A jury has found a truck driver who faced trial this month for hitting and killing Colorado State Trooper Cody Donahue guilty on two of three counts.
Noe Gamez-Ruiz was found guilty of careless driving while passing an emergency vehicle resulting in death, a Count 1 traffic offense, and failure to remain in a single lane, a minor traffic offense. A judge could sentence him to probation or up to 12 months in jail.
The jury found Gamez-Ruiz not guilty of careless driving resulting in death, also a Count 1 traffic offense.
District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes announced the verdict at roughly 10:45 a.m. on May 10 after jurors spent that morning and several hours on Friday, May 7 deliberating. The weeklong trial began May 3 with jury selection and reached closing arguments by May 7.
Donahue died the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 25, 2016 while investigating a separate crash on the side of Interstate 25 south of Castle Rock.
The trooper was standing between a crashed vehicle parked on the right shoulder and the interstate's far-right fog lane when Gamez-Ruiz passed the scene driving a U.S. Foods truck, hitting and killing Donahue instantly.
Prosecutors had argued Gamez-Ruiz had ample time to switch lanes and that the scene Donahue was working would have been visible from more than a mile away. They leaned heavily on evidence showing Gamez-Ruiz's truck drifted to the right just as he passed Donahue and that he did not turn on his turn signal in an attempt to move over.
Dozens of other vehicles that passed the scene in the right lane gave troopers more space, centering their vehicles in the lane or moving toward the left, they said, while Gamez-Ruiz was the only vehicle to drift right.
Defense attorneys called the incident a tragic accident, and said Gamez-Ruiz had taken due diligence in trying to pass safely. He drove 20 mph under the speed limit and was blocked from switching lanes by fast-approaching vehicles behind him, they said.
Donahue also moved to his position by the fog lane roughly 15 seconds before Gamez-Ruiz hit him. Prosecutors argued that was enough time to see the trooper and move, while defense attorneys said it was one factor making the fatal collision unforeseeable for Gamez-Ruiz.
Gamez-Ruiz had immediately pulled over and assisted deputies as they investigated the collision, defense attorneys said.
This was the truck driver's third trial in the four years since Donahue's death.
The case resulted in mistrials in September 2018 and February 2019 when information was presented in court that prosecutors had not provided to defense attorneys before trial began.
District Court Judge Shay Whitaker lessened the sentence Gamez-Ruiz could face as a sanction for the first mistrial and dismissed a felony charge as a sanction for the second.
Prosecutors appealed the felony dismissal, but the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the decision.
Gamez-Ruiz will return for his next court appearance in July.
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