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Crime - page 2

Gillette Man Avoids First Set of Spike Strips in High Speed Chase But Not Second

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Gillette man has been charged with felony eluding following an early morning pursuit that began on Echeta Road and ended on Garner Lake Road, Gillette law enforcement said Thursday.

Mario Arguello, 31, is accused of fleeing from a Campbell County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) deputy attempting to stop him for speeding on Highway 14-16 and Echeta Road around 2:15 a.m. on May 6, CCSO Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said.

Arguello was pursued after accelerating onto Foothills Blvd and onto Goldenrod Avenue in a black 2001 GMC Sierra, Reynolds continued, adding that the suspect fled back onto Foothills Blvd and onto Echeta Road, ultimately making his way onto eastbound Interstate 90.

Deputies deployed spike strips under an overpass near Rozet, but Arguello evaded by driving up the exit ramp onto the overpass itself, looping back and merging onto westbound I-90.

Arguello’s speed varied between 80 and 90 mph, according to Reynolds, who added that during the pursuit, deputies were made aware that the suspect had a felony bond revocation arrest warrant on an original charge of possession of methamphetamine.

Arguello’s speed varied between 80 and 90 mph until a second attempt to spike the vehicle was successful at mile marker 130, where the suspected left the interstate via exit 129 onto Garner Lake Road and stopped.

The suspect was taken into custody at 2:51 a.m. without further incident and charged with felony eluding as well as interference, per Reynolds.

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UW Employee Receives Threatening Email, Police Investigating

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Police are investigating the delivery of threatening, anti-Semitic email to a University of Wyoming employee last week.

UW spokesman Chad Baldwin confirmed to Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that an employee received an anti-Semitic email that threatened him with death and the incident is under investigation.

The email did not come from a university account, Baldwin said, but a Yahoo account. It was sent to Ben Herdt, the university’s manager of academic advising and a racial justice activist, according to the Laramie Boomerang.

The sender was identified as “Miley Lucas,” a person who does not have any affiliation with UW.

This incident comes just a few months after UW was a target of a racist attack on Zoom during a Black History Month event in February.

On Feb. 15, the five people sent racist and pornographic messages during a Zoom-hosted UW event.

Apparently, the UW was one of many schools across the country to have Black History Month events disrupted by such attacks. Institutions including the University of Southern California, Washington’s Gonzaga University and Rutgers University in New Jersey were “Zoom bombed” with similar hateful, violent words and images.

Baldwin said it wasn’t known whether there was connection between the threatening email sent last week and the racist Zoom attack.

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Park County: ‘Largest Theft In 30 Years’ Nets Guns, Cash Worth More Than $250K

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Well over a quarter of a million dollars worth of cash, collectibles and firearms have been stolen from a rural home south of Cody in what one law enforcement official is calling the largest Park County theft in 30 years.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office announced the burglary Tuedsay, although the it was reported Feb. 28. 

Because of the magnitude of the theft, agents of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation were immediately asked to assist in the investigation.

“The theft is believed to be a very deliberate and targeted burglary,” said Park County Sheriff Scott Steward. “For these reasons, and to not jeopardize the investigation, we chose not to go public with the information as we did not feel there was a risk of further burglaries.”

“This is by far the largest theft in my 30 years with the Park County Sheriff’s Office,” Steward said.

The burglary is believed to have occurred between late January and the end of February and items stolen included more than 90 firearms, many of them very valuable, according to a press release from the Department. 

Sometime between late January and the end of February, two Abbiatico & Salvinelli engraved shotguns worth more than $10,000 each; three Fratelli Poli, hand engraved, side by side shotguns worth in excess of $15,000 each; and numerous other shotguns worth over $5,000 each were stolen. Additionally, approximately ten AR15 and M4 type weapons were taken, th release said.

Other items stolen were a large quantity of gold and silver eagle coins worth well over $60,000, a very large amount of cash estimated at more than $200,000, a Rolex watch, range finders, thermal and night vision scopes, spotting scopes, crossbows and much more.

