Feb 5, 2016

No local services expected to be lost when Susan G. Komen leaves Wyoming

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation plans to pull out of the state of Wyoming at the end of the year and take its grant funding with it.

The foundation, with its slogan “Ending breast cancer forever,” was created in honor of a breast cancer victim. It aims to promote breast health and raises money for research and prevention through its annual “Race for the Cure” events.

According to Charity Navigator, 80.3 percent of the $228.4 million the Susan G. Komen Foundation raised nationwide in 2014 was spent on the programs and services it delivers.

The impact of the foundation’s withdrawal will be felt in organizations around the state, such as Northwest Family Planning in Cody.

Michelle Gutierrez, director of Northwest Family Planning, said that organization still has grant money from the Komen foundation available through April.

“We can still help women in the community get breast health services,” she said.

In addition, Northwest Family Planning raised $2,000 last fall through its Lights of Hope program. That money will be used to provide breast health services as well, she said.

“We hope to be able to do that again this year,” she added.

Thanks to local fundraising efforts, Gutierrez said she doesn’t expect any changes in services as a result of the loss of the Komen Foundation grant, though that loss was not something she expected.

“It is unfortunate that Susan Komen is pulling out of our area, but if we do our own things, it will be OK,” she said. “We’re fortunate in this area that so many people support breast health.”

Northwest Family Planning also refers women with breast health concerns to other organizations, such as the Wyoming Cervical Cancer and Breast Health Program and the Avon Foundation, she said.

“There are other options out there; it’s just that the funding isn’t streamed through us,” she said.

Northwest Family Planning assumed the local Women’s Health role last year after the former Migrant Health Service office closed in Powell.

“We felt there was a need to keep it up, so we took on the Komen grant after that,” Gutierrez said.

Migrant health services will return to Powell this year through Ag Worker and Health Services, under the management of Montana Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Council Inc.

Hula hoops raise awareness, funds for Cody mentoring

A hula-hoop competition last week brought lots of smiles and laughter as youngsters and college students tried to keep their hoops looping around their waists while performing other tasks.

More importantly, the event raised awareness and money for the Bright Futures Mentoring Program in Cody.

Northwest College women’s soccer players (from front) Caddie Lewis of Idaho Falls, Idaho, Taylor Gregory of Gillette and Katie Hoff of Billings navigate an obstacle course while hula hooping on Jan. 28 at the Cody Auditorium. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
Bright Futures Mentoring is a home-grown concept consisting of six different mentoring programs benefitting youth in Cody. The program’s main goal is to match school-age children in need of supportive mentoring to caring role models appropriate to their needs.

Executive director Michelle Tidball said the one-on-one mentoring program was created 16 years ago through Park County Mental Health, which later became Yellowstone Behavioral Health. Two years later, Bright Futures went out on its own as a nonprofit organization.

Today, Bright Futures Mentoring works with about 270 youth each month, Tidball said.

“We’re always growing, depending on the needs of our community,” she said. “We are not federally funded; all support (is) local.”

Since its inception, the program has expanded to include adult mentors in schools, high school students mentoring elementary students in schools and older high school students mentoring new high school students.

Tori Lewis of Meeteetse, a member of the NWC rodeo team, throws a loop at a dummy while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep a hula hoop in motion — something the whole team found difficult. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
In addition, a self-esteem program helps students focus on good friendships and stay away from bad influences, develop good grooming habits and living by the Code of the West, she said.

Tidball said she invites Northwest College rodeo team to do a presentation each year about the Code of the West, including being true to your word. Their presentation always is inspirational and interesting for the kids in the program, she said.

The NWC rodeo team also participates in the annual hula-hoop competition. This year, the NWC soccer team joined in the fun.

Last week’s third annual competition was timed to coincide with National Mentoring Month in January. Its primary goal was to raise awareness, but it also served to raise money for Bright Futures Mentoring through sponsorships and donations.

“One of our kids raised $600,” Tidball said.

Feb 3, 2016

Selling tens of thouands of dollars of stolen silverware results in jail sentence

Selling $23,000 worth of silverware for $250 recently landed a local man in jail for more than half-a-year.

Jesse L. Gonzalez’s crime wasn’t getting a bad price for the Tiffany and Co.-crafted utensils, but rather that he was selling stolen property.

Gonzalez, 29, recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of receiving, concealing or disposing of stolen property for selling the silverware and a stolen leaf blower to a Cody pawn store in 2010.

At a Jan. 8 hearing in Park County District Court, he was credited for the roughly six and a half months he spent in jail over the past year and ordered to pay $545 in court fines and fees and another $959.46 in restitution. That includes having to pay back the $250 that Palmer’s Outpost’s owner paid for the silverware and the $40 she paid for the STIHL blower.

Those items were found to be missing from the Two Dot Ranch — located north of Cody — in late August 2010.

A ranch representative told the Park County Sheriff’s Office that the Tiffany silverware had been out in November 2009, when the Two Dot’s owners were in town.

