Dec 22, 2015

'Star Wars' themed campaign urges drivers to buckle up

If you see a sign saying "May the Force be with You" or "Avoid the Dark Side, Buckle Up," you're probably not in a galaxy far, far away but on a Wyoming highway.

Expect to see "Star Wars" themed safety messages on highways across the Cowboy State this holiday season.

Images courtesy WyDOT
Sponsored by the Wyoming Seat Belt Coalition, the digital messages encourage drivers to buckle up during the upcoming busy Christmas and New Year's Day travel periods in Wyoming.

The seat belt messages running on Wyoming Department of Transportation digital message signs across Wyoming include:
  • "Be a Rebel, Not a Clone. Buckle Up."
  • "Avoid the Dark Side. Buckle Up."
  • "The Force is Strong with You. Buckle Up."
  •  "May the Force be with You. Buckle Up."
The messages began running on Wyoming digital signs Monday, and will continue to run for at least a week. The four messages will rotate on each digital sign every six hours.

The traffic safety messaging effort will continue statewide, weather permitting. WyDOT said the messaging will be suspended if winter weather conditions warrant a return to alerts for weather or road conditions.

Cody woman uninjured after sideswiping backhoe and losing tire

A few inches farther to the left, and the story of a crash on Wyo. Highway 295 north of Powell on Friday could have ended very differently.

Thanks to those few inches, driver Heather Gambill, 28, of Cody, was uninjured in the 7 a.m. crash between the pickup she was driving and a parked backhoe.

Trooper Blain Mollett photographs damage to a WYDOT backhoe after a Friday morning crash along Wyo. Highway 295. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson

Trooper Blain Mollett of the Wyoming Highway Patrol said Gambill fell asleep while driving a white 2008 Nissan Titan north on Wyo. Highway 295 at milepost 18, located near the intersection with Park County Lane 3 and just south of Polecat Bench and the Powell Municipal Airport.

The pickup drifted off the road to the left, crossing the southbound lane, then veered onto the left shoulder, where it sideswiped a New Holland backhoe owned by the Wyoming Department of Transportation that was parked near the right-of-way fence, Mollett said.

The left side of the pickup scraped along the side of the large rear tire of the backhoe, flattening the tire. The pickup continued forward along the right side of the backhoe, shattering a plastic fender on the backhoe. Then the pickup’s front driver’s-side wheel jammed into a small space between the backhoe’s front tire and bucket, where it stuck fast — while the pickup’s tire separated from the rim and flew off to the left of the backhoe.

The truck traveled forward more than 100 feet farther, where the wheel-less left-front end came to rest on a small, hard-packed snowbank, with the left side of the vehicle resting against the right-of-way fence.

Gambill was cited for failure to maintain a single lane of travel, Mollett said. The trooper said Gambill was wearing her seatbelt, and the pickup’s driver-side airbag deployed.

Three mobile homes are not a trailer park, commissioners say

Three mobile homes do not make a trailer park, Park County commissioners decided this month.

Overruling a neighbor’s objections, commissioners said planning and zoning staffers were right to let a landowner add a third rental trailer to his Lane 11 property earlier this year.

Neighbor Steve Herrmann unsuccessfully argued that county staffers were wrong. He said the county had let landowner Robert Taylor create a mobile home park — a type of land use that’s prohibited in that area south of Powell.

A photograph of the Lane 11 property, submitted to county officials by neighboring landowner Steve Herrmann.
The county’s rules say that having and renting out three trailers can qualify as a mobile home park, but commissioners say more recent additions to the regulations permit what Taylor has done.

“At the end of the day, ... I don’t want my property value to go down because I have a trailer park (nearby),” Herrmann told commissioners on Nov. 17. “I don’t want to have diminished enjoyment of my own property because of noise and activity, and all the things that you get with a trailer park.”

Herrmann said he’d had enough of things like barking dogs, grass fires from Roman candles, bottle rocket stems on his roof and blowing trash.

“It’s been years of this. It’s aggravating,” he said, asking the commission for any help they could give.

“We can’t regulate good neighbors,” responded Commissioner Tim French. “We’re just trying to see if our regs say A, B, C or D, and answer your questions.”

Commission Chairman Joe Tilden sympathized, saying if he was in Herrmann’s position, he’d probably be asking for help too.

“But the job that we have is to interpret the rules and regulations that we have in this county and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Tilden said.

“We can’t regulate good neighbors,” said Commissioner Tim French. “We’re just trying to see if our regs say A, B, C or D, and answer your questions.”

The county’s regulations are not very clear; Park County Planning Director Linda Gillett conceded to Herrmann in September that “this is not cut and dried.”

County rules say you have a mobile home park when you have three or more rented trailers on one “divided” piece of land with separate utilities.

Commissioners said Taylor’s eight-acre property is not “divided.” Further, they noted more recent and specific additions to their rules allow people to have as many as three homes — traditional or mobile — on properties that are five acres or larger.

It gets a little more complicated, because the newer rules also say that a landowner can only rent out two of their three homes. However, the county says one of Taylor’s trailers is exempt from the regulations and doesn’t count toward the two-rental limit because it was placed on the property before the county’s rules took effect in 1998.

What’s even more confusing is the fact that Taylor actually replaced that older, exempt trailer with a newer model this year. However, Gillett said it continues to be exempt from the rental restrictions because “you’re allowed to replace a structure if it’s similar in kind and use.”

Commissioners didn’t make their formal decision until Dec. 15, but they indicated at the Nov. 17 meeting that they wouldn’t be able to give Herrmann the decision he wanted.

“You got a blank neighbor — and fill in whatever word you want to fill in — and no matter what we do, that neighbor’s still going to be there,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall. “I don’t know what to offer you other than to offer to buy his property from him.”

Herrmann — who’s a special agent with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation — put together a thick packet of information for commissioners’ consideration, including historical photos of the property and a CD with recordings of his conversations with Gillett.

Gillett made a point of noting at a Dec. 1 meeting that Herrmann taped their discussions without her knowledge; Herrmann noted that, as a participant in the conversation, he had no legal requirement to notify her.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s legal,” Gillett countered. “There’s moral and ethical questions.”

Commissioner Lee Livingston later said he agreed with Gillett, suggesting the recording was “intrusive.”

Gillett said it felt like “something you would do with somebody who’s corrupt or criminal.”

Herrmann has the option of appealing the commissioners' decision to the District Court.

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