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One Dead In Black Thunder Mine Dragline Incident

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A coal miner is dead following an accident that occurred while repairs were being performed on a Black Thunder Mine dragline yesterday afternoon, officials announced Thursday morning.

Law enforcement and mine officials have identified the miner as 31-year-old Jeff Wendland, a coal mining veteran and Gillette resident who was killed while performing repairs to a dragline shortly before noon on July 21.

Wendland was reportedly explaining to a crew of four other employees how to add a section to the 200- ton dragline boom and was knocking out a retaining pin while standing beneath it, according to Campbell County Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds.

The section reportedly separated, Reynolds continued, striking Wendland on the right side of his shoulder and neck area. He was pronounced dead at the scene by Emergency Medical Services and Life Flight personnel that responded to the call.

Jeff had worked for Black Thunder for 13 years and leaves behind his wife and four children, according to a prepared statement from Thunder Basin Coal Company.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragic event, and extend our most profound sympathies to Jeff’s family, friends, and co-workers,” Keith Williams, president of Thunder Basin Coal Company said in the statement. “We are focusing our energies on lending our support to Jeff’s family during this incredibly difficult time.”

Black Thunder Mine is working closely with state and federal officials in a multi-agency investigation to determine the root cause of the incident. Mining operations, suspended yesterday, have since resumed, per the statement.

“We are dedicated to investigating and developing a full understanding of the circumstances surrounding the incidents so that we can ensure that an event of this type never happens again,” Williams concluded.

A representative for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) declined to comment on the ongoing investigation Thursday morning.

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COVID Variant, Low Vaccination Rates Contribute To Wyoming COVID Spike

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A recent spike in coronavirus cases that has caused the number of active cases in Wyoming to grow to levels not seen since February is due to both the new Delta variant of the virus and the state’s low vaccination rates, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

As of Wednesday, Wyoming had 759 active coronavirus cases, the first time since February the active case count has topped 700. In 2020, Wyoming didn’t hit 700 active cases until September, the beginning of a spike that saw more 11,000 active cases by late November.

WDH spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that health officials believe the more contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates are contributing to the higher active cases in the state.

“We believe the Delta variant is a current factor in Wyoming,” she said. “The lower our vaccination rates, in combination with this variant that is highly contagious, the more at risk we are for seeing increased cases of COVID-19 and illnesses.”

The majority of the Delta variant cases are in Laramie County, with 175 of the the state’s 249 confirmed cases found in the county.

Deti said the department is encouraging anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, as it is the best way to protect against infection, including against the Delta variant.

“The current data indicate the available vaccines are effective against this variant and are especially effective at preventing severe illness even with variant infections,” she said. “We are seeing excellent results among those who have been vaccinated. The vast majority of recent, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have involved people who were not yet fully vaccinated.”

With Cheyenne Frontier Days beginning Friday, Wyoming will likely see tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Deti said the department hoped all of Wyoming’s visitors have taken advantage of the vaccine before coming into the state.

Deti told Cowboy State Daily earlier this month that the other 22 counties across the state aren’t doing anything different from Laramie County to account for lower active case numbers.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Conviction Of Man Who Threatened Wife With Gun

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A court made an error when it allowed certain testimony to be offered in the case of a man accused of hitting his wife with his car and threatening her with a gun, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

However, the mistake in the trial of Lloyd James Thompson was not enough to merit a reversal of his conviction on assault charges, the court said.

A jury in Casper convicted Thompson on two charges of aggravated assault and battery stemming from his arrest in a June 2019 dispute involving his wife.

According to the ruling, Thompson accused his wife of having an affair and she left their home, planning to walk to her sister’s house.

As she walked down the road, Thompson drove up quickly behind her in the couple’s vehicle, striking her left arm with its side mirror.

When his wife refused to get into the vehicle, Thompson said “he’d put a couple rounds in (her)” and then pointed a gun at her. His wife testified she began walking away when Thompson pulled the gun and then she heard it go off.

A neighbor and her daughter testified they saw a man in a vehicle follow a woman and later fire a handgun at a fence.

Thompson was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and battery, accused of using threatening to use a deadly weapon — the car and the handgun — on another person. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to five years of supervised probation.

In his appeal, Thompson said officers from the Mills Police Department and Natrona County Sheriff’s Office were improperly allowed to repeat during the trial what Thompson’s wife had told them when she spoke about the incident.

Thompson argued law enforcement officers should only have been allowed to testify about what they did during their investigation of the incident — not what other people told them.

The court, in an opinion written by Justice Keith Kautz, agreed with Thompson.

However, justices said the error was not significant enough to overturn Thompson’s conviction because other evidence, including the testimony of Thompson’s wife, the statements of witnesses to the incident and Thompson’s own comments, was sufficient to justify his conviction.

