Nov 27, 2015

Bomb threat evacuates Cody Wal-Mart, others across country

A bogus bomb threat led police to search and temporarily evacuate the Cody Wal-Mart on Friday afternoon. Similar threats were reportedly made against Wal-Marts across the United States on "Black Friday," one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Cody police said that around 3:44 p.m., dispatchers with the Park County Sheriff's Office received "a recorded phone message from an unknown source indicating there was a bomb at the Cody Wal-Mart."

Officers from the Cody Police Department and the Park County Sheriff's Office responded to the store, evacuated the building and searched it. No explosives or suspicious devices were found, Cody police said in a Friday evening news release.

Cody police said similar messages were received by the Wal-Mart stores in Riverton, Rock Springs and Rawlins; media accounts say Wal-Marts in states ranging from South Dakota to Maryland were also targeted.

"At this time information is limited and will be released as it becomes available," Cody police said.

Nov 25, 2015

Illegal outfitting nets man more than $5,000 in penalties

A former North Dakota outfitter will pay more than $5,000 and lose some hunting privileges after pleading “guilty as can be” to guiding hunters in the Cody area without a license.

An apparently sarcastic Russell L. Stockie, 51, entered that plea and accepted the punishment at a Nov. 16 hearing in Park County Circuit Court.

Russell Stockie, after his June arrest
Prosecutors said Stockie, who did not have an outfitting license, charged five figures to take people on elk hunts; Stockie contended he’d never wanted to be paid for his help and that the two people he admitted to guiding had insisted on paying him thousands of dollars.

Either way, Wyoming law bars people from helping hunters take a big or trophy game animal “for hire or renumeration” unless they get a state license.

As a part of a plea deal approved by Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters, Stockie was ordered to pay $5,080 in fines and fees on the two misdemeanor counts of acting as an outfitter without a Wyoming outfitter’s license. The former Wapiti resident also was barred from hunting any big game animals in Wyoming until June 2018; the rest of his privileges remain intact.

“I’m assuming there won’t be any hunting, guiding, is that correct?” Waters asked.

“Not without a proper license, your honor,” said Stockie's defense attorney, Michael Messenger of Messenger and Overfield in Thermopolis.

Stockie said last week that he “never realized I was breaking a law” by keeping the money he received for helping the two elk hunters last year.

Stockie testified that a Kemmerer hunter he assisted in either October or November of 2014 covertly left $2,000 on his counter after the hunt. The was despite the fact that, “I told him 10 times I didn’t want any money and didn’t expect any,” Stockie said.

He said it was a similar situation in December 2014, when he helped a long-time friend from North Dakota harvest a bull elk and “he left some cash on the table.”

He testified he hadn’t asked for money and “matter of fact, I told him (the friend) 10 times not to leave any.”

Stockie’s account of just happening to get paid for his help stands in contrast to what other people told the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

In May, Stockie’s landlord told the Game and Fish that Stockie had guided several hunters over a span of about three years.

Stockie’s former boss at a Cody construction company similarly said Stockie had been guiding out-of-state hunters for money for years. For example, Stockie borrowed $5,000 from his then-boss in the summer of 2014 and pledged to repay it “after he received payment from the hunters he was guiding” later in the year, North Cody Game Warden Travis Crane wrote of the boss’ account in an affidavit used to support the charges.

The former boss told Game and Fish that Stockie paid back the $5,000, in cash, on Dec. 3, 2014. The boss recalled Stockie saying that the money had come from his friend from North Dakota and another man, who’d paid him $10,000 in $100 bills.

Stockie testified last week that he didn’t remember how much his friend had paid him; he did not mention the second man.

As part of the deal reached with the Park County Attorney’s Office, a third count of illegal outfitting (relating to a Colorado hunter Stockie allegedly guided in September or October 2014) was dismissed. The prosecution also agreed not to pursue any other charges from the investigation.
Stockie indicated he was grudgingly accepting the deal and would have preferred to plead his case to a jury.

“If I could have a jury trial, I’d be there right now,” said Stockie, who participated in the hearing by phone.

Because illegal outfitting charges don’t carry the possibility of any jail time, he was only entitled to a bench trial, before a judge.

“If I could have a jury trial, I’d be there right now,” Stockie said by phone.

Although jail couldn’t be imposed as a punishment, Stockie did serve three days in jail for the offenses. That’s because the county attorney’s office had him arrested on the allegations in June, apparently out of concern he might leave the area. Stockie would have stayed in jail longer, but he was able to post a $10,000 cash bond shortly after his initial court appearance.

Part of the reason Stockie’s bond was set so high was because this was not his first Game and Fish-related offense. Stockie ended up with a federal felony conviction in 2002 after officials learned his outfitting business in North Dakota was letting clients take more pheasants than allowed, among other violations. He lost worldwide hunting, guiding and outfitting licenses for three years, the Minot Daily News reported at the time.

To become an outfitter in Wyoming, you must pay a $1,600 application fee and $600 a year, provide proof of insurance and pass a state quiz and inspection, among other requirements.

Nov 24, 2015

Saturday fire claims family’s business, six dogs

A Cody couple who trains service dogs lost six of their animals, their business and their future home in a Saturday morning fire.

Michael and Denae Thomas had recently purchased a facility on Cody’s Rumsey Avenue that they planned to use for their dog training business, Total Family K-9. The Thomases were also renovating an apartment in the facility to be their residence.

But then, on Saturday morning, “the most (awful) thing I can imagine happened,” Denae Thomas said in a later Facebook post.

A GoFundMe page, shown on Nov. 24, has been set up to support the Thomases.
She and the couple’s 5-year-old daughter were staying with family in Greybull that night, while Michael Thomas went to a friend’s house after a late night of renovation work.

While they were away, a heater apparently set a part of a basement wall on fire, Cody Fire Marshal Sam Wilde told Cody News Company on Tuesday. Wilde said the material in the wall had become more susceptible to catching on fire because of years of “pyrolysis” — a process in which organic materials like wood breakdown as they’re exposed to heat. He said the basement heater had apparently been running “pretty hot” with the recent cold weather.

Around 3 a.m., a Cody police officer out on patrol saw the Rumsey Avenue building on fire. The Cody Volunteer Fire Department extinguished the majority of the blaze by 4:30 a.m.

The six dogs that died in the fire ranged in age between eight months and 2 years old.

“My heart (is) breaking. We are devastated. I don’t know how we will get past this,” Denae Thomas posted on Facebook.

The Thomases did not yet have insurance on the building. A family friend, Wade French, said their losses total close to $80,000 in belongings, tools and dog training equipment.

French has started an online fundraising campaign for the family at

“Please help this wonderful young family if you can. They are (truly) in need now, especially during this holiday season,” French wrote.

Large winter storm expected to impact holiday travel

A significant winter storm is expected to hit the region beginning tonight (Tuesday) with snow possible through Thanksgiving Day, according to the National Weather Service.

“Are you going to Grandma's for Thanksgiving this week? You might want to pay attention: It looks like a large winter storm will affect much of the region this Wednesday and Thursday — two of the busiest travel days of the year,” the National Weather Service in Riverton posted on its Facebook page over the weekend.

