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Muzzleloader pleads not guilty in fatal shooting of bow hunter in Dolores County

Ronald J. Morosko, of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, was scheduled Friday to stand trial in the fatal shooting of a bow hunter in Southwest Colorado.
Case set for trial in May in Dove Creek

Ronald Morosko, a muzzleloader hunter accused of fatally shooting bow hunter Gregory Gabrisch in the San Juan National Forest Sept. 17, has pleaded not guilty.

The case is set for trial in May.

Morosko has been charged with manslaughter, a Class 4 felony, and hunting in a careless manner, a misdemeanor, by 22nd District Attorney Matt Margeson. Deputy DA Jeremy Reed is prosecuting the case.

A conviction of a Class 4 felony carries a sentence of two to six years in the Colorado Department of Corrections, Margeson said.

On Friday, defense attorney Kenneth Pace entered a not guilty plea for Morosko in District Court in Cortez in front of Judge Todd Plewe.

Morosko, of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, is out on bond. He attended the hearing via video feed.

A five-day trial was scheduled for May 16 in Dolores County District Court in Dove Creek.

A motions hearing was set for 9 a.m. March 7. Morosko is required to attend the hearing in person, Plewe said.

Motions must be filed by Feb. 14, and a trial readiness hearing will be at 2:45 p.m. April 19 in 22nd Judicial District Court in Cortez.

Before entering the plea, Pace requested a continuance of the hearing, saying he was waiting for expert reports and was in negotiations with the district attorney’s office.

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Arrest affidavit reveals details of fatal hunting incident in Dolores County

Plewe denied the continuance, saying the case has been pending for several months.

“I have been fair allowing defendant ample time to move forward. I see no reason to grant a continuance,” Plewe said.

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 bow hunter Gabrisch of Houston for an elk, and fatally shot him.

A man was fatally shot in a hunting accident that occured in the San Juan National Forest Friday in the area of the Kilpacker Trail north of Rico.

Pepke was using a call to lure elk to within shooting range.

Morosko told deputies from Montezuma and Dolores counties 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, identified as 31-year-old Gabrisch.

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 archery season, according to Colorado law.

In the affidavit, Wilson stated that Morosko did not follow safe hunting practices.

“Basic hunting knowledge (is) to identify what your target is and beyond before shooting the gun,” he wrote. “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.

The shooting occurred when muzzleloader and archery seasons overlap.

During the Jan. 12 Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting, CPW staff recommended a policy change that would have required archery hunters to wear florescent orange or pink during the overlapping muzzleloader season in September. The proposal was rejected unanimously by the wildlife commission.

Bow hunters are not required to wear blaze orange during the bow season, a preference they say is needed to keep cover at close range of their prey and take an ethical and accurate shot that kills the animal.

Rifle and muzzleloader hunters are required to wear at least 500 square inches of solid florescent orange or pink above the waist. Part of it must be a hat or head covering.

Bow hunters were overwhelmingly against the recommended new regulation, which would have required them to wear florescent orange or pink in the overlapping season on public land west of Interstate Highway 25.

The wildlife commission did not want the change, either, and voted 11-0 to table the issue. Additional hunter education was called for to address the safety issue.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com