The trial for a trucker accused of hitting and killing a Colorado state trooper in 2016 is underway in Douglas County. Trooper Cody Donahue, 34, and another trooper were investigating a car accident …
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Douglas County District Court Judge Shay Whitaker declared a mistrial in the case on Sept. 13, a day after opening statements, according to an email from an 18th Judicial District spokeswoman. The reason for the judge's decision was not immediately available.
A new trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 12, 2019.
The story from the first day of the trial is below:
The trial for a trucker accused of hitting and killing a Colorado state trooper in 2016 is underway in Douglas County.
Trooper Cody Donahue, 34, and another trooper were investigating a car accident along Interstate 25 south of Castle Rock on Nov. 25, 2016 when Donahue was struck and killed by a passing semi traveling in the far-right lane of the interstate at approximately 1:50 p.m.
Noe Gamez-Ruiz, the truck's driver, 41 at the time, posted bond the morning after his arrest. He pleaded not guilty to charges of careless driving resulting in death and careless passing of an emergency vehicle resulting in death, and a felony charge of criminally negligent homicide.
His trial began Sept. 12 with opening statements at the Douglas County Courthouse in Castle Rock, where prosecutors and defense attorneys gave jurors their first look at evidence in the case. The trial is expected to last eight days.
Gamez-Ruiz has not denied hitting Donahue. He immediately pulled over after the collision and evidence shows the impact sites on his vehicle. But his defense argues the felony charge is lofty.
Lead defense attorney Harvey Steinberg said “at its core” the case is a tragic accident.
“That doesn't mean every accident rises to the level of a felony called criminal negligence,” he said.
The prosecution's argument centered around Gamez-Ruiz's decisions in the moments leading up to the incident.
Gamez-Ruiz had options, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Jake Adkins. He had ample time to see the troopers' marked cars and flashing lights and could have change lanes. Instead, he said, the truck remained in the far-right lane and then drifted toward the shoulder when it struck Donahue.
Neither the defense nor the prosecution offered an explanation for why Gamez-Ruiz's truck drifted or why he may not have seen Donahue, but both sides attempted to paint a picture of how the collision transpired.
It began with the accident Donahue was investigating. A group of men were driving to Denver for Black Friday shopping when the driver lost control of his Honda Civic and crashed into the right guardrail.
A passer-by called 911. Donahue was the second of two troopers who responded. The first trooper, Matthew Normandin, testified Sept. 12 he instructed Donahue to document the vehicle's damage before it was towed.
Donahue was standing between the crashed vehicle and the interstate working on the report when Gamez-Ruiz drove past.
Video obtained from dash cams in both Donahue's and Gamez-Ruiz's vehicles show the troopers moving about the scene conducting their investigation, as well as the interstate's flow of traffic that afternoon.
Donahue wore a fluorescent yellow vest, part of state patrol protocol, throughout the investigation. Some vehicles moved over to a new lane, some didn't. Prosecutors noted every commercial truck except for Gamez-Ruiz traveled in the center lane. Then, shortly before Gamez-Ruiz came upon the accident, troopers turned their flashing lights to the lowest setting.
“I glanced up and I saw Cody look back and he appeared to try and get as close to the Honda as he could,” Normandin said. “Then the semi went past and hit Cody.”
Moments after the truck struck Donahue, video footage shows Normandin jump from his car, where he'd been writing a ticket for the Honda Civic driver.
“Officer down, officer down,” he's heard shouting over the radio.
Both Normandin and a passenger in the Honda Civic witnessed the truck hit Donahue and testified he was killed on impact.
Gamez-Ruiz initially faced traffic infractions and misdemeanor charges until the district attorney's office added the Class 5 felony charge in January 2017.
The trial may or may not last the full eight days, depending on the number of witnesses called. It's unclear if Donahue's wife, Velma, who attended the trial Sept. 12, will testify.
If convicted of the class 5 felony, Gamez-Ruiz could face one to three years in prison.
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