Mar 27, 2015

Three people charged in Badger Basin homicide

Charges were filed Thursday against three suspects in connection with the murder of Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres, whose decapitated body was found on Jan. 9, 2014, on Little Sand Coulee Road in Badger Basin.

The Park County Sheriff's Office said all three were in custody for alleged roles in Guerra-Torres's murder: John Louis Marquez, 51, Sandra Garcia, 27  a former Powell resident who was reportedly Guerra-Torres' girlfriend at the time of his murder and the mother of his children  and Pedro Garcia Jr., a 28-year-old former Powell resident and Sandra Garcia's brother.

Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres
Charging documents allege that, after being arrested in Georgia, Pedro Garcia said he'd directed and paid Marquez to kill Guerra-Torres and helped move his body. Pedro Garcia allegedly said he'd done so at the request of Sandra Garcia, who'd said Guerra-Torres had become deeply indebted to dangerous "people in Mexico."

Sandra Garcia refused to speak to law enforcement officers after her arrest this week, but has previously said she dropped Guerra-Torres at a spot near Cody for a meeting with someone nicknamed "Crocodile" and never saw him again, according to an affidavit filed in support of the charges by Park County Sheriff's Investigator Joe Torczon.

Marquez was arrested in Bonham, Texas by members of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Texas Rangers, Sheriff Scott Steward said in a Friday news release. Marquez was still being held in Texas on Friday.

Sandra Garcia was taken into custody in Effingham County, Ga., by investigators from the Park County Sheriff’s Office, Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Steward said.

She remained in custody in Georgia on Friday. Pedro Garcia was also arrested in Effingham County, Ga. and waived extradition back to Wyoming on unrelated charges of allowing children to be in a dwelling or room where methamphetamine was being stored, Steward said.

Marquez is charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree and murder in the first degree in connection with Guerra-Torres' murder, while Sandra Garcia and Pedro Garcia, Jr. are each charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree and aiding and abetting murder in the first degree.

Pedro Garcia Jr. said a meeting was set up were Sandra Garcia could explain to Marquez "how she needed proof that Guerra-Torres was dead to show the people in Mexico," charging documents say.

A Cody hunter and his son discovered Guerra-Torres' mutilated body along the remote dirt road informally known as Little Sand Coulee Road, about a mile and a half west of Wyo. Highway 294. The body was missing the head and left arm, among other damage.

Authorities working the case — chiefly the sheriff’s office and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation — had determined the man was shot to death and, using methods that haven't been disclosed, identified him as the 30-year-old Guerra-Torres.

While there was public speculation that Guerra-Torres’ murder was done by a foreign drug cartel, Sheriff Steward said earlier this year that he didn’t believe that was the case.

Sandra Garcia had been identified as a person of interest in the homicide last year.

Pedro Garcia reportedly told Torczon, in interviews conducted over the course of two days this week, that Sandra Garcia, had asked for help in "taking care of" Guerra-Torres.

According to Torczon's recounting of the interviews contained in charging documents, Pedro Garcia said his sister told him Guerra-Torres owed $30,000 to $40,000 to people in Mexico and that those people were going to come kill her and her entire family.

Pedro Garcia said he had initially declined to help, but agreed after learning the family might be in danger, Torczon wrote. Pedro Garcia then approached Marquez about "taking out" Guerra-Torres and Marquez agreed, Torczon wrote of Garcia's account.

Pedro Garcia said he'd paid Marquez around $700 in cash and a few grams of methamphetamine that had been on Guerra-Torres' body, later paying Marquez a few hundred dollars more, charging documents allege.

Pedro Garcia Jr. said a meeting was set up were Sandra Garcia could explain to Marquez "how she needed proof that Guerra-Torres was dead to show the people in Mexico," Torczon recounted in the affidavit.

Ultimately, a meeting was reportedly set up between Guerra-Torres and Marquez, under the auspices of conducting a drug deal, Torczon said of what he was told by Pedro Garcia.

According to Pedro Garcia's reported account, he and Marquez met up with Guerra-Torres and Sandra Garcia near the Badger Basin Highway. As Marquez got out of Pedro Garcia's pick-up truck, Pedro Garcia said he heard three or four shots and Guerra-Torres dropped to the ground, the affidavit says. Pedro Garcia said Sandra Garcia then left and he helped Marquez load Guerra-Torres' body into the pick-up truck, Torczon wrote.