A snowman is pictured in front of Albright Visitor Center in Yellowstone on Nov. 3. Photo courtesy Jim Peaco, NPS
Areas from Casper to Lander and southward are expected to get the heaviest snow.
Snow will make mountain passes and roads increasingly slick beginning tonight (Tuesday) through Thursday.

"It looks like the heaviest snow and strongest winds will occur Wednesday night and early Thanksgiving Day," said a Monday update from the weather service. "Snow will then slowly taper off Thursday night through Friday."

Travel along Interstate 25, 80 and 90 could be significantly impacted, with areas of blowing snow and reduced visibility, the weather service said.

Winds could be strong enough to potentially blow over light trailers and high-profile vehicles, especially along Interstate 80 and over South Pass.

Temperatures are forecast to dip into the single digits on Wednesday night, with wind chills near 20 below zero in some areas.

Cody is predicted to perhaps get a small amount of snow  tonight and up to 2-4 inches possible Wednesday. Temperatures are supposed to sink as low as -2 degrees on Thanksgiving night.

For up-to-date information about the storm, visit Updated road conditions are available at

Nov 20, 2015

Cody man who threatened wife and shot self sentenced to prison

“I apologize, you know, for trying to shoot myself and all the people that it hurt in the process," Joseph Underwood told the judge. "I just would like to get to treatment to get the help I need."

Underwood, 41, fired a gunshot into his head at the end of a nearly four-hour standoff with Cody police last year. But it was what he did before that — threatening his then-wife and another family member with the gun — that brought Underwood before District Court Judge Steven Cranfill for sentencing last week.

“This is a tragic circumstance, no question about it, but the conduct cannot be ignored,” Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Sam Krone said at the Nov. 13 sentencing. “And the conduct against the family cannot be ignored.”

Cranfill agreed it was a tragic case. He also agreed with Krone that Underwood should receive four to six years in prison for felony aggravated assault and battery (for threatening his now ex-wife with the gun) and misdemeanor battery (for choking his teenage son about a month before the shooting).

Joseph Underwood
“This court believes that you do need treatment, there's no question about that,” Cranfill told Underwood before imposing the sentence. “But the safety of this community is the paramount responsibility of this court.”

Charging documents say Underwood's then-wife went to his E Avenue residence on the morning of Aug. 23, 2014, to gather some of her belongings.

With the help of relative Gary Robson, the woman began getting her stuff out of a trailer on the property that served as a storage unit. Robson later told police that, with the help of his father-in-law and his 14-year-old son, the four began loading the stuff into a truck.

Underwood then approached them and — despite a protection order prohibiting contact with his wife — began pleading with her to talk to him, Robson told Cody Police Sgt. Beau Egger.

Underwood eventually pulled out a revolver and pointed it at his wife, Robson told police. Robson said he moved between the two and and pleaded with Underwood to stop, with Robson's son and father-in-law nearby.

By Robson's recounting, Underwood replied by saying something to the effect of, “If I can’t have her, nobody is.” He later turned the gun on himself and said he was “gonna burn all this (stuff) down,” Robson recounted to police.

Underwood shot himself hours later and had to spend nearly a month in a Billings hospital, receiving substantial medical treatment. When he was released, Underwood was taken into custody. He says he has no recollection of the Aug. 23 stand-off.

Underwood says he has no recollection of the stand-off and his actions that day.

A warrant had been issued for Underwood’s arrest the day before the standoff, on a felony charge of child abuse.

One of Underwood's children, a 15-year-old boy from a previous marriage, had reported to police that Underwood choked him and lifted him up by his shirt on July 27, 2014.

Underwood and his wife initially denied those allegations to Cody police on July 27, but the following day, the wife told police Underwood actually had grabbed and choked the boy.

The woman said she’d initially lied “because Joe (Underwood) is physically and mentally abusive to her and she was scared,” wrote Cody Police Officer Josh Van Auken.

Robson later told police that in the days before the standoff, Underwood repeatedly expressed concern that his wife was going to divorce him.

“He (Underwood) has always told me that he would never let her leave him — that there would be a death in the family before that would happen, and that no woman would ever take his girls from him,” Robson testified in court last week. “I really believe he was going to make good on those statements.”

Robson said Underwood is a hard worker who can be compassionate. But he also described Underwood as having a darker side and posing a danger to himself and to people he feels have wronged him.

Underwood’s son also submitted a statement to the court, saying Underwood’s choking “terrified” him and that his father “should be in prison as long as possible.”

“I think it's telling that his own family members are in support of the state's recommendation (for prison time). The violence has escalated,” Krone said. He noted several altercations with family members that led to misdemeanor charges between 1997 and 2005; that included a 2004 incident where he sprayed bear spray into the car carrying his then-girlfriend, her son and her mother, according to Associated Press reporting.

Underwood's court-appointed attorney, Scott Kath of Powell, argued his client was better off receiving a suspended prison sentence and being put on probation. That, Kath said, would allow Underwood to receive specialized treatment for his mental health and substance abuse problems.

“It’s not going to do any good for the community in the future if Mr. Underwood is just going to do four to six years in the penitentiary,” Kath said. “They (prison staff) may be able to address the substance abuse needs, but frankly, I don't think they can address the whole package.”

“It’s not going to do any good for the community in the future if Mr. Underwood is just going to do four to six years in the penitentiary,” argued defense attorney Scott Kath.

While this case was pending, Kath said Underwood actively researched treatment programs that would match his needs and received counseling.

“He wants to be a better person for himself, his family, for the community,” Kath said. “He recognizes the fact that he was out of control.”

The defense attorney said Underwood likely should have gotten help after a 1992 incident, when he suffered a traumatic head injury that required having to re-learn how to walk, talk and write.

In opting for prison time, Cranfill said he believed the state prison's intensive treatment program could provide the care Underwood is seeking.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, Underwood pleaded no contest to the battery (reduced from felony child abuse) and aggravated assault and battery charges. Misdemeanor counts of reckless endangering and violating a protection order were dismissed.

The 14 months Underwood has spent in jail will count toward his prison sentence.

~By CJ Baker

More salt, some sugar beet juice being used to de-ice local roads

In an effort to make roads drier and safer in winter conditions, the Wyoming Department of Transportation is increasing the amount of salt it puts down on local roads.

WyDOT is increasing the salt content in its mixtures from about 3 percent to 7 percent, said agency spokesman Cody Beers.

The de-icing mixture will help WyDOT crews get back to black pavement sooner. Photo courtesy National Park Service
The new percentage remains significantly lower than other states'.

“There’s some states that use 40 to 70 percent salt, and that’s when you get into the major impacts to vehicles,” Beers said.

WyDOT built a small plant near its Cody shop on Beacon Hill Road to produce salt brine, which is basically salt water, he said.

Over the past few years, WyDOT crews hauled salt brine from Thermopolis to Park County. With the new plant in Cody, "we feel like we're better prepared for the winter this year," Beers said.