“There is no reasonable probability the verdict would have been more favorable to Mr. Thompson had the improper … evidence not been admitted,” the opinion said.

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Police Looking For Evanston Man Who Allegedly Abandoned Truck On Railroad Tracks

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Uinta County Sheriff’s Office is currently seeking information on who may have left a pickup truck on some railroad tracks near Evanston that forced a stop to rail traffic in the area.

The maroon Ford F-150 truck was found abandoned and stuck on the railroad tracks Sunday afternoon in the area of the Aspen Tunnels.

Train traffic in the area was shut down for six hours while the vehicle was removed from the tracks and inspected for damage.

Deputies believe Robert Finney of Evanston was the driver of the vehicle. Finney is also wanted on a warrant for felony probation revocation.

Anyone with information about the incident or Finney’s whereabouts should call the sheriff’s office at 307-783-1000.

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109 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Wednesday; 6 Recoveries, 759 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily.

Wyoming’s active coronavirus count increased by 142 on Wednesday, pushing the state’s active case total to more than 700 for the first time since February.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of six recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 109 new laboratory-confirmed and 39 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 759 active cases. The last time the state had more than 700 active cases was on Feb. 21, when the count stood at 702.

Laramie County continued to have the highest number of cases in the state at 263. Sweetwater had 57; Uinta 48; Campbell 45; Fremont 40; Converse and Natrona 37; Lincoln 30; Albany and Teton 26; Carbon 24; Park 23; Sublette 20; Platte 18; Goshen 14; Hot Springs 11; Johnson nine; Sheridan eight; Big Horn and Washakie seven; Weston six; Niobrara had two, and Crook County had one.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 63988 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 62,463 have recovered.

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Laramie County District Attorney Says Allegations Of Incompetence Unfounded

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Management of the Laramie County District Attorney’s office is the job of District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove and is not subject to review by the board that oversees the activities of Wyoming’s attorneys, she said this week.

In addition, some of the allegations raised by a formal complaint filed with the board were already addressed by the Wyoming Supreme Court when it refused in January to suspend Manlove’s license as requested by a special bar counsel, according to her response to the complaint.

Manlove, in her response to the formal complaint filed against her with the state Board of Professional Responsibility, asked that the complaint filed by Special Bar Counsel W.W. Reeves in June be dismissed, in part because the BPR has no authority over how she runs her office.

“Using the Wyoming system for lawyer discipline to prosecute the elected Laramie County District Attorney based on complaints from the bench about what are essentially office management issues involving the inner workings of the district attorney’s office which are within the district attorney’s managerial discretion violates the principle of separation of powers set forth in (Wyoming’s Constitution),” she said in her 41-page response.

Reeves, in his report, recommended that a disciplinary hearing be held for Manlove to address a list of alleged violations of rules governing the actions of attorneys that showed she could not competently perform the duties of her office.

The report accused Manlove of a number of items, including exaggerating budget pressures faced by her office to justify the dismissal of almost 1,000 cases in circuit and district courts in Laramie County. It also referenced a letter written by the county’s circuit and district court judges in which they expressed concern that “Manlove’s personnel management and caseload management cause prejudice to the administration of justice in Laramie County.”

But Manlove, in the response filed Tuesday with the Wyoming Bar Association, said she was managing her office in a manner to avoid overloading her staff with cases in accordance with American Bar Association standards.

“The charging decisions/requests for dismissal (Manlove) has made in the face of limited resources find support in the ABA standards …” her response said. “Neither the judges’ complaint letter nor the formal charge contain facts sufficient to second-guess (Manlove’s) exercise of her considerable prosecutorial discretion.”

Manlove said her office, along with other state agencies, saw its budget reduced significantly in September 2020, while caseloads continued to rise.

The number of misdemeanors handled by the office in 2020 increased by 1,198% since 1995, Manlove said, while the number of felony cases has increased by 131% and there has been no increase in the office’s staff.

Manlove cited the budget constraints in a letter in September 2020 sent to Laramie County officials explaining that her office would be reducing the services it provided. The contents of the letter were then included as part of motions to dismiss cases in court.

In her response, Manlove reiterated that as district attorney, she has discretion over which cases to pursue and which to dismiss.

The formal complaint combined elements of three separate complaints against Manlove, one based in part on the letter from the judges and two based on complaints stemming from the release of two men accused of dangerous crimes.

Manlove said the part of the complaint stemming from the judges’ letter echoed allegations raised in December, when Bar Counsel Mark Gifford asked the Supreme Court to suspend Manlove’s license to practice law because of what he called “two years of tumultuous conduct by (Manlove) that demonstrates the threat posed by (Manlove) (to) the effective administration of justice …”

But the Supreme Court, without comment, denied the request.