Pedro Garcia said he then led Marquez to the remote spot where Guerra-Torres' body was later found and Marquez dismembered the body with an ax, the charging affidavit alleges. Pedro Garcia described paying Marquez with around $700 in cash and a few grams of methamphetamine that had been on Guerra-Torres' body, Torczon said of what he was told, and later paid Marquez a few hundred dollars more.

Sandra Garcia refused to speak to law enforcement after being picked up in Georgia, but previously said she'd dropped off Guerra-Torres at a spot near Cody on Jan. 5 and never saw him again, Torczon wrote. Sandra Garcia reportedly said in the earlier interview that Guerra-Torres had planned to meet a guy nicknamed "Crocodile," who worked for a man named "Don Cheto," who Guerra-Torres owed money, the affidavit says.

However, investigator Torczon said Sandra Garcia had given different stories to her family — telling her mother that Guerra-Torres had been arrested and telling her father that she'd put Guerra-Torres on a bus to Mexico. Torczon also said Sandra Garcia, who never reported Guerra-Torres as missing, described him as having been an abusive boyfriend.

Steward stated in Friday's release that the investigation is continuing and all suspects are presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise.

Mar 26, 2015

Rust-colored conifer trees, shrubs may recover from winter damage

Many evergreen plants around the area look like Christmas trees kept until Easter: brown, dry and dead.

But that doesn’t mean the rust-colored conifer trees and shrubs have died or that they’re a lost cause.
Plants that suffered winter damage may recover with proper care, according to local plant experts.

Dramatic temperature changes last autumn’s likely are to blame for the winter injuries, said Del Barton, parks superintendent and arborist for the city of Powell.

Does your evergreen look sickly? Don't give up on it yet.
“We had some really warm days, so a lot of the trees and shrubs were coming out of dormancy, and then we had an extreme drop in temperatures, well below freezing,” Barton said.

In just a span of a few days in mid-November, county temperates went from a high of 57 degrees to an overnight low of 7 degrees below zero.

When the weather is warm, trees try to begin the photosynthesis process, which includes drawing nutrients and water from the ground, Barton said.

“But if the ground is frozen, because of the cold temperatures in winter, the water is not available,” he said. “So what begins to happen is the trees and shrubs start to die because they can’t get the nutrients and water that they need to survive.”

Winter winds didn’t help.

“When you get these cold, dry winds, they actually increase the dryness, and the needles tend to dry out quicker and turn brown,” Barton said. “When you get that combination effect of the dry winds, lack of moisture and nutrients, that tends to create an additional hardship on the plants.”

The winter damage to evergreens is widespread throughout the region.

“A lot of the arborvitae shrubs and Ponderosa pines and Austrian pines seemed to suffer the brunt of it,” Barton said. “I’ve seen a lot of homeowners where their arborvitae shrubs are just totally brown.”

It’s important to resist the urge to prune and remove the rust-colored areas right now.

“First of all, put away the pruners!” wrote Suzanne Larsen, a master gardener in Cody, in a recent gardening article. “All of the information I have been able to find on this subject says we have to wait and see how these plants recover from last fall’s drastic weather change and temperature drop. The most important thing to do now is wait.”

“If you want to assess the damage to your plants, you can gently bend a branch and see if it is still flexible. If this is the case, this means that new growth is possible, so just wait and see how it recovers,” Larsen wrote.

With spring’s arrival, folks are anxious to start yard work and gardening, Barton said.

“Sometimes these plants that have gone through the winter injuries take longer to recover, so rather than to rush out and cut everything down, usually if you wait until right after the last frost — that’s usually about May 15 — you’re going to know the extent of the damage on the plants,” Barton said. “You’ll have a better determination if the plant is beginning to green up or if it needs to be trimmed back — sometimes only parts of the plant will die off and some may survive.”

Look for signs of new growth this spring.

“If you want to assess the damage to your plants, you can gently bend a branch and see if it is still flexible. If this is the case, this means that new growth is possible, so just wait and see how it recovers,” Larsen wrote.

