Jun 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 proved something of a male-dominated birth year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 12, 2015

Sucker-eating tiger trout brought to Lower Sunshine Reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washout closes McCullough Peaks access road in Willwood area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 11, 2015

Man responsible for wasted fish near Gillette turns self in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The demand of their roles is no joking matter.

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

Indeed they are, and they carried it off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual contact with teen sends Cody woman to prison

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

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

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

Ayers pleaded guilty to the felony abuse charge last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Documentary on sagebrush steppe and its wildlife to be shown Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder cases against Pedro and Sandra Garcia move forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She said she never saw him again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marquez is set for a preliminary hearing on July 8.

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

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

The area where Guerra-Torres' body was found.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callers can remain anonymous.

Cody man still missing in Grand Canyon National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local support group available for Alzheimer's caregivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 8, 2015

Lookout on the Bighorn National Forest to be renamed for fallen firefighter

Nearly 80 years after his death in the Blackwater Fire west of Cody, a local firefighter is again being recognized for his sacrifice.

On the afternoon of June 20, Bighorn National Forest officials will formally rename the High Park Lookout — a tower once used to look for forest fires — as the James T. Saban Lookout.

This former fire lookout in the Bighorn National Forest is being named for James Saban, a firefighter from Shell who died while battling the Shoshone National Forest's 1937 Blackwater Fire. Photo courtesy Bighorn National Forest
Saban died in August 1937 while working to combat the Blackwater Fire in the Shoshone National Forest. A native of Shell, he was 36.

The Blackwater Fire started on Aug. 18, 1937, about 35 miles west of Cody. Three days later, a cold front brought erratic, gusty winds. The roughly 40 men being led by Ranger Urban Post were told to drop their heavy tools and run. The crew took refuge on a rocky outcrop, where Post told them to get down on the ground. Some refused and seven men died at the location, now known as Post Point.

Another eight men, including James Saban, were trapped and fatally injured in a draw a couple miles away.

By the end of that day, 15 firefighters had died and 38 were badly injured.

The victims were memorialized in geographic features and Forest Service sites renamed in their honor in the years immediately following the fatal blaze.

As one example, the Bighorn National Forest's Tyrell Ranger Station, located northeast of Ten Sleep, is named for fallen firefighter Paul Tyrrell. Tyrell helped save the lives of some of the panicked young men at Post Point — laying over them as a human shield and suffering fatal injuries in the process.

Firefighters working the Blackwater Fire in 1937. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service
Saban was not forgotten, with a ranger station in Ten Sleep named in his honor after the fire. However, the property went into private ownership as part of a 1972 land exchange. That could have been the end of it, but “private citizens and current and former Forest Service employees took up the cause to keep Mr. Saban’s memory instilled in the Bighorn’s cultural history,” according to a news release from forest officials.

This April, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell signed off on renaming the High Park Lookout as the James T. Saban Lookout.

The facility, located just south of U.S. Highway 16 and about 15 miles east of Ten Sleep, was built in the 1940s by the same Civilian Conservation Corps that Saban once served. The lookout was used for spotting forest fires until the 1970s, when the Forest Service replaced manned lookouts with aircraft.

“Renaming the High Park Lookout to the James T. Saban Lookout is a fitting tribute to honor Mr. Saban and his family,” said Powder River Ranger District Ranger Mark Booth. “What better place to name in his memory than a lookout tower high in the Bighorns overlooking the mountains Mr. Saban loved so well.”

Saban began his Forest Service career in 1922 in the Bighorn National Forest, passing a Forest Ranger examination in 1923 and going on to work in eight national forests throughout the Rocky Mountains.

Saban left behind his former wife, Alberta, and two young children: 5-year-old Jean and 7-year-old Jack. Alberta later married Lloyd Seaman, who adopted the children. Jean Seaman Groshart died in 2013, while Jack Seaman remains an active member of the Worland community.

The re-dedication ceremony for the James T. Lookout is set for 1 p.m. on June 20 at the intersection of Forest Service Road 429 (High Park Road) and Forest Service Road 433. It's about a half-mile south of U.S. Highway 16.

The public is welcome to attend the ceremony.

For more information about the ceremony or the Blackwater Fire, contact Susie Douglas at 307-674-2658 or the Powder River Ranger District office in Buffalo at 307-684-7806.

Off-road club hosting Clark-Red Lodge ride on Saturday

Members of the Northwest Wyoming Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance plan to spend their Saturday riding a scenic trail from the Clark area to Red Lodge — and you're invited to join them.

Anyone is welcome to ride with the group as it travels the Meeteetse Trail.

A 48-mile round trip, it's described as a casual, scenic ride that's appropriate for all off-highway vehicle types and driver skill levels. The route is a two-track road that follows a historic wagon trail and offers views of the front range of the Beartooth Mountains.

The group will meet up at 9 a.m. at an unloading area near the boundary of the Shoshone National Forest. There will be a two-hour break in Red Lodge, with the group expecting to make it back to the trailhead around 4 p.m.

To get there, take Wyo. Highway 120 north of Cody and turn west onto Road 1AB, across from the Edelweiss bar. When the road splits, stay right on 1AB. (You should go past the Clark Elementary School; if you end up at the Clarks Fork Canyon, you missed the turn).