However, when the silverware was taken out for cleaning in August 2010, numerous pieces were found to be missing, Sheriff’s Sgt. Chad McKinney wrote in an affidavit included in court records. The missing pieces were valued at just under $22,930, McKinney was told.

In addition, a leaf blower had also gone missing a couple weeks earlier.

Gonzalez was named as a possible suspect as he’d performed work on the Two Dot Ranch with a lawn company, McKinney wrote.

Cody police combed through pawn slips to find the missing Tiffany and Co. silverware and ultimately learned Gonzalez had sold it and a leaf blower to Palmer’s Outpost, the affidavit says.

The pawn store’s owner had actually kept the silverware for herself and was able to turn it over to law enforcement, McKinney wrote.

“We found that everything was accounted for along with some pieces that had not been reported as stolen,” the deputy wrote.

Gonzalez initially told McKinney his grandmother had left him the silverware after her death, but later changed his story and claimed he’d gotten the pieces from two different people in exchange for marijuana and prescription drugs, the affidavit says. The leaf blower, he claimed, came from a yard sale.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Sam Krone said the four-year gap between Gonzalez’s September 2010 interview with McKinney and the filing of the criminal case in October 2014 stemmed from law enforcement not knowing where Gonzalez was.

Gonzalez was initially charged with a felony count of receiving, concealing or disposing of stolen property (alleging the stolen items were valued at $1,000 or more), but prosecutors lowered it to a misdemeanor (technically alleging the stolen items’ value was less than $1,000) as part of a plea deal.

Gonzalez was the only person charged in connection with the Two Dot Ranch’s stolen items.

The sprawling ranch is owned by Houston billionaire Fayez Sarofim, according to past reporting by the Wall Street Journal and public records.

Law enforcement used tips, surveillance, children’s lunch trays to ID Badger Basin murder victim

How do you identify a body without a head, an arm or hands?

“I obviously can’t get into many details, but, you know, with any crime, it always starts with the smallest tip,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said, when asked a variation of that question on the Big Horn Radio Network last month.

Steward was speaking about the January 2014 discovery of a mutilated corpse in Badger Basin, now known to be the body of 30-year-old Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres.

Three people — Guerra-Torres’ longtime girlfriend, Sandra Garcia, her brother Pedro Garcia Jr. and family friend John L. Marquez Sr. — are facing charges in connection with his murder. They have all formally denied the allegations in court and have trials scheduled for later this year.

But before authorities could come up with their list of suspects, they faced the difficult job of figuring out whose death they were investigating.

“In this case, we were basically spinning our wheels; we couldn’t even identify the individual,” Steward said last month on KODI-AM. “Then it came with just a few tips.”

The remains of Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres, who was murdered in January 2014, lie in an unmarked grave at Riverside Cemetery in Cody. File photo by CJ Baker

While the sheriff didn’t get into the specifics, court records made public last year offer many details about how law enforcement identified Guerra-Torres.

The documents say authorities not only got a couple crucial tips, they also conducted surveillance and even acquired Guerra-Torres’ children’s DNA from school lunch trays to try confirming whose body they had found.

An affidavit from sheriff’s investigator Joe Torczon included in court records indicates that law enforcement caught its first big break in early March 2014 — two months after a duck hunter and his son found the corpse along a Bureau of Land Management road off Wyo. Highway 294.

Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres
Two people came forward to tell a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent they thought the victim might have been Guerra-Torres, who they knew as “Chucky.” They said no one had heard from him since early January 2014.

When DCI Special Agent Juliet Fish presented them with photos of the clothing found on the body, the pair said it looked like Guerra-Torres’. He didn’t lace up his boots — just like the half-laced ones found on the body — and the embroidered piteado belt found at the scene looked like the kind he bought at Californian flea markets, Torczon wrote of the citizens’ account.

They also said Guerra-Torres had tattoos with the letter “J” and the Virgin Mary on his left shoulder — the shoulder that had been completely removed from the body, Torczon wrote.

The concerned citizens also explained that Guerra-Torres — a Mexican citizen who split time between California and Clark — had several children with Sandra Garcia.

In early April 2014, the Powell Police Department’s school resource officer and investigator helped collect meal trays at Westside Elementary School while two of Guerra-Torres’ and Sandra Garcia’s children were having lunch, Torczon wrote.

The officers ended up getting both children’s spoons and one child’s milk carton. DNA taken from one of the spoons and compared with DNA from the mutilated body indicated the murder victim could be the child’s father, according to Torczon’s summary of state crime lab testing.

Sandra Garcia
The same day the Powell officers collected the lunch trays, agent Fish and Torczon interviewed a member of Guerra-Torres’ extended family. The woman said she “knew” the murder victim was Guerra-Torres “because of the physical description and the belt that was shown in photos that were released to the public,” Torczon wrote.

“(The woman) explained that she didn’t think anything until no one could find Juan Antonio Torres,” Torczon wrote.

Phone records showed Guerra-Torres’ cell phone was last used on Jan. 6, 2014, around the time he’s believed to have been killed, Torczon said.