The victim is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension and prosecution of those involved – but there’s a time limit. The reward offer is only valid until July 1, 2021. 

Any person with information about the theft is asked to call the Park County Sheriff’s Office and speak with Investigator Jed Ehlers. 

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Man Charged In Torrington Murder Case Had Criminal History In Park County

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of a 20-year-old woman in Torrington late last month.

Sean Logan Pettus has been charged with murder and arson in the April 20 death of 20-year-old Madison Cook. Pettus and Cook identified themselves as being in a relationship on their individual Facebook pages.

Police discovered the murder after the Torrington Fire Department responded to a report of a fire early on the morning of April 20. The investigation of the fire led officers to another Torrington location, where Cook’s body was found.

While investigating the murder, officers were alerted to the theft of a vehicle nearby. The vehicle was ultimately located with assistance from the Goshen County Sheriff’s Department and Pettus was taken into custody shortly thereafter.

In addition to the murder and first-degree arson charges, Pettus is charged with felony theft of a vehicle and burglary.

The Torrington Police Department, in a statement on its Facebook page, reminded readers that Pettus is considered innocent of the charges until proven guilty.

“The events of the past ten days have been incredibly traumatic for Madison’s family, her friends, and our entire community,” the Department wrote. “As we work to learn the truth and take this first step towards justice, we ask for continued support for the Cook family in their healing process.”

Court records obtained by Cowboy State Daily from the Park County court system show that Pettus has been connected to other crimes dating back more than a decade.

In 2014, he was convicted of battery of a household member and in 2013, he was convicted on charges of destruction of property valued at under $1,000 and breach of the peace. In 2016, he was convicted on a charge of criminal entry.

The Torrington Police Department continues to investigate the incident and is asking that anyone with information contact its offices.

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Former Sweetwater County Senator Arrested In Prostitution Sting

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A former Wyoming legislator was arrested this week in a sting operation focusing on human trafficking in Sweetwater County.

Former state Sen. John Martin Hastert was arrested Thursday, according to the roster from the Sweetwater County Detention Center, and charged with soliciting an act of prostitution and interference with a police officer.

Jason Mower, public information officer for the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that Hastert was one of four men arrested in a prostitution sting in Rock Springs.

The sting was the culmination of a weeklong training session involving multiple organizations, including the SCSO, Uprising Wyoming and Sweetwater Against Trafficking, Mower said.

During the sessions, an expert taught the officers and volunteers about human and sex trafficking.

“The way that the training is set up, they will conduct a live trafficking operation that targets buyers,” Mower said.

He compared the sting to the operation run in “To Catch a Predator,” the former “Dateline NBC” segment that saw police and volunteers engage in chats with men who were looking for sex with underage teens.

“Even prior to the arrests on Thursday, there were officers in class who were in contact with people who were potentially not good,” Mower said.

He added that Hastert’s charge for interference with a police officer stemmed from his resisting arrest when officers attempted to take him into custody.

As of Friday morning, it appeared Hastert remained in the detention center, awaiting an appearance in circuit court in Sweetwater County.

The Rock Springs Democrat served four years in the state House, from 2003-2006, and for 12 years in the Senate, from 2009 through 2018, where he rose to the position of Senate Minority Whip.

Hastert was defeated in his 2018 re-election campaign by Republican Tom James.

Wyo Health Department Data Breach Leads to Fraudulent Calls Across State

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Health is warning residents about fraudulent calls from people taking advantage of the department’s recent data breach in an effort to obtain personal information.

WDH recently announced a mistaken exposure of laboratory test result data involving more than 164,000 Wyoming residents and others including hundreds from Colorado. The incident involved coronavirus and influenza test result data and breath alcohol test result files mistakenly uploaded by an employee to private and public online storage locations on servers belonging to GitHub.com.

Jeri Hendricks, Office of Privacy, Security and Contracts administrator with WDH, said the department is hearing reports of Wyoming residents receiving fraudulent calls from people claiming to represent the department. The callers say they are calling about the breach, but then try to obtain personal information, Hendricks said.

