Nov 27, 2015

Bomb threat evacuates Cody Wal-Mart, others across country

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 24, 2015

Saturday fire claims family’s business, six dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French has started an online fundraising campaign for the family at www.gofundme.com/nhbm8mq4.

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

Large winter storm expected to impact holiday travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For up-to-date information about the storm, visit www.weather.gov/riw/Thanksgiving2015. Updated road conditions are available at www.wyoroad.info.

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