"It allows us to be more responsive to storms, to get out there and make our roads safer year-round," he said.

He encourages drivers to wash their vehicles after winter storms.

"If the road is wet and it's under 32 degrees, that probably means we're using some chemicals on the road," Beers said. "So after that storm, when it warms back up, we would just suggest washing them down really good."

Washing vehicles helps neutralize the salt solution.

"If you see a white tinge on your beautiful red car that you're driving, take it in and wash it off," he said.

He said WyDOT washes trucks after storms since salt is corrosive.

"Those chemicals are corrosive by nature, but we are diluting those chemicals and it is allowing us to have safer roads to drive on," he said. "Our No. 1 priority at WyDOT is safety."

When Beers announced the added salt during a recent appearance on KODI-AM’s “Speak Your Piece,” several listeners called in and criticized the plan, citing concern for their vehicles.

“We’re not dumping loads of salt out on the road," Beers emphasized, noting that WyDOT has always used some salt with sand on roads.

The mixture also includes sugar beet juice.

Sugar beets are pictured at a local beet dump. Cody News Co. file photo by Carla Wensky
“Where we do have access to beet juice — it’s a byproduct of sugar beets — we are using it, and it’s helping us to turn our roads back to black pavement sooner. And you know in the wintertime, that’s a good thing,” Beers explained on “Speak Your Piece.”

WyDOT buys the juice for use on area roads during the fall and winter.

"It allows us to coat the road below 32 degrees, and it works really well," Beers said. "It's got a little bit lower freezing point than regular water."

Temperatures must be above zero degrees to apply the solution. After it starts breaking down the ice, a snowplow will come to push the ice off the road, he said.

Salt brine is sprayed on sand and then applied to roads, helping melt the ice more quickly.

“That wet sand that has salt on it sticks to the ice better,” Beers said. “It will melt down into the ice and improve the friction between your tires and the driving surface."

Using a tanker, WyDOT crews also can shoot the salt brine directly on icepack that builds up on U.S. Highway 14-A between Powell and Cody.

Beers said WyDOT employees take a lot of pride in making roads safe. During storms, crews will work 20 hours a day.

"We're going to do everything we can — within reason and within our budget — to make our highways safe," he said. "Snow removal is a big deal in Wyoming."

Nov 19, 2015

Cody Game and Fish office flew flag to honor veteran hunter

The Cody office of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department got a unique opportunity to honor a veteran last month.

Veterans traditionally receive an American flag when they retire from the Armed Forces and to commemorate the occasion, many have it flown above a government building or a place that's close to their heart.

Hert's flag being raised over the Cody Game and Fish office on Oct. 30. Photo courtesy Game and Fish
In an unusual request, Florida veteran Craig Hert, who hunts in the Cody area each year, asked to have his flag fly above the local Game and Fish office.

“I grew up here (in Cody) and ever since I was little, I remember going hunting. It’s just something I grew up with,” he told the Game and Fish, recalling trips with his family. “No matter where I am, Cody is always home.”

Personnel at the Cody Game and Fish office say they considered the request an honor and flew Hert's flag on Oct. 30.

Hert joined the Navy at the age of 19 and served for 20 years. He currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife and two children.

The Cody Game and Fish recounted the story in its November newsletter.

Defense expert says Cody policeman’s 2010 search did not violate suspect's civil rights

A former Cody police officer’s 2010 search of a man who claimed to be a suicide bomber — a search that involved stripping off his clothes and shocking him with a Taser — was not unreasonable, according to a police practices expert.

The expert’s report defends the actions taken by then-Assistant Cody Police Chief George Menig in a September 2010 search of Juan P. Flores.

Flores claims Menig violated his civil rights and is suing him in federal court in Casper.

Thor Eells, a commander with the Colorado Springs Police Department, is defending the actions of former Assistant Cody Police Chief George Menig. Photo courtesy Colorado Springs Police
However, the new report from Colorado Springs Police Department Commander Thor Eells — filed on Menig’s behalf last week — suggests police officers need broad discretion in dealing with suspected suicidal bombers because the threat they pose is so different from typical calls.

Training material from the International Association of Chiefs of Police “stresses the fact that a suspected suicidal bomber always presents an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury” and “emphasize the need for law enforcement to consider and use what would normally be unorthodox measures,” Eells writes.

The report rebuts one filed by Flores’ expert — former Bellevue, Washington, Police Chief D.P. Van Blaricom — that concluded Menig did violate Flores’ rights.

According to police reports, Flores flagged down a Park County Sheriff’s Office deputy outside the Cody Law Enforcement center on Sept. 13, 2010. Repeatedly refusing to give his name, Flores claimed to be a member of the Taliban and said he intended to “blow things up.” The deputy and three Cody police officers handcuffed the man and searched him.

He later claimed to have swallowed explosive nitroglycerin to blow himself up. Police found he had a bottle of what was labeled as vodka.

Former Bellevue, Washington, police chief D.P. Van Blaricom is Flores' expert witness. Courtesy photo
Menig was ultimately summoned to the scene, and when he arrived, he forcibly removed Flores’ clothes to look for explosives. When Flores then refused to open his mouth to show if anything was inside, Menig shocked the handcuffed suspect with a Taser to get him to open up.

Van Blaricom — who is Flores’ hired expert — wrote in his September report that the use of the Taser “amounts to coercive torture and is a prohibited police practice.”

Eells, however, reached a different conclusion, noting how the situation differed from typical calls.

While deadly force is generally supposed to be a last resort for officers, “in suicidal bomber calls, it is encouraged as an early option,” Eells writes, interpreting guidelines from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

“In light of the justification for deadly force (for suicide bombers), it is not unreasonable for an officer to believe that a lower level of force, such as the Taser, would be acceptable,” Eells wrote.

As for the strip search, Eells says IACP guidelines tell officers to have suspected suicide bombers remove their clothing.

Since Flores was not compliant, and since officers may sometimes use the element of surprise, Menig's decision to suddenly pull off Flores' clothing “was also unorthodox, but not unreasonable given the circumstances surrounding this call,” Eells concludes.

In contrast, Van Blaricom wrote in his report that “public strip searches ... are unreasonable per se and a prohibited police practice.” He said an internal Cody Police Department review of Menig’s actions concluded that the strip search violated department policy. Van Blaricom also wrote that the three other Cody officers at the scene had concerns about Menig’s tactics.

Attorneys for Menig and the city of Cody have said Van Blaricom’s report “cherry-picked” information from the confidential internal documents and didn’t tell the full story.

The internal investigation was reportedly conducted three years after the fact, when a concerned Cody police officer brought a video of Menig’s search to the attention of Cody City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke.

Eells reviewed the internal report and the video of the incident before writing his report, though they’re not specifically discussed in his findings.

The Colorado Springs commander rejects the overall picture that Flores and his team have painted of Menig’s search.

“In this day and age, an officer no longer has the luxury of dismissing threats of a bomb. The plaintiff in this case (Flores) presented a real threat until proven otherwise,” wrote Thor Eells.

