Aug 15, 2016

Primary election to feature races for Legislature, commission, mayor

While no races will officially be decided in Tuesday’s primary election, some could be all-but determined by the results and many others will be re-shaped.

Locally, Park County voters will cast ballots for candidates running for Congress, the state Legislature, the Park County Commission and Powell mayor, among other races.

Primary elections are generally a partisan affair, where Republican, Democratic and other voters choose their party’s nominees for the general election. In line with an overwhelmingly Republican county, most of the action is on the Republican ballot.

At the top of the ballot, partisan voters will find the statewide race to replace U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republicans will choose among eight candidates and Democrats two, while Libertarians and Constitutionalists each have one contender. The leading vote-getters from each party will face off in November’s general election.

Park County
Five Republicans are battling for two available seats on the Park County Commission: incumbent Lee Livingston of Wapiti and challengers Jake Fulkerson of Cody, Richard George of rural Cody, Bob Ruckman of rural Powell and South Fork resident Boone Tidwell.

(The other incumbent whose term expires this year — Commissioner Bucky Hall of Cody — is not seeking re-election.)

The top two GOP vote-getters will advance to November’s general election ballot. A Democratic challenger could join the race by collecting 25 or more write-in votes on their party’s primary ballot.

Perhaps the most intriguing local race is the Republican primary in House District 24, where incumbent Sam Krone of Cody is facing challenger Scott Court.

Court is not well known in Cody, but the race got a shakeup in late July, when Krone was charged with seven criminal counts alleging he embezzled more than $9,600 from the Park County Bar Association between 2010 and 2013. He is due to make his first court appearance Tuesday morning. Krone has said he’ll be exonerated.

Whoever wins the GOP primary will advance to face Democrat Paul Fees of Cody and an independent bid from Republican Sandy Newsome of Cody — assuming she collects several dozen signatures by Aug. 29.

House District 24 represents the western part of Cody, the North and South forks, Wapiti and the northern part of Yellowstone National Park.

Meanwhile, the primary competition for House District 50 — which includes the eastern part of Cody, Ralston, the Willwood, Heart Mountain, Clark, Crandall and Sunlight — will be much less interesting. State Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, is unopposed in the Republican primary and so is his Democratic challenger, Mike Specht of Clark. Those two will presumably advance to face off in November.

Even less intriguing could be the race for Senate District 18, where no one is opposing long-time state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody.

Republican voters in the Powell area will again be asked to choose whether they’d like to be represented in the state legislature by Dan Laursen or David Blevins. Laursen ousted Blevins in 2014’s primary and now Blevins is looking to return the favor in a House District 25 rematch. The GOP winner will face Democrat Shane Tillotson in November.

City of Cody
With municipal positions being non-partisan, all Cody voters can help winnow the field for city mayor. With three candidates in the race (Charles Cloud, Matt Hall and Tim Lamb) and only two spots available on the general election ballot, the lowest vote-getter will effectively be eliminated today. The two top candidates will face off again in November.

(City of Powell voters will make the same choice with incumbent Mayor Don Hillman and challengers James Andrews and Dawson Wolff.)

Meanwhile, Cody city council candidates Landon Greer, Jerry Fritz and Glenn Nielson are all running unopposed in wards 1, 2 and 3, respectively; Greer and Fritz are incumbents while Nielson is a newcomer.

Election Basics
City of Cody residents cast their ballots at the Cody Auditorium, those who live north and east of the city vote at the Cody Recreation Center, Wapiti and North Fork residents vote at the Wapiti school, South Fork folks gather at the Southfork Fire Hall, Heart Mountain residents vote at the Mountain View Club and Clark citizens at the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center.

You can use the Wyoming Secretary of State's website to figure out your polling place if you're unsure.

As of Aug. 1, Park County had 12,447 registered votes. That’s a little more than half of the adult population.

More than 80 percent of those registered — a total of 10,043 voters — were Republicans. Another 1,255 voters (10 percent) were Democrats and another 1,071 (8.6 percent) were unaffiliated.
Those figures will change today, as Wyoming law allows citizens to register to vote and to change their party affiliation at the polls.

To register, all you need is a driver’s license or a photo ID and Social Security number.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Republican Congressional contenders slug it out at Cody event

In differentiating themselves from their opponents, five of the Republican candidates for Wyoming’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives didn’t pull many punches at a Wednesday night forum in Cody.

Front-runner Liz Cheney of Wilson described herself as the only one ready to start the Congressional job on day one — and accused another leading contender, state Sen. Leland Christensen of Alta, of being too liberal.

For his part, Christensen stood by his Wyoming credentials and charged that Cheney moved to Wyoming from Virginia “just to run for office.”

Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith, meanwhile, said he was the only viable alternative to Cheney — “a good Virginia girl” — and that Wyoming needs stop sending “the same type of legislators” to Washington.

Finally, correctional officer Jason Senteney of Torrington and Paul Paad, a safety and personnel director at a Casper trucking company, each said the state should be represented by people like them and not by more politicians or lawyers.

Liz Cheney and Darin Smith (at right) listen as Leland Christensen speaks at a Wednesday night forum in Cody. Cody News Co. photo by Tessa Schweigert
Those five candidates — plus banking employee Heath Beaudry of Evanston, assistant English professor Mike Konsmo of Powell and Casper attorney/state Rep. Tim Stubson, who all missed the forum — will face off in today’s (Tuesday’s) Republican primary election.

Along with Democrats Ryan Greene and Charlie Hardy, Libertarian Lawrence Struempf and Constitutionalist Daniel Cummings, they’re all seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

Lummis is not seeking re-election after four terms and eight years in Congress.

Cheney shoots first

The clashes started with a question about what the candidates would do to “end the Congressional gridlock and hyper-partisan politics.”

Christensen said being a legislator has taught him to “work on the issue and worry less about positioning and arguing and more about how we can accomplish good.” He said a shift from partisan fighting to a focus on positive outcomes for America would “really change how Washington works.”
Senteney expressed similar thoughts about a “more and more divided” Congress.

“People have stopped looking at what’s best for the country first — putting aside party politics and working on the simple stuff first, the stuff we agree on: public safety, making sure our kids have it better than we do,” he said.

Smith suggested the solution was for conservatives to be more united, saying past compromises have not worked out well.

Paul Paad of Casper
“I will not compromise on any more debt and I will not compromise on any more moving to the left on social issues,” Smith said.

He suggested working on bipartisan issues like “job performance standards” for members of Congress.

Cheney then started a series of pointed exchanges by accusing Christensen of having compromised “our values” on votes on abortion- and environment-related issues.

“If you’re willing to compromise and take positions that the Democrats and the liberal left will favor, then you will find compromise,” Cheney said. “I don’t believe that’s right.”

She said the solution to end gridlock is “attracting other people to our cause, explaining why our conservatives values are the right ones — not looking for ways to compromise on the environment or on life.”

Paad, the next to speak, wryly remarked that “with all these different answers, I’m not sure I remember what the question was.”

He suggested term limits could end the gridlock.

Current members of Congress, Paad said, are more focused on moving up the ladder and following their leaders than anything else.

“They’re like a bunch of Shetland ponies at a fair, going around one of those little wheels, you know?” he said. “They don't know who's leading.”

Christensen then got a chance to counter Cheney’s criticism, saying “there’s a difference between compromise and negotiation and setting the standards to find a win-win — and it’s possible if you work at it.”

He said he was proud of his track record — and he described Cheney’s record in the State Department as “giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran and Syria.”

That was just the beginning of a protracted back-and-forth dialogue between the two candidates.

Vehicles in Yellowstone

Beyond the personal pitches and criticisms, the candidates were questioned about a number of issues — including how they felt about the possibility of restrictions on the number or types of cars entering Yellowstone National Park.

