Defense seeks third mistrial for driver accused of hitting, killing state trooper

Colorado State Trooper Cody Donahue died in 2016, suspect facing trial

Jessica Gibbs
jgibbs@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/4/21

Defense attorneys today sought a third mistrial in the case of a truck driver accused of crashing into and killing a Colorado state trooper more than four years ago. The motion wrapped day two of the …

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Defense seeks third mistrial for driver accused of hitting, killing state trooper

Colorado State Trooper Cody Donahue died in 2016, suspect facing trial

Posted

Defense attorneys sought a third mistrial in the case of a truck driver accused of crashing into and killing a Colorado state trooper more than four years ago.

The motion came in the first two days of the third trial for Noe Gamez-Ruiz, who is accused of hitting and killing trooper Cody Donahue on Nov. 25, 2016.

In a May 4 trial proceeding streamed through the online meeting platform Webex, defense attorney Steve Burstein told District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes that body camera footage shown in court  was not properly entered into evidence by prosecutors for the trial. The virtual feed ended mid-discussion, at roughly 5:30 p.m.

Holmes determined prosecutors had not violated any rules and denied the motion, according to a spokeswoman for the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Reached by email, Burstein declined to comment about the motion or judge’s ruling, citing pending litigation.

Donahue was investigating an unrelated accident on I-25 south of Castle Rock when he died. The Parker man stood between a crashed vehicle and the far-right lane of the interstate when Gamez-Ruiz passed him driving a U.S. Foods truck, striking and killing the trooper.

Gamez-Ruiz has pleaded not guilty to two traffic offenses. The trial began May 3 with jury selection, followed by opening statements on May 4 and witness testimony.

Gamez-Ruiz previously faced trials in this case for charges of criminally negligent homicide, a Class 5 felony, plus careless passing of an emergency vehicle resulting in death and careless driving resulting in death, each a Class 1 traffic offense.

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 reduced the sentence Gamez-Ruiz could face as a sanction for the first mistrial and dismissed the felony charge as a sanction for the second.

Prosecutors appealed the felony dismissal, but the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld Whitaker’s decision. Holmes is presiding over the third trial.

Defense attorneys again argued on May 4 that the incident was a tragic accident. Gamez-Ruiz drove 20 mph under the speed limit. He could not switch lanes because a car was quickly approaching his truck in the middle lane,  Burstein said.

Gamez-Ruiz immediately pulled over and cooperated with investigators. The attorney also highlighted that troopers turned the hazard lights on one of their vehicles to the lowest setting before Gamez-Ruiz drove past the scene, and that it was unclear if each vehicle had lights on.

Prosecutors including former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, who has stayed on the case as a chief deputy district attorney, pushed back against that defense.

Gamez-Ruiz could have seen law enforcement’s lights from 1.5 miles away, according to a law enforcement reenactment, they said. He did not move lanes and did not have a turn signal on indicating to other drivers he wanted to move over.

Donahue wore a neon vest and did not step over the far-right fog line, although Burstein said parts of the tall trooper’s frame would have leaned over the line.

As he drove past Donahue, Gamez-Ruiz’s truck drifted to the right, prosecutors said.

Attorneys also cross examined a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputy who questioned Gamez-Ruiz after the crash. Body camera footage played in court shows Gamez-Ruiz telling law enforcement he saw police vehicles as he approached the scene but was unable to move lanes.

Gamez-Ruiz told law enforcement he at some point saw Donahue working near a car, but that he did not feel the truck hit the trooper. He told investigators he realized he struck someone when he saw a vest was caught on his trailer through his rearview mirror.

The trial is scheduled to last five days, according to court dockets.

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