“The callers falsely claim to represent us, say they are calling about the breach and then ask the individuals they’ve reached for insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or other financial information. In some instances, it seems they have been able to make it appear as if the calls are coming from state government phone numbers,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks emphasized the affected files did not contain Social Security numbers, or banking, financial, health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid information, but did include name or patient ID, address, date of birth, test results and dates of service.

“No one representing the department will ask you for insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or personal financial information. No one representing the department will call you about the breach unless they are returning a call you made to us first,” she said.

A special WDH information line dedicated to the breach has been established at 1-833-847-5916. The phone line is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

WDH has advised Wyoming residents who received coronavirus or influenza tests anywhere in the United States between January 2020 and March 9, 2021 but who have not been alerted by a letter to a possible leak of their personal information to call the information line to learn if their information was involved.

In addition, anyone who received a breath alcohol test performed by law enforcement in Wyoming between April 19, 2012 and Jan. 27 who doesn’t receive a letter should also call.

A year of free IdentityForce protection has been offered by WDH to people affected by the breach. IdentityForce provides advanced credit and dark web monitoring, along with identity theft insurance and medical identity theft coverage. Affected individuals can call the WDH information line at 1(833) 847-5916 for an IdentityForce verification code to allow online enrollment for the service.

Scams related to the health information breach should be reported to the Consumer Protection Unit in the Wyoming Attorney General’s office by calling 307-777-6397, by emailing ag.consumer@wyo.gov or by submitting formal complaints online.

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Man Who Hit Golf Balls in Yellowstone Committed Illegal Act; Park Service Investigating

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

There are places where you can legally hit a golf ball and there are places where legally you cannot. 

Put Yellowstone National Park in the latter category.

And now a man who is attempting to hit a golf ball in every state is in trouble for trying to turn the country’s first national park into a driving range.

Jake Adams, a self-described standup comedian and golfer, was nearing the end of his quest (state number 45) when he decided to choose Yellowstone National Park as the place for his golf shot in Wyoming.

Unfortunately, hitting a golf ball in a national park is not allowed. In fact, it’s illegal.

When criticized — repeatedly by people on his Instagram account for his shot selection — Adams defended it by saying his golf balls were biodegradable.

Makes no difference. It was an irresponsible and illegal decision, according to the National Park Service.

“The individual who recently was captured on video hitting golf balls in Yellowstone National Park showed a lack of judgment and common sense,” Linda Veress, public affairs specialist with Yellowstone National Park, told Cowboy State Daily. “He violated regulations designed to preserve Yellowstone and protect the experience of other visitors.”

“The National Park Service is investigating this illegal act, and we ask that visitors assist us by following park regulations and notifying park rangers of any illegal behavior they observe,” she added.

Veress was quite polite compared to many of the commenters on his Instagram page.

“Wow good job littering a-hole. Hope you get banned from Yellowstone,” wrote ZimKnives.

This isn’t the first time people have gotten in trouble for treating a national park like a golf course.

Just last year, the former head of concessions at Yosemite National Park was fired immediately after a video surfaced of him hitting balls in a meadow at Yosemite.

As for the incident in Yellowstone, park officials are urging visitors heed the law.

“Since we expect record levels of visitation in 2021, following park regulations is more important than ever,” Veress said.

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Man Arrested After Falling Through Ceiling at Flying J Truck Stop in Gillette

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A 32-year-old male was arrested after he went exploring in the Flying J ceiling Saturday afternoon and broke through, Gillette Police Department officials said Monday.

Officers were notified around 2:48 p.m. on April 24, after Flying J employees reported shoes and legs had busted through the ceiling tiles and were seen dangling in midair, GPD Lt. Brent Wasson said April 26.

Officers did not locate the perpetrator initially, though employees suspected a 32-year-old male – also a Flying J employee and who was last seen on the second floor – was responsible. Officers were unable to search the ceiling due to safety concerns and departed the scene, Wasson said.