Paad said he hadn’t looked into the topic and didn’t know if he’d be qualified to make that decision.

Smith also did not weigh in on the possibility of vehicle restrictions, but “how do they not make money in Yellowstone, really?” he asked rhetorically.

Jason Senteney of Torrington
“We definitely need to re-think how we administer things at the federal level; these things should be profitable,” Smith said, suggesting that making federal employees “at-will” would help.

Senteney’s response drew the biggest laughs of the night.

“If they’re going to limit the amount of cars, they also need to limit the amount of selfies in Yellowstone,” he said.

Christensen, meanwhile, bemoaned how winter snowmobiling has been curtailed in the park over the years.

“I don’t think we ought to be limiting. I think we ought to be talking about cleaner products — whether it’s our cars, whether it’s our snowmobiles,” he said, adding, “There was some real progress (on snowmobiles). Let’s clean it up.”

Cheney said she didn’t support limitations on automobiles.

Illegal immigration

The candidates outlined differing approaches to address illegal immigration into the United States.
Christensen said the first step would be to secure the country’s borders by giving more authority and resources to the people working there.

To cut down on the “influx” of people coming across the border, he also suggested reforming and “ramping up” the H-1B visa program, which allows foreigners to temporarily work in the country.

“That's how we're really going to make a difference on this,” Christensen said. “It's good for business; it's good for people who want to come here legally and want to understand a little bit more about this American dream.”

Beyond criticizing both the “broken” immigration system and President Barack Obama for not enforcing current laws, Cheney said the U.S. needs “to stop the inflow of Syrian refugees who absolutely cannot be vetted and who present a direct national security threat to us.”

“We can’t allow people to come over here that are not going to assimilate to our values or they’re going to try to force their values on us,” said candidate Darin Smith.

Smith said enforcing current laws will generally solve the problem with illegal immigration.

“Immigration without assimilation is invasion,” he added. “We can’t allow people to come over here that are not going to assimilate to our values or they’re going to try to force their values on us. It simply is a matter of national security.”

Senteney said he’s proposed a five-point plan that includes immediately putting unemployed veterans to work on the southern border and strengthening the existing E-Verify system that allows employers to check if a person can legally work in the U.S.

Paad said the federal government should “defund” so-called “sanctuary cities” — that is, cities where police are prohibited from inquiring about a person’s immigration status — and defund the states that allow sanctuary cities. He said police should be allowed to report anyone who’s in the country illegally and that the vetting process for immigrants should be strengthened.

The Wednesday forum was hosted by the Park County Republican Party and held at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Aug 9, 2016

With fighterfighters' work and Sunday rain, Whit Fire mostly contained

A Sunday thunderstorm aided firefighting efforts on the Whit Fire west of Cody, upping containment to 70 percent by Monday evening.

The fire began Tuesday, Aug. 2, on the North Fork of the Shoshone River southeast of Wapiti. By Wednesday evening, the fire had burned across 9,600 acres and spread to the South Fork.

Burnout operations. Photo courtesy Brant Jungck
Roughly 260-270 North and South Fork residents were directed to evacuate on Tuesday and Wednesday; those orders were able to be lifted on Saturday morning.

Incident Commander Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team took over the fire on Friday. They helped get the blaze 15 percent contained on Friday evening and 30 percent by Saturday evening.

Firefighters took an aggressive strategy and made progress, Pechota said at Saturday evening meeting at Glenn Livingston Elementary School in Cody. Though, the commander added, “I’m not going to tell you it’s a done deal.”

The fire stood at 12,094 acres on Monday.

It’s a hazardous environment of rugged terrain, rolling rocks, falling trees and no protection when lightning strikes. Two firefighters suffered injuries, Pechota said. One sustained a tear to the lower abdomen and the other was hit in the shoulder by a rock.

“These guys are giving it their all,” Pechota said.

Rain was in the forecast for Sunday, he noted, and, “We’re taking every drop.”

Luckily, the weather forecast was right.

Sunday afternoon was sunny and warm, but thick clouds to the west suggested rain.

Around 1:30 p.m., Pete Buist, Type 1 fire information officer, negotiated a gravel road on the south side of the South Fork.

A few disparate lightning bolts fractured the sky followed by their booms caroming off rocky ridges like hammer blows. 

On the ridges, gray columns of smoke rose like warped monoliths to contrast perfectly against the purple sky. In a few isolated spots, flames ignited fleetingly only to flame out like spent kitchen matches. Patches of brown grass untouched by fire contrasted sharply with blackened zones that were overcome by flames.

“There is a story painted across that view,” Buist said.

The burn pattern indicated the fire’s behavior; how it ran Wednesday, Buist said.

The darkened areas illustrate where heavy fuels where, Pechota said. There was less fuel on the lower hills.
Powell firemen assess the Whit Fire on the South Fork Wednesday. Photo courtesy Damian Dicks
Fuels are trees, downed trees, grass and brush.

The fire ran uphill faster and slower downhill, Buist said.

Three factors drive fire: Fuel, topography and weather. In this scenario, weather, or more precisely, wind drove the fire, Buist said.

In some locations, black patches like meandering paths of asphalt reached nearly to homes and outbuildings.

One home was lost, and seven “minor structures,” according to Buist’s official notes. The official report says the cause is “still under investigation,” he said.

A homemade sign on the Lower South Fork Road (Road 6QS) reads, “Thank you firefighters.”

“That’s a morale-builder for us,” Buist said.

Matt Broyles, a task force leader, keeps an eye on his crew from the road. His job is to ensure resources such as hand crews and engines coordinate efficiently.

Firefighters conducting structure protection have been stationed on the North and South Forks, Buist said.

The fire behind structures is secure, but a few stumps may continue to smolder, Broyles said. It will continue to smoke for weeks, Buist said.

Broyles points south where a few small flames occasionally lick the sky, the end of what fire managers called the, “Division Whiskey burnout.”

Firefighters were conducting multiple burnouts on Sunday. That is, they torched areas to remove fuels to impede the fire’s advance, Buist said.

The gray smoke clung to the ridges and down the slopes like insidious morning fog. As the rain began, it seemed to ensnare the smoke, pinning it to the ground.

Truck after truck rolled down the mountain. The firefighters must sit out the storm for safety’s sake, Buist explained.

A storm rolled through the area Sunday afternoon. Cody News Co. photo by Gib Mathers
Lightning cracked again in a serrate line like a surly reminder of the power of nature.

“Another reason not to be on the mountain,” Buist said. The firefighters will deploy again once the weather front passes on.

The firefighters take advantage of their down time. Some nap, others chat or snack and one group in a crew cab crank up some AC/DC.

The rain does seem like manna from heaven, but there will be no celebrating yet.

“It’s not going to put the fire out, but it’s darned helpful,” Buist said.

On Monday, there were eight Type 1 hand crews, 10 Type 2 hand crews, 41 engines, four water tenders and one dozer, according to an update.

A hand crew is a 20-person team using hand tools. Water tenders haul water.

There were 717 people working the fire Monday. The Type 1 team will turn it over to a Type 3 team on Thursday.

Two Type 1 helicopters, two Type 2 helicopters, two Type 3 helicopters and two air attack platforms are on the fire.

Type 1 helicopters are like Chinooks with two big rotors. They can carry buckets or transport water internally with a capacity of up to 4,500 gallons. Type 2 helicopters, like Bell Hueys, pack buckets of up to 200 gallons. Type 3 helicopters are smaller ships used for observation. Air attack platforms are fixed wing or rotary aircraft, similar to traffic control, to direct aerial fire fighting.