Flores’ complaint alleges that by the time Menig arrived on scene, Flores was an “a defenseless and already proven harmless, individual;” Van Blaricom similarly argued that Flores was only “intoxicated in public, and more probably than not, mentally ill and/or hallucinating” and “did not pose a reasonable threat to the officers or anyone else.”

Eells, however, says that conclusion downplays Flores’ actions and does exactly what the IACP guidelines warn officers not to do: to assume a suspected suicide bomber is acting innocently and ignore the threats.

“My personal training has included the instruction that often suicidal bombers ingest intoxicating substances to assist them in carrying out their criminal acts,” Eells wrote. “In this day and age, an officer no longer has the luxury of dismissing threats of a bomb. The plaintiff in this case (Flores) presented a real threat until proven otherwise.”

The civil case is currently scheduled for a March trial.

Nov 18, 2015

Trying to register local vehicles in Montana is generally illegal, prosecutor says

Don’t try skipping out on your vehicle’s taxes and registration fees by posing as a Montana business owner.

That’s the warning issued by Park County officials, who believe a small number of local people are using some legal tricks in Montana to avoid paying sales taxes and registration fees in Wyoming.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said last week that his office plans to start taking “a more proactive approach” in investigating local vehicles that are questionably registered in Montana.

The sheriff and other county officials had put out a news release back in April aimed at educating people about the problem.

“Park County is losing tens of thousands of dollars from both sales tax revenue and vehicle registration fees,” Park County Treasurer Barb Poley said in the release. “This is unfair to the vast majority of Park County residents who obey the law and pay their fair share.”
Local people who improperly register their vehicles in Montana are costing Park County thousands of dollars, officials say. Courtesy photo

County residents and businesses paid more than $3.5 million in taxes on their new and used vehicles between July 2014 and June 2015, according to data from the treasurer’s office.

Even if only 1 percent of local vehicles are registered in Montana, local and state governments are missing out on more than $36,000 in tax revenue each year — and that doesn’t count the lost annual registration fees.

Poley’s office is responsible for issuing local license plates and she knows there are local residents driving around with Montana plates.

“We've honestly had people in our office that will say they don’t like the price (the 4 percent sales tax) so they say, ‘Fine, we’ll go plate it in Montana,’” Poley said in an April interview.

She’s heard similar stories from local auto dealers, who’ve had prospective customers decide they’d rather buy their vehicle in sales tax-free Montana.

“We've honestly had people in our office that will say they don’t like the price (the 4 percent sales tax) so they say, ‘Fine, we’ll go plate it in Montana,’” said Treasurer Barb Poley.

A Wyoming resident who buys a car or RV in Montana is supposed to register it here — and pay Wyoming’s 4 percent tax when they do.

However, some people have been getting around that by setting up what’s sometimes referred to as a “shell business” in Montana — a limited liability company (LLC) that exists only to hold assets. They then buy the vehicle in the shell business’ name so that, on paper, the truck or camper is not owned by a Wyoming resident but by a Montana company.

That enables the owner to avoid paying Wyoming’s sales taxes and lets them pay Montana’s generally cheaper registration fees each year. It represents thousands of dollars of savings.

But Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric says it’s also illegal.

Skoric notes that state law generally says you must register your vehicle in Wyoming if you’ve lived here for 120 days or more, are living here for work, are registered to vote here, hold a resident hunting or fishing license or meet any of several other qualifications.

In Skoric’s eyes, a limited liability company that exists only to avoid Wyoming taxes and fees was formed for an illegal purpose — meaning it won’t shield a vehicle owner from the state’s laws.

“If the only thing that LLC does is own a vehicle, and there’s no legitimate purpose to that LLC, I think they have an issue,” Skoric said.

Others, however, have said the practice is OK.

In 2014, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that a resident who created a Montana LLC for the sole purpose of avoiding Louisiana’s sales taxes had followed the law. The justices specifically rejected the idea that the resident’s LLC was formed for an unlawful purpose.

“Use of particular business entities to avoid taxes and other liabilities, far from being fraudulent, is a common and legal practice,” the court wrote in a decision specific to Louisiana law.

The Wyoming Legislature is currently looking at how it might crack down on the practice.
According to a draft bill being considered by the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee, if a resident has a vehicle registered to an out-of-state shell business, it will be presumed that “the resident is the actual owner of the vehicle” and they’ll have to pay all the usual Wyoming taxes and fees.

“It’s got to be in millions of dollars the state’s losing,” said Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric.

Skoric thinks the current laws already makes the practice illegal; a Frannie resident was recently convicted of improperly having Montana plates on his pickup. However, Skoric would also welcome the draft bill if it makes Wyoming’s laws more clear and draws more attention to the issue.

“It’s got to be in millions of dollars the state’s losing,” he said.

Beyond the legality, Skoric sees it as a matter of fairness.

“You want to be able to take advantage of everything Wyoming has to offer in terms of its low tax rate overall, but yet you want to not pay anything into roads and schools and anything down here,” he said in an April interview. “It’s just not the right thing to be doing.”

Park County officials say locals shouldn't try putting Montana plates on their new vehicles. Courtesy photo
Sheriff Steward added, “They're also taking money out of the dealers here, too.”

Setting up LLCs in Montana is something of its own industry, with many different businesses offering to create LLCs on your behalf; Poley said some Montana auto dealers used to openly advertise such services on their websites.

The site for one business that promotes the practice — All Day $49 Montana Registered Agent LLC — downplays the regulations that some local governments impose to encourage licensing vehicles locally.

“The reality is that most (of) our clients don’t really care and will never get in trouble,” says the site. “They’ve been getting screwed by the laws that make the rich richer and the middle class poorer and they think it’s cool to finally play a little tax avoidance game like all the rich people do.”

However, you can count the local sheriff as among those who care about the registration laws.

“There’s a lot of people that we know of that are still driving around with those registrations,” Steward said recently. “It’s just a matter of catching them moving.”

Trout Unlimited rescues 2,200 trout from area's irrigation canals

Trout trapped in drying irrigation canals got a new lease on life thanks to a lot of elbow grease from the Yellowstone chapter of Trout Unlimited and their volunteers.

Trout Unlimited member Dave Sweet explained the procedure standing above a Garland Canal drop structure on a frigid Nov. 4 morning.

A couple of volunteers from Marathon Oil, Brian Sheets and Mike Williams, pull some fish from the Garland Canal during Trout Unlimited's recent rescue effort. Cody News Co. photo by Gib Mathers
All summer, fish inadvertently enter the canal. When the irrigation water is turned off, the fish are trapped in receding pools. He isn’t faulting the irrigation district. A $1.5 million screen could divert fish from the canal, but raising $1.5 million is not an easy task, Sweet said.

So, each fall, Trout Unlimited catches the fish and returns them to the Shoshone River from local irrigation canals using an electro fish method. A 60-pound battery pack attached to a long wand delivers about a 1 amp electrical shock, temporarily stunning the fish. The fish are caught with long nets and transfered to buckets. From the buckets, the fish are placed in an oxygenated tank. From the tank, they are returned to the Shoshone River, Sweet said.

