Jun 30, 2015

Reminder: Fireworks not allowed in city of Cody

Cody police are asking folks to celebrate the Fourth of July safely and legally including by not shooting off fireworks within city limits.

Cody ordinance prohibits the use of fireworks in the city and Police Chief Perry Rockvam asks residents to obey the law.

"This is an especially busy time for us already and when we receive calls of fireworks, we're constantly responding to other things at the same time of trying to deal with fireworks calls," Rockvam said in a Tuesday video message posted to YouTube.

The chief also wished everyone a happy Fourth of July.

"Have a great time, drink responsibly, party responsibly and enjoy our great city," Rockvam said.

Century-old rifle mysteriously abandoned in Nevada now on display in Cody

A 132-year-old rifle left up against a tree and mysteriously abandoned for years in the Nevada desert is now in a far more prominent position in Cody.

The Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle, discovered in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park last year, is now on display in the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West Security Manager Mike Brown and Cody Firearms Museum Curator Ashley Hlebinsky take a closer look at the Model 1873 Winchester. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West
How the ancient Winchester came to be abandoned has been the subject of much speculation across the Internet, and Firearms Museum Curator Ashley Hlebinsky is encouraging amateur sleuths to weigh in with their theories on the Buffalo Bill Center of the West website.

“Who owned the firearm and why it was there may remain a mystery, but that allure is what’s so cool about this 'forgotten' rifle,” Hlebinsky wrote in a blog post for Outdoor Life

Archaeologists at Great Basin just happened to spot the artifact in November 2014.

The gun's cracked wood stock, now weathered to gray, and its brown rusted barrel blended in with the old juniper tree it was left leaning against, helping camouflage the rifle for who knows how many years.

Great Basin National Park employees posted a photograph of the leaning rifle on the park’s Facebook page in January and asked, “Can you find the man-made object in this image?” That and follow-up posts helped spur the “Forgotten Winchester” to become a viral sensation online.

The old Winchester, in the spot where it was found. Photo courtesy Great Basin National Park
After the rifle's discovery, Great Basin National Park officials took it to the Center of the West’s Cody Firearms Museum for conservation and identification. Staff at the center, which holds the manufacturing records for Winchester firearms, determined the forgotten gun had been manufactured in 1883. They also applied an adhesive to stop the rifle's flaking wood from degrading further and, with the help of West Park Hospital, took a look inside the weapon.

“After exhausting conventional methods to see if the gun was loaded, we literally walked across the street, gun in hand, to have it x-rayed at a neighboring hospital,” Hlebinsky explained in the Outdoor Life post. “And only in a cowboy town like Cody would no one give us a second look.”

The x-ray images provided reassurance that the gun wasn't loaded, but revealed a cartridge in the trap of the butt stock. The round was ultimately identified as a Union Metallic Cartridge Company .44 WCF cartridge, made sometime between 1887 and 1911.

One of the images from the x-ray session at West Park Hospital.
Hlebinsky said the mysteries around the Winchester 1873 have fueled its popularity and interest.

“Why would you leave your rifle and not come back for it?” Hlebinsky asked in a center news release. “How many years was it hidden? Why was it left leaning against a tree? We here at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the staff at Great Basin are both asking the same questions.”

Many people across the country have asked those questions and offered their guesses, too.

“In a gravelly voice, it may recite a yarn of weary settlers swaying on horses' backs in the parched, rocky Nevada wilderness,” suggested a CNN piece on the firearm's discovery.

“That part of Nevada, there was tons of silver mines around there. It was most likely a prospector," offered Pawn Stars star Rick Harrison, in in an interview with Fox News. “And the only thing I can imagine is he was not far from the gun and something happened to the owner. I mean, back then people did not leave a gun behind.”

“Whatever the actual story, it has the makings of a great campfire tale,” writer Scott Engen posted on the Winchester website.

“Perhaps it belonged to a lone cowboy riding the high range. Perhaps it was set aside by a sourdough prospector in his search for a vein of rich ore,” wrote Winchester writer Scott Engen, in a posting on the company's website. “Whatever the actual story, it has the makings of a great campfire tale.”

The rifle will remain on display in the Cody Firearms Museum until this fall, when it will be returned to Great Basin.

~By CJ Baker, cj@codynewscompany.com

Jun 29, 2015

Alpha female and cow elk square off in new Yellowstone video

Trying to take down an elk can be a difficult, dangerous proposition for a wolf, says a new educational video from Yellowstone National Park.

Of the wolves collared by researchers, 15 percent of the animals who've died in Yellowstone have died at the hands of their would-be prey, according to Yellowstone Wolf Project research cited in the park's Monday video. 

“In fact, healthy elk of prime age could be considered nearly invulnerable to wolves,” says wolf project research associate Kira Cassidy in narrating the clip. “The successful hunts (elk killed by wolves) have something wrong with them that we maybe had no idea just by looking at the animal while it's alive.”

The difference between an elk dying or surviving could something as small as a broken bone that didn’t heal quite right, overgrown hooves or tooth problems, Cassidy says.

Her narration is laid over a dramatic video of an alpha female from the Lamar Canyon wolf pack hunting a cow elk in and around Soda Butte Creek, in Yellowstone's northeastern corner.

At the time the video picks up the action, the elk is already missing a chunk from one of its hind legs.

“That’s a typical spot for a wolf to grab on to an elk to try and not only slow down the elk, but control one of the back legs so they can avoid being kicked,” Cassidy explains. “It can be incredibly dangerous to try and take down an animal that, in the case of a cow elk, may be five to seven times larger than a pretty large wolf.”

She says in the video that it's important to remember wolves and elk have evolved together for thousands of years with wolves working to keep up with strong, fast and aggressive elk, and elk trying to outpace the wolves nipping at their heels.

SPOILER: Things don't end well for the elk.
“It's really an incredible partnership between elk and wolves,” Cassidy says.

A postscript to the park service-produced video says that while the wolf ultimately won this battle, only 5 to 10 percent of wolf hunts are successful, on average.

Friday ceremony to honor veterans

The men and women of America’s armed forces will be honored in a Friday ceremony at the State of Wyoming Veterans Memorial Park in Cody.

The annual Freedom Celebration, hosted by the Park County Republican Party, begins at 1 p.m.

The 2012 edition of the annual Freedom Celebration. Cody News Co. file photo by CJ Baker
“We will honor all veterans and pay special tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War,” said Republican party chairman Colin Simpson.

Simpson said several high-ranking military officials are expected as honored guests, with the Cody VFW Honor Guard and the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard of Barstow, Calif., scheduled to participate.

The veterans memorial park is located just off the Greybull Highway (U.S. Highway 14-16-20 east), about one mile west of Yellowstone Regional Airport.

Cody Country Art League picks top artists in 50th annual show

More than 150 works of local art were recently judged at the Cody Country Art League, with two artists earning top honors.

In the art league's 50th annual art show, Colleen Drury won Best of Show for her oil painting "Aspens Aflame.”
Colleen Drury's winning painting, "Aspens Aflame." Courtesy photo
Eight-year-old Teak Barhaug won Best of Show Youth for his pastel titled "Wolf."
Teak Barhaug's "Wolf." Courtesy photo
Both Drury and Barhaug received multiple awards.