A no stopping order and lower speed limit on U.S. Highway 14/16/20 near the Buffalo Bill Reservoir was lifted on Sunday and the reservoir was scheduled to reopen to the public on Monday afternoon. The Green Creek, Twin Creek and Sheep Mountain trails remained temporarily closed.

Aug 6, 2016

Whit Fire 15 percent contained; evacuation orders lifted

Fire crews managed to contain 15 percent of the Whit Fire on Friday, making “significant progress” on the fire’s northwestern edge.

Further, “ALL EVACUATIONS HAVE BEEN LIFTED!!” fire managers enthusiastically announced on Saturday morning. “Residents and landowners are now allowed back to their property.”

That’s good news for a couple hundred North and South Fork residents who’d been told to leave their homes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Two of the CL415 (“Superscoopers”) parked at Yellowstone Regional Airport on Friday. Photo courtesy Bruce Salzmann/InciWeb
The Whit Fire, about 12 miles west of Cody, was estimated at roughly 10,200 acres on Saturday. Around 500 firefighters were working to snuff it out, with more on the way. The crew being supervised by Type 1 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team on Saturday included 12 hand crews, 22 fire engines, three water tends, nine helicopters and seven airplanes.

Crews have been working on firelines to stop the fire’s growth to the north and south and have continued to “mop-up, assess, triage and patrol properties in the fire’s vicinity” on both the North and South Forks. Some crews were going to be ferried in by helicopter to the flanks of the fire on Saturday.

After roaring to 9,600 acres between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday night, the Whit Fire had relatively little growth on Thursday and Friday. However, Friday night cloud cover kept humidity lower and temperatures higher, so fire managers suspect it could be more active on Saturday.

Fire managers plan to hold another public meeting about the Whit Fire at 6 p.m. Saturday at Glenn Livingston Elementary School.

Authorities have said the fire appears to have been accidentally started by a person on Whit Creek Road, south of the North Fork Highway, on Tuesday afternoon.

Aug 5, 2016

‘Best of the best’ fighting Whit Fire west of Cody

Hundreds of firefighters have been summoned to fight a fire burning about 12 miles west of Cody on the North and South Forks of the Shoshone River.

A Type 1 management team — the most experienced type of firefighting crew — took over management of the 9,600 acre Whit Fire on Friday morning to continue working toward extinguishing the blaze.

One of the "Superscoopers" working the Whit Fire on Thursday evening. Photo courtesy Bruce Salzmann/Inciweb
“We’re going to try to take the threat out as soon as possible,” Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander said at a Thursday night meeting in Cody, adding, “It’s a complex event. We’ve got the right people here to take care of it.”

More than 230 firefighters were on the ground on Friday morning. Incident Commander Todd Pacheto predicted the number of personnel would eventually reach somewhere between 700 and 750 people.

As of Friday, a couple hundred North and South Fork residents remained under evacuation orders because of the fire. Park County Homeland Security Coordinator Mart Knapp said roughly 260 to 270 people had been directed to evacuate on Tuesday and Wednesday — though on Friday he figured that less than half of them had actually left their homes. (Update: all evacuation orders were lifted on Saturday morning.)

The fire began Tuesday afternoon on Whit Creek Road south of the North Fork Highway. Officials have not said how it started, but “it appears to have been human-caused, with no malicious intent — an accident,” said Bureau of Land Management Cody Field Manager Delissa Minnick.

Alexander said it was example of what can happen if “you get a spark at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong weather conditions.”

Fueled by high temperatures and dry, windy conditions, the fire had ripped across 9,600 acres by Wednesday night, spreading from the North Fork to the South Fork.

“As much as they tried to stop it and keep it in check ... with the terrain and fuels and (other environmental factors) ... there was just no stopping it,” said Cody Fire Marshal Sam Wilde. “It was going to do what it was going to do.”

One home and seven other structures had been destroyed as of Friday morning, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Office, but “it could have been a lot worse,” Wilde said.

He said it was “amazing” that the fire “went right around some of those homes (on the South Fork) and so (it was) very, very fortunate.”

Residents in the areas around the Whit Creek Road, Big Hat Ranch, Golden Key Ranch, Simek Ranch, and County Road 6NS and its connecting roads — including the Bear Creek Subdivision — all were told to evacuate between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday evening.

Incident Commander Todd Pacheto addresses an audience of more than 120 people on Thursday night.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess encouraged people to obey those orders.

“Put your property, put your trust in these guys,” Mathess said, saying firefighters have already demonstrated “that trust is well deserved.”

Fire managers described the Whit Fire as having become very complex, very quickly.

“We’ve got a lot of rugged and rough terrain out there; we have incredibly dry fuels,” said Minnick, adding that “it’s very dangerous for firefighters in a lot of places.”

A group of local firefighters — including from the Cody and Powell volunteer fire departments, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service — led the initial attack.

A Type 3 incident team had been headed to the Dubois area to help with the Lava Mountain Fire, but were diverted to Cody when the Whit Fire broke out Tuesday. In an exceptionally quick turnaround, the team was at the scene and took control at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The commander of that Type 3 team, Andy Mandell, praised the “outstanding” work of local firefighters.

“They protected a lot of homes and worked some long hours,” Mandell said.
Wednesday proved a particularly stiff challenge.

“Shortly after (the Type 3) team arrived, things got pretty western out there,” said Minnick.

The Whit Fire sent up large columns of smoke during rapid Wednesday afternoon growth that pushed it into the Lower South Fork. Photo courtesy Yancy Bonner
She said high temperatures and wind gusts of up to 70 mph forced the teams to re-evaluate their tactics. That included having to back off the fire in some of the steeper places for the safety of firefighters, said Wilde.

Thanks to better weather and the work of firefighters, the Whit Fire had very little growth on Thursday.

Firefighters spent much of the day working to protect structures on both the North and South Forks.
Fire managers said their tactics will adapt as the fire evolves.

“We’re going to engage them (the firefighters) on this fire in ways that have a high probability of success,” Minnick said.

Friday’s fire fighting operations included 13 fire engines, nine helicopters, eight hand crews and seven airplanes — including four “Superscoopers.”

The planes and helicopters have been scooping water out of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, which has been entirely closed to the public to aid those efforts. The Sheriff’s Office is also asking residents not to stop along U.S. Highway 14/16/20 to watch the planes and to not drive up the South Fork Highway to watch the fire.

Another public meeting is tentatively set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Livingston Elementary School.

Cody child runs lemonade stand to help fire victims

If there's been a silver lining about the Whit Fire west of town, it may be the emerging stories about locals who have stepped up to help and support those impacted by the fire.

Not far from the doors of a Thursday meeting about the status of the Whit Fire, a young Cody boy was selling lemonade and his own homemade cookies to raise money for those impacted by the blaze.

Gonzalo Anzurez, “really wanted to go help with the fire” on Wednesday, explained his mother, Cyndi Anzurez, adding, “He was concerned about the people and their homes and their beds.”

After being told that he'd need to leave the firefighting to the professionals, Gonzalo’s response was, “Well, I can sell lemonade and give the money to the people that lost all their stuff.”

Gonzalo Anzurez poses for a photo with his lemonade stand outside Livingston Elementary School. Cody News Co. photo by Tessa Schweigert
Cyndi Anzurez said the original plan was to open the stand on Sunday, but “that was not soon enough” for Gonzalo.

In his remarks at the meeting, Cody Fire Marshal Sam Wilde specifically mentioned Gonzalo’s stand as an example of the community support that's been expressed.

“If that doesn’t touch you, I don’t know what will,” Wilde said.

He described the support for the Cody Volunteer Fire Department as “just amazing” — from the citizens who’ve donated water, Gatorade, granola and other items to the support of firefighters’ employers, wives and families.

That was a common theme among the various fire managers who spoke at Thursday’s public briefing, as they each took time to express thanks for the outpouring of support.