“One thing is certain,” Sweet said. “If we don’t get them, they’re going to die.”

It’s a cold day as random snow flakes slant from a leaden sky, but the people were eager as they waded the frigid, sometimes nearly chest-deep water. Others along the canal bank waited with empty buckets to trade for buckets filled with trout.

Sweet guided his group into the and deep, choppy water, rendered a gloomy green beneath an oppressive sky. They worked diligently, probing every corner of the concrete box. Soon, stunned fish floated to the surface. But they weren’t too dazed; they thrashed vigorously in the nets.

Bob Capron, East Yellowstone chapter Trout Unlimited conservation chairman, who has been running the canal rescue for at least 20 years, prepared to ease a nice trout into an oxygenated tank.

“Brown,” he said to Linda Taylor, a Cody Marathon Oil Corporation employee, keeping a tally of the number and species of caught.

From left, Jake Blakesley (Marathon Oil Corporation), Dave Sweet (Trout Unlimited), Travis Schramm (Trout Unlimited), Gregg Bierie (Trout Unlimited) and Mike Williams (Marathon) work to rescue trout from a canal on Nov. 4. Cody News co. photo by Gib Mathers
“We’ve worked with Trout Unlimited for a couple of years,” said Mike Williams, Marathon senior environmental professional. With the understanding that Trout Unlimited would extend its search to the Sidon Canal, more Marathon employees volunteered.

There were 18 Marathon employees who had to work late or assure a fellow employee would cover for them while they saved fish, Williams said.

The Sidon Canal near Byron was the final search on Nov. 9. It was so cold that they had to break ice with shovels before the trout could be caught, Capron said.

Having Marathon employees rescue trout from Sidon was a lesson in land stewardship and to understand the ecosystem they work in. The hope is Marathon employees will bring their spouses and children to future conservation projects to better appreciate and preserve their environment, Williams said.


This year, Trout Unlimited and volunteers captured and released more than 2,200 trout. Around 4,000 were caught and released last year, Capron said.

This year, they worked the Willwood, Garland, Cody, Lake View (South Fork of the Shoshone River) and Sidon (Byron area) canals and the North Fork Ditch (west of Cody). It was a 10-day endeavor averaging seven hours per day, Capron said. He estimated they walked approximately 80 miles of canals.


Some anglers may turn their nose at suckers, but those with beaks find them edible.

Susan Ahalt, known as the Bird Lady, runs Ironside Bird Rescue, Inc. just outside Cody. For nearly 30 years Ahalt has rescued injured birds. If possible, she heals the wounded avians to release them back into the wild. If a bird’s injuries are too severe, they spend their lives in her sprawling aviary.

Ahalt accompanied Unlimited on one fish rescue day to collect the suckers. Another day, Trout Unlimited delivered suckers to her to feed a bald eagle she hopes to release soon, Capron said.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West also received a catch of suckers to feed its live birds for its raptor program, Capron said. 

Among other organizations, Marathon employees have helped the Bureau of Land Management, Friends Of A Legacy (McCullough Peaks wild horse support group) and The Nature Conservancy in conservation projects.

Releasing trout back to the Shoshone increases spawners exponentially.

“That turns into hundreds of thousands of trout the next year,” Williams said. “It’s extremely rewarding.”

Nov 12, 2015

Cody woman re-arrested for another altercation over her cat

For the second time in two weeks, a Cody woman has been arrested on allegations that she angrily (and falsely) accused a neighbor of stealing her cat.

On Monday, a judge ordered Maureen "Michelle" Nesbit, 68, to be held in jail for the time being and to undergo a mental evaluation.

Maureen Nesbit
Cody police arrested Nesbit on Sunday afternoon on a charge of breach of peace. Charging documents indicate that the circumstances were nearly identical to Nesbit's Oct. 27 arrest, when she allegedly screamed at a neighbor and kicked his door because she believed he had stolen her cat. (She later found the animal in her apartment, telling police she still believed the neighbor had stolen it, but had put it back.)

Nesbit had been arrested after the October incident as well, but was released from the Park County Detention Center on Nov. 4 when a family member posted $750 bail.

However, on Sunday — just four days after bonding out — the situation repeated itself.

Once again, Nesbit called Cody police to report that her neighbor had stolen her cat and once again the neighbor called to report Nesbit was disturbing him.

Responding Cody Police Officer Scott Burlingame first went into Nesbit’s apartment in the Pioneer Avenue complex.

“As soon as I walked in, I saw Nesbit’s cat,” Burlingame recounted in an affidavit filed in support of the new misdemeanor charge. “I told Nesbit her cat obviously had not been stolen as it was in her apartment."

The neighbor told Burlingame he'd heard a noise in the hall and opened the door to find Nesbit standing there. The neighbor said Nesbit became very angry, yelled at him and accused him of stealing her cat, Burlingame wrote.

“I told Nesbit her cat obviously had not been stolen as it was in her apartment,” recounted Cody Police Officer Scott Burlingame.

Meanwhile, a friend of the neighbor’s told police that Nesbit accused him of pumping “poison gas” into her apartment and swore at him as he took out his trash. The friend said Nesbit aggressively “came at me” before he told her to go back to her apartment, Burlingame wrote.

For her part, Nesbit told the officer she’d just been standing in the hall when the neighbor opened his door.

“I was walking down the hall, looking for my cat,” Nesbit started to explain to Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters on Monday.

“Let's not talk about the facts of the case,” Waters interjected, noting that any statement Nesbit made in court could be used against her. “You want to save that for your attorney.”

Nesbit has pleaded not guilty to the two counts of breach of peace stemming from the two incidents.

Waters revoked Nesbit's bond in the original case — because she allegedly disobeyed conditions requiring her to stay away from the neighbor and obey the law — and set her bail at $2,500 cash in the new one.

In ordering a mental evaluation, Waters said there’s reasonable cause to believe that Nesbit “has a mental illness or deficiency” that makes her unfit to proceed in the case.

Contraceptives providing cheaper way to manage wild horse herds

More than 58,000 wild horses live on 31 million acres of public land and about 45,000 live in long-term holding facilities — costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year, according to the Bureau of Land Management. In the wild, they compete with livestock and wildlife for forage; and if herds grow too large, they can ruin the environment.

To keep herds in check, there are two options: round them up or shoot the mares with a dart loaded with a contraceptive vaccine.

PZP fertility control is used on smaller wild horse herds, such as those in the Pryor Mountains. Cody News Co. file photo by Gib Mathers
Jay Kirkpatrick, Kimberly Frank and Robin Lyda of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings gave a presentation on vaccination and held a question and answer forum with about 30 members of the public at the Park County Library on Nov. 5.

The Science and Conservation Center produced the federally approved Porcine Zona Pellucida Contraceptive Vaccine, or more commonly known as PZP. They are a 501c3 nonprofit on a mission to apply non-lethal methods of wildlife population control.

“We have trouble separating symptoms of the problem from the problem,” said Kirkpatrick, the center’s reproductive physiologist who helped develop the vaccine. “Those are symptoms of a problem — the problem is reproduction. You can remove horses until the cows come home, but you won’t solve the problem, you are addressing symptoms.”