The Cody Country Art League’s June 19 reception and open house featured a display of entries and award presentations. The entries were judged by Northwest College art educator Anne Toner, who selected first, second and honorable mention winners for each category.

Cash awards from the art league were presented to first and second place winners, as well as "Best of Show" for both adult and youth entrants. Showing strong community support for the art show, individuals and businesses selected and handed out another 15 cash prizes known as Sponsor Awards.

The show remains on display at the Cody Country Art League, 836 Sheridan Avenue in Cody, through July 24. Most entries are available for purchase.

For more information, visit www.codycountryartleague.com or call 587-3597.

Famous Clydesdales coming to Cody for July 4

Budweiser's world-famous Clydesdales have appeared in events ranging from television broadcasts, to Presidential inaugurations and this week, they'll appear in Cody to help celebrate the Fourth of July.

The Clydesdales will arrive at the Riley Arena on Tuesday; the public is welcome to visit the horses throughout the day on Wednesday.

Budweiser Clydesdales will be on display in Cody this week. Courtesy photo
Folks can get a closer look at a Clydesdale beginning at 4 p.m. Thursday, during a public viewing party at the Riley Arena. The full hitch will then be on display during the Cody Stampede parade on Friday and Saturday (July 4).

The annual parade begins at 9:30 a.m. both days in downtown Cody.

Budweiser Clydesdales have served as icons for the company and America since their introduction in 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition.

For more information, visit http://www.budweiser.com/clydesdales/codystampede.html

Jun 24, 2015

Could the Cody/Yellowstone area hold the million-dollar Fenn treasure?

Sightseers, photographers, wildlife lovers and families on vacation all flock to the Cody/Yellowstone area each summer and so, perhaps, do treasure hunters.

When Sante Fe arts and antiques dealer Forrest Fenn announced in 2010 that he'd stashed a box with more than $1 million worth of treasure somewhere in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico, it inspired thousands of people to go looking for it. The local search for the Fenn treasure leapt into public view earlier this month, when a couple from Virginia wound up needing the aid of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit.

Many hunters believe the Fenn treasure is hidden in or near Yellowstone National Park.

The area north of the Wapiti Valley that Frank E. Rose Jr. and Madilina Taylor had been searching meets some of the broad clues that Fenn has given over the years: it’s in the Rocky Mountains, north of Sante Fe and between 5,000 and 10,200 feet above sea level. However, Fenn has also indicated that he hid the treasure in a fairly accessible area — one that he was able to reach at the age of 80, and while carrying the pounds of valuables.

He's said that part of his goal in starting the treasure hunt was to get more Americans out into the outdoors.

“It is unfortunate that some searchers go into the mountains unprepared for what they find,” Fenn said in an email, after reading of the recent rescue west of Cody.

The Fenn treasure has drawn a lot of media attention, including this piece from an Australian broadcaster.

Many of the clues come from a poem Fenn included in his 2010 memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Dal Neitzel, one of the most prominent and dedicated hunters of the treasure, can’t say whether Rose and Taylor picked a good place to search.

“I can say that I think there are a lot more places I would have personally looked before I tried that area,” he said in an email. “But everyone’s interpretation of the poem and its clues are different.”

Some question whether Fenn actually hid a physical treasure, but many others believe that it’s not only real, it's also near or within Yellowstone National Park. (Fenn frequently visited the park as a child, including camping at Fishing Bridge.) Neitzel actually spent some time searching the Yellowstone area (which included a visit to West Yellowstone, Montana) a couple weeks ago.

“Everyone’s interpretation of the poem and its clues are different,” said Neitzel, a seeker of the treasure.

There is irrefutable proof that Fenn has stashed some of his gold in the Cody area, but it’s not what you might think: the Buffalo Bill Center of West’s vaults hold 1.425 ounces of 1890s Klondike gold that Fenn — a past member of the board of trustees — gifted to the center. The gold nuggets, dust and the original moose-skin poke (or pouch) are currently stored in the center's vaults, but you can see them online and pictured below.

The Klondike gold dust hidden with the Fenn treasure came from this moose-skin poke, which Fenn later donated to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming. Gift of Forrest Fenn. DRA.101.1

What makes the donated gold more intriguing is that Fenn has said one of the items with the treasure is a jar of gold dust mined during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush.

James St. John, a geologist and paleontologist, photographed the donated gold at the center in 2010 and wondered if it and the gold stashed with the treasure came from the same source. In a Friday email, Fenn confirmed that's the case.

“It is the same,” Fenn wrote. “All of it came out of the same poke.”

Marquerite House, a Buffalo Bill Center of the West spokeswoman, says interest surrounding the Fenn treasure seems to sort of ebb and flow. At one point, someone was convinced it lay beneath the iconic statute of Buffalo Bill Cody that lies between the center and West Park Hospital, House said. (For his part, Fenn has said the hiding spot is “not associated with any structure.”)

“Those (hunters) that look in an area for a few days buy food and stay in motels and visit antique shops and fly shops and get gas and rafting trips, so it seems likely that they are useful to the economy,” Neitzel said.

Another treasurer hunter became convinced that Fenn had stashed the valuables in the Meeteetse area.

“I just wanted to say I know your treasure is on the wood river by Brown Mountain south of Meetetsee (sic), Wy,” the individual wrote in an email to Fenn that was published by The New Mexican newspaper in May. “But as I am too broke to be able to go there, I just wanted to tell you. Thank you.”

Neitzel blogs about the the treasure hunt on his website and says he can get between 600 and 1,000 hits an hour from visitors around the world.

Fenn has estimated that upwards of 30,000 people flocked to New Mexico last year to look for the treasure, and Neitzel figures at least as many have been searching Wyoming.

“So two rescued out of 30,000 looking doesn’t seem so bad,” Neitzel said in an email, referring to the recently rescued Virginians. “And those that look in an area for a few days buy food and stay in motels and visit antique shops and fly shops and get gas and rafting trips, so it seems likely that they are useful to the economy.”

~By CJ Baker, cj@codynewscompany.com

Jun 19, 2015

Lightning strike kills antelope southeast of Buffalo

A bolt of lightning struck three antelope dead in southeastern Johnson County last month.

A citizen found the dead animals in a neighbor's pasture on May 16, the day after an electrical storm had passed through the area.

A May 15 lightning strike took the lives of these antelope in Johnson County. Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department
“With the pronghorn close to the road, the landowner suspected someone had shot the pronghorn and left them where they dropped,” says a Wyoming Game and Fish Department newsletter released Friday. The landowner contacted contacted Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman.

Seeman, however, noted that the antelope were very close together; if they'd been shot at by a poacher, they likely would have ran and wound up further apart, he figured.

The game warden was quickly able to determine the cause of the death, finding a large burn mark on the neck of one of the animals.

For people, the deaths can serve a reminder of the importance to take electrical storms seriously. The National Weather Service's Riverton office has compiled some lightning facts and safety tips on its website.