Stay on the road (it will bend to the left) until you reach the forest boundary, about 10.5 miles from the Edelweiss.

The Northwest Wyoming Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance recommends being prepared for rain and bringing a camera for wildlife. Drivers also need a Wyoming multipurpose vehicle license plate and a U.S. Forest Service-approved exhaust system to take the Meeteetse trail.

If you have questions, contact Philip Sheets at 307-272-6329.

Torrington judge to join Wyoming Supreme Court

Passing over a former Speaker of the state House and a Cheyenne litigator, Gov. Matt Mead has picked a district court judge from Torrington as the newest member of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Long-time District Court Judge Keith Kautz will take his seat on the Supreme Court in August, when Justice Marilyn S. Kite retires.

Judge and justice-to-be Keith Kautz. Courtesy photo
Kautz has presided in the Eighth Judicial District in Goshen County since 1993. Before that, he spent about 15 years in private practice, including as a partner in the Torrington law firm of Sawyer, Warren and Kautz. Kautz graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1975 and from its college of law in 1978.

Gov. Mead picked Kautz over two private attorneys also nominated for the post: Robert Tiedeken of the Cheyenne firm Wolf, Tiedeken and Woodard and Tom Lubnau of the Lubnau Law Office in Gillette. The governor was something of a co-worker of Lubnau’s in recent years: the lawyer served as a Republican lawmaker in the state House of Representatives from 2005 to 2014 and was its speaker in his last two years.

“My choice was an extremely hard one to make. I thank the Judicial Nominating Commission for selecting three such outstanding candidates for me to choose from,” Mead said in a Friday news release. “Judge Kautz’s experience in private practice and his exemplary work on the bench for more than two decades gives me confidence that he will serve Wyoming and its citizens well on the Supreme Court.”

Kautz was a finalist for a Supreme Court post that opened up in 2012, but Mead chose a different district court judge, Michael K. Davis of Cheyenne, at that time.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to be able to continue my career serving the people of Wyoming,” Judge Kautz said in the news release from the governor’s office. “I’m really grateful to my family and friends for all of their support and I appreciate Governor Mead’s faith in appointing me to the Wyoming Supreme Court.”

 “I am deeply honored and humbled to be able to continue my career serving the people of Wyoming,” Judge Kautz said in a statement.

Kautz was involved in some prominent cases while a district court judge.

In 2011, he ruled that a lesbian couple who’d been married in Canada could not get divorced in Wyoming while gay marriage was illegal. The Wyoming Supreme Court later overruled Kautz. While not addressing the overall legality of gay marriages, the high court found the couple should be allowed to divorce. (A federal court legalized gay marriage in Wyoming last year.)

In a well-publicized 2012 case, Kautz sided with media groups and ruled a circuit court in Converse County was wrong to prevent the public from attending hearings or viewing court records in the early stages of sex crime cases. Wyoming law keeps the names of defendants charged with sex crimes (and their alleged victims) a secret until their case proceeds to the district court level, but Kautz said there was a way to do that without cutting off all public access. The Wyoming Supreme Court later affirmed Kautz’s decision, giving the public greater access to the early phases of sex crime prosecutions across the state.

Justice Marilyn Kite
The judge Kautz will replace on the bench, Justice Kite, is retiring Aug. 3. When Kite joined the court in 2000, she was the court’s first female member and she later became its first female chief justice.

The other justices on the five-member court are current Chief Justice E. James Burke, William U. Hill, Kate M. Fox and Davis.

Justices are paid $165,000 a year and have the final say on state law. After being appointed by the governor and serving their first year on the court, voters decide whether to retain them for subsequent eight-year terms. Justices must retire when they turn 70.

New fair building may be ready July 10

Crews working on the new multi-use facility for the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell are aiming to have the building ready for use by July 10.

That would give the county about a week-and-a-half to get the new facility set up for the 2015 Park County Fair, which will run from July 21-25.

The new multi-use facility, shown on Friday, is starting to near the finish line. Cody News Co. photo by Steve Johnston
"Synergy (Construction, the general contractor on the project) thinks July 10 is the day," Ron Yount of Plan One architects relayed to county commissioners last month, adding, "They're pretty confident with that."

There would still be some additional work to do after that date for example, the conference rooms being built on the south side of the facility may not be finished but the bulk of the space and kitchen would be up and running for fair time, Yount said.

At the May 12 meeting, he said the building was about 75 percent finished.

In a late tweak to the plans, commissioners decided to set aside an area near the entrance for members of the public to buy and place decorative pavers. The idea is that the money raised from selling the paving-stones can pay back the county government for some of the money it's invested into the $3.1 million project.

The fair board initially had a goal of raising $500,000 from citizens and businesses before the building's construction, but the county has had to put up that money as — more than a year-and-a-half later — fundraising efforts have yet to really launch.

In fact, even a donation or two that came in unsolicited are in question because fair overseers stuck the checks in a safe and left them there for months — long enough that they may no longer be good.

Park County Events Coordinator Echo Renner said she plans to ask the donor or two to consider writing new checks.

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