An hour later, officers were called back when the incident happened again, resulting in $300 worth of damage to the establishment’s ceiling tiles. This time, officers were able to contact the 32-year-old male in the Flying J parking lot, who was seen walking away covered in dirt and insulation, according to Wasson.

The male reportedly admitted to exploring the ceiling tiles because he “wanted to see what was in there,” Wasson said, adding that the male also admitted that he used methamphetamine the previous day.

The 32-year-old was arrested for use of a controlled substance and cited for misdemeanor destruction of property, according to Wasson.

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Rocky Mountain Power Warns of Phone Scams In Casper Area

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rocky Mountain Power is warning customers in the Casper area to be wary of callers claiming the company is about to disconnect their electricity.

Company spokesman David Eskelsen told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that there has been an uptick in scam phone calls in the Casper area this month where callers pretend to be a staffer from the “Rocky Mountain Power disconnection department.”

Rocky Mountain Power has no “disconnection department.”

“These things come and go in spates,” Eskelsen said. “Around the beginning of the month, we had a number of these calls in the Casper area, and we’ve been getting more reports about the calls again in the last few days.”

The caller will insist the customer is behind on their bill and threatens to disconnect service unless a payment is made immediately.

Lately, the calls have been targeting both business customers and those who do not speak fluent English, Eskelsen said. Some scammers will tell the victim to get a prepaid credit card and share the code with them, while others will ask the customer for credit card information.

One victim was even asked to meet the scammer at a specific location.

Eskelsen noted that the company would never call a customer and threaten immediate disconnection to their service.

“The important thing to remember is that disconnection for any payment problems is a very deliberate process,” he said. “We usually give 30 and 60 days’ notice through a customer’s bill, but we also make substantial attempts to contact a customer. We have a specific dialogue over any kind of payment issues and we offer resources to help customers if they fall behind.”

Eskelsen said anyone receiving such a call should immediately hang up and call the Rocky Mountain Power customer service line, 1-888-221-7070, to find out more information.

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Green River Man Pleads No Contest To Murder Of 5-Year-Old-Boy

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By the Rock Springs Rocket Miner

Christopher James Nielsen pleaded no contest Thursday morning to first-degree murder charges for the death of a 5-year-old boy in his care.

Nielsen, 27, entered his plea via video before Judge Suzannah Robinson in Sweetwater County Third District Court. Thursday morning’s hearing was originally scheduled to be a pretrial conference for the trial set to begin in May.

Argued sentencing will be conducted at a later date.

By pleading no contest, Nielsen faces the same penalties as a guilty plea. He is facing up to life in prison without parole and a fine of up to $10,000 for the first-degree murder charge.

There is no plea agreement in the case, and the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty. Nielsen will be held without bond at the Sweetwater County Detention Center while awaiting sentencing.

Nielsen originally pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in January of 2020 in District Court.

He was arrested Nov. 14, 2019 for alleged aggravated child abuse with serious bodily injury. The Green River Police Department responded to a medical call at an apartment on Bridger Drive on Nov. 11, 2019, about a 5-year-old boy suffering from what appeared to be a seizure. Nielsen had been babysitting the boy at the time, according to court documents.

The boy was transported to Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County and then flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. The 5-year-old died on Nov. 28, 2019, due to excessive brain trauma, according to court documents. The aggravated child abuse charge was dismissed and the first-degree murder charge filed after the boy died.

Nielsen had lived in Sweetwater County for just short of a week before the boy was hospitalized. He was staying with Vanessa Kidner, the mother of the boy who died, and her fiance, Stacy Willeitner, in exchange for babysitting Kidner’s two children.

During Thursday’s change of plea hearing, Nielsen agreed to go under oath to answer questions about the crime. He told Judge Robinson that he lost his temper with the boy and shook him by the shoulders. When the boy began to have a seizure, Nielsen said he shook him again to try and get him to wake up. When the boy did not regain consciousness, Nielsen sought help.

When asked why he lost his temper, Nielsen said the boy would not eat when he was told to and kept saying he wanted to watch TV. Nielsen also told the judge that on the day of the incident he had been feeling stressed from a lack of sleep and other problems in his life.

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