“It's made me incredibly proud to be a member of the Cody community,” said Delissa Minnick, the Bureau of Land Management's Cody Field Manager.

Aug 4, 2016

After injuries, city putting new restrictions on Cody Gunfighters

After a Friday mishap that injured three spectators, the City of Cody plans to implement some new restrictions before allowing the Cody Gunfighters to resume their nightly downtown performances with firearms.

“We cannot and will not compromise safety. No one in this room could in good conscience want to compromise the safety of our citizens and our visitors,” Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said at a Tuesday night council meeting. “And we’ve had an unfortunate situation and we need to rebound from it, but we need to rebound from it stronger and better than we were before.”

"We want to be as safe as anybody else," Cody Gunfighters member Don Bash told the council.
The Cody Gunfighters put on a free old West show in front of the Irma Hotel during the summer tourist season.

Cody police are still investigating what happened during Friday’s show, but it appears something was shot from one of the performers’ guns. Three tourists — including a 3-year-old child — suffered minor injuries, police have said; someone later told police that a “bullet” appeared to have also punctured a raft at the neighboring Red Canyon River Trips.

After the incident, Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker suspended the Cody Gunfighters’ authorization to discharge firearms in town. The group — which normally performs six nights a week — hasn’t put on a show since Friday.

The city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to continue that suspension until the Cody Gunfighters meet new safety criteria crafted by chief Baker.

A draft of those rules presented at Tuesday’s meeting included a requirement for the Gunfighters to have an “independent gun safety manager” oversee all of their performances — including pre-show inspections of the actors’ guns. The Gunfighters would also need to provide the safety manager’s contact information to police.

Gunfighter Don Bash told the council that, since the incident, group members have discussed possible changes. One idea would be to require that all the guns in the show are used only for the show, being locked up between performances “so they don’t go home, so they don’t leave the premises and they’re loaded every day right there,” he said.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make it safer, too,” Bash said. “But we do have a good record.”

He said last week’s “unfortunate accident” came among more than 2,200 shows, performed for more than a million spectators over 19 years.

Mayor Brown told the Gunfighters that the city will act quickly.
“We want to be as safe as anybody else,” Bash said, noting, “We’re shooting at each other.”

He said the group will work with Baker “any way we can.”

A couple people spoke about the importance of the Cody Gunfighters to local tourism.

Jennifer Gould, the manager of the Cody and Powell WYogurt stores, said the performances’ impact on downtown Cody businesses is “amazing” and especially important in “one of the weakest (summers) that we’ve seen in a while.”

“The fact is that any little boost like that that we can see, helps us big-time. It gives us a little bit of hope,” Gould said, adding, “The last few days (it) hasn’t been that way, and it’s very sad. It’s very hard.”

Cody council members indicated they understood the urgency.

Until the Cody Gunfighters can work out the new procedures with the police chief, Cody councilman Donny Anderson asked if the group might perform with squirt guns or pop guns; Councilwoman Karen Ballinger suggested using cap guns.

“It’s not the intent to shut this show down. It’s just ... to get it as safe as it can possibly be,” Ballinger said.

“I think you have all of our support; we’re just in a bind right now,” said Anderson.

While no specific timeline was given for working out the new safety standards, mayor Brown told the gunfighters in attendance that, “We’ll try to get you guys back in business as soon as we can.”

Whit Fire grows to 9,600 acres; meeting set for Thursday evening

The Whit Fire claimed two structures on Tuesday and blazed its way from the North Fork to the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

The fire, burning about 15 miles west of Cody on the sides of Sheep Mountain, was reported Tuesday afternoon.

Whit Fire managers estimated its size at around 3,000 acres on Wednesday afternoon, but a overnight flight with infrared equipment later found the fire had grown to 9,647 acres. Wednesday was “a day of very active burning,” said Kristie Salzmann, Shoshone National Forest public affairs officer.

Fire managers have scheduled a 6 p.m. public meeting at Cody's Livingston Elementary School to share information about the fire and discuss their plans for fighting it.

A helicopter dumps water on an edge of the Whit Fire on Wednesday evening. Photo courtesy Yancy Bonner

As of Thursday morning, the Park County Sheriff's Office and Park County Office of Homeland Security had evacuated multiple areas on the North and South Forks: Whit Creek Road, the Big Hat Ranch, Golden Key Ranch, Simek Ranch and Road 6NS – including the Bear Creek Subdivision.

"All residents in the South and North Fork should monitor fire conditions closely and be prepared to leave at a moment's notice," the Sheriff's Office said in a Thursday morning Facebook post. In an earlier posting, the Sheriff's Office noted that it can not force anyone to leave their homes, "but rest assured that if we advise a mandatory evacuation, the situation is life-threatening and we strongly urge residents to leave under those conditions."

The Sheriff's Office said there's been a steady increase in the amount of traffic on the South Fork Highway because of curious onlookers; it asked people on Thursday to avoid the South and North Fork areas of the fire unless they live or have official business in the area.

"Also, it is a crime to interfere with fire fighting efforts so please stay away and let the fire fighters (do) their jobs," the office said in a post.

The Shoshone National Forest has closed the Green Creek and Twin Creek trails because of the blaze; the BLM has closed the Sheep Mountain Trail.

Approximately 175 people were working the Whit Fire as of Thursday morning, Salzmann said. That included seven helicopters, three air attack planes, 18 engines and three hands crews – including the Wyoming Interagency Hotshots and the Payson Interagency Hotshots.

A map of the Whit Fire, as of Wednesday night.
The Central West Zone Type 3 Incident Management Team took over operations on Wednesday, assisted by the Bureau of Land Management, Shoshone National Forest, Park County and the Wyoming State Forestry Division.

Area fire departments, BLM, U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming State Forestry personnel have all fought the fire, Salzmann said.

The Cody Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched early Tuesday afternoon and requested the Powell Volunteer Fire Department to provide mutual aid; Powell firefighters complied around 2 p.m. that day. Six Powell firefighters and their trucks were on the fire Tuesday afternoon and late into the evening.

Powell firefighters again were called to the scene by Park County Dispatch around 1 p.m., Wednesday and they expected to remain through the evening.

Authorities have not yet released any information about how the fire started, saying only that the cause is “under investigation.” Salzmann did say the fire began in grass and sagebrush and moved to areas with trees. She did not know what type of structures were destroyed by the fire on Tuesday.

The Whit Fire was zero percent contained as of Thursday morning.

Aug 2, 2016

Krone's first court date reset for Election Day

A Cody lawmaker charged with stealing more than $9,600 from a local lawyers' group is now scheduled to make his first court appearance on the day of the primary election.

On Friday, the Wyoming Attorney General's Office charged Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, with three felony and four misdemeanor counts of larceny or theft. The allegations are that, between March 2010 and October 2013, Krone used his position as Park County Bar Association treasurer to take $9,633.17 of the association's money for himself.

State Rep. Sam Krone
Krone has noted that he is innocent until proven guilty and says he's continuing with his bid for re-election in House District 24. He's being challenged in the Aug. 16 primary by fellow Republican Scott Court, also of Cody.

Krone was initially scheduled to make his first court appearance today (Tuesday) in Cody. On Monday, however, Krone asked presiding Circuit Court Judge Thomas Harrington of Worland to delay the hearing.

In support of his request, Krone said he didn't receive a complete copy of the charging documents until Monday; he also said he wanted to have a defense attorney before his initial appearance and that he was still "actively seeking" one as of Monday.

Judge Harrington granted the request late Monday afternoon and re-set Krone's initial appearance for 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 16.

The Wyoming Attorney General's Office had not objected to a delay.