The Wild Horse and Burro Act requires population control, but laws and public opinion restrict what can be done to control herd populations, Kirkpatrick said. And this comes with a hefty price tag.

Each year, wild horse long-term and short-term holding facilities have a combined cost of $49 million, according to the BLM.

“Those are symptoms of a problem — the problem is reproduction,” Kirkpatrick says of horse overpopulation. “You can remove horses until the cows come home, but you won’t solve the problem, you are addressing symptoms.”

A big problem vaccination faces is lack of understanding, said Lyda, chief scientist for the center.

“If someone doesn’t understand something, they say it is not so,” Lyda said. “Then there is politics, influence from money being given to people gathering horses ... the majority of the problem is basic governmental, not wanting to support wildlife contraception.”

Wild horses are often rounded up and placed into long-term holding facilities because wild horse herds are required to be kept within a sustainable size so that the herd can remain healthy.

“Nothing is more genetically devastating than a round up and removal,” Kirkpatrick said.

Roundups aren’t perfect. Sometimes horses are injured or die in the process. They also are not a permanent solution, the wild horses will continue to breed.

But, when breeding is managed so that horse births and deaths were equal, then round ups are not needed.

The center makes about 150-200 doses of the vaccine per week and charges about 60 percent of what it costs to make, Lyda said.

The center also does quality control for the vaccine, trains personnel how to use it and keeps a database for all animals treated by the drug.

The way PZP works is no different from a standard vaccination that’s commonly used on humans, pets and livestock.

“But, it is safer and more efficient,” Kirkpatrick said. “It beats the Dickens out of flu vaccine.”

In this case, the vaccination prevents fertilization from occurring for anywhere from a year on up to 10 years, depending on how the mare reacts to the vaccine, Kirkpatrick said. The average timeframe is 4 years.

“Boosters are needed because some mares respond differently,” Kirkpatrick said. “Our rule of thumb is the first 3 years is to prime them, boost them and boost them and then you can start skipping years.”

Eventually, the vaccine wears off and the mare is able to be fertilized. This is the same as when a tetanus shot has worn off and another is needed.

The only change PZP causes is it extends the breeding season by two weeks, Kirkpatrick said. But, some mares will breed late no matter if they were or were not treated.

Sterilization is not good for herd health since only a few horses would breed and that does not promote a long-lasting and healthy herd.

The cost for removing wild horses varies by location and herd size. In the Pryors, a helicopter round up cost $2,165 per horse and water or bait trapping cost $1,400 per horse.

Meanwhile, it cost about $106 per horse for a contraceptive application with a vaccination dart.

Not only was the vaccination cheaper and hands-off, it also:

• has a 95 percent efficacy rate
• is reversible
• does not impact current pregnancy
• does not alter social behavior
• does not effect ovarian function

Application of the vaccine on the wild horse herd on Assateague Island from 1994-2004 reduced the herd size from 175 to 99 without using round ups. There was also a decrease in adult and foal mortality and improved body condition scores.

“Self-regulating is delusional,” Kirkpatrick said. “They self-regulate because so many die, there is nothing for them to eat. They destroy the range and then they starve to death.”

Wild horse herds are required to be preserved because they are regarded as a cultural and historical resource, Frank said

“Self-regulating is delusional,” Kirkpatrick said of wild horse populations. “They self-regulate because so many die, there is nothing for them to eat. They destroy the range and then they starve to death.”

On Assateague Island, legislation required the herd be kept at a sustainable size. But, the National Park Service did not want the horses to be touched, rounded up, or removed, Frank said.

So, the vaccine was applied with a dart gun.

“The public loves it because there is nothing horrible happening to the horses,” Frank said. “But, we are getting smarter horses, they are learning how far 20, 30, 40 yards is. It gets more difficult.”

The dart gun method would be harder to do with larger herds, but not impossible. Shooters would need to identify the horses and vaccinate 65 percent of the mares. One way of making this easier would be to bait a few horses into an area and do a few at a time, Kirkpatrick said. But, they would need held for a couple of weeks after for a booster shot and that gets complicated too.

From 2004-13, the average age of death for the Assateague wild horses increased from 17 years old to 26 years old. Prior to any management practices in 1994, the average age at death was less than 7 years old.

While round ups provide an immediate herd size reduction, vaccinations take a few years to impact herd size since it requires waiting for older horses to die.

In the McCullough Peaks, the herd growth rate was 14.88 percent per year before contraceptives were applied from 1971-2011. After contraceptives were applied, the growth rate dropped to 4.23 percent per year in 2012-14. Then in 2014, the herd did not increase in size.

When round ups began on the McCullough Peaks herd, the herd went from an annual growth rate of 15 percent in 18 months to about 50 percent. Part of the increased growth was because of increased foal survival, Kirkpatrick said. With contraceptives, foal survival rate was around 85 percent.

Of course, projects of this magnitude require the help of volunteers, known as non-governmental organization partnerships, such the partnership between the Cody BLM office and FOAL.

Nov 10, 2015

Investigation finds no wrongdoing in shooting of military/service dog; owner 'disgusted'

A bicyclist appears to have only acted in self defense when he fatally shot a Powell man’s military K9/service dog last month, the Park County Sheriff's Office concluded.

Late Thursday, the Sheriff’s Office announced it had closed its investigation into the Oct. 10 shooting of the Belgian Malinois named Michael. Michael, a bomb-detecting K9 who was 9 years old, served two tours of duty in Iraq with owner Matthew Bessler. When the two returned from the war, Michael served as a psychological service animal to Bessler, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.

In this file photo, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Bessler is pictured in Iraq with Mike, the dog he adopted after the pair served together in the U.S. Army. Courtesy photo
The dog’s exceptional story of service was featured in the Washington Post this summer and

Michael’s violent death became international news.

The Powell man who shot the dog — 59-year-old Jeffery Brandt — said he did so after Michael attacked him on Road 5, near Bessler’s home, east of town.

Brandt was the only witness to the incident. Bessler — who was out of town at the time — publicly questioned his account. Bessler said he’s “disgusted” with the Sheriff’s Office’s conclusions, believes they’re “one-sided” and still has questions. He’s ordered a private necropsy on Michael. The Sheriff’s Office spent the past couple weeks looking into various questions Bessler raised, interviewing Bessler’s neighbors and following-up with Brandt.

In a seven-page summary of its findings, released Thursday night, the Sheriff’s Office wrote that, “We have determined to accept the descriptions of the reported attack by Michael as described by the victim, Jeffrey Brandt to be factual. Therefore, there will be no charges filed.

“As stated by Sheriff (Scott) Steward, if you feel your life is in danger or you feel threatened by an animal, you can act against it,” the report says.

Brandt — who like Bessler is an honorably discharged U.S. Army veteran — has continually expressed remorse about Michael’s death since the incident and has said he hadn’t meant to kill the animal, according to the report.

