May 22, 2015

Cody chamber director resigns to take job in Michigan, closer to family

The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new executive director after “regretfully” accepting the resignation of Scott Balyo.

Scott Balyo is leaving the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy photo
Balyo's departure was announced in a news release and the chamber's Friday newsletter. After four years at the helm of the chamber, he's taking a position as editorial director at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. Balyo's last day at the Cody chamber is next Friday, May 29.

“It was just a good decision for him,” said Scott Wagner, the president of the chamber board and owner of the Buffalo Jump Winery in Cody.

He said Balyo’s father died several years ago, and Balyo needed to return to Michigan to help his mother.

“It was a family decision for him to move,” Wagner said in a Friday interview, adding that the opportunity at Michigan Tech “just came to him.”

“It’s going to be some big shoes to fill,” Wagner said.

Balyo was not available for comment beyond a prepared statement included in Thursday's announcement from the chamber.

“While I have a chance to return to my roots both personally and professionally, I will always remember my time in Cody fondly,” he said in the statement.

“He’s done a fantastic job,” Wagner said.

In 2013, when Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said the National Park Service would delay spring snow plowing by two weeks to meet federal budget cuts, Balyo helped raise $50,000 to pay the Wyoming Department of Transportation to plow part of the park, Wagner recalled. That played a role in Balyo being named the state's top chamber director for the year.

When Balyo took the chamber’s helm in 2011, there were no more than 400 chamber members. Now, membership is up to 600, Wagner said.

Balyo was named as Wyoming's Chamber Director of the Year in 2014. Courtesy photo
“It’s going to be some big shoes to fill,” Wagner said. But, he said the staff at the chamber are up for the challenge of a lively summer and, “we have no doubt they’re going to be able to carry the weight.”

“I can’t imagine a better group to work with,” Balyo said in his statement. “We have amazing members, a committed board of directors, and a staff who give their all for this community every day.”

The board plans to meet next Wednesday to decide whether to appoint an interim director. Wagner isn't certain, but he believes the board will do just that, as finding a new director will take time.

“To find the correct person is always kind of a long process,” he said.

“I have had nothing but support from our members and this community since the very first day, and I want to say ‘thank you’ for that,” Balyo said.

At the national level, directors at busy chambers generally last two years before seeking employment elsewhere or being “stolen” by chambers of commerce in other communities, Wagner said. He noted that Balyo was with the Cody chamber nearly four years.

“I like Scott,” Wagner said. “I’m going to miss him; from the work standpoint, we’re going to miss him.”

Despite that, Wagner said he sees finding a replacement as the means to hire a new director with fresh ideas.

“It’s actually really an exciting job with so many things going on,” he said.

In his statement, Balyo noted that when he started the job, he'd never managed a chamber.

“I have had nothing but support from our members and this community since the very first day, and I want to say ‘thank you’ for that,” he said.

May 21, 2015

Two sentenced for transporting meth through Yellowstone

A Mexican man and a Seattle woman have been convicted of federal crimes after being caught with perhaps $10,000 worth of methamphetamine in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park last year.

Baldomero Juarez Guevarra, 26, and Noemi Alvarez Avila, 24, were pulled over for speeding last September on U.S. Highway 191, which cuts through Yellowstone near its northwestern border.

U.S. Highway 191 on a Park Service map
Law enforcement officials ended up searching their Chevy Malibu and — hidden inside a PlayStation 3 stashed in the trunk of their Idaho rental car — they found around 120 grams of meth.

“(Avila) admitted she knew there was four ounces of methamphetamine in the Malibu and they were making a delivery to Billings, Montana,” wrote National Park Service Special Agent Dan Kirschner in a criminal complaint.

Guevarra, of Zacatecas, Mexico, pleaded guilty to possessing and to conspiring to possess 50 or more grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it as well as a count of illegally re-entering the United States after having been deported.

At an April 21 hearing before Federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl, Guevarra received a seven-year prison sentence. If Guevarra was staying in the United States, his prison time would be followed by four years of supervised release, but he’ll likely be deported again when he gets out.

Guevarra’s criminal record — which included prior involvement in the drug trade and domestic violence — played a role in the sentence he received, said John Powell, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne.

