DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — The man accused of hitting and killing Colorado State Trooper Cody Donahue along Interstate 25 in November 2016 had plenty of time and space to get over, according to prosecutors. However, defense attorneys argued the driver couldn’t get over and instead slowed down to well below the speed limit when he saw the flashing lights ahead of him.
Both sides are laying out their case in a Douglas County courtroom for a jury of six people during the third trial for Noe Gamez-Ruiz, after two previous trials ended in mistrials.
Gamez-Ruiz had originally pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide and two traffic offenses: one for careless driving and another for careless driving resulting in death. He no longer faces that most serious charge of criminally negligent homicide, because it was dismissed by a judge as part of a sanction of the prosecution following the second mistrial.
On Nov. 25, 2016, Donahue was working an earlier crash on the highway just south of Castle Rock when he was struck and killed instantly by a box truck driven by Gamez-Ruiz.
During opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Tom Byrnes 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. Because he was careless, Cody Donahue lost his life," Byrnes said.
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 different 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 is 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 and 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,” said Byrnes.
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, and 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. He immediately stops and talks to law enforcement,” defense attorneys argued.
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 defense said they plan to call a witness who will testify that there was indeed another vehicle in the middle lane, which prevented Gamez-Ruiz from getting over.
Following opening statements, prosecutors called their first witness to the stand, Colorado State Trooper Matthew Normandin who was working the crash with Donahue on the day of the crash. He was inside his vehicle filling out paperwork when Donahue was struck.
Gamez-Ruiz has had two prior trials in the case both end with mistrials being declared. 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. The sanction included the dismissal of the criminally negligent homicide charge, which was the most serious charge that he 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.”
Nearly seven months after Donahue was killed, legislation in his honor, dubbed the “Move Over for Cody Act,” was signed by then-Colorado 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.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Latest from 9NEWS