“The physical evidence seems to back up this claim,” the Sheriff’s Office concluded.
Brandt lives not far from Bessler’s house and he told the Sheriff’s Office he was finishing up a 30-mile bike ride when the dog came out of Bessler’s yard. Some other dogs reportedly approached Brandt, but only Michael acted aggressively, Brandt told the Sheriff’s Office.

“He stated that he ‘was genuinely in fear of his life and well-being, and Michael was definitely in full attack mode and not backing down at all,’” the report says of Brandt's account.
Bessler was out of town on a hunting trip that day and his roommate, Jody Church, had been caring for Bessler's dogs. Church later told the Sheriff’s Office he had locked them behind a fence before taking a trip to Cody and didn’t know how they would have gotten out.

Brandt said he had no way to outrun Michael.

“He stated that he ‘was genuinely in fear of his life and well-being, and Michael was definitely in full attack mode and not backing down at all,’” the report says of Brandt's account.

Brandt got off his bike and put it between him and Michael, he told the Sheriff’s Office. The dog then began circling Brandt, at one point lunging through the center of the bike, he told the Sheriff’s Office.

Ultimately, Brandt grabbed his 410 Taurus Judge pistol from a holster mounted on his bike — a weapon he said he generally carried to kill snakes — and fired one shot at Michael's right rear hind quarter. The dog then retreated, according to Brandt.

Several of the pellets from the No. 6 birdshot hit Michael in the front right chest, the report says,
indicating the dog was shot at a broadside angle and not — as some people have assumed — as it was running away.

Neighbor Jessica Klein came out of her house after hearing the shot. She saw Brandt standing in the road with his bike on the ground and Michael limping away, according to the report.

Brandt reportedly told Klein he was OK, but “shook up;” he told a deputy the same thing about 20 minutes later.

Brandt said he felt bad the dog died and felt bad for Bessler, the report says.

One of the things that upset Bessler was that Brandt never contacted him to apologize — a decision the Sheriff’s Office is defending.

The Park County Sheriff's Office withheld Brandt’s identity until Thursday, correctly predicting there would be a public backlash against the shooter.

A service for Michael will be held Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 1 p.m. at the Yellowstone Building at NWC. Courtesy photo
“It seems only prudent that Brandt would not reach out (to) Bessler, thereby divulging his identity,” the sheriff’s report said.

Online comments on the various news accounts of the incident drew plenty of threatening remarks toward Brandt, and Brandt reportedly did not sleep well in the weeks after the shooting.

One of Bessler’s primary objections to Brandt’s account of the attack was that Michael was a gentle dog that stayed on his property and “would never attack someone.”

The Sheriff’s Office says it doesn’t doubt Michael was a caring and faithful companion to Bessler and notes the two “served this country with pride and distinction.”

However, the Sheriff’s Office says it’s also convinced Michael “occasionally displayed aggressive tendencies towards strangers.”

Bessler takes issue with the image the report paints of his dog and says Michael was not trained to attack.

In support of that conclusion, the report specifically mentions an April 22 altercation between Michael and a man who worked for Bessler’s neighbors, Rick and Klodette Stroh.

That man, 70-year-old Steve Edwards, had wanted to ask Bessler about some damage some dogs had done to the Strohs’ irrigation pipe.

Edwards said that when he walked on to Bessler’s property to speak with him, Michael came across the yard and lunged for his throat. Edwards told the Sheriff’s Office he threw up his arm and Michael bit into it, biting through his work coat, shirt and long-johns. Edwards described being jerked around by the dog until Bessler, a short distance away, called it off.

Bessler said Edwards was looking in his truck when Michael attacked, a claim Edwards denies. 

Bessler also says Michael only “nipped at” Edwards and lacked the teeth to hurt him — although Klodette Stroh told the Sheriff’s Office she saw and treated Edwards’ bloody elbow and Edwards showed the Sheriff’s Office a torn coat.

No citations were issued in the April incident.

To further support its conclusions about the Oct. 10 incident between Brandt and Michael, the
Sheriff’s Office’s report cites general information about Belgian Malinois, including their skill at chasing people down.

Bessler, however, takes issue with the general image the report paints of the breed and says Michael was not trained to attack.

“It completely ruins the image that the dog is a loyal, good-looking, fun, happy-go-lucky companion, a good companion animal that is ... protective of their owners,” Bessler said, adding, “I just really feel that that discredits Mike.”

Bessler said he’s disgusted with the legal system and feels the Sheriff’s Office failed him.

The sheriff’s report describes the shooting as a “tragic situation,” with “no winners here, only losers.”

A memorial service for Michael will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Yellowstone Building at Northwest College.

A burial ceremony with military honors will be take place at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Powell immediately following the service. All are welcome to attend, Bessler said.

Nov 9, 2015

Cody man catches ‘jackalope fight' on camera; photos go viral

It's not everyday that you see sparring jackalopes.

But JR Robison of Cody was "lucky" enough to capture the rare event on Saturday and posted a series of photos on his Facebook page.

"BIG Jackalope fight in the front yard this morning," he wrote.

Jackalopes lock antlers in this photo captured near Cody. Photo courtesy JR Robison
 The post soon went viral with more than 2,300 shares as of Monday morning. Robison said he was "completely surprised" by the number of shares.

Another angle of the fight. Photo courtesy JR Robison
Many Facebook users shared in the fun, posting tongue-in-cheek comments.

"Those little buggers will attack you if you're not sneaky enough," wrote Rod Morrison, remarking that it's the closest he's ever seen anyone get to a buck fight.

Others noted it is jackalope rut season, and marveled at Robison's luck at capturing the moment.

"Have not seen a jackalope rut since the 80's....," wrote Barry Hess. "Thank God Obama saved them from extinction."

The post made others scratch their heads.

"I thought jackalopes were a fake animal," one Facebook user wrote.
"So are those real because I just Googled jackalope an it's says it's an American fokelore," another commented. "What the hell I'm sooooo confused."

Nov 5, 2015

Lovell couple charged with stealing three TVs from Wal-Mart

Authorities are seeking the arrests of a Lovell couple who allegedly walked out of the Cody Wal-Mart with three stolen TVs and other items back in August. Cody police say a store manager stopped the couple on their third trip out of the store, as they tried to take a fourth television.

Authorities concluded that this surveillance footage from Wal-Mart showed Rodriguez and Jolley stealing a TV, the first of four they allegedly took. Photo courtesy Cody Police Department
A Park County Circuit Court judge recently issued warrants for Brian G. Rodriguez, 31, and Shanna Rae Jolley, 26. The Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has charged both Rodriguez and Jolley with a felony count of shoplifting $1,000 or more and a misdemeanor count of wrongful disposing of property.

The thefts occurred within the span of an hour on Aug. 4, with the suspected thieves fleeing after being confronted by a manager.

To help identify the suspects, Cody police posted images from Wal-Mart’s surveillance cameras to Facebook; police received several tips that the male in the pictures was Rodriguez and the female Jolley.

The couple agreed to speak with Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford on Aug. 17.

“Jolley admitted that ... she and Rodriguez needed money, so they came up with the idea of going into Wal-Mart to steal a television to sell,” Stafford wrote in an affidavit filed in support of the charges.

