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Wyoming News Briefs

Ft. Washakie man charged with embezzling funds for guns, furniture

LANDER (WNE) — A federal grand jury has charged Logan James Savage, Fort Washakie, with five counts of wire fraud and one count of embezzlement, alleging he used a company credit card to make personal purchases for more than $25,000. 

Savage worked as the finance director for Wind River Family and Community Health Care Between July 2022 and May 2023. He was one of several employees who had been granted company credit cards to cover business-related purchases, according to the federal indictment. 

The indictment alleges Savage used the credit card to make personal purchases, then concealed those purchases by failing to provide receipts or documentation, and then directing employees to make payments toward his card balance using Wind River Cares funds. 

Savage made a purchase of $4491 in furniture and goods from Denver Mattress Company in Casper, Wyo., on or about February 18, 2023, according to the indictment. Then, two days later, the charging documents allege he charged $3,203 in furniture and goods from Kusel’s Furniture and Appliances in Riverton. Between late November 2022 and late March 2023, Savage also allegedly charged approximately $4433 in firearms and other goods from Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply in Riverton. The indictment also alleges he charged $6848 in groceries and other goods from Walmart stores in Riverton, Casper and Lakewood, Colo., between October 2022 and March 2023. 

The five wire fraud charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines; the embezzlement from an Indian organization charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Powell Hospital pushes back against proposed fed rule

POWELL (WNE) —- Powell Valley Healthcare’s Care Center leaders are looking for support from the board to fight back against a proposed federal rule they say would cripple care centers across the country, including in Powell. 

Nicole Ostermiller, CFO and director of The Heartland assisted living facility, and Michelle Petrich, acting nursing home administrator, said a proposed rule by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would not be feasible by especially rural nursing homes like those in Powell as far as staffing mandates and an increase in paperwork. 

Petrich said the most concerning proposed standard is requiring 24-hour RN coverage on the floor. 

She said with the extra cost of RNs over LPNs and the shortage of RNs a national issue, they can’t see how they could comply with that standard. 

“You can’t make things just carte blanche work for everybody,” Petrich said, adding, “We don’t make enough in a day from Medicare and Medicaid to cover our costs right now.” 

She said Powell is actually generally above the staffing levels the new rule would require — and well above the current staffing minimum from the state of 2.25 resident hours per day, which Petrich said was too low for safety — aside from the RN requirement. 

The current requirement is one eight-hour RN shift per 24 hours. Petrich said with 60 residents in long term care under the new rules, some of which would be phased in over three years, it would require hiring more CNAs and RNs — at a time when the two positions are some of the most sought after nationwide by hospitals, many of whom don’t have enough of either. 

Petrich said even if they were able to fully staff as per the proposed regulations, staff leaving would leave them scrambling.

Park County man charged with 18 wildlife violations

CODY (WNE) — A Park County man has been summoned to appear before Park County Circuit Court to answer to 18 different wildlife charges, which allege he took two grizzly bears without the proper license, imported wildlife parts illegally into the state and shipped several game animals illegally out of the state.

Grant Cadwallader is alleged to have committed these offenses between 2002 and 2020, according to charging documents.

Between 2002 and 2004 and between 2017 and 2020, Cadwallader allegedly took two grizzly bears without the proper license.

And between 2014 and 2019, he allegedly illegally imported into Wyoming from another state or country the feathers of a sub-adult golden eagle, the feathers of a bald eagle, the talons of a golden eagle and the claws of a brown bear, according to the charging documents.

Cadwallader has also been accused of shipping out of Wyoming several items without the proper Wyoming interstate game tag between 2013 and 2019, the charging documents said.

The items included 12 bighorn sheep skulls.

If convicted of all charges, Cadwallader could face suspension of his hunting license for a minimum of six years as well as have to serve up to 12 years in prison and pay a maximum $70,000 fine.

Cadwallader is scheduled to appear before Circuit Court on Oct. 12.

Unruly bar patron jailed for spitting beer in woman’s face

POWELL (WNE) — Spitting beer in a patron’s face at a Cody bar recently landed a Michigander in jail for over two weeks. 