Aug 1, 2016

Tourists reportedly injured at Cody Gunfighters' performance

Three tourists reportedly suffered minor injuries during a staged gun-fighting performance on Friday evening in downtown Cody.

The incident prompted Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker to temporarily suspend the Cody Gunfighters’ ability to discharge firearms in town; police continued to investigate what happened on Monday.

The Cody Gunfighters — generally volunteers — perform a nightly show Monday through Saturday, June through September, in the street in front of the Irma Hotel.

Cody Gunfighters Performance
The Cody Gunfighters stage a nightly show during the summer months. File photo courtesy The Irma Hotel
Cody police were called there around 6:30 p.m. Friday for a report of three people who “had been struck by some type of fragments from the Gunfighters’ show,” chief Baker said in a news release.

A 22-year-old man from New York was treated at the scene by a responding ambulance crew from West Park Hospital, the release said; two other people from Minnesota — a 37-year-old man and his 3-year-old daughter — went to West Park in a private vehicle, where they received treatment for minor injuries and were released, police said.

Responding officers “recovered evidence” and spoke with the victims, actors and other bystanders, Baker said.

“The prop weapons used (by the gunfighters) were inspected and taken as evidence,” he said, adding that everyone was cooperative.

Police logs say that, on Saturday morning, someone discovered that a raft at a nearby river rafting business had apparently been punctured in the incident, too.

The police department is asking anyone with with video or photos of Friday night’s performance to contact Detective Ron Parduba at 527-8727.

Baker said the case will be reviewed with the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

It’s generally a violation of Cody’s municipal ordinances to discharge a firearm in the city, but the council grants special permission to the Cody Gunfighters each year.

At tonight’s (Tuesday’s) Cody City Council meeting, the council is scheduled to consider ratifying Baker’s decision to suspend the gunfighters’ ability to discharge firearms.

Jul 27, 2016

Upcoming road work planned for Cody, Meeteetse and Powell area highways

As the state of Wyoming has slashed millions of dollars from its budget in recent months, the state’s roads and bridges have emerged relatively unscathed so far.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation plans to complete $285.4 million worth of construction projects this year — up by $20 million from 2015.

“We did pretty well,” WYDOT District 5 Engineer Shelby Carlson said at a meeting last week in Cody. “We did not take a hit like a lot of the state agencies did.”

Carlson said one reason her department fared better than others is that “the whole economy of the state runs on the backbone of the highway system.” WYDOT also got millions of extra dollars from the new federal highway bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

The biggest share of this year’s construction dollars will go to Wyoming’s interstates, while District 5 — which includes all of the Big Horn Basin plus Fremont County and parts of Teton and Natrona counties — will receive approximately $28 million.

The large projects on tap, underway or completed in Park County include:

• $2.52 million to level, overlay and chip seal 13 miles of the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Wyo. Highway 296) and $1.97 million to repair a large rock slide on the highway in the Paint Creek Canyon area, northwest of Cody.

In June, crews had to get high above the road to repair a rock slide area along the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Wyo. Highway 296). Photo courtesy WYDOT
• $1.95 million to overhaul a little more than a mile of Cody’s main street (Sheridan Avenue/Eighth Street/Yellowstone Avenue) between China Town and Cody Labs; the route is a part of U.S. Highway 14/16/20.

WYDOT and contractor Mountain Construction intended to finish the job by June 15, but ran into weather and other delays; in mid-June, they decided to pause the project until the fall, when traffic slows.

“It was just getting where we couldn’t get anything done productively,” said WYDOT Resident Engineer Todd Frost of Cody. Waiting should make it easier for travelers, who were getting backed up for blocks, and it should be better for downtown businesses and safer for construction crews as well, WYDOT officials said.

• $1.53 million to upgrade sidewalks and install wheelchair-accessible ramps along Meeteetse’s main street (Wyo. Highway 120)

• $1.53 million to replace some old, substandard guardrail along roughly 4.5 miles of Wyo. Highway 120, north of Meeteetse

In the meantime, crews are finishing up the new Willwood Bridge southwest of Powell, which is “99 percent done right now,” Frost said. He expects the bridge to be paved within the next couple of weeks.

Also just getting some finishing touches are a series of improvements to U.S. Highway 14/16/20 through the Wapiti area.

As for next year, Powell residents can expect to see $2.52 million worth of work to remove the remaining medians on Coulter Avenue (U.S. Highway 14-A), replace the current street lights and re-surface that portion of the road.

The largest local project scheduled for 2017 is a $6.8 million effort to level, overlay and chip seal 11 miles of Wyo. Highway 120 south of Cody. It’s the start of a plan to resurface the entire Cody-Meeteetse route between next year and 2022.

WYDOT has also set aside $685,750 next year to try reducing the amount of falling rock by the tunnels near the Buffalo Bill Dam, on U.S. Highway 14/16/20. That “rock fall mitigation” will involve blasting off a huge boulder and removing around 10,000 cubic yards of material west of Cody, Frost said.

In 2018, WYDOT plans to spend $100,000 constructing a parking lot near the tunnels to serve as a staging area for rock climbers.

WYDOT plans to construct a parking lot for climbers near the tunnels west of Cody.

The department blocked off access to the pullout a number of years ago, but with climbers now walking through the tunnels to get there, WYDOT is reversing course.

“We’re going to open that parking lot back up and just give them access rather than take the hazards of them walking through the tunnels all the time,” said District 5 Engineer Lyle Lamb.

In addition to those projects, WYDOT will continue its routine maintenance around the district: sealing cracks, fixing culverts, rehabilitating bridges and upgrading guardrails.

The department is continuing to focus on preserving its roads — rather than upgrading them — in the state’s tighter times.

The FAST Act immediately restored $242 million in federal Abandoned Mine Lands funding to Wyoming and the state should receive $595 million more over the next five years, according to WYDOT. The funding was restored by the actions of Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, though Carlson said other members of Congress have already drafted legislation to take that money back.

Jul 26, 2016

Park County Fair to feature concert, carnival and other fun

The 2016 Park County Fair is here and with it comes a full slate of entertainment, vendors and a slew of exhibits ranging from animals to artwork.

The annual county-wide event takes place at the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell, at 655 East Fifth Street.

Pig mud wrestling kicked off the fair’s grandstand entertainment tonight (Tuesday) with free admission and it will be followed by a series of ticketed events: an Arenacross event with motorcycle and side-by-side racing on Wednesday, a Bump ‘N Run Race on Thursday, a performance by Canadian country musician Terri Clark on Friday and the fan-favorite Demolition Derby, which will help close out the fair on Saturday night.

“A lot of people had asked us to move the concert to Friday (from the Thursday of last year’s fair), so we’re expecting a better crowd for that,” said Park County Events Coordinator Echo Renner.
Kintla LaFevers of Cody and her cat, Buttercup, return to their seats after collecting a ribbon during last week's 4-H Cat Show.

Kalispell, Montana, indie-rockers Marshall Catch will open Friday’s concert at 7 p.m. with Clark hitting the stage at 8:30 p.m.

Carnival Midway Attractions is returning for the fair; its mix of rides and other attractions will open at 6 p.m. tonight (Tuesday) and run until 11 p.m. The carnival will then operate from noon to midnight Wednesday through Saturday.

Plenty of local talent will also be on display this year. A whopping 8,087 exhibits have been submitted — running the gamut from pigs and poultry to pies and photography. It’s the most submissions since the fair office started electronically tracking them, Renner said, calling it “so exciting.”

Animals will be displayed in their respective barns, with static 4-H exhibits in Bicentennial Hall and static open class exhibits in the new exhibit hall.

Fairgoers may also notice a bit more free entertainment.

Two acts are returning: hypnotist and “phenomenist” Michael Mezmer and contemporary circus performers Mango and Dango.

