Jun 15, 2017

Guide dies during kayak trip on Yellowstone Lake

A 23-year-old kayak guide died in Yellowstone Lake on Wednesday while trying to rescue a client who had capsized.

Guide Timothy Hayden Ryan Conant, of Salt Lake City, was part of a group that included nine clients and three guides, Yellowstone National Park officials said in a Thursday news release. The group was in the West Thumb area of the lake, north of Grant Village.

The West Thumb area of Yellowstone National Park is shown in 2014. Photo courtesy Reuben Francis Cornel under CC BY SA
The kayaking client Conant attempted to save was rescued by the other guides and brought to shore before rangers arrived on scene to help Conant. The client was transported to the park clinic and treated for hypothermia, Yellowstone officials said.

Park rangers, who responded in a patrol boat, found Conant floating in the water. Attempts to revive him using CPR were unsuccessful, park officials said. A medical helicopter was summoned to Grant Village, but Conant was pronounced dead before take off.

“Our hearts are with the Conant family after this terrible loss,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a statement.

Park officials said Conant worked as a guide for Oars, a company based out of Angel Camp, California. Oars has offered non-motorized boat tours in Yellowstone since 1996. This was Conant’s first season working for the company as a guide, park officials said.

The average year-round temperature of the lake is 43 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, a person can survive in the water for only 20-30 minutes, Yellowstone officials said. They said Thursday that they are continuing to investigate the incident.

Conant’s death was the first in Yellowstone Lake since 1997, when two people died while canoeing. However, it was the second death in the park this month. On June 7, a 53-year-old Illinois man, Jeff Murphy, died in an apparent fall on Turkey Pen Peak near Yellowstone’s North Entrance.

Additionally, on Tuesday night, park officials said a 21-year-old North Carolina man, Gervais Dylan Gatete, suffered severe burns after falling in a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin. Gatete was an employee for Xanterra Parks and Resorts, a Yellowstone concessionaire.

Jun 9, 2017

Illinois hiker falls to his death in Yellowstone

Search crews found the body of a 53-year-old Illinois man on Friday in Yellowstone National Park, concluding he apparently died in a fall in a mountainous area near the park's North Entrance.

Jeff Murphy
Jeff Murphy of Batavia, Illinois, had left on a day hike from the Rescue Creek Trail to Turkey Pen Peak on Wednesday morning. Park officials say it appears Murphy fell to his death on Turkey Pen Peak.

“All of us at Yellowstone extend our sympathy to the Murphy family for their tragic loss,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Yellowstone crews started searching for Murphy on Thursday when his wife reported that he had failed to check in; Friday's search efforts involved eight hiking teams, five dog teams, four horse teams and a helicopter.

The Rescue Creek Trail was closed during the search. It has since reopened, but Yellowstone officials say visitors should expect temporary closures in the area until their investigation is complete.

Jun 8, 2017

Snowmelt causing some flooding on South Fork, around Meeteetse

A flood watch is in effect for the North and South Forks of the Shoshone River west of Cody through Sunday, and the Greybull River has spilled over its banks near Meeteetse.

“The rivers are definitely full and raging,” said Park County Engineer Brian Edwards.

On Monday, the upper end of the South Fork of the Shoshone began flooding over the road, and county crews had to divert water there to keep the road open in that area, Edwards said.

A Park County employee uses a trackhoe to remove debris from the front of a bridge over the Greybull River on County Road 3XQ near Meeteetse. Photo courtesy Park County Road and Bridge
The County Road and Bridge Department is busy working to keep bridges free of debris and to shore up bridges by filling in places behind them where material has washed out, he said.

On the South Fork, drainage from Aldrich Creek comes into the river at a sharp angle, aiming into the side of a bridge near the Ishawooa trailhead.

“It keeps cutting farther and farther into the road,” Edwards said. “We have to really watch that one.”
Preventing damage to bridges is the county’s main focus right now in the South Fork and Meeteetse areas, he said.

County crews removed a bunch of debris Tuesday morning that washed up against a bridge on Road 3LE in the Roach Gulch area near Meeteetse. Road 3SL in the same area is under water, but still passable, Edwards said.

“There is a great deal of fallen trees and branches that are being washed down the rivers in the Meeteetse area,” Edwards said. That can begin a buildup of debris and redirect the flow of the floodwater, potentially damaging bridge supports.

“Once water goes behind a bridge, it can wash out pretty fast, so we’re trying to keep that from happening,” he said.

“We’re expecting more problems [Thursday], too,” Edwards said Wednesday. “We just take it day by day and keep an eye on things. Hopefully, we can keep everything shored up.”

With the forecast predicting highs in 90s today (Thursday) and Friday, the National Weather Service issued a flood watch Tuesday for the Shoshone River Basin west of Cody.