Jun 18, 2015

Chip sealing set for next week on Wapiti highway project; project east of Wapiti to begin

Crews are expected to put a finishing chip seal on several miles of newly widened highway between Wapiti and the Shoshone National Forest next week, while also starting work on another section of the highway to the east, between Wapiti and the post office.

Chip sealing is scheduled to start Tuesday, June 23, on the $8.77 million section of improvements being made to U.S. Highway 14-16-20 west of Wapiti. Weather permitting, prime contractor Riverside Contracting, Inc., will start after 10 a.m. on Tuesday and finish by Thursday, June 25, said Wyoming Department of Transportation resident engineer Todd Frost in Cody.

Crews were paving the highway earlier this month, but now they're moving on to chip sealing. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
"Motorists should expect 15-minute delays with traffic control by pilot vehicles," Frost said in a news release. "There will be night flagging and the pilot car to keep speeds reduced."

The project covers 4.26 miles of the highway, running from the Wapiti bridge (milepost 31.98) over the North Fork of the Shoshone River to just east of the Shoshone National Forest boundary (milepost 27.72).

"This piece of highway has been widened from the old 12-foot lanes and six-foot shoulders to 12-foot lanes and eight-foot shoulders, and shoulders were flattened to improve safety," Frost explained. "Existing pipes and box culverts were in poor condition and have been replaced, and drainage has been improved."

Meanwhile, as that work wraps up, Riverside Contracting is beginning another $3.45 million in highway improvements directly east of Wapiti (the Wapiti East project).

The new project starts at the North Fork of the Shoshone River bridge at Wapiti and goes to just east of the Trout Creek bridge (near the Wapiti post office) on U.S. 14-16-20. Frost said the contractor is tentatively scheduled to begin dirt and pipe work on Monday, June 22.

Other than several pipe crossings across the highway, the highway surface will remain as asphalt through the duration of the project.

As they did with the western phase of the project, crews will use pilot cars and flaggers to control traffic. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
"Paving is tentatively scheduled to start the end of July. All work except the chip seal is tentatively scheduled to be completed about Aug. 31," Frost said. "If the chip seal is not done this year, it will be done next June."

Frost said the project also includes deck repair and an epoxy deck overlay to the North Fork bridge, and the Trout Creek bridge will have approach slab replacement and a silica fume deck overlay. Bridge rehabilitation depends upon favorable temperatures, so it is important it is completed during the summer, Frost said.

WYDOT's contract with Riverside calls for maximum traffic delays of 15 minutes and work will stop July 1-5.

Flaggers and a pilot car will be used to control most of the traffic, with traffic signals controlling vehicles as they cross the bridges, which will be reduced to one lane during the project.

The Wapiti East project consists of a one-inch asphalt pavement leveling, a two-inch pavement overlay and a chip seal, with some minor slope flattening and some pipe replacement and bridge rehabilitation. It covers 4.45 miles of U.S. 14-16-20, from milepost 31.98 to milepost 36.43, between Yellowstone National Park and Cody. The contract calls for the work to be completed by Sept. 30, 2016.

Treasure hunters rescued on North Fork for second time

The lure of a Sante Fe man’s hidden gold got a pair of out-of-state residents stranded in some North Fork backcountry on Sunday — making it two out of three summers that they’ve had to be rescued from the area.

Madilina L. Taylor, 41, and boyfriend Frank E. Rose Jr., 40 — both of Lynchburg, Virginia — had been hiking a couple miles inside the Shoshone National Forest and north of Road 6BU (at the western edge of the Wapiti Valley) when Taylor fell and broke her ankle, according to information from the Park County Sheriff's Office.

Rose and Taylor had been miles northeast of this area, toward the western end of the Wapiti Valley. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Taylor had to be located by members of the Park County Search and Rescue team and then taken by helicopter to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Montana, the sheriff’s office said in a Tuesday news release.

The couple later told authorities they’d been out seeking the treasure of Forrest Fenn, a Sante Fe art and antiques dealer who says he’s hidden a box filled with jewels and gold worth over $1 million somewhere in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico. (Many treasurer seekers suspect its located in or near Yellowstone National Park.)

Taylor fell around 6 a.m. while northeast of the East Fork drainage of Big Creek, the sheriff’s office said. Rose then hiked a couple miles south, summoning help from people at the Grizzly Ranch off of Road 6BU.

“He (Rose) was calling across the creek to residents of the ranch that his girlfriend was injured, they were in need of assistance and he couldn’t cross the creek due to it being so high,” sheriff’s office spokesman Lance Mathess said in the release. Rose, whose feet had become badly blistered from footwear not intended for hiking, said he’d fallen into the water and lost his wallet and cell phone trying to get across.

Authorities were called at 11:20 a.m. Sunday.

“Deputies strongly recommended that Rose and Taylor not return to this area without proper training in environmental survival skills,” sheriff's office spokesman Lance Mathess said in a news release.

Responding Search and Rescue members helped Rose across the creek. He explained that he’d left Taylor in an open meadow, wrapped up in a silver reflective safety blanket.

“Rose attempted to explain where she was by using a few fixed landmarks, and with the assistance of some local residents and the (Search and Rescue) team, Taylor was finally located,” Mathess said.

Rose and Taylor put themselves in a similar predicament back in June 2013. In that instance, they reportedly set out on a day hike from the Jim Mountain Trailhead but became lost and reportedly spent four days wandering the backcountry. The couple ultimately made their way to the bank of Big Creek near the Star Hill Ranch (just north of the Grizzly Ranch at the end of Road 6BU) and summoned help. Rose and Taylor were uninjured in that instance, but because of their exhaustion, they had to be helped across the creek's swift waters by Search and Rescue personnel.

After Sunday’s incident, “deputies strongly recommended that Rose and Taylor not return to this area without proper training in environmental survival skills and he was warned that they would be arrested for trespassing if caught on private property in the future,” Mathess said. “Rose advised that he and Taylor would not return.”

They’re not the first to run into trouble while searching for Fenn’s treasure.

In March 2013, a 34-year-old hiker got lost in the New Mexican wilderness, ran out of water and spent a night outdoors while she looked for the treasure. The following month, a man ran afoul of authorities for digging up a memorial in search of the loot.

~By CJ Baker

Repairs to Wind River Canyon road continue; initial cost at $200,000

Motorists need to schedule extra time for trips through Wind River Canyon as crews clean up the leftover debris from last month’s massive mudslide.

The road through the canyon, U.S. Highway 20/Wyoming 789, closed May 24 because of the sliding mud and reopened May 26.

Restoring the railroad to usable condition took heavy equipment and days of work. Cody News Co. photo by Dave Bonner
A temporary cleanup is still underway and permanent repairs are planned for next year. 

Rain was the cause for the trouble.

“Some people say as much as 4 inches in the Canyon,” said Cody Beers, a regional Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman, adding, “We had mud running across the road in 10 places.”

The slide area ran about six or seven miles in the canyon. Approximately 100 feet of guardrail must be replaced, Beers said.

The contractor conducting the temporary cleanup, Pab Good Trucking LLC of Greybull, is removing dirt and big rocks. Pilot cars are leading motorists through the area under repair, Beers said.