Christopher Magyar, of Newberry, Michigan, served 16 days in the Park County Detention Center and received six months of unsupervised probation for a misdemeanor count of unlawful contact. 

Charging documents say Magyar caused a disturbance at the Silver Dollar Bar on the evening of Sept. 11. 

The bar’s owner told police that Magyar was “very intoxicated” and repeatedly refused to leave. At one point Magyar left, but he returned with a Coors Light he’d purchased elsewhere and became aggressive, Cody Police Officer Brandon Tilman wrote in an affidavit. 

When another patron told him to go, “Magyar confronted [the woman] and, without saying anything, spit a mouthful of beer at the direction of [the woman,] striking her in the face,” Tilman wrote of her account.

Magyar — who said he spat after being pushed — was arrested for unlawful contact; Tilman alleged that the defendant spit the beer “in a rude and insolent manner.” 

Magyar was unable to post a $2000 bond, remaining in jail until Sept. 26, when he pleaded no contest in Park County Circuit Court. He was assessed $220 in penalties alongside the probation, with another 14 days of jail time suspended. 

While on probation, Magyar is barred from drinking and from bars, among other conditions.

Teen enters guilty plea in two July shootings

CASPER (WNE) — A Casper teen pleaded guilty Thursday morning in connection with two separate but related shootings, as part of a plea agreement with state prosecutors. 

Endre Wass pleaded guilty in Natrona County District Court to two counts of aggravated assault and battery, one count of witness intimidation and one count of property damage. 

Despite being 16 years old at the time of his crimes, Wass would normally serve the sentence at Wyoming State Penitentiary because he was tried as an adult, but state prosecutors will recommend a youthful offender boot camp instead as part of the agreement, Judge Catherine Wilking said. 

On July 11, at the Natrona County Fairgrounds, Wass intended to shoot his new-girlfriend’s teenage ex-boyfriend, according to the affidavit in the case. He missed and hit an 18-year-old Casper woman. She was struck by a bullet on her left shin. 

On July 13, Wass drove with friends to a Big Horn Road home, the residence of a witness to the previous shooting.

“Me and three other people drove by the witness’ house, and I shot out the window,” Wass said in court on Thursday, adding that he had no idea who was in the home at the time. He shot about ten bullets into the home, one of which went into a 12-year-old child’s bedroom. It “appeared to be nothing more than sheer luck” that the child and other members of the home were not struck by gunfire, the affidavit states.

Wass was facing an additional three charges, but those are expected to be dropped at his sentencing. He is expected to serve six to eight years, the judge said. His sentencing has not yet been scheduled. 

Wyoming Economic Summary Report released for second quarter of 2023

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A new edition of the Wyoming Economic Summary Report that highlights data for the second quarter of 2023 is now available.

On the whole, Wyoming recorded approximately 7100 or 2.5% more payroll jobs in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the prior year. The mining industry (including oil and gas extraction), private education and health services, and government (including public education and hospitals) led this growth with more than 1,000 jobs, respectively.

The unemployment rate of 3.3% was the lowest since the third quarter of 2008.

“As energy businesses maintained their drilling activities, Wyoming’s labor market continued to expand in the second quarter of 2023, and the performance in the first half of 2023 was moderately better than the second half of 2022,” said Dr. Wenlin Liu, chief economist with Wyoming Division of Economic Analysis, in a news release.

Employment in the state’s pivotal industry, mining, showed a year-over-year increase of 7%. 

Compared to the second quarter of 2019, the state’s total employment bounced back. 

The mining industry, wholesale trade and government payroll jobs were still lagging, but employment in professional and business services had already surpassed the pre-COVID level by approximately 1,400 jobs. 

Other large private employers such as retail trade, private education and health services, and leisure and hospitality also had more payroll jobs than the pre-COVID levels.

Total taxable sales grew 11.7 percent in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the prior year. This strong performance was mostly attributed to continued rebound in the mining and expansion in the utilities sector.