“We’re going to be looking at temperatures in the low to mid 90s in the lower elevations; and above 10,000 feet, in the low to mid 70s,” said Tim Troutman, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Riverton.

Those high temps are 15 to 20 degrees above average for this time of year, Troutman said.

With a foot or more of snow still covering most of the mountains in western Wyoming, “we’re definitely looking at some sharp increases in runoff,” he said. “We’re forecasting minor flooding Friday and Saturday afternoon, and that’s definitely expected to continue as we’re moving up to and including this weekend.”

Gusty winds of 10-20 mph are forecast for today and Friday in advance of a cold front, further accelerating the snowmelt and increasing the potential for flooding, Troutman said.

Just past the bridge, County Road 3SL in the Roach Gulch area near Meeteetse is underwater from flooding on the Lower Greybull River. Photo courtesy Park County Road and Bridge
During high runoff, people should avoid walking or driving through floodwater.

“If you see water getting close to and covering the road, it’s important not to drive through or cross those areas,” he said.

The National Weather Service’s advice is, “Turn around, don’t drown.”

People planning to travel this week should check on the road conditions by calling 511 or visiting www.wyoroad.info, Troutman said.

He said the Snake River basin near Jackson also is under a flood watch, while, in Fremont County, multiple rivers are all approaching or overflowing their banks and could cause problems on highways.
Troutman said a cold front will arrive with the weekend, and it will cool temperatures down to highs in the mid 70s, but with winds of 15-25 mph.

The cooler temperatures “will result in a lessening of the snowmelt as we head into the early part of next week,” he said. “In the higher elevations, the highs will be in the mid to upper 50s, with lows in the 30s at night.”

Then, for the following eight to 12 days, the weather will be slightly cooler than normal, he said.

Man who opened fire in Walmart parking lot dies in prison

A man who was serving a lengthy prison sentence for opening fire in the Cody Walmart parking lot back in 2007 has died behind bars.

Chester Darral Fletcher, 72, died on June 2 at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington “from a lengthy illness,” according to a news release from the Department of Corrections.

Fletcher had been incarcerated since Cody police arrested him on July 9, 2007 — hours after he tried shooting a former roommate outside Walmart.

Fletcher narrowly missed the man with one bullet — apparently grazing a lunch bag the man was carrying on his bicycle — while another of the five shots ripped into an empty mini-van parked in the lot.

Chester Fletcher
Concerns about Fletcher’s competency were raised throughout his case, but District Court Judge Steven Cranfill ultimately found Fletcher was fit to stand trial. He pleaded guilty to attempted voluntary manslaughter and judge Cranfill, going along with the recommendation of the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, sentenced him to 18 to 20 years in prison.

At sentencing, Cranfill said Fletcher’s “only remorse was that [his roommate] was not killed or seriously injured” and noted he’d put other members of the community in danger.

Fletcher had served a little less than 10 years at the time of his death. He was not expected to become eligible for parole until November 2021, according to Department of Corrections records.

Fletcher’s attorneys had described him as being in failing health — suffering from diabetes, seizures and mental health problems — essentially since he was imprisoned.

His motive for the shooting was a decade-long grudge over a $7,000 civil judgment his former roommate had won against him for back rent and unauthorized credit card usage, court records say. That 1998 judgment led to Fletcher’s motorcycle being seized and auctioned off, which Fletcher saw as theft.

“i am being halt lock down for some thing any one else would when theyer property is being stolden,” Fletcher wrote in an error-riddled letter to the Tribune in March 2009, while awaiting trial.

At his sentencing hearing that summer, Fletcher told the court that, “When somebody steals from you, you don’t let 'em do it,” though he indicated that had only meant to fire one warning shot into the air.

After his arrest, and for years after his conviction, Fletcher’s attorneys argued that he was unable to grasp that what he had done was wrong.

A psychologist from the Wyoming State Hospital evaluated Fletcher several times while the case was pending and found that, while he had a low IQ and suffered from a paranoid personality disorder, he was competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist hired by the defense disagreed, but Cranfill sided with the state. The Wyoming Supreme Court later upheld the judge’s ruling.

After the appeal was denied, defense attorneys asked Cranfill to reduce Fletcher’s sentence in late 2011.

“Without a sentence reduction, Mr. Fletcher is effectively condemned to die in prison without ever fully understanding why he is there,” wrote attorney Diane Courselle and student intern Samm Lind of the University of Wyoming’s Defender Aid Program.

Prosecutors objected, with then-Deputy County Attorney Sam Krone writing that Fletcher was “a man hell-bent on vengeance; vengeance which will eventually compel the defendant to track down [his roommate] and finish the job.” Krone also noted how the incident had jeopardized others.

Cranfill declined to reduce the sentence.
~ By CJ Baker

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