You don't have to look far to see trees damaged by last year's rollercoaster weather.
Barton suggested taking a small pocket knife and scraping lightly underneath the bark or surface of the twigs to see if there’s a green tinge to indicate new growth. If the plant is turning green and its branches are flexible, it’s probably going to be OK, “but it takes time,” he said.

“If it’s hardened off and real fragile and breaks off, then it’s dead,” Barton said.

The plant will eventually shed the dry, brown needles.

“If the sight of all the rusty looking foliage is too much to bear, you can take a broom and gently sweep over the shrubs to loosen some of the dead-looking growth,” Larsen wrote.

In some cases, only part of the plant died, and it can be pruned later this spring.

“Of course, people want it to look nice, so if you end up trimming out half of your shrubs because it’s half-dead, it might be better to remove the whole thing and start over,” Barton said. “It’s better to not just rush into removing everything until after the last frost.”

Until then, it’s important to continue watering the plants.

“In the near future, water the damaged shrubs and trees and try to not think about the fact that they look like they are dead or dying,” Larsen wrote. “With any luck at all, they will recover in time.”

Barton said to water at the base of trees or shrubs. Mulch around the base also helps plants absorb water.

“As a general rule of thumb, when you get three or more days where it’s above 55 degrees, the plant is going to begin to come out of dormancy, so that’s an opportunity to go ahead and water around the base of that tree,” he said.

He said not to rely only on sprinkler systems to water trees, since they may not provide adequate water at the base.

“As a general rule of thumb, when you get three or more days where it’s above 55 degrees, the plant is going to begin to come out of dormancy, so that’s an opportunity to go ahead and water around the base of that tree,” Barton said.

Don’t put fertilizer on the plants at this time, Barton said.

“That’s the worst possible thing you could do,” he said. “Fertilizers will often accelerate the growth of plants, so if you apply a fertilizer right now, and then we get a real hard freeze, all of the new growth is going to freeze and die.”

It’s better to wait to fertilize until May or June, he said.

Larsen said if you cannot determine how much winter damage your trees or shrubs have, then get another opinion from an arborist or nursery in the area.

Barton encouraged residents to take their time and seek out information about their plants before determining the next course of action.

“If they ask the right questions of the right people, they can save themselves some money and time by helping the plants along,” he said.

When planting new trees and shrubs, it’s important to choose the right plants for Wyoming’s climate, which is hardiness zones 3 and 4, Barton added.

For more information about the winter damage and other tree issues, visit the Parks Department page on the city of Powell’s website.

Meeteetse businesswoman named county’s events coordinator

Prepare to say goodbye to the Park County fair director and hello to the Park County events coordinator.

On Tuesday, Park County commissioners announced and formalized their hire of Echo Renner, a Meeteetse businesswoman and rancher, as the county’s first events coordinator.

In the post, Renner will not only be responsible for overseeing the fairgrounds, as the fair director currently does, but will also be charged with coordinating and seeking out public events at other county facilities.

“I think Echo will do a marvelous job,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said at Tuesday’s meeting, to agreement from his fellow commissioners.

Renner said in a later interview that she was drawn to the job by the prospect of planning events, something she loves to do.

Echo Renner
“And of course, the fair was a huge draw, because I love the fair and 4-H and FFA — and I love working with young people,” she said adding, “It’s such a fun and positive experience for people ... and I’m really excited about that opportunity.”

The decision also means that Park County Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz is officially out of a job at the end of June.

“I was publicly asked to apply by commissioners but I was not asked to interview,” Lohrenz said Wednesday. “I anticipate there will be changes in the future. I have thoroughly enjoyed managing the fair and I wish only the best for its future.”

Commissioners said 15 people applied for the post and they chose five finalists; Lohrenz was not among them.

“We had an excellent group of candidates. It was a very difficult decision,” Tilden said of making a hire.

The relationship between the fair board and commission became strained in recent years, in part because of conflict over who was in charge of making decisions on the fairgrounds: Should it be fair board-directed fair staff like Lohrenz, who managed the facilities, or commission-directed buildings and grounds staffers, who maintained them?