Neon art installation breathes new perspective into Soldier Ridge Trail

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Soldier Ridge Trail’s highest point lit up blue Wednesday with a neon art installation by artist Kelsey Fernkopf. The installation recontextualizes nature through an uncommon artistic lens, according to Sheridan Community Land Trust Director of Marketing and Development Chris Vrba.

The installation at Soldier Ridge Trail Wednesday featured a tall, neon blue rectangle similar in shape to a door.

Fernkopf said he has been working with neon professionally for more than 30 years, but began using it as an artistic medium seven years ago. He has displayed his pieces in nature on several occasions throughout those seven years, now including several scenic areas of Sheridan County including Circle Point and Soldier Ridge.

The fragility of neon encased in glass can make Fernkopf’s pieces a challenge to transport out into the wild, adding to the artistic value of the installations and photography born from it.

“Just the fact that it’s up here [at Soldier Ridge] is a miracle, a minor miracle,” Fernkopf said. “We just have unique ways of hauling it…A lot of times in an industry application, meaning signage, they would never make a tube that big.”

“The beautiful part about a place like Sheridan and a community like ours is that unique experiences sometimes just walk in your door or call you on the phone, and that’s exactly what happened in this case,” Vrba said. “Now we have people standing by the neon door, taking pictures, getting beautiful selfies and having an opportunity to enjoy a night outside in our beautiful, big, orange backyard, right here.”

Man arrested within hours of release from jail gets up to 14 years prison

GILLETTE (WNE) — A man with multiple violent felonies on his record who tried disarming a Sheriff’s deputy in the hours after he was released from jail and stole a knife from a hospital security guard has been sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.

Mark C. Noles, 47, received a ten- to 14-year sentence Sept. 21 for a felony count of robbery that carried a habitual criminal sentencing enhancement, according to court documents.

District Judge Matthew Castano also gave him three to five years for one count of attempting to disarm a peace officer, to which he had pleaded no contest, and 180 days in jail, for a misdemeanor conviction.

The prison sentences were set to run concurrently and Noles received credit toward them for 256 days served.

The robbery conviction was charged as a violent felony as Noles’ actions put a hospital security guard in fear of immediate injury while stealing a knife from him.

Noles was convicted of aggravated assault in 1998 and attempted aggravated arson in 2004, both in Tennessee, and assault and battery on a corrections officer in May 2022 in Crook County, triggering the habitual criminal sentencing enhancement.

Sheriff’s deputies were called to the Sheriff’s Office parking lot outside of the Campbell County Detention Center the afternoon of Jan. 19. Deputies believed that Noles, who had just been released from jail, was having a mental health episode and told him to leave the area. Noles then began hitting the windows of cars stopped at a red light and pulling on their door handles. 

Deputies took Noles to the hospital and left him with a security guard, who reported that once deputies left, Noles allegedly became belligerent toward staff and tried exposing himself to nurses. The security guard stepped in front of Noles when the latter tried leaving his room and Noles immediately reached for the guard’s knife from his pocket. The guard was able to slap it out of Noles’ hand. 

Deputies arrest man going wrong way on I-80 in stolen vehicle

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Laramie County Sheriff ’s deputies and Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers arrested a man who allegedly stole a side-by-side vehicle from a Laramie County rancher.

Deputies were dispatched to Belvoir Ranch at 6:33 a.m. Wednesday, LCSO announced in a news release. The call to authorities alleged a burglary of a Kawasaki side-by-side vehicle.

The manager of the ranch spotted the alleged burglar, later identified as Travis Lilly, in the side-by-side turning onto Interstate 80 at mile marker 248. Deputies observed him traveling east on the westbound portion of the highway.

Deputies and WHP troopers pursued the man down the highway for several miles until Lilly allegedly drove off the highway and onto a service road. After exiting the vehicle, deputies were able to arrest Lilly without further incident.

Hotel microwave catches on fire after man microwaves Sonic leftovers

GILLETTE (WNE) — A 21-year-old man trying to microwave leftover food inadvertently started a fire inside a hotel room Wednesday night. 

