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Wyoming News Briefs

Man caught after getting stuck in snow pleads guilty to federal charges

GILLETTE (WNE) — A Campbell County man who was arrested after driving his truck into a snowbank on the side of Highway 50 pleaded guilty to federal drug charges while another man involved in the drug bust has been sentenced to state prison.

Jesse Ray Walthers, 39, pleaded guilty at his October change of plea hearing in U.S. District Court to a count of possession with intent to distribute meth and a count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, according to court documents.

He had been charged with felony counts of meth and fentanyl possession and possession with intent to deliver meth and fentanyl in Campbell County but those charges were dismissed when the federal charges came in.

He reached a deal with prosecutors ahead of the change of plea, which the News Record was unable to view. A count of having a gun as a convicted felon was dropped, according to court documents.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3.

Meanwhile, a man who arrived at the scene after Walthers crashed his truck into a snowbank, Brice A. Tipton, has been sentenced to up to six years in prison for a drug charge stemming from the incident.

Tipton, 33, received a four-to-six-year sentence at his October hearing. District Judge James M. “Mike” Causey credited Tipton with 195 days served and recommended him for the intensive treatment unit, according to court documents.

A digital scale and meth were found inside Tipton’s Chevy Impala by Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers who arrived at the scene of the crash April 7 at about the same time as Tipton.

Wyoming Department of Health recommends ordering records directly from department

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Extra costs and frustrating delays can be avoided by only ordering official Wyoming birth, death and other certificates directly from the Wyoming Department of Health, according to department officials.

“We frequently receive complaints from people who have used companies that misrepresent themselves as a way to easily get birth certificates and other official documents,” said Guy Beaudoin, deputy state registrar with WDH Vital Statistics Services. 

Beaudoin said his office has been receiving many orders recently from a company that charges high fees to its customers and then forwards third-party checks, which Vital Statistics Services can’t accept. 

Beaudoin outlined a typical scenario: “Someone born in Wyoming needs their birth certificate to get a driver’s license or a passport. They do an online search and happen upon a paid listing for a private service promising to get the needed document quickly and easily. The customer pays a fee much higher than what our office charges and then may never get the needed document or only after a substantial delay,” he said.

“These companies collect information from customers, have them sign releases and then simply forward completed applications to our office for processing,” Beaudoin said. “It’s an added expensive step that doesn’t help anyone get what they need any more quickly.”

The department advises people looking for certificates to make sure they click on the link to the WDH’s official site.

“You can usually see the WDH logo included with the search engine results and can see an online address that includes ‘health.wyo.gov,’” Beaudoin said. 

To order certificates by mail, visit the official WDH web site at https://health.wyo.gov/admin/vitalstatistics/certificates/. There is an online ordering portal available, downloadable request forms and instructions to use either method. People may also call 307-777-7591 for help and to order. 

Unknown caller threatened to shoot up Walgreens if he wasn’t given $3K

GILLETTE (WNE) — Police are investigating after an unknown man called Walgreens threatening to shoot up the store if it didn’t meet his demands.

Walgreens staff received a call at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday from an unknown man asking for $3000 in Apple gift cards for his children’s health care, said Police Deputy Chief Brent Wasson.

Wasson said the man threatened to “enter the business and shoot people” if his demands weren’t met.

Four police officers responded to the store and quickly determined there was no immediate danger, Wasson said. 

Police called the phone number that the man called from, but it was out of service or had been disconnected.

Wasson said Monday morning that there is no danger to the public, and the investigation continues.

Icy road conditions, fog cause 19-car pileup on I-80

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A crash on Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie on Thanksgiving afternoon resulted in a 19-car pileup that sent two drivers to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to officials.

One end of a tractor-trailer was ripped off, spilling its load across the interstate, and it was separated from the cab, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol Commander Col. Tim Cameron. Cameron said he found a displaced engine from another commercial vehicle when he first walked up to the scene near mile marker 324.

The pileup happened at 2 p.m. and caused four more crashes, said Lt. Leo Ferguson with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. The pileup spanned three-quarters of a mile and involved mainly commercial vehicles.

Officials couldn’t confirm how long it took to clear the road, but the Highway Patrol continued to receive reports of other crashes for the rest of the day and into Friday.