“Traffic will be controlled with flaggers, and travelers should expect delays of up to 15 minutes,” said Pete Hallsten, Department District 5 maintenance engineer in Basin. “Please slow down and allow this important safety project to happen in a safe manner.”

WYDOT has found motorists to be understanding.

“The people have been pretty patient with the process,” Beers said.

He said earlier this week that the cleanup would likely take another 10 days.

The temporary emergency clean up will cost about $200,000. Beers doesn’t know how much it will cost to permanently repair the highway next year, but said “it’s going to be extremely expensive by the time it’s done.”

The department is asking its geologist to examine the terrain. Slopes will need rebuilding, and they may need to design the road to allow mud and moisture to run from the newly lacerated slopes under the road to the river, Beers said.

Muddy train tracks

Four miles of Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) track were impacted by the slide and the railroad had to reroute its traffic through Gillette for nearly a week.

“The line through the Wind River Canyon was out of service from May 24 to May 29,” said Matthew Jones, a regional spokesman for BNSF Railway. “There were multiple areas where debris from rock and mud slides impacted the rail grade between milepost 323 and MP 327 (near Dornick). We are still doing work in the area to clean up from the slides.”

Jones said he did not have a cost estimate Monday.

The fish are alright

The mudslide had little or no impact on fish in the Wind River.

Mike Mazur, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologist, said that for fish, the slides would have likely been similar to spring high water.

“It should still be a really good fishery,” Mazur said.

Actually, he said some of the large stones that tumbled into the river should create places where fish can rest.

“I think, over time, it will probably be beneficial,” Mazur said.

Native Americans have jurisdiction in the canyon because it's within the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Fish and Wildlife Service assists the tribes in managing the reservation’s fish and animals, Mazur said.

Area reservoirs brimming full, but no serious flooding expected

Buffalo Bill Reservoir is nearing its fill line, and Boysen and Yellowtail reservoirs are full.

Very minor flooding has been reported in low-lying areas near Greybull, Basin and north of Lovell, but officials weren't predicting major problems.
Buffalo Bill was more than 97 percent full Tuesday, according to Bureau of Reclamation data.

Between May 17 and June 16, Buffalo Bill was discharging more than 1,400 cubic feet per second (cfs) in mid May. On Tuesday, it was discharging 7,216 cfs.

When this photo was taken in May, the Buffalo Bill Reservoir wasn't as full as it is now. Cody New Co. file photo by Matt Naber
Roughly 500 cfs is diverted at the the Buffalo Bill Dam to the Heart Mountain Canal, said Mahonri Williams, chief of the bureau’s water and lands division.

The 30-year June average is around 3,000 cfs, so the above figure is high, but Williams said he hasn’t heard any concerns about flooding structures downstream.

“I don’t think those flows are going to seriously hurt anything,” he said. “There’s a lot of water flowing into the Big Horn Reservoir, both from the Shoshone River and the Big Horn River.”

Yellowtail was 100 percent full Tuesday. Yellowtail was releasing more than 2,000 cfs in mid-May. It was releasing 14,242 cfs Tuesday.

Yellowtail’s release is high, but not unprecedented.

When June 2011 snowpack was high, outflow was 15,500 cfs. In 1967, June outflow from Yellowtail was 25,000 cfs, said Tim H. Felchle, the bureau’s supervisory civil engineer in Billings.

“There is no flooding downstream of Yellowtail. Everybody should be dry,” Felchle said. “But a few people are encroached on in the flood-plain area.”

All the rivers in the Big Horn Basin are higher than they normally are at this time of year, Felchle said, adding, “I’ve never seen so much water in the Big Horn Basin.”

Where the Big Horn River flows, the lowlands around Greybull and Basin are seeing minor flooding, said Williams.

“I’ve never seen so much water in the Big Horn Basin,” said the Bureau of Reclamation's Tim H. Felchle.

The girders supporting the causeway that crosses the Big Horn Reservoir north of Lovell were submerged by water in 2011, “but I don’t think we’re that close yet,” Felchle said.

North of the causeway, the water is high at the Kane boat ramp, making boat launching difficult. Mosquitoes are ferocious there too, said Christy Fleming, chief interpretive ranger at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

“The lake is still going up,” Fleming said. “Black Canyon (Campground) is under water.”

Ok-A-beh and Horseshoe Bend docks are functional, but Horseshoe’s beach is under water. Everything near the Mason-Lovell Ranch is also closed due to high water, and Fleming said she is not sure when the area will reopen.

She warned to watch out for floating driftwood and other debris in the lake.

Boysen was 100 percent full Tuesday. It had been releasing more than 700 cfs in mid-May according to a bureau data. On Tuesday it was spewing 7,521 cfs.

The region's snow appears to have almost completely melted away.

Spring runoff is declining. At sites measuring precipitation, all snow has melted or very little remains, Williams said.

April through July are the big water months, when it's hoped melting mountain snow will fill up reservoirs. April and May inflows to Buffalo Bill exceeded the 30-year average, and June may exceed the 30-year average too.

As inflows slow down later this month, the outflows will be reduced, Williams said.

Jun 17, 2015

Searchers find body of reservoir drowning victim

After a more than a week of searching, members of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit have recovered the body of a Billings man presumed to have drowned in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

Merle H. Daly, 80 years old and a former Cody resident, had been trying to swim to his drifting boat on the afternoon of June 8 when he reportedly called out and disappeared below the water.

The search effort included help from the Sublette County boat, “Closure,” shown in the background. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
Daly and a friend had been resting on an island almost due south of the boat ramp and near the reservoir’s southern shore when their boat drifted away, the friend later told the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

The friend was stranded on the island area for a couple hours before being able to flag down a passing boat for help. Park County’s search and rescue team immediately responded to the call and began a search.

They spent the following eight days combing the half-mile east and west of where Daly was last seen, enlisting the aid of canines and a sonar-equipped boat from Sublette County. Daly’s body ultimately came to the surface and was found around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the general area where he’d disappeared, the sheriff’s office said in a Wednesday news release.

Park County Coroner Tim Power, who received the body from the searchers, praised the team’s “tremendous job of staying with it” in the recovery mission.

Mudslides hit Northfork Highway on Tuesday, causing some delays

Heavy rain sent rock and mud sliding onto U.S. Highway 14-16-20 west of Cody on Tuesday afternoon.

The slides did not close the highway, but they did lead to minor traffic delays as Wyoming Department of Transportation maintenance workers cleared the road, the department said in a Wednesday news release.

Rains triggered this mess along the North Fork Highway. Photo courtesy WYDOT
The mud and rock slide hit the highway about 12.5 miles east of Yellowstone National Park's eastern gate (at milepost 12.5). Mud and debris from the rainstorm also plugged a handful of pipes that run underneath the highway between mileposts 9 and 12.5.

“A rain cloud hung over the area and caused the issues,” said WYDOT maintenance foreman Jim Berry of Cody in the release. “The soils are saturated with water, so we may see more of this if afternoon rain storms continue.”
Berry said maintenance workers are monitoring the situation.

Monday crash claims life of 21-year-old Cody man

A young Cody man has died as a result of injuries he received in a Monday evening crash, when a car struck the four-wheeler he was riding.