Police officers and firefighters responded to a microwave fire at Fairfield Inn not long after 8 p.m.

Kate Eischeid, Campbell County Fire Department battalion chief, said the fire wasn’t “nefarious” but was simply caused by food in the microwave that was placed inside with paper and tin foil.

Police Deputy Chief Brent Wasson said the man who was staying in the room had fallen asleep after microwaving leftovers from Sonic. 

When firefighters and police officers arrived at the hotel, they saw smoke coming from the second floor room and used a key card to try and enter but the safety latch stopped them from opening the door. Firefighters then used tools to force the door open and found the young man unconscious and the food in the microwave on fire, Eischeid said. Firefighters requested an ambulance that came, and EMS evaluated the man on scene, Wasson said. 

“The fire was contained inside the microwave, it was mostly just the product and tin foil, not necessarily the microwave,” said Eischeid.

She added that because the room was small and the windows were closed, it didn’t take long to fill with smoke. And due to the smoke, the building was evacuated and ventilated, which took up most of the hour firefighters were on scene. 

Hospital board celebrates success of Wyoming Regional Emergency Medical Service

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Nearing its one-year anniversary of operation, Wyoming Regional Emergency Medical Service has proven to be a successful venture for its employees and the Sheridan community, Dr. Luke Goddard, emergency medical specialist and chief medical officer at Sheridan Memorial Hospital said Wednesday.

Wyoming Regional Emergency Medical Services replaced Rocky Mountain Ambulance as Sheridan County’s main EMS service in Oct. 2022, and SMH took over WREMS’ operations contract from Campbell County Health in January, a partnership strongly encouraged by Goddard.

In its regular meeting, the SMH board of trustees reflected on the successes and feats achieved by WREMS since the start of the year. Goddard said WREMS has historically operated with a full or nearly full staff, a positive outlier among other EMS services throughout the state that have struggled to maintain a solid workforce.

“23 to 24 out of 24 positions are routinely filled, which across the state is almost unheard of, and a testament not only to the leadership from the times here but to Gillette, in the culture that they’ve created to be able to pay those folks a living wage,” Goddard said. “They have a lot of as-needed staff positions that they have available that they’re trying to fill that can backfill on days people have off or for standby events, but… their team [has] done a great job of recruiting great people.”

Nathan Stutte, chief financial officer at SMH, noted WREMS has been operating impressively from a financial standpoint.  While WREMS’ positive operating margins were not quite as high as Stutte expected, he said it is still operating ahead of where he anticipated it would be within its first year.

“In the first year, to be able to pull out the last six months and say we’ve had a positive financial performance from operations is pretty impressive,” said hospital CEO Mike McCafferty.

Casper abortion clinic arsonist sentenced to 5 years

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A 22-year-old Casper woman was sentenced to five years of incarceration for setting fire to Wyoming’s only surgical abortion clinic in 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming announced Thursday. At the time, the clinic was still under construction, which was delayed by the fire.

Lorna R. Green was arrested in March, nearly a year after the incident, which took place on May 25, 2022, according to a news release. Local authorities saw smoke coming from the Wellspring Health Access Clinic building in Casper and were able to identify a suspect from video footage and witness statements.

Authorities said she was able to gain access to the building by breaking a window. She was able to escape before any calls to authorities were made and was apprehended about 10 months later. 

“Green admitted that she set fire to the clinic,” the press release read, “which was under construction at the time and planned to offer OB/GYN services, gender affirming care and abortion procedures.”

Along with the Casper Police Department, two federal agencies were involved in Green’s apprehension. The matter was also investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Green was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson Thursday. Johnson sentenced her to five years’ incarceration and three years of supervised release.

“No matter what an individual’s opinions or objectives may be, the use of violence and property destruction to advance them is never acceptable,” U.S. Attorney Nick Vassallo said in the news release. “This was a reckless and serious crime which endangered the community and caused significant financial harm to the clinic’s owner.”

 
 
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