“(Avila) admitted she knew there was four ounces of methamphetamine in the Malibu and they were making a delivery to Billings, Montana,” charging documents say. 

Avila, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to possessing and conspiring to possess 50 or more grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it.

On Friday, Judge Skavdahl sentenced Avila to five years of supervised probation.

“She had no major prior criminal record and was determined not to be part of the plan to obtain the meth or in determining a course of action for its delivery,” Powell said. He added that cooperation is always viewed favorably by prosecutors.

Yellowstone Park Ranger Mark Wozniak had pulled over Avila after clocking her at 70 miles an hour on the 55-mile-an-hour highway, the criminal complaint says. Wozniak found Avila did not have a driver’s license with her, and neither did the vehicle’s other three occupants, two of whom were children. Guevarra, riding shotgun, initially denied having any identification, though he later produced information showing he was a citizen of Mexico.

While waiting to see if U.S. Customs and Immigration wanted to detain Guevarra, Wozniak found some irregularities in the occupants’ stories.

Guevarra and Avila couldn't get their stories straight with the Yellowstone ranger.

The complaint says Guevarra told the ranger he didn’t know who they were going to visit; Avila and Guevarra couldn’t explain how they knew each other; Avila couldn’t explain why they were making a long trip with a short stay, or why the car had been rented for her when she didn’t have her driver’s license.

Wozniak believed something illegal was going on and summoned Gallatin County Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Lieurance and his drug detection K-9, Hondo.

After learning that Hondo was going to sniff around the vehicle, Guevarra pulled a paper towel out of his pants pocket that held a small amount of marijuana.

Hondo alerted to the odor of a controlled substance in the car.

“Do whatever you have to do,” Avila reportedly told Wozniak.

Wozniak found a folded $1 bill with meth residue in Guevarra’s wallet. In the trunk, authorities found an apparent marijuana pipe in an art supply box, as well as a duffle bag containing a PlayStation 3 held together by wooden screws. Looking inside the console, police found the PlayStation’s electronics had been supplemented with two bags of meth, the complaint says.

Guevarra received a stiffer sentence because of prior involvement with the drug trade and other factors, according to a spokesman for federal prosecutors. 

Guevarra has been incarcerated since the Sept. 27 traffic stop. Avila has been free since an Oct. 2 court appearance.

He must pay $300, and she must pay $200 in court assessments.

May 20, 2015

Rockslide closes popular Yellowstone canyon trail

Heavy rain and snow recently triggered a rock and mud slide on a popular trail along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, closing it until further notice.

One of the toppled rocks — measuring 7 feet tall by 8 feet long — effectively blocked the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, said Yellowstone National Park officials.

This rock came crashing down in a recent slide and blocked the trail. Photo courtesy National Park Service
“We know this is a popular trail, and as soon as conditions dry out, we will work to clear the trail,” Canyon District Ranger Tim Townsend said in a news release. “Right now the entire slope above the trail is still wet and unstable making it unsafe for crews to work in the area.”

With the wet conditions, a trail crew is evaluating the area to determine whether more slides are likely and and the best way to reopen the trail.

Visitors may still hike the North Rim Trail, but rangers ask that people respect the closure on the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail.

As the busy Memorial Day weekend approaches, rangers are also reminding visitors that many areas are saturated by recent rain and snow and to be aware of their surroundings and footing.

Current trail condition reports are available at Yellowstone visitor’s centers or backcountry offices.

May 19, 2015

New patrol deputy announced for Cody area

Residents will see a new face out patrolling the Cody area.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward recently announced that Deputy
Deputy Patrick Geraghty. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
Patrick Geraghty has joined the department’s patrol division. Geraghty transferred from the Park County Detention Facility, where he'd served since 2012.

He'll begin his new duties immediately.

Before joining the sheriff's office, Geraghty worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and before that, he served in the United States Marine Corps. His military service included tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as deployments in southeast Asia.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Geraghty relocated to the Cody area in 2009. He lives with his wife, Kari, and their three children.

Patrol deputies are responsible for “providing public safety by maintaining order, responding to emergencies, protecting people and property, enforcing motor vehicle and criminal laws, and promoting good community relations,” Steward said in a news release, and the sheriff said he's confident Geraghty will serve the county's citizens well.