Spencer Boone, 21, died Tuesday at a Billings hospital, said Park County Coroner Tim Power.

The intersection of Robert Street and Twin Creek Trail Avenue. Cody News Co. photo
Spencer Boone was traveling north on Robert Street when he collided with a Subaru Legacy driven by Jacob Nothe, 20, of Cody, Cody police said in a Wednesday news release.

Nothe had stopped at the stop sign at Twin Creek Trail Avenue, then turned south onto Robert Street, police said. The two vehicles then collided in the intersection, with crash taking place around 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Boone was not wearing a helmet and received serious head injuries that led to him being transported to Billings, police said.

Nothe, who was uninjured, was cited for failing to yield the right of way, police said.

The Cody Police Department said in the news release that it's continuing to investigate the crash.

Jun 15, 2015

UPDATED: Crash near Wapiti injures trooper, re-routes traffic

A Wyoming State Trooper was injured Monday afternoon after crashing into a truck that turned in front of him just east of Wapiti.

The injuries to Trooper Rodney Miears of Cody, 28, were not life-threatening and he was released from the hospital Monday night, Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Phil Farman said Tuesday.

Miears had been traveling east on U.S. Highway 14-16-20, heading back toward Cody, shortly after 2 p.m.,  Farman said. That's when the westbound commercial truck and its trailer failed to yield and turned into the Yellowstone Valley Inn in front of the approaching trooper, according to a news release from the patrol.

The remains of the trooper's vehicle in front of the Yellowstone Valley Inn. Photo courtesy Wyoming Highway Patrol
Miears hit his brakes and swerved to the right to try missing the truck, but the two vehicles still collided. Farman said he did not know what speed the trooper's vehicle had been going.

The patrol vehicle was pushed into the ditch in the crash and Miears was pinned. Motorists stopped to help, but the fire department ultimately had to extricate the trooper from his vehicle, the patrol said.

Miears was taken to West Park Hospital while the driver of the commercial truck, 27-year-old James Friede of Billings, was not injured, the patrol said. Friede, who'd been making a delivery to the inn, was cited for failing to yield to oncoming traffic while making a left-hand turn, Farman said.

Both drivers were wearing their seat belts.

Miears, who’s been with the patrol for five years, was recovering at home on Tuesday and expected to return to full duty after a few scheduled days off.

After the crash, authorities diverted traffic from the North Fork highway to Stagecoach Trail to bypass the scene of the crash. They were able to reopen the highway at 8 p.m., Farman said.

He said Tuesday that the crash remained under investigation.

Young moose wanders into Cody, safely taken away

A young moose made a rare appearance in Cody over the past couple of days even getting a brief meeting with the mayor.

The moose apparently wandered into the city this weekend, being spotted late Sunday night near Big Horn Redi-Mix and the Park County Law Enforcement Center on River View Drive, said Cody Police officer and department spokesman John Harris. The moose, believed to be a juvenile yearling, managed to stay out of the view of authorities last night, but he was spotted in a backyard on Newton Avenue today, Harris said.

Cody Police Officer Josh Van Auken and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Dusty Lasseter look over the tranquilized moose. Photo courtesy Cody Police Officer John Harris
“He was just sitting down and he wasn’t causing any problems, but the Game and Fish (Department) determined the best way to deal with him was to tranquilize him and move him to a better environment,” Harris said.

The operation went smoothly, he said, with the moose darted and unconscious in a matter of about 10 minutes. The animal was then moved to a horse trailer, where he got a photograph with Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown before being taken far from town. (Unfortunately for the young bull, the sedatives likely mean he won't remember the photo op.)

Harris, a life-long Cody resident, couldn't recall another instance where a moose had ventured so far into town. One visited the outskirts of Powell in October 2010.

Jun 13, 2015

Among 3,300 Wyoming baby names, Liam & Olivia top list

Liam and Olivia proved the most popular names for Wyoming’s newborns last year, but they were just two of the 3,328 unique first names that parents picked out.

New data from the Wyoming Department of Health’s Vital Statistics Service show serious staying power for the popularity of Liam, which has now been the boys name of choice for three straight years. Jackson and William, Wyatt and James, followed as the other most popular names from 2014.

If this boy had been born in Wyoming last year, you'd be best off guessing his name is 'Liam.' Courtesy file photo
Olivia, meanwhile, toppled 2013 favorite Sophia to become the most popular name among Wyoming parents. Emma — now with four straight years as the most- or second-most popular girls name — followed Olivia, then came Brooklyn, Abigail and Harper. (Sophia slid out of the top five for the first time in years, but stayed within the top 10.)

It’s worth noting that the popular names represent only a small fraction of last year’s newborns.

In 2014, the Department of Health recorded 7,693 births to mothers who were Wyoming residents. A total of 46 children were named Olivia and 39 were named Liam, according to Vital Statistics Service data.

The department provided the following charts for the past five years of naming in the state:

2014 proved something of a male-dominated birth year.

Around 52.4 percent of the newborns were boys and 46.6 percent were girls — meaning there were about 11 guys for every 10 gals.

Wyoming parents do appear to have gotten a little more creative in naming their girls than their boys last year.

Half of the baby girls (50.7 percent) received names that were unique to them. In contrast, only a little more than a third (36.5 percent) of the boys got names that weren’t shared with another newborn Wyomingite.

It is possible that parents simply got more creative with how they spelled their girls’ names, as similar but slightly different names (like Brooklyn and Brooklynn) are counted separately.

Overall, there were 76 more births in 2014 than the year before.

The state’s economic analysis division recently reported Wyoming’s population increased by 930 people in that same time frame, “so the increased number of births we recorded last year was consistent with the state’s overall population trend,” said Jim McBride, Vital Statistics Services Program manager.

Vital Statistics Services is the official custodian of all vital records in the state and disseminates health information in support of health and social planning efforts. More Wyoming statistics and information can be found on the program's website.

Jun 12, 2015

Sucker-eating tiger trout brought to Lower Sunshine Reservoir

Anglers will soon be able to hook a new kind of fish in the Lower Sunshine Reservoir.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently stocked 10,000 tiger trout in the reservoir, which is southwest of Meeteetse. The department hopes the tigers — which are the sterile offspring of brook and brown trout — will not only be a unique catch for fishermen, but also chow down on the sucker fish now crowding the Lower Sunshine Reservoir.

Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery Superintendent Bart Burningham stocks tiger trout in Lower Sunshine Reservoir this week. Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish
The tiger trout measured only about five-and-a half inches when placed in the reservoir this week, but the department said they should be of catchable size in a few months.

The fish were hatched and reared at the Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery and then hauled across the basin to the Lower Sunshine by hatchery superintendent Bart Burningham. It's the first time that tiger trout have been stocked in the Big Horn Basin.

“We are excited about the unique sport fishing opportunity this will provide for local anglers,” Burningham said in a Friday news release from the department.

The Uppper and Lower Sunshine reservoirs are primarily stocked with Yellowstone cutthroat trout. That's because the Greybull River drainage holds an important population of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and the department doesn't want to impact the native population in the event that fish make it out of the reservoir and into the river, explained Cody Region Fisheries Biologist Jason Burckhardt.