“Everything else is new,” Renner said, referring to acts that include a rattlesnake show and a bubble-spewing tower.

The Pepsi Free Stage will also feature some musical entertainers, including the Lady Luck Trio — which performs oldies and other songs — and a couple local bands. In a new twist, the local Wyoming Desperados Mounted Shooters will put on a free exhibition at 5 p.m. Friday in the horse arena behind the grandstands.

The fair atmosphere will also spread to downtown Powell on Saturday morning, with the 10 a.m. Park County Fair Parade.

To try boosting the fair’s revenues amid a tighter county budget, the fair board raised the price of weekly admission and weekly parking passes from $10 to $15 each. Daily admission and parking passes remain $5 a piece.

The fair will offer free admission today (Tuesday) and until 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wapiti speed limit too high, some locals complain

Tourists hustling to get to Yellowstone National Park might be enjoying the new 70 mph speed limit through the Wapiti area, but some locals are not.

At a public meeting last week, a few Wapiti residents urged the Wyoming Department of Transportation to consider dropping the speed limit along U.S. Highway 14/16/20 west of Cody back to 65 mph or lower.

Some locals say 70 mph is too fast for U.S. Highway 14/16/20 through Wapiti. Photo courtesy WYDOT
“The traffic in general isn’t going that much faster than it has, that I can see,” said Wayne Peterson of Wapiti. “But you’ve got the person that says, ‘The road is 70 miles an hour; I’ve got to go 70.’”

Peterson — who said he and his wife have been run off the road five times — was among a few people who argued the portion of U.S. Highway 14/16/20 is different, playing host to more distracted sightseers and large amounts of wildlife.

“There’s just too much distraction, so you need to lower that speed limit,” Wapiti resident Steve Haberland told WYDOT representatives. Citing some close calls, Haberland also suggested the department reduce the number of passing zones in the area.

WYDOT District Engineer Shelby Carlson said there’s been “a lot” of complaints and the department has already hired engineers with Morrison-Maierle to study whether the North Fork highway’s speed limit should be reduced.

However, Carlson warned the audience at the July 18 meeting that — even if the study finds a lower speed is warranted — the reduction may have a limited effect.

“Driver behavior is what needs to change,” she said. “Changing the speed limit sign doesn’t do that.”

Carlson said studies have generally shown that “people just continue to drive the speed they feel comfortable, despite what the speed-limit sign says.”

For example, she said WYDOT lowered the speed limit between Manderson and Worland and later found “the prevailing speed hadn’t changed.”

Similarly, in the case of the North Fork, “we haven’t seen any changes in terms of speed and driver behavior” since the increase to 70 mph, said WYDOT District Traffic Engineer Randy Merritt.

When the department surveyed speeds on the North Fork highway last year, it found people were driving about 68 mph near the Red Barn Store and over 70 mph everywhere else, Merritt said. A survey a few weeks ago found drivers going 70 mph near the Red Barn and generally within a couple mph of last year’s figures, he said.

“We haven’t seen any changes in terms of speed and driver behavior” with the new 70 mph limit, said WYDOT District Traffic Engineer Randy Merritt.

The Legislature raised the state’s default highway speed from 65 to 70 mph earlier this year, affecting nearly 400 miles of road across the Big Horn Basin.

Of the local complaints to WYDOT about the change, most have been about the North Fork area, Carlson said. However, she noted WYDOT can only set a lower speed limit if the decision is backed by an engineering study.

“So if their (the engineers’) conclusions are contrary to what I’m hearing today from folks, you’ll proceed with their recommendations and ignore what’s being said today?” asked Cody resident Doug Smith.

“That’s correct,” said Carlson. “We have to justify it (the speed) by an engineering study. That’s the way the statute and the law was written.”

The study will take public input into consideration, while also looking at crash data, the road’s conditions and other information, she said.

WYDOT officials said they’re continuing to try to make the North Fork highway safer with signs warning of wildlife and speed limit changes — and by warning of the dangers of driving drunk, with distractions or without a seat belt.

Additionally, the previously short-handed Wyoming Highway Patrol is now close to being fully staffed.

“You are going to see more law enforcement out on the road and that should help with some of this,” Carlson said.

Jul 25, 2016

Community invited to join in Tuesday workout at City Park

Everyone is being invited to a free community workout on Tuesday evening at City Park.

From 5:30-7 p.m., certified fitness instructors will lead anyone who’s interested through a series of PiYo exercises (a combination of Pilates and yoga), strength training, kickboxing and more.

The second annual “Pack the Park” event is being sponsored by West Park Hospital, Anytime Fitness and the Cody Rec Center. It’s a part of the hospital’s Community Health Series.

“Any topic you can think of we’re trying to get it out to the community and use our professionals that are at hand at West Park Hospital and get them in front of people so they can really teach and educate what health is all about,” West Park Community Relations Manager Ashley Trudo explained at last year’s workout, adding, “This is about getting out, getting people healthy.”

Beyond the exercise instruction, the event will also feature giveaways, snacks and health information. Childcare will also be available.

Jul 22, 2016

New wildfire burns through 2,600 acres east of Ten Sleep

A quickly-moving wildfire northeast of Ten Sleep has forced the evacuation of some areas of the Bighorn National Forest and the closure of a portion of U.S. Highway 16.

“This fire is rapidly growing and continues to spread due to dangerous weather conditions,” the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office said in a Friday night Facebook post. While no injuries or other problems have been reported so far, “multiple structures are threatened,” the Sheriff's Office said.

The Hatchery Fire was discovered around 1 p.m. on Friday; by 6 p.m., it had already burned through about 2,600 acres, fire managers said.

The Hatchery Fire, as seen from the air on Friday afternoon. Photo courtesy Bighorn National Forest
On Friday night, the Washakie and Big Horn County sheriffs issued an evacuation order for Meadowlark Lake, the West Tensleep Lake Road corridor, the Deer Haven Lodge and other camps and cabins in the surrounding areas. The Big Horn County Sheriff's Office said people in those areas were being told to evacuate to Buffalo.

A portion of U.S. Highway 16 between Ten Sleep and Buffalo in the Bighorn National Forest has been closed because of the Hatchery Fire. For updates on the road's status, visit or call 511.

“Please do not attempt to get into this area,” the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office said in its post. “No traffic entry is being allowed in the area until it is deemed safe to do so.”

According to a Friday night news release from the Bighorn National Forest, the fire began on private land near U.S. Highway 16.

Firefighters started working to suppress the Hatchery fire from the time it was reported, the forest's release said. A Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) dropped at least two loads of retardant on the fire on Friday, with additional drops from heavy and single engine air tankers. At least three helicopters and about 60 firefighters have also been working the fire, with more help on the way.

“This is a very dangerous, rapidly unfolding event,” Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Bill Bass said in the release. “Our first concern is for the safety of the firefighters and the public.”

The fire is burning on the north side of Tensleep Canyon, about seven miles east of the town of Ten Sleep. As of Friday night, it was being managed by Washakie County, the Worland Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming State Forestry Division and the Bighorn National Forest.

Endangered ferrets to be returned to Meeteetse next week

After a nearly three-decade-long absence, black-footed ferrets are being reintroduced to ranch lands west of Meeteetse.

On Tuesday, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department plans to release roughly three dozen of the endangered ferrets across 3,200 acres of prairie dog colonies. The department hopes to re-establish a black-footed ferret population in the area.

The Game and Fish's Nichole Bjornlie releases a prairie dog in this file photo. The department has been studying ways to protect prairie dogs — on which black-footed ferrets rely — from plague. Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish

The species was thought to have been extinct when a ferret colony was found on the Hogg family's Lazy BV Ranch in 1981. The ferrets found there were eventually captured and were used to start a successful breeding program that's boosted the species' population from a couple dozen animals back up into the hundreds.