Friday afternoon, Ferguson said that in the previous 36 hours, the highway patrol had investigated 86 crashes statewide, assisted 93 motorists and reported at least one fatality, though the location of the latter was unavailable. Officials say poor visibility, high gusts of wind and black ice have created dangerous driving conditions for interstate travelers.

“It’s not good. We’re getting [reports of] slide-offs and crashes,” Ferguson said. “There’s a lot of freezing fog, a lot of black ice all over the roadways. People drive too fast for these conditions. It just takes one to have that chain effect where it all goes downhill real quick.”

Patton Veterans Project to host free film workshops at the University of Wyoming

LARAMIE (WNE) — Understanding veterans and their experiences can be tough to comprehend for most who have not served in the military.

The Patton Veterans Project has been helping veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder, while strengthening family and community bonds through the creation of short films that express a veteran’s experience.

Founded in 2011, the Patton Veterans Project (PVP) is making its way to Wyoming and the region by hosting free film workshops for veterans Dec. 1-3 at the University of Wyoming. 

The workshops will be led by the organization’s founder Benjamin Patton alongside his team of professional film instructors. Benjamin Patton is a grandson of General George S. Patton, whose career was most notable during World War II.

“I am a filmmaker and psychologist, and for the last 12 years, I have been running filmmaking workshops,” Patton said during an interview with the Boomerang. “They are three-day workshops on a weekend for veterans, specifically those who are not connected with mental health resources. They come together, with the help of other veterans and professional film instructors, to make short films that express service experiences.”

The free film workshops will be at the University of Wyoming student union, starting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1, and continuing from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, and Sunday, Dec. 3. There are only 15 open spaces, and participants must attend all three days. Meals will be provided.

A voluntary screening of the films will follow the three-day workshops so the veterans can share their experiences with members of the community. The screening for first film workshops will be at 6 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2024.

For more information or to register, contact Mike Leeman by calling 970-657-5500, send an email to workshops@ pattonveteransproject.org or visit online at pattonveteransproject. Org.

Barrasso dines with Wyoming service members in South Korea

CHEYENNE (WNE) — On Thanksgiving Day, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., shared a Thanksgiving meal with Wyoming service members and their families stationed at USAG Camp Humphreys in South Korea.

They’re attached to the United States Forces Korea (USFK).

“This Thanksgiving, Wyoming has a lot to be thankful for, including our brave men and women in uniform who are serving our country. We have service members from all across Wyoming stationed thousands of miles away in South Korea. They’re our first line of defense against an increasing threat from a dangerous and emboldened North Korea,” Barrasso said in a news release. “I made sure they knew everyone back home was thinking of them and their families over the holidays. Wyoming is so proud of their service and the sacrifice they’re making to defend our safety and security abroad.”

The service members Barrasso visited with are from Cheyenne, Casper, Thayne, Sheridan, Rock Springs and Lander.

Barrasso sat down for dinner with service members in the base’s chow hall and received a briefing from military officials on security challenges in the region.

Live horse racing may come to Laramie County

CHEYENNE (WNE) — There are only three live horse racing tracks across Wyoming, and none of them are in Laramie County. That may change soon, however, as two separate proposals were discussed during Tuesday’s Laramie County Board of County Commissioners meeting.

Frontier Racing, LLC would be in town, potentially at Frontier Park, running races on the weekends after Cheyenne Frontier Days throughout August and September.

The other proposed track, Thunder Plains, is about 20 miles east of town, just north of the Hillsdale exit off of Interstate 80.

The former project proposed a resolution to allow live horse racing at the home of the “Daddy of ‘em All,” but it was tabled for approval and discussion later, while the latter had its site plan approved.

Pending a few traffic and drainage studies, Thunder Plains will be able to apply for a permit to begin construction.

A resolution for the potential track hosted at Frontier Park did not receive approval on Tuesday largely because Accel Entertainment doesn’t have a lease with Cheyenne Frontier Days to rent the space for horse racing.

County commissioners said they didn’t feel comfortable approving a resolution without a specific location before sending the project to the Wyoming Gaming Commission for approval. Once the commission gives the green light on a project like this, county commissioners will not have another chance to revisit it and require changes, per a January Wyoming Supreme Court case.

Another concern expressed by the commissioners and community members during Tuesday’s public comment period was that there has been little public consultation on the project. Residents who live near Frontier Park spoke of how it may increase street traffic, pollution and safety concerns.