For years, the Game and Fish Department has also stocked the Lower Sunshine splake — a hybrid brook/lake trout — to provide some different fishing opportunities and so they can feed on the large number of suckers.

“They have performed well for anglers but have not had a significant impact on the sucker population,” Burckhardt said.

The hope is that tiger trout can succeed in controlling the suckers where the splake have not. 

In a 2013 sampling of Lower Sunshine, some 83 percent of the captured fish were suckers and there were very few Yellowstone cutthroats.

“The abundance of suckers is negatively affecting the survival and growth of Yellowstone cutthroats in the reservoir,” Burckhardt said.

The hope is that tiger trout can succeed in controlling the suckers where the splake have not.

“Tiger trout have been tried in other waters around the state and have performed well. They grow quickly and appear to be good predators on suckers,” Burckhardt said.

Lower Sunshine is managed as a “yield” fishery, meaning fish are stocked at a small size but grow to catchable size within a year. Both the Lower and Upper Sunshine Reservoirs are managed under general statewide regulations for standing waters: a six-fish limit with no special restrictions on tackle or length.

“The Sunshine Reservoirs are a great place to catch and harvest a limit of fish if an angler chooses to do so,” Burckhardt said.

Washout closes McCullough Peaks access road in Willwood area

A washout is making it harder to get to the McCullough Peaks area from the north.

The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that it has closed the dirt "Willwood Dam Road" formally known as BLM Road #1211 after water took out a part of the roadway and a culvert.
The culvert under Willwood Dam Road washed away and will need to be replaced. Photo courtesy BLM

Barricades and warning signs have been set up near the washout site, where the road becomes impassable.

The Willwood Dam Road runs south off of Lane 14, between Cody and Powell and about a half-mile east of the Willwood Dam. It provides access to the popular McCullough Peaks area.

Recent heavy rains have caused other BLM roads to fail throughout the Bighorn Basin and repairs will be made throughout the summer, the agency's regional office said in a news release.

The BLM is asking the public to travel with caution and to report road damage or impassable roads by calling the BLM Wind River/Bighorn Basin District Office at 307-347-5100 or the Cody Field Office at 307-578-5900.

The Willwood Dam Road, BLM Road 1211, can be seen in this BLM map of the McCullough Peaks area.

Jun 11, 2015

Man responsible for wasted fish near Gillette turns self in

A man who dumped hundreds of fish at a spot east of Gillette turned himself in to authorities just hours after after the Wyoming Game and Fish Department asked for information about the incident.

The roughly 400 rotting fish, mostly crappie, had been discovered on Monday in rural Campbell County. They'd apparently been there for a few days and still had all of their meat.

A male crappie is shown at the Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery in this 2014 photograph. Photo courtesy Spencer Neuharth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, the Game and Fish Department issued a news release asking for information about the wasted fish, sending it out to the more than 8,800 citizens, conservation groups and media outlets on its email lists.

"Within a couple of hours, the individual responsible for dumping the fish called me and turned himself in," South Gillette Game Warden Dustin Kirsh said in a Thursday afternoon update from the department, adding, "I would really like to thank the sporting public for providing tips and information on this case."

The department's update said nothing about why the man had so many dead fish or whether he'd been cited for a crime.

Pete and Lynne Simpson starring 'On Golden Pond' in Laramie

Everything has been turning up golden on the University of Wyoming Performing Arts Center stage in Laramie this week, as Pete and Lynne Simpson of Cody have been magical together in the lead roles of the Snowy Range Summer Theatre's lead-off production, “On Golden Pond.”

The play, written by Ernest Thompson and directed by Lee Hodgson, opened Tuesday night, the first in a five-night run that ends on Saturday.

For unabashed golden-agers Pete and Lynne Simpson, it was the latest in a long life of loving the theatre.

“We joke about it as our first annual swan song,” Pete laughed.

Pete and Lynne Simpson, as Norman and Ethel Thayer, delight in watching loons on the lake in a scene from ‘On Golden Pond’ performed Tuesday night. Cody News Co. photo by Dave Bonner

The demand of their roles is no joking matter.

“It’s a very large play, and we’re in all of it,” Pete noted.

Indeed they are, and they carried it off.

Rehearsals for the rest of the cast of seven began on June 1. For Pete and Lynne, they were there two weeks earlier to get into their roles, their only concession to age.

“We notice the energy is not as great,” Pete admitted. “That’s the way age works on you.”

Pete was endearing as the tart-tongued curmudgeon, Norman Thayer, in a Tuesday performance. Lynne, as his spirited wife, Ethel, skillfully managed life and family in this story of returning for the 48th year to their summer home on the lake, just as she has managed her real life zest for the stage.

“For Lynne, this is the first time in 40 years she has been able to just act,” Pete said. “She has always been the director or producer, too. She said it’s like being in summer acting camp.”

Pete makes no bones that theatre has been at the center of their life together.

“I had to court Lynne way out in New York City,” he said. She was in New York preparing for a career in the theatre.

“I borrowed $300 from Al (brother Al Simpson) and went out there,” he recalled. “When I left for home, we were engaged.”

Sexual contact with teen sends Cody woman to prison

A Cody woman is headed to prison for having a sexual relationship with a teen half her age.

At a hearing last week, District Court Judge Steven Cranfill ordered Jessica Lee Ayers to serve 18-24 months behind bars for second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Jessica Ayers, in 2014
Ayers had the contact with the 15-year-old boy in late 2012 and early 2013, when she was 30 years old and known as Jessica Brainerd. Charging documents say Ayers met the teen through her children, who were friends with him.

Ayers pleaded guilty to the felony abuse charge last year.

Judge Cranfill’s sentence came in between the two to four years recommended by county prosecutors and the five years of house arrest/probation requested by Ayers and her public defender.

The illegal sexual contact came to light and was reported to police in late February 2013. That was when one of the teen’s family members saw a photo with him half-naked and cuddling with Ayers on a bed, charging documents say.

In a later interview with Cody Police Detective Ron Parduba, Ayers said she initiated the sexual relationship with the teen in December 2012 and that it had continued through February 2013.

“She knew he was under 18, but didn’t think he was as (young) as he is,” Parduba wrote in an affidavit filed in support of the charge, adding, “She stated she knew it was wrong.”

Parduba arrested Ayers at the end of the March 2013 interview.

She spent roughly a week in jail before being released to house arrest in Powell. She spent another 11 days in jail in August 2014 after admitting to “smoking a little meth” and testing positive for amphetamines back in Cody, court records say.

Ayers was taken back to the Park County Detention Center at the end of last week’s (June 2’s) sentencing hearing to await transport to prison.

The case had been delayed for various reasons over the past two years, including initial concern from Ayers’ defense attorney that she was mentally ill. She was ultimately found to be fit to proceed, said Deputy Park Couty Prosecuting Attorney Sam Krone.

Documentary on sagebrush steppe and its wildlife to be shown Saturday

“For the sage and the grouse, the future is uncertain.”

That's one of the big ideas behind an hour-long documentary,  “The Sagebrush Sea,” that will be given a free Saturday showing at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

A sage grouse is seen in this promotional still from "The Sagebrush Sea." Courtesy photo
The family-friendly film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. in the center's Draper Natural History Museum.