The new events coordinator ultimately answers to the commission and not the fair board, a change in structure that rankled some board members.

Fair board members and commissioners have blamed each other for the conflict.

“I just want to give everyone the opportunity to let me know their position and the things that they would like and expect — and I want to know how we can work together, because I'm very willing to do that,” Renner said.

Commissioner Bucky Hall said Tuesday that commissioners are trying to mend fences and get along with the fair board members.

“Their roles will not change,” Hall said. “They just don’t have that quote, headache, unquote, of an employee any longer.”

“Well said,” added Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Asked about the conflict, Renner said she wants to meet “with everyone involved and anyone who wants to visit me” about the fair or any of the past issues.

“I want to hear all sides, and I want to hear people’s grievances and their ideas for improvement,” Renner said. “I guess I just want to give everyone the opportunity to let me know their position and the things that they would like and expect — and I want to know how we can work together, because I'm very willing to do that.”

She will be paid $48,000 — the same pay that Lohrenz was receiving — in the expanded position.

Tilden expects the county will need to add a marketing budget for Renner. He said the county wanted “somebody that’s going to go out and actively market what we have” and was impressed with Renner’s marketing experience.

Renner said she wants to meet “with everyone involved and anyone who wants to visit me” about the fair or any of the past issues.

She did writing, editing, marketing and event planning for about a decade through her own business, Wood River Marketing Co., and previously led the Meeteetse visitor center and museum. She’s planned fundraisers, historic ranch tours, family reunions and all kinds of parties and gatherings.

Renner also has first-hand experience with events on Park County property, having run a festival/flea market called the Gypsy Market on the grounds of the Park County Complex last year. Part of the commissioners’ reasoning for creating the new, expanded position was because of a rising number of public events on county property — and they had specifically mentioned the Gypsy Market as being one of them.

Beyond that, Renner’s past experience includes working as a 4-H and Montana State University Extension agent, serving as a 4-H leader in Nebraska and Wyoming and helping the Meeteetse FFA for the past several years.

She and her husband own and manage Mountain West Screen Printers and Embroidery in Cody.

Commissioners said Renner eventually will be based in Powell, but when she starts on April 7, she’ll work from a spare desk in the county’s Planning and Zoning Department at the Park County Courthouse in Cody.

Local Republicans to elect new leaders on Saturday

Division within the Park County Republican Party will be put to a vote on Saturday, when party members choose their leaders for the next two years.

A group fronted by Colin Simpson of Cody, former Wyoming Speaker of the House, is seeking election to the county party’s leadership. The group is calling for a change from the direction that the party’s more active and conservative leadership has taken in the last two years.

Meanwhile, current Park County Republican Party Chairman Larry French — who is not seeking re-election — says the group Simpson represents is trying to “ruin” the party.

Members of each “side” say the opposing group represents the minority; they each also accuse the other of being the source of the continuing division.

Saturday’s meeting is set to begin at 10 a.m. at the Holiday Inn in Cody. All Republicans and members of the public are welcome to observe the proceedings, but only precinct committeemen and women (chosen during last year’s primary election) are allowed to participate. The races for the county party’s five elected positions — chairman, vice chairman, state committeeman, state committeewoman and treasurer — all are expected to be contested.

Some of the conflict was outlined at a March 10 meeting at the Park County Library, where representatives of both GOP factions spoke of personality conflicts, disagreement over the role the party should play in local politics and division over more moderate and more conservative Republican beliefs.

Colin Simpson addresses some of his fellow Republicans during an informal March 10 meeting at the Park County Library. He’s running for chair of the county party, as is Camara Clifton of Powell. Photo by CJ Baker
The discord can be traced back for many years, but one trigger point came a year ago, when a group of Republicans attempted to censure state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, for several actions they disagreed with. Chief among their complaints was Coe’s role in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to strip most of the powers of the state's elected superintendent of public instruction and give them to an education director appointed by the governor.

In mid-February 2014, a group that included the county GOP’s state committeeman, Bob Berry, took out an ad in the Cody Enterprise titled, “Coe Must Go.” A majority of Republicans voted to censure Coe at the party's convention that March, but it fell short of a required two-thirds vote.