While ferrets have been reintroduced to other areas in Wyoming and other states, Tuesday's release in Meeteetse will be a little more special.

“It is incredibly exciting for us to be putting ferrets back in a location where we found an animal we thought was extinct. It shows a dedication to conservation and the fact that we have done some excellent work here,” Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott said in a June news release. “It’s a landmark moment to return this species back to Meeteetse.”

“It’s a landmark moment to return this species back to Meeteetse,” said Scott Talbott, the Game and Fish director.

As for what makes a site a good place for black-footed ferrets, Wyoming Game and Fish Nongame Mammal Biologist Nichole Bjornlie says it really comes down to one thing: prairie dogs.

“Because an adult ferret will eat about one prairie dog every three days, an individual ferret can eat over 100 prairie dogs in a single year!” Bjornlie said in a recent Game and Fish Q&A.

At that rate, each ferret needs roughly 50 to 100 acres of prairie dog habitat, she said.

“Not only do ferrets eat almost exclusively prairie dogs (about 90% or more of their diet is prairie dogs), but they also rely on prairie dogs for their burrows, which ferrets use for shelter, safety, and a place to raise young,” Bjornlie explained.

To prepare for the release outside Meeteetse, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service biologists and field specialists applied insecticide to prairie dog burrows at the site. Their aim was to cut down on the number of fleas, which transmit the deadly sylvatic plague that can decimate prairie dog populations.

Game and Fish plans to release a total of 35 ferrets on Tuesday in the Meeteetse area.

Cody woman gets jail time and probation for embezzling $20,000

When Amanda Luther was terminated as a Cody business manager in early 2015, her employers thought they had a couple different reasons for parting ways; among other things, they felt Luther was doing a poor job with sloppy bookkeeping and finances were tight.

However, the owners of Juniper: Bar+Market+Bistro would soon learn the problems were directly related: Luther had covertly embezzled around $20,000 from the establishment over the prior two years.

Amanda Luther
On Monday, the 28-year-old reported to the Park County Detention Center to finish serving a 30-day jail sentence. Luther will also spend the next three years on supervised probation as part of a unique plea agreement that spanned both District and Circuit Courts.

She pleaded guilty to both felony (more than $1,000) and misdemeanor ($1,000 or less) counts of theft, though under a deferred prosecution agreement, she’ll avoid a felony conviction as long as she successfully completes the probation.

District Court Judge Steven Cranfill said he was largely accepting the deferral because Juniper’s owners — Michele and Ruffin Prevost — were in agreement. The judge noted he’s sent people to prison for embezzling.

“I do take it very, very seriously, a breach of that kind of trust,” Cranfill said in May. He told Luther a felony conviction “is something that follows you for the rest of your life and the opportunity to avoid it is significant, and I hope you appreciate that.”

Luther, of Cody, said she was grateful for the opportunity to be a productive member of the community and to set things straight.

“I admit to the guilt in this matter and obviously would like for the victims in this case to be able to move along,” Luther said. She added that she wanted to show “that I am obviously very sorry in this matter and it never should have happened.”

Luther was terminated from Juniper on Feb. 3, 2015, and received one month’s pay as severance, charging documents say.

Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford compiled this list of checks that were issued to Luther, but listed in QuickBooks as having been used for legitimate purchases for Juniper. Juniper's owner later found additional fraudulent transactions.
A couple weeks later, however, an accountant hired to reconcile Juniper’s bank statements found two suspicious checks. Both had been entered into the accounting software as payments to a beverage distributor, but the checks had actually been made out and paid to Luther, said a charging affidavit written by Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford.

The Prevosts ended up discovering dozens of fraudulent transactions between late December 2013 and mid-January 2015. That included a couple instances where Luther had duplicated her payroll check (to pay herself twice) and others where she made it appear as though checks were going toward utility bills, taxes, supplies and even the Park County Animal Shelter, Stafford wrote. In actuality, the detective found Luther was depositing the checks into her bank account or cashing them.

“She covered her tracks in hiding what she stole from us,” Ruffin Prevost said.

The Prevosts initially believed around $17,851.88 had been stolen, but discovered a couple thousand dollars more after the case was filed. For example, they learned Luther had forgiven her personal $437.25 bar tab — which made the basis for a separate misdemeanor theft charge in Circuit Court.

Luther was charged and arrested in March 2015. She served four days in jail before posting bond.

Negotiations between Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric and Luther’s defense attorney — Nick Beduhn of Cody — culminated in a deal that was finalized last month.

It included Luther paying back $17,851.88 in May and agreeing to repay the more recently discovered $2,568.33 — plus $435 in court fees — over the coming year.

The prosecution and defense had agreed to let Luther serve her final 26 days of jail time in two separate stints, to accommodate her current work schedule. However, at the second phase of Luther’s sentencing, on June 15 in Circuit Court, Ruffin Prevost asked Judge Bruce Waters to instead require Luther to serve all 26 days at once.

“She lied to us for three years while she was stealing from us and has done pretty much everything to minimize the consequences of her actions from then until now,” Prevost told the judge.

As an example, he took issue with the fact that Luther asked for court permission to leave the country and visit Europe after posting bond in the case. (The request was denied by Judge Cranfill.)

Judge Waters sided with Prevost and declined to let Luther break up her jail time.

“The fact is, if somebody embezzled $20,000 from me, I wouldn’t be very happy about it,” Waters said.

Luther’s supervised probation requires that she obey the law and have no contact with the Prevosts, among other conditions.

~By CJ Baker

Jul 21, 2016

For third time in four years, treasure hunter has North Fork misadventure

The third time was not the charm for a treasure-seeker along the North Fork of the Shoshone River.

After failed attempts to find the famed Fenn treasure in 2013 and 2015, a woman from Virginia again ventured into the backcountry last week. For the third time, her search for fortune resulted in a call to the Park County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue.

Madalina L. Taylor, 41, of Lynchburg, Virginia, was reported as an overdue hiker on Monday afternoon, the Park County Sheriff’s Office said.

A resident told the Sheriff’s Office that, on Friday, he’d seen a woman who appeared ill-equipped for the backcountry at the Jim Mountain trailhead; as of Monday, it appeared the woman’s Dodge SUV had not moved, the resident reported.

The Sheriff’s Office determined the vehicle belonged to Taylor, who has a history with the Search and Rescue Unit.

In June 2013, she and her companion, Frank Eugene Rose Jr., were rescued after being lost in the Big Creek area for four days and suffering from exposure.

When the couple returned to the area in June 2015, Taylor had to be airlifted from the North Fork after falling and breaking her ankle.

They told authorities they’d been in the area seeking the Fenn treasure — a box containing more than $1 million worth of valuables that arts and antiques dealer Forrest Fenn says he’s hidden somewhere in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado or New Mexico. Some people think the treasure lies near Yellowstone National Park.

Despite being warned last year to not return to this area without proper training in environmental survival skills, and warned they would be arrested for trespassing if caught on private property, it appeared that Taylor had indeed returned, wrote Lance Mathess, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, in a news release.

On Monday, Search and Rescue crews did an aerial search of the Jim Mountain trails and areas where Taylor and Rose had previously been found.

“After nearly two hours in the air without spotting Taylor, the search was called off,” Mathess said. “There was simply no way to determine which direction Taylor went or if she was even still in the backcountry.”

At around 10 p.m. Monday, Taylor emerged from the backcountry near the Grizzly Ranch, unhurt.

“She commented that she had seen the search plane, but because she didn’t consider herself to be lost, she never signaled it,” Mathess wrote.

Taylor also said she had three encounters with grizzly bears and that she “had had enough,” Mathess said.