It highlights North America's iconic sagebrush steppe — a vast wilderness spanning 250,000 square miles and brimming with hardy life. The film tracks sage grouse, golden eagles, mule deer, pronghorn, badgers, hawks and other animals through the seasons as they struggle to survive in the rugged and changing landscape.

With an increasing presence of wells, pipelines and housing, the sage sea is becoming more and more fragmented, impacting habitats and migratory corridors, the film's producers found.

Of the 500,000 square miles of sagebrush steppe that once stretched across North America, only half remains. The greater sage grouse, completely reliant on the sagebrush, is in decline.

“The Sagebrush Sea” was originally aired nationally in May on the PBS series NATURE.

Saturday’s event is being organized by the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute, Audubon Rockies and The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming. It's part of the Wyoming BioBlitz, occurring this weekend at the Heart Mountain Ranch between Cody and Powell.

You can watch a trailer for the “The Sagebrush Sea” below:

Jun 10, 2015

Rolling Stone calls Cody musician Luke Bell a ‘must-see’

Around 400 bands and artists will perform during this week's CMA Music Festival in Nashville — and Rolling Stone thinks Cody native Luke Bell is one of the handful of country musicians that festival-goers need to see.

Bell cracked the music publication’s list of 25 must-see acts for the 2015 festival. He joined the likes of country superstars Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban, along with fellow up-and-comers.

Luke Bell. Courtesy photo
Writing that Bell’s traditional twang could have fit in at festivals back in the ’70s, Rolling Stone said he “plays classic honky-tonk with a wink and a yodel that summons the sleeping ghosts of country better than any voodoo spell ever could.”

“Bell’s shows are welcome excuses to click your boots and down an extra sniff of bourbon,” the write-up adds.

If you happen to be in Nashville, Bell's performing in a 6 p.m. Saturday show at ACME Feed and Seed. He'll play closer to home later this summer, including at the July 3 Elevation 8076' Celebration in Centennial and at the July 11 Last Best Country Fest in Billings.

Murder cases against Pedro and Sandra Garcia move forward

A Wednesday hearing on the 2014 murder of Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres showed how heavily the case relies on the account of one of the three defendants — and how the other two may try to undercut that account.

The three charged in connection with Guerra-Torres’ January 2014 murder in Badger Basin are John Marquez, who allegedly shot Guerra-Torres to death and mutilated his body, Pedro Garcia Jr., who allegedly arranged for Marquez to carry out the murder, and Sandra Garcia, who allegedly came up with the idea.

Pedro Garcia
The charges against all three are largely based on a confession Pedro Garcia gave to authorities in March. He agreed on Wednesday to have his case transferred from circuit to district court without a hearing, while his sister Sandra Garcia first probed the case against her at a preliminary hearing in circuit court in Cody.

Her attorney, public defender Kerri Johnson of Casper, highlighted testimony from an investigator that Pedro Garcia was using methamphetamine and that Guerra-Torres was his biggest supplier.

“He (Pedro Garcia) was a meth user and was getting meth from Mr. Torres. He’s the one with the motive,” Johnson argued.

She also noted that beyond Pedro Garcia’s account, investigators have little evidence corroborating the alleged conspiracy.

“I believe the evidence in this case with respect to Ms. Garcia is very weak,” Johnson said. However, she also effectively conceded there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to district court.
Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters agreed and bound the case over.

“He (Pedro Garcia) was a meth user and was getting meth from Mr. Torres. He’s the one with the motive,” argued Kerri Johnson, an attorney for Sandra Garcia.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Blatt had argued that, according to the allegations, Sandra Garcia not only asked for Guerra-Torres’ murder, but also drove him to the spot along Wyo. Highway 294 where she knew he would be killed.

“I guess this would be the law school example of premeditated murder,” Blatt said of the case.

Sandra Garcia
According to Pedro Garcia’s account  — recapped by Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Joe Torczon at Wednesday’s hearing —  Sandra Garcia wanted Guerra-Torres dead because he owed $30,000 to $40,000 to “dangerous people in Mexico.” Those people, she allegedly told her brother, were threatening to kill her and her family — including four children she’d had with Guerra-Torres, Torczon recounted.

Pedro Garcia told authorities he recruited Marquez to “take out” Guerra-Torres. According to Pedro Garcia’s account, Marquez ultimately shot Guerra-Torres at a pullout off Highway 294 in Badger Basin as the Garcias stood by.

Pedro Garcia said he and Marquez then took Guerra-Torres’ body up a nearby dirt road.

As he stood watch, “Pedro Garcia said he heard some gruesome noises that sounded like chopping,” Torczon recounted. When Pedro Garcia looked back, he saw Marquez wielding what looked like a hatchet and putting items in a black bag, Torczon said.

The body — missing its head, left arm and right hand — was left by the road.

The two men headed back to Powell afterwards and “Mr. Marquez said that felt good to him; had him pretty jazzed up,” Torczon said of Pedro Garcia’s account.

Marquez then allegedly cleaned the blood out of Pedro Garcia’s truck and got rid of the black bag, Torczon said.

It took authorities roughly five months to identify Guerra-Torres’ body, in part because no one reported the Mexican national and part-time Clark resident as missing.

Pedro Garcia told authorities that after Marquez killed and dismembered Guerra-Torres, “Mr. Marquez said that felt good to him; had him pretty jazzed up,” recounted sheriff's investigator Joe Torczon.

In the days and weeks after the murder, Torczon said Sandra Garcia gave authorities and family members several conflicting stories about when she’d last seen Guerra-Torres.

When questioned in May 2014, after authorities identified the body, Sandra Garcia initially claimed she hadn’t seen Guerra-Torres in the months before he died. She said he’d left for California no later than August 2013 and hadn’t come back, Torczon said. However, investigators found someone who remembered seeing Sandra Garcia and Guerra-Torres together on Jan. 5, 2014 — just four days before his body was discovered in Badger Basin.

Further, authorities learned that Sandra Garcia had told other stories to her parents: telling her father that she’d put Guerra-Torres on a bus to Mexico and telling her mother that Guerra-Torres had been arrested, Torczon said.

Confronted with the discrepancies, Garcia allegedly gave a different account.

John Marquez
She instead said that Guerra-Torres had come to owe between $30,000 and $40,000 to Californian drug traffickers known as “Don Cheto” and “The Crocodile,” Torczon recounted, noting the amount is consistent with what Pedro Garcia later described.

Sandra Garcia reportedly said that on Jan. 5, 2014, she dropped Guerra-Torres off on Road 7WC near the Cody Shooting Complex for a meeting with “Crocodile.”

“He (Guerra-Torres) needed to meet with Crocodile; he had to,” Torczon said of Sandra Garcia’s explanation.

She said she never saw him again.

Sandra Garcia cried during much of Wednesday’s hearing and shook her head in apparent disagreement as Torczon laid out the different accounts she’d reportedly given to law enforcement and family.

Marquez — who declined to speak with authorities when arrested in March — has not yet had his preliminary hearing, but he’s already criticized law enforcement’s reliance on Pedro Garcia’s account. At his first court appearance last month, Marquez said it was “ludicrous” that he’d been arrested on the word of a “known meth-head.”