Coe was incensed by the effort, saying in an Enterprise ad of his own that the party had been “targeted for take-over by a group of rightwing activists,” and pledged to lead an effort to “take back” the party.

Simpson and others put together a political action committee that called itself “Republicans for Unity.” They sent mailers calling on Republicans to vote for 39 specific precinct committee people in the August primary. Twenty-nine of the candidates endorsed by the group were elected, as was Sen. Coe himself.

For his part, French took issue with “Republicans for Unity,” saying in a letter to party members this month that the group “divided the Central Committee not unified it. By the actions of that (Political Action Committee), it drove a wedge deep into the party.”

French sent the letter after learning that one of the “Unity” group’s leaders, Terry Hinkle, had invited certain Republicans to the March 10 meeting to prepare for the upcoming party elections.

Although Hinkle had explicitly said the meeting was unofficial and informal, French decried it as a violation of the party’s bylaws, which restricts who can call official GOP meetings. French also said inviting only some members of the central committee smacked of “elitism” and described it as an attempt by a special interest group to take control of the party.

With the cat out of the bag, members of both factions attended the March 10 meeting, where they expressed differing views about whether the past two years of leadership had been an improvement or a step backward.

“There’s been a lot of angst on both sides, a lot of things that have been said on both sides, that have been, I think, at times poisonous,” said Jo Walker of Powell.

Members of the more moderate camp complained party meetings have been too formal, ran too long and, at once a month, were too frequent, while the more conservative camp’s members praised the more active and inclusive party meetings and faulted those who didn’t attend.

Both sides also expressed dismay about the ongoing division.

“There’s been a lot of angst on both sides, a lot of things that have been said on both sides, that have been, I think, at times poisonous. Lot of people's feelings hurt, lot of strong things said, lot of truth said,” said Jo Walker, a Tea Party supporter. “To me, what’s really important is these next two years.”

County Republicans will resume the discussion Saturday.

Mar 24, 2015

Concealed carry bill will pop up again, legislator predicts

A bill to allow concealed-carry guns into schools and public meetings was defeated in the Wyoming Legislature this year, but supporters aim to reload and fire away again, local legislators predicted Friday.

Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell
“It’ll be here next year, guaranteed,” state Rep. David Northrup said. “It’ll be back.”

And the Powell Republican, who represent the eastern part of Cody, said he expects it to become law, in some form and at some time. The people pushing for it will not stop until that happens, he said.

“This bill will get passed,” Northrup predicted during a town hall meeting at The Depot in downtown Powell.

Gib Condie of Powell asked why the Legislature was considering allowing guns in classrooms but not in courtrooms. Condie said people accept limits on the speed they drive and when and where tobacco can be used.

“Why not accept a limit on being able to carry a concealed weapon into a school?” he asked.

Northrup said he feels such a limit is reasonable. He said he bases his view in part on his prior service on the Powell school board. Educators should be aware of what’s happening in their environment, Northrup said.

“Gosh, if I was a principal, I would like to know if there is a gun in my building,” he said.

But Northrup said he was also aware of the concerns of small, rural school districts that are several minutes away from the nearest law enforcement office. He spoke with representatives of some of those districts, including staff at Ten Sleep.

“Gosh, if I was a principal, I would like to know if there is a gun in my building,” Northrup said.

Perhaps school staffers, such as principals or janitors, could be properly trained and equipped with guns, he said.

State Rep. Dan Laursen said he favors allowing concealed carry guns into almost every setting, including schools and courtrooms.

“I’m in favor of it,” Laursen said, noting Utah has allowed concealed carry guns in public places for 15 years without any problems.

“I think our schools would be safer ...” he said.

Several other bills and topics were discussed during the 75-minute meeting:

• While an effort to call for a convention of the states to pass a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced federal budget failed, Laursen said it will rise once more in Cheyenne.

Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell
Two bills focused on the topic, he said, and he was the cosponsor of one of them. The House approved a bill calling for the convention but he said the Senate “picked it apart” and added stipulations. The Senate fears a runaway convention that could make major changes in the American political system, but Laursen and Northrup said that would not happen.

They said such a gathering would be designed as a single-purpose convention. Under a bill Laursen proposed, Wyoming delegates would face a $10,000 fine and year in jail if they got off track.