Records also showed Sandra Garcia pulled her kids out of school the day after the Sheriff’s Office announced the discovery of the mutilated body; the day after that, she started using a new phone number, Torczon’s affidavit says.

Bolstering their suspicions, law enforcement also found Sandra Garcia’s DNA on a tongue ring recovered from the corpse’s pocket.

In mid-April 2014, authorities mounted a surveillance camera on a light pole outside the Powell home Sandra Garcia was sharing with Pedro Garcia and his family.

Pedro Garcia Jr.
In addition to monitoring the Avenue C residence, Fish and another DCI agent approached Sandra Garcia, pretending to be interested in buying her 2006 GMC Yukon. Torczon said she told the plainclothes agents that Guerra-Torres was in California and, like her, wanted to sell the vehicle.

Law enforcement moved in and conducted a series of searches and formal interviews in late May 2014, but they didn’t come up with any hard evidence, sheriff Steward said.

“We had our suspicions and we interviewed our suspects early on — or at least two of them — and didn’t get anywhere,” Steward said last month on KODI.

Arrests would not come until March 2015. That’s when authorities re-interrogated Pedro Garcia, who’d moved to Georgia. According to law enforcement, he changed his past stories and confessed to having played a role in Guerra-Torres’ murder.

Pedro Garcia reportedly told investigators that Sandra Garcia asked him to help kill Guerra-Torres, explaining he’d become deeply indebted to people in the Mexican drug world who were threatening to kill their entire family. Charging documents quote Pedro Garcia as saying he hired Marquez to commit the crime.

Pedro Garcia told law enforcement that Sandra Garcia brought Guerra-Torres to a pullout off Wyo. Highway 294. Marquez then shot Guerra-Torres to death and dismembered his body with an axe, according to Pedro Garcia’s account.

Marquez, who declined to speak with authorities, has called his arrest on the allegations “ludicrous.”

John Marquez, appearing for court last year.
When interviewed in May 2014, Sandra Garcia reportedly told investigators she’d taken Guerra-Torres to a spot outside Cody where he planned to meet with someone he owed a debt to in the drug world. That early January day was the last time she saw him, charging documents say.

Charging documents also quote Sandra Garcia as describing Guerra-Torres as mentally, emotionally and physically abusive.

The member of Guerra-Torres’ extended family interviewed by authorities also reportedly described Guerra-Torres as being abusive to his long-time partner.

“(The woman) stated that she asked (Sandra) Garcia one time why she did not leave Juan Antonio Torres,” Torczon wrote. “(Sandra) Garcia told (the woman) that Juan Antonio Torres threatened ... that he would send his friend from California to hurt her.”

Torczon said the family member recalled being told that Guerra-Torres had stolen money from drug dealers. Pedro Garcia also said Guerra-Torres had been involved with drugs, telling authorities that Guerra-Torres supplied him with methamphetamine.

The two citizens who initially tipped off law enforcement said Guerra-Torres “had a lot of people who did not like him,” Torczon wrote. “They did not like him because he was illegal, but seemed to have a lot of money. This offended the Latino community who were in the country legally.”

No one claimed Guerra-Torres’ remains after his murder or identification. His body lies in an unmarked grave at Cody’s Riverside Cemetery.

Feb 1, 2016

Authorities seek to re-arrest suspect in animal cruelty case

Park County authorities are looking to re-arrest a Clark man who allegedly caused the death of seven of his horses and three of his dogs by failing to properly feed and care for them.

Michael A. Wood, 39, made bail last month on 13 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, but a few days after he went free, the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed three more cruelty charges.

A judge issued a warrant for Wood on the additional counts on Jan. 22, but, as of Monday afternoon, authorities had been unable to find him.

Michael A. Wood
In a news release last week, the Park County Sheriff’s Office asked anyone with information about Wood’s whereabouts to contact them at 307-527-8700.

The Sheriff’s Office found seven dead and six thin horses on Michael A. Wood’s Crossfire Trail property back on Jan. 9, charging documents allege.

On Jan. 14 — acting on another tip from a neighbor — deputies returned and found two dead dogs in a horse trailer and another inside Wood’s house. Three apparently underfed, living dogs were also seized, along with three living cats, charging documents say.

Wood was arrested the following day on the 13 charges relating to the horses.

At Wood’s initial Jan. 18 court appearance, Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Davis warned that authorities would likely be filing the additional charges in connection with the dead dogs.
Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters accepted Davis’ recommendation and set Wood’s bail at $7,500 cash. The bond conditions did not restrict his travel, but did include requirements that he not own or possess any animals.

Wood’s mother posted the $7,500 the next day, court records show, and Wood was released.
A couple days after that, on Jan. 21, the Wyoming Veterinary Laboratory sent back results concluding that one of the dead dogs had died of starvation, charging documents say. Cody veterinarian Mel Fillerup had previously concluded the other two dogs had died from malnutrition.
Prosecutors filed the additional charges Jan. 22.

Wood has reportedly given authorities several possible explanations for the animals’ deaths, including allegedly acknowledging he didn’t have the money to care for his horses and reporting that some of the animals had health problems.

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