Marquez has said it's “crazy” that he was arrested based on the Pedro's account of the crime.

Investigator Torczon said Wednesday that drug use has fogged some of Pedro Garcia’s memories of the weeks before the murder. For example, Torczon said Pedro Garcia told investigators that he thought Sandra Garcia and Marquez met at Blair’s Market in Powell to discuss the plans for the murder, but wasn’t too sure about the details.

“In his (Pedro Garcia’s) own words, he was ‘gaked out,’” Torczon said.

Now that their cases have reached the district court level, the Garcias will next enter pleas to the charges against them (conspiring to and aiding and abetting first-degree murder).

Marquez is set for a preliminary hearing on July 8.

A preliminary hearing is not intended to sort out which witnesses are credible, as that’s a job reserved for a jury.

For the case to proceed, the prosecution only needs to show “probable cause” — a low legal threshold generally described as showing there’s a reasonable basis for a given charge. In contrast, to ultimately get a conviction in district court, the state must meet the substantially higher burden of proving a defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The area where Guerra-Torres' body was found.

UPDATED: Authorities want to know who wasted nearly 400 fish near Gillette

UPDATE, 5 p.m. Thursday: The Game and Fish department announced Thursday that the man responsible had turned himself in.

Someone dumped close 400 fish at a spot near Gillette and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department wants to know who.

The wasted, rotting fish which included at least 368 crappie were found east of Gillette outside the Collins Heights Subdivision on Monday. Some were so decomposed that Game Warden Dustin Kirsch couldn't identity the species. None of the edible portions of the fish had been removed.

A crappie fry is shown at the Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery in this 2014 photo. Photo courtesy Spencer Neuharth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
“This is the largest wanton waste of game fish I have witnessed,” Kirsch said in a news release from the Game and Fish Department.

He believes the fish had likely been dumped about three or four days before they were discovered.

A concerned individual has offered a $500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for dumping the game fish.

The Game and Fish Department is asking anyone with information about the incident to contact Kirsch at 307-687-7157, the STOP POACHING hotline at 1-877-943-3847 or the Sheridan Regional Office at 307-672-7418.

Callers can remain anonymous.

Cody man still missing in Grand Canyon National Park

After more than a week of searching, authorities have yet to find any sign of a 22-year-old Cody man who's gone missing in the Grand Canyon. The search for Morgan Heimer was scaled back on Monday after six days of intense looking.

Heimer, a river rafting guide with the company Tour West, had been helping lead an eight-day tour through the canyon when he disappeared. He was last seen around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, near an spot known as Pumpkin Springs along the Colorado River.

Morgan Heimer
A group of about 15 to 20 people on the trip, including Heimer, had hiked from the river to a nearby swimming hole, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Emily Davis. One of the people in the group realized Heimer was missing after they returned to camp, Davis said.

National Park Service personnel immediately began searching the area. They took to the air in a helicopter and an airplane and fanned out on foot and on the water over the following days, Davis said. They reported combing over roughly 14 miles of the Colorado River and four miles of land adjacent to the Pumpkin Spring area.

On Monday, Grand Canyon National Park officials announced they were cutting back the search.

With no additional clues to guide search efforts on land or water, the search will be scaled back to a continuous, but limited mode in which rangers and pilots will continue to search for clues when in the area, the park said in a news release.

Flyers with Heimer's photo and description remain posted at various points along the Grand Canyon's South Rim and all trips headed down the river are being briefed on the search effort, the release said.

Nothing had changed as of mid-day Wednesday, Davis said.

Heimer is described as 6 feet tall with blond hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a dark-colored Astral personal flotation device, a blue plaid long-sleeve shirt, a pair of Chaco flip-flop sandals, a maroon baseball cap, and brightly colored shorts. Heimer was also carrying a purple water bottle.

Grand Canyon National Park officials described the terrain where Heimer went missing as difficult, with boulders and thick stands of tamarisk, plus deep water with a strong current.

Anyone with information about Heimer's location is asked to call the National Park Service Tip Line at 928-638-7840.

Local support group available for Alzheimer's caregivers

If you're helping care for a friend or family member with Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia, there's local support available.

The new Wyoming chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association recently announced that a support group for caregivers is now meeting regularly in Cody.

The Caregiver Support Group is meeting the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, from noon to 1 p.m., in Room B of the Cathcart Building (424 Yellowstone Avenue).

All those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia are invited to participate.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 8,800 people in Wyoming are living with Alzheimer’s disease, with 28,000 family and friends helping to care for them. Alzheimer’s can be referred to as a “caregivers disease” or a “family disease” because of the tremendous toll – physically, emotionally and financially – it takes on caregivers.

The Cody support group is being facilitated by volunteer Kenli Lowe of Meeteetse.

“This group is an open and welcoming place where people can share their thoughts, emotions and experiences in a secure and confidential setting,” Lowe said in a news release from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Lowe has been specially trained by the association to lead caregiver support groups. She also has mental health worker training and a master’s degree in educational technology.

“We are very fortunate to have a volunteer who has stepped up and is now facilitating a support group in the Cody area,” said Janet Lewis, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association's Wyoming chapter, in the release.

For more information about the Cody support group, call 307-272-0999. For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association in Wyoming, call 307-316-2892.

Billings man presumed to have drowned in Buffalo Bill Reservoir as crews keep searching

Searchers are continuing to look for the body of an 80-year-old Billings man presumed to have drowned in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir Monday afternoon.

Merle Henry Daly formerly of Cody is believed to have died while trying to swim after his drifting boat.

Search and rescue personnel continued searching for Daly's body on Tuesday. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
The Park County Sheriff's Office said Daly had been out recreating with a friend at the time of the accident. He and 77-year-old Kay Becker of Billings had reportedly put in at the Buffalo Bill State Park's boat ramp and traveled across the reservoir to a kind of island near the southern shore.

The sheriff's office said in a Tuesday news release that, according to Becker, the boat somehow got loose and began drifting away while Daly and Becker were resting on the island,

Daly, without a flotation device, tried swimming to the boat. However, about 50 feet away from the shore, he called out and then disappeared beneath the water, Becker told authorities.

The accident occurred sometime around 4:30 p.m., but with Becker stranded on the island, she wasn't able to call emergency responders for two hours, the news release said. That's when Becker was able to flag down a passing boat for help.

Personnel from the sheriff's office, Buffalo Bill State Park and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department responded and the Park County Search and Rescue Unit immediately began a search for Daly.

Searchers (bottom left) looked over the area on Tuesday. For perspective, the boat ramp is located on the opposite shore in this photograph, almost directly above the boat. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

Searchers found the boat and a life jacket that Becker had tried to throw to Daly, but they didn't find his body before nightfall and wind forced them to pause the search Monday night.

Search and rescue personnel continued combing the reservoir on Tuesday, deploying canines in the vicinity where Daly was last seen, but they again came up empty.

"Personnel from the Sublette County Sheriff's Office will join the search (Wednesday) using sophisticated side-scanning sonar equipment," the Park County Sheriff's Office said in a posting on its Facebook page.

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