The ranch owners gave Taylor a ride back to her vehicle.

According to Mathess, “She was headed back east with no intentions of ever returning.”

“I think many are plainly tired of their foolishness,” prominent Fenn treasure seeker Dal Neitzel said of the recent news.

The Fenn treasure has attracted thousands of enthusiasts who comb over the various clues Fenn has shared. He first described his hiding of the treasure — and laid out a cryptic, poetic path to it — in a 2010 memoir titled, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Part of his aim was to encourage more Americans to get into the outdoors, though “it is unfortunate that some searchers go into the mountains unprepared for what they find,” Fenn said last year.

Dal Neitzel, a dedicated seeker of the Fenn treasure, posted the news of Taylor's most recent misadventure on his website.

“I think many are plainly tired of their foolishness,” Neitzel wrote of the general feeling around the treasure-hunting community.

“Fenn people are nothing if not persistent,” added a website commenter who identified theirself as E.C. Waters. “Well, maybe we’re also nutters. And fools. And what’s that word for doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result?”

Man facing nine charges after high-speed chase in stolen vehicle

A 26-year-old man is facing nine criminal charges after allegedly stealing one truck, driving a different one stolen from Billings and leading police on a high-speed chase in Cody early Tuesday morning.

John T. Johnson has been charged with felony counts of burglary, theft of more than $1,000 and receiving or concealing stolen property valued at more than $1,000. He also faces misdemeanor counts of reckless driving, failing to report a crash to police, fleeing or eluding police, interference with a peace officer, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and driving without a license.

John T. Johnson
Johnson — who has said he has no home address or possessions — remained in the Park County Detention Center on Wednesday with bail set at $35,000 cash.

Things started shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday, when a man on Cody’s 13th Street reported his Chevrolet truck had been stolen. The man told police he’d heard his locked truck’s alarm and went outside to find it was gone, according to a charging affidavit written by Cody Police Officer Blake Stinson; the truck owner said someone must have stolen a spare key from inside the vehicle earlier in the night.

At about 2:15 a.m., the stolen Chevy was found about a mile and a half away, abandoned on Blackburn Avenue; a mountain bike which had been stashed in the bed of the truck was missing, Stinson wrote.

Police caught a break soon after that, when a green Ford Ranger truck being driven by Johnson came right into the area officers were searching, the charges allege. Cody police say the Ranger had several mountain bikes — including the one taken from the Chevy — in its bed; the Ranger itself had been reported as stolen in Billings.

Upon seeing the officers, Johnson immediately turned around and fled on Blackburn Avenue, charging documents allege.

“The suspect narrowly missed houses, vehicles, and campers, placing the citizens of Cody in grave danger,” wrote Officer Blake Stinson.

Turning onto Bighorn Avenue, he hit a dumpster and accelerated to speeds of up to 80 mph, Stinson wrote.

It was the start of a roughly eight-minute pursuit in which Johnson allegedly drove to 19th Street, Sheridan Avenue, North Street, Cougar Avenue and 23rd Street.

A rough outline of Tuesday's pursuit, as described in charging documents.
While driving on Cougar Avenue — at around 60 mph — Johnson shut off his lights and he later sped through the parking lot of an assisted living facility, Stinson said.

“The suspect narrowly missed houses, vehicles, and campers, placing the citizens of Cody in grave danger,” the officer wrote.

Johnson eventually crashed the truck in a drainage ditch. After a foot chase, Stinson was able to catch and subdue the man on the bank of the ditch.

A preliminary hearing where a judge will weigh the evidence against Johnson is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.

The incident was the second high-speed chase to take place in the Cody area over the past week.

On July 14, a 28-year-old Billings woman reportedly refused to pull over for a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper on U.S. Highway 14-16-20 east of Cody. Trooper John Hoffman clocked her going as fast as 111 mph.

The “extremely intoxicated” woman later told troopers she’d been taking pills and drinking alcohol in an attempt to kill herself, Hoffman wrote in a charging affidavit. She was taken to West Park Hospital to be treated for an overdose and for a mental health evaluation.

The woman has been charged with misdemeanor counts of driving while under the influence, fleeing or eluding police, reckless driving, passing in a no-passing zone, improper lane use and speeding. She’s tentatively scheduled to make her first court appearance on Friday morning.

~By CJ Baker

Jul 20, 2016

Cody shifting court costs to county; county looks to shift them back

To cut costs, the city of Cody has decided it will only prosecute the most minor offenses committed inside city limits and leave the rest to the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Cody leaders expect to save around $24,000 a year by shuffling more serious cases out of its municipal court and into Circuit Court — effectively shifting the costs of prosecuting and punishing those offenses to the state of Wyoming and Park County.

However, Park County commissioners are now looking for a way to shift some of those costs back to the city of Cody.
Recent changes to the city of Cody's ordinances mean the city will no longer have to pay to house inmates at the county jail. Courtesy photo

Until the recent changes, Cody’s ordinances allowed its city attorney to seek up to six months of jail time for a handful of misdemeanor offenses (such as drunk driving and drug possession) in the city's municipal court.

However, each time the government prosecutes an offense with a potential for jail time, the defendant is entitled to a defense attorney. If they can’t afford one, the government — in this case, the city — has to pay for that attorney. Further, if a person receives jail time in a Cody municipal court proceeding, the city must pay the county $30 per day to hold them in the detention center.

Cody City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke said Municipal Court Judge Ed Webster typically orders defendants to repay the city for its costs, but “unfortunately, a lot of times, those are very difficult to collect.”

“A lot of the defendants who are sentenced to those penalties ... are frequently unemployed, or in many cases, they take years to pay back these fines at $50 a month or $100 a month,” Kolpitcke said at June council meeting.

The city says around $286,000 of attorney costs and jail fees have gone unpaid since 2002.
Cody’s City Council decided to stop accruing those costs on July 5 by specifying that — from now on — the maximum penalty for any violation of city code is a $750 fine. Jail time is no longer a possibility.

Commissioners say they may start charging the city to use the Circuit Courtroom.
Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said the change was something city leaders had been considering for years.

Most of the offenses laid out in city ordinance also are crimes under state law, so if a Cody police officer believes that a person should face jail time, they now just need to cite them into Circuit Court, Kolpitcke said.

The difference is that offenses in Circuit Court will be prosecuted by the county attorney’s office (rather than the Cody city attorney), indigent defendants will have their attorneys paid for by the state (rather than the city), incarcerated defendants will be brought to and from court by the Park County Sheriff’s Office (rather than city police) and the county will absorb the full cost of housing any of the defendants in jail.

“The idea is that eventually you’ll see those costs at least come to an end, and maybe the city will see some equalization in the revenues versus the costs in municipal court,” Kolpitcke told the Cody council last month.

Park County commissioners, however, didn’t appreciate the work and costs being shifted to the county.

“I don’t want to be a hard-ass here, but they’re kind of playing games with us, it seems,” said Commission Chairman Tim French.

The county has allowed the city of Cody to freely use the courthouse’s Circuit Courtroom for its municipal court, and commissioners say they may start charging the city.

“If they’re going to stop doing their part and make us start doing it, there might be a need for a charge for the space — or they can hold it (municipal court) down at City Hall,” Commission Chairman Tim French said at a late June budget meeting, adding, “I don’t want to be a hard-ass here, but they’re kind of playing games with us, it seems.”

“Especially when they’ve transferred the legal work to our staff,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf, referring to the County Attorney’s Office.

Commissioner Joe Tilden said he agreed with the idea of charging Cody whatever the added cost is to Park County.

The city of Powell made the same change to its ordinances many years ago. The county allows the city of Powell to hold its municipal court at the Circuit Courtroom in Powell at no cost.

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