before retiring for the weekend and resuming on Monday morning. The suspect, Noe Gamez-Ruiz, was found guilty of the following charges:
- Careless driving - passing an emergency vehicle resulting in death
- Failure to maintain a single lane
He was found not guilty on another charge of careless driving.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 30. Gamez-Ruiz faces up to 12 months in prison but is eligible for probation.
A more serious charge, criminally negligent homicide, was dismissed by a judge as part of a sanction of the prosecution following a second mistrial in the case.
"It doesn’t really feel like a win, but it is a relief to know that he’s found guilty," said Velma Donahue, the victim's wife. "To this day, he has not shown any responsibility at all. In fact, his attorney and him had the audacity to blame Cody for this and that makes me very angry."
"Throughout this process I recognized that regardless of the outcome, this was going to be hard," said Colonel Matthew Packard, chief of CSP. "I have gained a whole new respect for what a victim goes through. This has been an incredibly challenging time for all of our patrol members, but particularly hard for the Donahue family. To them, I say, “We miss him too.”
On Nov. 25, 2016, Donahue was working an crash on I-25 just south of Castle Rock when he was struck and killed instantly by a box truck driven by Gamez-Ruiz.
Noe Gamez-Ruiz had plenty of time and space to move over on I-25, according to prosecutors. Defense attorneys argued that the driver couldn’t move over and instead slowed down to well below the speed limit when he saw the flashing lights ahead of him.
During opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Tom Byrnes for the 18th Judicial District said Donahue was clearly visible on the shoulder of the road because he was wearing a bright yellow vest. He also noted that Donahue’s vehicle and the vehicle of a second state trooper had their vehicle lights flashing.
“He failed to use any caution or care or take any steps to pass them safely," Byrnes said. "Because he was careless, Cody Donahue lost his life."
Prosecutors showed several short videos, and one of them showed Gamez-Ruiz’s truck drifting to the right before striking Donahue. Audio of the impact could be heard on the video.
Donahue was struck in three places, according to prosecutors. He was first struck on the hip, and the impact was so forceful it shattered his gun that was in his holster. Prosecutors said the bolts of the truck’s tire then struck Donahue in the leg, before he was struck a third time, with a padlock that was on the truck. The lock struck Donahue’s head, killing him instantly, prosecutors said.
As part of the investigation, members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) did a visual re-enactment by placing two CSP vehicles on the side of the road and then drove the same truck Gamez-Ruiz was driving to understand when the vehicles would be visible. They set the speed at 54 mph, which was the speed the truck was going when Donahue was struck. The posted speed limit along that stretch of highway is 75 mph.
They determined that the flashing vehicles were visible from about 1.5 miles away. At that speed, they estimated that Gamez-Ruiz would have had one minute and 41 seconds to take action.
“This was preventable. He had enough time, enough room, he had an opportunity to avoid that collision,” Byrnes said.
Attorneys for Gamez-Ruiz argued that the crash was “tragic” but said it was “unavoidable.” They contend that he attempted to move over but didn’t have room. Under the law, drivers who can’t move over must slow down, which they said evidence shows Gamez-Ruiz did.
“My client was driving 21 mph under the speed limit," defense attorneys argued. "He immediately stops and talks to law enforcement."
They also said that just prior to the collision, Donahue had moved to the location where he was struck and said he was nearly standing on the white line on the side of the highway.
“There's no texting, no phone calls, no indication he was eating, smoking or doing anything other than driving,” said the defense team. “He voluntarily submitted to a blood test. They [the prosecution] will have to prove without a reasonable doubt that he had room to get over.”
The prosecution and defense gave closing statements about 11 a.m. Friday, and the jury started its deliberations about 12:15 p.m.
Gamez-Ruiz has had two prior trials in this case that both ended in mistrials. The first was in September 2018. The second mistrial happened in February 2019 and occurred after testimony had already begun.
Following the second mistrial, Judge Shay Whitaker issued an order to impose sanctions against the 18th Judicial District, which at the time was led by George Brauchler.
Brauchler is now a legal expert for 9NEWS.
The sanctions included the dismissal of the criminally negligent homicide charge, which was the most serious charge that Gamez-Ruiz faced.
In the ruling, Whitaker said, “The court has now found a pattern of discovery violations” in the case.
She wrote that the violation does not rise to the level of “willful conduct," but continued, “the haphazard preparation of the witnesses, in this case, has resulted in the defendant being deprived of the ability to fully defend himself.”
"If this thing had gone to a jury of 12 with the larger charge, would we have ended up right here again, maybe," said Chief Deputy District Attorney George Brauchler after the verdict was read. "I don’t know, but it’s always frustrating to be called out by the court when you make a mistake."
Nearly seven months after Donahue was killed, legislation in his honor, dubbed the “Move Over for Cody Act,” was signed by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The law strengthens the penalties against drivers who do not move over for first responders, maintenance and tow operators who are working on the road.
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