Formal criminal charges were filed Tuesday in Dolores County court against Ronald J. Morosko, a black powder hunter accused of fatally shooting bowhunter Gregory Gabrisch last month in the San Juan National Forest.
Morosko, 67, was charged with suspicion of manslaughter, a Class 4 felony, and hunting in a careless manner, a misdemeanor.
Dolores County Judge Nathaniel Baca said the complaint, filed by the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, alleges Morosko “unlawfully, feloniously and recklessly caused the death of Gregory Gabrisch” and that Morosko “carelessly discharged a firearm, failing to exercise the degree of reasonable care that would be exercised by a person of ordinary prudence under all of the existing circumstances in a manner that endangered human life.”
Morosko of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, is free on a $10,000 bond and was allowed to return home. He was required to remove all firearms from his home and attend court virtually via WebEx.
Baca granted a request by Morosko’s attorney, public defender Kenneth Pace, to allow Morosko to travel to Maryland to assist a disabled family member with woodcutting.
Baca said the bond modification did not present an increased danger to the community and would not likely cause Morosko to fail to attend court dates.
Gabrisch’s wife, Stephanie Gabrisch of Houston, objected to the bond modification, said prosecutor Jeremy Reed.
The case was bound up to District Court Judge Todd Plewe. An arraignment hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14.
According to an arrest affidavit, Morosko and hunting partner Slade M. Pepke, also of Pennsylvania, were black powder hunting Sept. 17 in the area of the Kilpacker Trail in the San Juan National Forest north of Dolores when Morosko mistook bowhunter Gabrisch, 31, for an elk, and fatally shot him.
The affidavit says Morosko was hunting with a .50 caliber black powder rifle about 8:30 a.m.
Pepke was using a call to lure elk to within shooting range. The device mimics the sound a bull elk would make when challenging other bulls or when trying to find a cow elk. Both black powder rifle hunters wore hunter orange.
Pepke reported that several bulls answered his call and were making a lot of noise, according to the affidavit. He directed Morosko to set up in a tree area and wait for the bull elk to approach.
Pepke said he continued to call the bull closer and heard the bull scream and make loud scraping noises while moving toward Morosko.
“The elk were going crazy,” he told investigators.
Morosko told deputies from Montezuma and Dolores counties sheriff’s offices that he heard an elk bugle and scream and believed a bull elk was coming his way.
“When he saw white in the pines, he took a shot at what he thought was an elk,” according to the affidavit written by Dolores County Sheriff Don Wilson.
Morosko reloaded, thinking he had shot an elk. But when he checked, he saw that he had shot and killed an archery hunter.
Morosko said the archery hunter was wearing dark brown camouflage, not hunter orange.
Bow hunters are not required to wear daylight fluorescent orange clothing during the bow hunting season, according to Colorado law.
In the affidavit, Wilson said “basic hunting knowledge (is) to identify what your target is and beyond before shooting the gun. Ronald Morosko did fall below the standard of care by failing to property identify his target, resulting in the shooting of a person.”
The incident occurred in Game Management Unit 71, a 520-square-mile area that stretches from north of Dolores to Lizard Head Pass and includes the Lizard Head Wilderness Area.