Geraghty replaces long-time Deputy Aaron Rose, who recently retired and took a job with Park County Public Works.

Murder suspect calls case against him ‘ludicrous;’ held without bail

A man charged with last year’s murder in Badger Basin says the case against him is “hearsay from a meth-head.”

John L. Marquez, 51, attacked the allegations against him — and specifically the credibility of co-defendant Pedro Garcia Jr. — during his first Park County court appearance on Friday morning in Cody.

John Marquez is led into the courthouse by Park County detention deputies. Photo by CJ Baker
Marquez is charged with first-degree murder and conspiring to commit first-degree murder in connection with the January 2014 killing of Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres. Marquez also is alleged to have decapitated and mutilated Guerra-Torres’ body after the killing.

The allegations against Marquez contained in court documents are based largely on Pedro Garcia, who told authorities that, acting on a request from his sister, Sandra Garcia, he hired Marquez to kill Guerra-Torres.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters ordered Marquez to be held without bail pending further proceedings, while Marquez questioned why Waters signed off on the charges against him.

“I don’t understand how a judge can sign a warrant from a hearsay statement from a drug addict, from a meth-head,” Marquez said during Friday’s hearing, referring to Pedro Garcia. “He’s a known meth-head and he got busted with meth, and now just because he says, ‘Oh, this guy was there and this guy did this,’ a judge signs a warrant.”

Marquez said he was doing well, working seven days a week and not bothering anyone when he was arrested on the charges in March in Bonham, Texas. He called it “ludicrous” and “crazy” that a judge approved the charges.

“He’s a known meth-head and he got busted with meth, and now just because he says, ‘Oh, this guy was there and this guy did this,’ a judge signs a warrant,” Marquez said.

When Judge Waters began explaining the warrant he signed, Marquez interrupted several times.

“The warrant was signed based upon affidavit of a ...,” Waters started.

“Of hearsay,” Marquez interjected.

“... of a police officer who investigated the offense — a deputy sheriff in this particular case,” Waters continued. “So it was actually the deputy sheriff who signed off on the affidavit of probable cause.”

“Probable cause from hearsay from a meth-head,” Marquez jumped in.

“Whether or not that’s true or not, I can’t tell you,” the judge said.

“It’s not true,” said Marquez.

“But that’s a question that’s more appropriately forwarded to your attorney. So I’ll let you discuss that with your attorney,” Waters finished.

Marquez will be represented by a court-appointed public defender.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Blatt recommended that Marquez be held without bail.

Blatt said there’s an eyewitness to the allegations (Pedro Garcia) and that Marquez has faced past criminal allegations “in Wyoming, in Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Idaho.”

Marquez didn’t object to being held without bail.

The prosecution recommended that Marquez be held without bail and he didn't object.

Sandra Garcia, charged with conspiring to commit first-degree murder and aiding and abetting first-degree murder, has also been denied bail.

Pedro Garcia, facing the same charges as his sister, must post $1 million in cash if he wants to be released while the case is pending.

According to an affidavit from Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Joe Torczon, Pedro Garcia told authorities in March that Sandra Garcia asked him to find someone to “take out” Guerra-Torres because he’d become deeply indebted to “dangerous people in Mexico.” Sandra Garcia was in a long-term relationship with Guerra-Torres at the time — having had four children with him — and said the people from Mexico were going to kill their whole family, Pedro Garcia reportedly recounted to Torczon.

Pedro Garcia said Marquez agreed to do the deed while the two smoked meth in his Powell garage, Torczon wrote.

Sandra Garcia allegedly asked Pedro Garcia to find someone to 'take out' Guerra-Torres. Pedro Garcia allegedly got John Marquez to agree to kill the man. 

Pedro Garcia said he initially paid Marquez $700 and three grams of meth for killing Guerra-Torres, then later wired him $400 in three separate transactions. Authorities had watched Pedro Garcia wire $100 to Marquez a week after Guerra-Torres’ mutilated body was found along a remote Badger Basin road, Torczon wrote.

Pedro and Sandra Garcia each are scheduled for preliminary hearings on June 3. That’s when a judge will weigh whether there’s enough evidence for their charges to proceed toward a trial.

A preliminary hearing for Marquez was tentatively scheduled for Friday, but it will likely be pushed back.

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