States need to demand more power in government, Laursen said. So far, 26 states support calling the convention; if 34 do so, it would happen, although it would take the support of 38 delegations to pass a constitutional amendment.

He said the federal government is “pushing the states around more than they should.”

Both legislators said they feel the federal government will get more responsive if the states shows a determination to act, which is what happened in the 1960s when civil rights legislation was being considered at both the state and federal levels.

“It died in Senate anyway — and I was happy. We need to do it right,” Laursen said. “I’ll pick it up again and bring it up. We’ll bring it back. The Senate was being kinda ornery.”

“We’ll bring it back,” Rep. Laursen said of an effort to require Congress to balance its budgets. “The Senate was being kinda ornery.”

• Local governments are not getting as much money as Gov. Matt Mead pledged to deliver during his 2014 re-election campaign.

Mead said he wanted to provide $25 million to county, city and town governments in the 2015 supplemental budget. That was quickly reduced to $12.5 million and in the end, $8 million was budgeted for local governments.

Powell Mayor Don Hillman confirmed that number during the meeting.

• Condie asked if the lawmakers supported Medicaid expansion.

They said the concern was still that the federal government, which has promised to pay 90 percent of the costs, may not deliver the money.

“If Medicaid expansion does happen, it would definitely benefit hospitals and providers,” Northrup said. “I think Wyoming is going to wait and see what will happen on the federal level.”

Condie suggested using profits from the Wyoming Lottery to cover any gap. He said since the lottery is a “regressive tax” that takes money from the poor; it would be wise to use any revenue derived from it to help people.

“If Medicaid expansion does happen, it would definitely benefit hospitals and providers,” Northrup said. “I think Wyoming is going to wait and see what will happen on the federal level.”

• Placing federal land under the control of the state would bolster Wyoming state government, the legislators said.

Northrup said $900 million in royalties to the federal government and gets $200 million back each year. That’s why people want federal lands converted to state control, especially Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, he said.

Northrup said he worries that the land might be sold to private interests. 

“That’s my concern,” he said. “That’s why I can’t support it.”

• Rural Powell farmer Lyle Evelo repeatedly asked Northrup and Laursen to “rein in” the Environmental Protection Agency.

What can change the EPA is a “change in administration,” Laursen said.

Evelo said the EPA is growing in size, employees and regulatory authority.

Laursen said he knew what could change things: a “change in administration.”

• The representatives were asked about the anti-discrimination bill that failed in the House after passing in the Senate. Both voted against it.

“I just don’t think we need a bill,” Laursen said.

Northrup said he wanted to see all protected classes, which includes religion and age, among others, treated the same.

“Let’s treat it fairly ...” he said.

• Northrup said Clark is pushing for a share of recreation mill levy. It’s an issue that will be studied.

“They would like to get their fair share,” he said.

The Legislature will study whether communities like Clark should be able to form their own recreation districts.

He will serve on the Joint Agriculture State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee.

Gov. Mead is pushing for the state to build 10 reservoirs in 10 years, the legislators said as they reviewed items to be studied during the interim.

Among other topics to be looked at are conservation district mill levies, pesticide training and safety, a federal lands study, Wyoming State Fair planning, costs and fees, and GMO (genetically modified organisms) organizations and products, regulations and related issues.

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee, which Laursen serves on, will look at the Game and Fish Department’s budget and structure; poaching regulations; antler and bone collection; special management area permits; and the Division of State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails Central Construction Office.

It also will study bicycle tourism and recreation, including a long-range plan for bike pathways, while seeking a safety report from WYDOT.

Slowly but surely, Meeteetse library replacing books

Two years after a mistakenly activated sprinkler system ruined roughly 4,000 books at the Meeteetse library, about a quarter of them have been replaced.

“It’s been a slow process because we’re trying to be careful and not replace redundant stuff but really get good, new stuff,” Park County Library Director Frances Clymer told commissioners last week, adding, “We’re gearing up to do some serious ordering in the next few months.”

The February 2013 flood claimed a lot of books at the Meeteetse library. File photo courtesy Frances Clymer
Commissioners gave Clymer permission to keep using money from the roughly $173,000 insurance settlement the library received for the lost books to buy the new ones.