Rodriguez similarly said that “because they are both unemployed and their rent and other bills were due, they decided to see if they could walk out of Wal-Mart with a television,” Stafford recounted.

At the start of the interview, Rodriguez “told me that it was a stupid decision, and he was here to pay the consequences,” Stafford wrote.

“Jolley admitted that ... she and Rodriguez needed money, so they came up with the idea of going into Wal-Mart to steal a television to sell,” charging documents say.

The couple told Stafford they borrowed a family member’s vehicle for the drive to Cody, then went into the store, got a 60-inch Vizio television and walked out without paying for it.

Rodriguez said the couple then went back inside the store and split up; this time, Rodriguez said he took out a 55-inch TV and loaded that into their vehicle, too, Stafford wrote.

Rodriguez initially insisted that the 55-inch TV was the only thing he’d stolen on that trip. However, after being confronted with a photograph of his cart in a follow-up interview, Rodriguez admitted to also making off with a 28-inch television and a vacuum cleaner, Stafford wrote.

Rodriguez initially said he'd only taken a 55-inch TV on his second trip from the store, but admitted there were other items in the cart after being confronted with the surveillance footage, charging documents allege. Photo courtesy Cody Police Department
The couple then went back inside the store and got another 60-inch TV, a teddy bear and a card, Stafford wrote. On their way out, however, they were confronted by a Wal-Mart employee and took off, Stafford wrote of the couple’s account.

Shortly after the thefts, Jolley reportedly listed the 60-inch TV for sale in the “Guys Gear Swap Site” Facebook group; she allegedly asked for $600 for the originally $748 item.

According to the charging affidavit, Lovell Mayor Angel Montanez ended up buying the TV.

Montanez told police he’d messaged Jolley and asked if she would hold onto the television until he received his next paycheck. Jolley and Rodriguez instead showed up at Montanez’s home with the device and sold it to him for $200 up front and $400 later, Montanez told Stafford.

However, the mayor later saw the Cody Police Department’s Facebook post about the thefts from Wal-Mart, recognized Rodriguez and Jolley in the surveillance camera footage and contacted the authorities, the affidavit says.

Montanez ultimately turned the 60-inch TV over to Cody police and Rodriguez and Jolley turned over the 55-inch TV, which they said they’d been using at their home, Stafford wrote. As for the 28-inch TV and the vacuum cleaner, Rodriguez reportedly told Stafford they’d been sold to people he didn’t know.

The affidavit says the stolen items totaled $1,622 in value.

Hunter’s stray bullet goes through Cody area house; homeowners call for restrictions

“People really need to be a lot smarter when they’re hunting and when they’re even shooting,” said Park County Sheriff Scott Steward.

That’s his take on a Saturday incident, when an apparent errant shot from a deer hunter ripped through a home just north of Cody on Bohica Lane.

The bullet pierced the exterior wall of Bard and Allison Betz’ home — then the stairway, a door and an interior wall before finally coming to rest inside their master bedroom closet.

“It was obviously very disturbing,” Bard Betz said Wednesday.

The bullet zipped right past the right side of the Betzes' computer monitor, meaning that, “had I been sitting in that office space, I’d be dead,” Allison Betz said. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
The couple had been sitting in their living room, around 6 p.m. Saturday, when they heard a loud crack.

As they began looking around the house, thinking it might have been an exploding lightbulb, they noticed some wood chips and fragments scattered over the kitchen and the laundry. Then, they spotted the hole in the door and realized, “Oh my God, our house has been shot,” Bard Betz recounted.

The bullet passed through a small office area underneath the staircase. If Allison Betz had happened to be sitting at the computer at the time, the bullet that whizzed through the stairs and by the monitor likely would have hit her in the chest.

“Had I been sitting in that office space, I’d be dead,” Allison Betz said.

“They’re very fortunate,” said Steward.

Patrick Harrington, a hunter who was in the area at the time of Saturday’s incident, told the Sheriff’s Office he believed he’d seen the man who fired the shot that hit the Betzs home. Harrington said the man had come off of Road 2AB and later started shooting in his direction; Harrington said he’d begun waving his arms in an effort to get the man to stop, the Sheriff’s Office said in a Wednesday news release.

Bard Betz also saw the unknown man leaving the area, but like Harrington, he didn’t get a good look.
The Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information about the shooting to contact them at 307-527-8700.

“Everybody’s explanation is, ‘Well they didn’t hit anybody,’ or ‘Well, it’s not that much damage,’” Bard Betz said. “But eventually someone’s going to be killed, and then we’re all going to think, ‘Well gosh, they had enough warning signs, why didn’t we do something?’”

In the news release, Steward warned that hunters are responsible for their bullets and that they need to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

He said in an interview that some hunters wound an animal and get so focused on bringing it down that “they go to just throwing lead and not paying attention to where they’re shooting.”

It’s not the first time that a local home has been accidentally shot:

The Betzs said a neighbor’s house was struck a number of years ago.

Steward said one South Fork couple has had their home hit twice in the past five or so years. One time, he said, the woman heard a crash and opened the kitchen cabinet to find that a stray bullet had shattered some of the dishes.

The sheriff also recalled that, about a decade ago on the South Fork, a shot passed right over a bed where a girl typically did her homework; fortunately, the girl wasn’t home that night.

Saturday’s incident came up briefly at Tuesday’s county commission meeting and Clerk of District Court Patra Lindenthal wondered why someone would shoot close to a home.

“Because (of) idiots,” said county commissioner and Wapiti resident Lee Livingston. “Trust me. We have it happen all the time.”

The Betzs think it’s time to do something about it, calling for some kind of new regulations that limit the kind of firearms you can hunt with in residential areas like theirs.

“Shooting this way, you’re shooting into houses and horses and kids,” Bard Betz said.

He and his wife worry what could happen if nothing changes.

“Everybody’s explanation is, ‘Well they didn’t hit anybody,’ or ‘Well, it’s not that much damage,’” Bard Betz said. “But eventually someone’s going to be killed, and then we’re all going to think, ‘Well gosh, they had enough warning signs, why didn’t we do something?’”

As a possible example, he noted some states limit hunters to only using shotguns in certain areas. He said people he’s spoken with so far have generally agreed that “it’s just nuts that you’re firing high-powered rifles in a congested area like this.”

The stray bullet also tore through an interior door. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
For his part, sheriff Steward says he’s not sure what kind of regulations would succeed in solving the problem. He noted it’s already illegal to shoot in someone else’s direction.

“That pretty much covers all these residential areas, because you’re basically shooting at somebody’s house or towards something,” Steward said. “So the law is in place right now; people just are not adhering to it.”

Since Saturday, Allison Betz said she’s kept a closer eye on the people coming and going on their road — and she noticed her heart rate speed up a little when she went to check her email.

“We’ve been out here 16 years and it’s never happened, so the chances of it happening again are probably very slim,” Allison Betz said. “But wouldn’t that be a tragedy to have one of these little kids (in the neighborhood) shot, or anybody?”

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