Racial slur written on Nelson Drive trailhead sign

JACKSON (WNE) — Someone recently wrote the N-word on a sign at the Nelson Drive trailhead. They apparently used a dry erase marker left for people to write notes on a whiteboard there to scrawl the racist slur.

“That’s just a shame that people would do that,” said Todd Stiles, Jackson District ranger for the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

“On the broader scale of public lands, they’re obviously for everyone,” Stiles said. “Why someone would choose to use that message, I have no idea.”

The incident marks the second time this year that a symbol of hate has been left as graffiti in a public place. In March, Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation had to remove a swastika someone carved into a bench.

“This is not the first time we have seen or heard hate speech in our community,” Jody Donovan said in a statement on behalf of Rocky Mountain Consulting, a Jackson-based company that advises organizations on leadership and culture-building.

“It is disappointing, unsettling and harmful, but not surprising,” Donovan added. “Racism exists in our Jackson. Hate speech is being used today and every day — here and everywhere.”

The N-word has been used for centuries to “demean, humiliate and degrade Black people,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit that tracks hate speech in the U.S.

Swastikas, meanwhile, were adopted by the Nazi Party in the 1920s, becoming a symbol of hate and antisemitism.

Parks and Rec removed the swastika within two days.

Stiles said the slur on the Nelson Drive trailhead sign was erased by midday Wednesday, less than an hour after the Jackson Hole Daily called about it.

It was written in dry erase marker and was no longer visible by Wednesday afternoon.

Former store manager pleads guilty to theft

GREYBULL (WNE) — A plea agreement has been reached in the case involving a former Overland Express employee who stole more than $27,000 from the Greybull convenience store between Oct. 1, 2022 and Jan. 12, 2023.

Honey Ann Miller, 48, pleaded guilty Nov. 14 to a charge of felony theft and a misdemeanor charge of crimes against computer equipment. The latter was amended from a felony charge of crimes against intellectual property.

The sentencing recommendation is for count one to be deferred. Instead, she would get three years of supervised probation and be subject to court costs and assessments. For count two, the recommendation is a $350 fine, court costs and assessments plus 90 days in jail. The jail time would be suspended in lieu of six months of supervised probation to run concurrently with count one.

Big Horn County Attorney Marcia Bean said Miller agreed to not request a discharge of the supervised probation requirement until the three years are up.

According to court documents, the thefts were discovered after an audit of the store’s bank deposits did not match the daily amounts that had been entered into the store’s accounting program by Miller, who was store manager at the time. 

Court documents show that Miller stole $27,726.45, all of which she has since repaid to HOMAX, which owns the Overland Express store in Greybull.

Miller admitted the theft at her change of plea hearing on Nov. 14, telling the court she pocketed money that should have gone into Overland’s bank account at Security State Bank. She said she did not accurately report sales figures in the company’s accounting system.

Wyoming unemployment unchanged at 2.9% in October 2023

CHEYENNE (WNE) — The Research & Planning Section of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reported Monday that the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged from September to October at 2.9%.

Wyoming’s unemployment rate was much lower than its October 2022 level of 3.9%, and lower than the current U.S. rate of 3.9%. From October 2022 to October 2023, Wyoming’s labor force grew by an estimated 4,626 individuals (1.6%). From September to October, most county unemployment rates remained low and stable. Unemployment increased slightly in Teton County (up from 1.5% to 2%), in Johnson County (up from 2.2% to 2.4%), and in Park County (up from 2.1% to 2.3%). Weston County’s unemployment rate fell from 2% to 1.7%.

Unemployment rates decreased from their year-ago levels in every county, suggesting steady improvement in Wyoming’s economy. The largest decreases in unemployment occurred in Carbon (down from 3.8% to 2.4%), Washakie (down from 3.7% to 2.6%), Sweetwater (down from 4.0% to 2.9%), Fremont (down from 3.8% to 2.7%) and Big Horn (down from 3.7% to 2.6%) counties.

Weston County reported the lowest unemployment rate in October at 1.7%. It was followed by Crook, Niobrara and Teton counties, each at 2%. The highest unemployment rates were found in Sublette and Sweetwater counties, both at 2.9%.

Current Employment Statistics (CES) estimates show that total nonfarm employment in Wyoming (not seasonally adjusted and measured by place of work) rose from 287,200 in October 2022 to 295,100 in October 2023, an increase of 7,900 jobs (2.8%).

November unemployment data will be released on Dec. 26.