A temporary, full-time staffer was hired with the settlement money last year to help handle the influx of new books.

“She’s working through ordering, receiving, processing, cataloging and so forth, so it’s a time-consuming process,” Clymer said.

The Meeteetse branch library is inside the Meeteetse school, which lost around 1,100 of its own books in the sprinkler deluge.

County eyes $1 million in cuts, worried about dwindling dollars

Fearing fewer dollars from the federal government and fewer taxes from the slumping oil and gas industry, Park County commissioners are hoping to trim $1 million from the county’s budget.

At a preliminary budget meeting last week, commissioners directed county departments to cut their non-personnel expenses by 4 percent.

“We know next year’s (budgeting process) could be brutal, with oil fast approaching the $30 (a barrel) range,” said Commissioner Tim French, adding that the area's oil fetches lower than average prices. Oil and gas accounts for roughly half of the county's tax base, Park County Assessor Pat Meyer has said.

French described 4 percent cuts as “somewhere to start.”

The county's general budget for the current fiscal year — which funds entities ranging from the sheriff's office to the annual Park County Fair — is just over $28 million.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said 4 percent cuts may not be large enough.

“Go ahead and do more; we’re not going to turn you down,” quipped Commissioner Lee Livingston.

County officials will know a lot more as the end of the fiscal year, June 30, draws a little closer.

For example, commissioners have been concerned that the county is getting about $250,000 less than expected from the federal government's Secure Rural Schools program. However, early indications are that the county should eventually get about $1 million more than expected in federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes — meaning the county could actually end up $750,000 ahead on federal dollars.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the impact from the recent drop in oil and gas values won't really be felt at the county government level until next year.

For that reason, Commissioner Bucky Hall said it may be OK if a department can't make 4 percent cuts this year, but that might mean more severe cuts a year from now.

Park County Complex getting new parking lot

The Park County Complex is getting a new and improved parking lot for a lower price than the county expected.

Potholes like these are part of the reason why the parking lot is being redone.
Commissioners on Tuesday accepted a $260,781 bid from Harris Trucking of Cody to remove and replace around 12,000 square yards of asphalt and put in new curb and gutter.

Harris Trucking's bid was nearly $80,500 cheaper than the other bidder, Warton Asphalt of Billings, and close to $30,000 less than what the county staff had guessed it would cost.

“That’s excellent,” said Commission Chairman Joe Tilden.

The county had considered doing part of the asphalt removal and hauling with its own road and bridge crews, but ultimately found wouldn’t have been any cheaper, said staff engineer Jeremy Quist.

Commissioner Bucky Hall noted that doing the work in-house would have also taken the county crews away from their normal jobs.

Six injured in Wind River Canyon crash, including four Cody High School wrestlers

Six people, including four members of the Cody High School wrestling team, were injured when after a 1999 Jeep collided with a rock and flipped over on US Highway 20 in the Wind River Canyon on Sunday.

The crash occurred at approximately 10 p.m. near mile post 117 on US 20 in Fremont County, north of the tunnels in the Wind River Canyon, according to a report from the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

Six people were injured when this vehicle hit a rock and flipped in the Wind River Canyon. Courtesy photo
The Jeep, owned by Charles B. Flickinger of Cody, was travelling northbound when the vehicle's left front tire struck a rock on the roadway. After colliding with the rock, the vehicle left the roadway, rolled onto its roof and hit the cliff wall, coming to rest in the northbound emergency lane of US 20, facing north, the report said.

Shannon Canfield of Cody, whose son Carson Canfield is on the wrestling squad but was not in the vehicle, said she has exchanged text messages with the parents of the injured people. She provided the following information on their conditions:

  • Benjamin Flickinger, 18, a Cody High School senior and wrester who was driving the vehicle, was treated and released from Sage Hospital in Riverton.
  • Passenger Dan Beaudrie, a Cody wrestler, suffered compression fractures to his spine, broken orbital sockets and bones under his nose. He reportedly lost most of his teeth and has severe facial fractures and lacerations, as well as a bruised and punctured lung. He was listed in critical condition at Billings Clinic Hospital on Monday.
  • Passengers Charles Flickinger, 58, and Anna Flickinger, 9, were transported by air ambulance to Denver. Both have two broken legs.
  • Passengers David Plumer and Jon Sanchez, also Cody wrestlers, are being treated at a Denver hospital. Plumer suffered a broken nose, broken toes and a fractured bone in his back; Sanchez has three breaks to his collarbone and bruising to his lungs.

The Highway Patrol report said it is believed all of the occupants of the vehicle were restrained by seat belts with the exception of Anna Flickinger.

The highway was closed from 11:40 p.m. until 1:07 a.m. due to the crash. The crash was still under investigation Monday, the report said.

A benefit fund has been established to assist the families. For more information, call Canfield at 307-899-6066.

Cody filmmaker's classic-style Western movie shorts ride into region

Fans of classic American Westerns are invited to a screening of two movies at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Vali Twin Cinema in Powell that follows a successful showing in Cody.

The films are the “Absaroka saga,” two short Western films shot almost exclusively in this neck of Wyoming.

“I’m really excited to be doing this and showcasing Wyoming,” said Patrick Mignano of Hurricane Deck Productions.
It’s right wintery in the mountains of Wyoming when ‘Absaroka’ series heroes take to the trail to catch killers. From left are Sheriff Wilbur Crowley (played by Clay Gibbons), Lucius Blackledge (Patrick Mignano) and Monty Wilson (Kyle Oliver). Courtesy photo

The first film, “Absaroka,” runs 20 minutes. It won the 2010 Wyoming Short Film Contest as well as Best Western at the 2011 Trail Dance Film Festival.

The second, “Absaroka Sins,” is 45 minutes.

“Absaroka” was shown last week at Big Horn Cinemas in Cody as part of showings around the region.

Both “Absaroka” and “Absaroka Sins” have been featured on Wyoming PBS and Mignano hopes to develop it into a television series.

“Absaroka” is set in 1881 territorial Wyoming.

Lucius Blackledge (Mignano) and his sidekick, Howard Prescott (Rob Story) are cowhands wintering in a line shack. When they decide to ride into town, they find a fatally wounded wagoneer. In his dying breaths, the man says gunmen snatched his wife and child, Mignano explains.

Blackledge and Prescott ride to rescue mother and child from the hands of villainy. Justice is served, but it takes an emotional toll on reluctant hero Blackledge, Mignano said.

In “Sins,” a sheriff’s deputy is brazenly shot down in cold blood in the sheriff’s office. The sheriff, Wilbur Crowley (Clay Gibbons), lights out to catch the killer. While in pursuit, his other deputy is killed, so Crowley enlists Blackledge and Prescott to join his posse.

Tracking the desperadoes leads to a surprising series of events for the cowhands turned lawmen, Mignano said.

On the trail of outlaws in ‘Absaroka Sins’ are, from left, Howard Prescott (Rob Story), Lucius Blackledge (Patrick Mignano), Monty Wilson (Kyle Oliver) and Sheriff Wilbur Crowley (Clay Gibbons). Courtesy photo
There will be no admission fee at the Powell screening, but a $10 donation will gladly be accepted to support additional screenings and “Absaroka” filming, Mignano said.

He’s watched all the Western genre greats on the big and small screens: John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner and others. “I’m a student of the Western,” Mignano said. “These (Absaroka series) hold up to any of those movies.”

It shows — Mignano ain’t no Easterner.

He grew up in Star Valley and has a home in Cody, he said.

He is pleased to show his films to neighbors featuring realistic Old West characters and sweeping cinematography of Wyoming that locals and movie fans will recognize, Mignano said.

He’s looking forward to his Powell visit.

“Absaroka” was filmed in and around Cody. “Sins” was shot in the Big Horn Mountains near Hyattville, Wapiti Canyon and Mooncrest Ranch, The TE Ranch on the South Fork of Shoshone River and Nevada City, Mont.

The filmmaker is on a screening tour of Wyoming, Montana and Colorado during March and April. Go to to follow links for tour locations, trailers and other interesting tidbits. Like them on Facebook at

Hurricane Deck Productions is a small film production company founded in 2010. "Absaroka" was its first film.

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