“This court … concludes the petition for immediate suspension should be denied,” said the court’s Jan. 26 order.

The complaint also accused Manlove’s office of failing to submit papers to circuit court in time to bring formal theft charges against Andrew Weaver, who was released from jail as a result. Five days later, he was accused of killing two people in a Cheyenne shooting.

But Manlove noted the paperwork’s delivery was delayed in part because circuit court was operating on a limited schedule during the week in question. She also added that even if Weaver had been formally charged, he would have been eligible for bond and could have been released in any case.

In the two cases where Manlove was accused of making deals that resulted in the release of men accused of dangerous crimes, she said the case of one of the men is ongoing and he has another court appearance scheduled for August, while the second man actually remains in jail.

Manlove concluded that the charge and its allegations “fail on their face to reasonably reflect proof by clear and convincing evidence” that she violated any rules of conduct for lawyers.

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Riverton Man Sentenced To Jail For Assaulting Indian Affairs Officer At Casino

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Riverton man has been sentenced to a little more than a year in prison after being convicted of assaulting a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs officer earlier this year.

Leo Michael Duran, 26, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised released on his conviction on a charge of assaulting a federal law enforcement officer. The sentenced was imposed this week in U.S. District Court.

Duran pleaded guilty to the charge in May.

According to court information, during the early morning of Jan. 23, security staff at the Wind River Hotel and Casino were in the process of escorting Duran from the premises and a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer arrived to assist.

While the officer was placing handcuffs on him, Duran turned on him and began throwing punches and causing himself and the officer to fall to the ground, according to reports

Duran got up and ran away, heading down the highway toward Riverton.

The officer made it back to his patrol vehicle and pursued Duran, completing the arrest with the assistance of Fremont County Sheriff deputies.

“We are extremely proud of BIA Law Enforcement and recognize the dangers they face while protecting the citizens of the Wind River Reservation,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “Duran’s actions show his complete disregard for law enforcement and a lack of good decision making. This type of assault is not something we take lightly, and such cases will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

This crime was investigated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the assistance from Fremont County Sheriff’s Department.

“FBI Denver thanks our partners at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. Mr. Duran’s violent response to contact from a federal law enforcement officer jeopardized the officer’s safety and that of the community they serve,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. “The FBI stands by our law enforcement partners against violent criminals who pose a threat to the community.”

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Lander Outdoor Equipment Company Is Optics Provider For Archery Olympics Team

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Lander outdoor equipment company has been named the official optics provider for the Olympic U.S. archery team during its competition in the Tokyo Olympics.

Maven Outdoor Equipment Company was officially named as the optics provider for the archery team last week in an ad campaign.

“The best deserve only the best,” Maven wrote in a social media post announcing the campaign. “As the official optics provider of the USA Archery Team in Tokyo, we’re excited to do our part in helping the team perform their finest during this year’s games. Be sure to tune in to your local sports provider on July 23-31 to see what makes them the best of the best!”

One of the athletes featured in the campaign is Brady Ellison, identified on the Olympics website as one of the athletes to watch on the archery team. Ellison scored a perfect indoor score in archery last year prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ellison has competed at more world cup stages and holds more final titles than anyone else in history.

According to County 10, the company crafted special spotting scopes and binoculars for the archery team designed in red, white and blue.

The County 10 website also noted Maven was contacted in late June by the archery team’s coach about creating some optics for the athletes, which got the company working quickly to finish everything by mid-July.

The archery team will begin competing on Friday, when the Olympics begin.

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National Zoo In Washington D.C. Wants Public To Name Baby Black-Footed Ferrets

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The National Zoo in Washington D.C. is asking for the public to help select the names of its baby black-footed ferrets, which have significant ties to Wyoming.

On May 19, the National Zoo black-footed ferret Potpie gave birth to three kits at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia. The zoo has since livestreamed the family through a “ferret cam” on its website.

As Cowboy State Daily publisher Bill Sniffin pointed out in a recent column, the zoo’s black-footed ferrets are the descendants of a group transported to zoos and breeding facilities as part of a captive breeding program aimed at restoring the numbers of the nearly-extinct species.

Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct until 1981, when a small colony was found near Meeteetse. Later, 18 black-footed ferrets were captured and sent to zoos and breeding facilities to prevent the species from going extinct.

The Conservation Biology Institute in 1988 became the first facility outside of Wyoming to receive offspring from the captive breeding program. Potpie’s kits are the latest at the zoo to trace their ancestry back to that original group.

Now, the zoo is inviting the public to choose the name of the female kit. The options are: Americana, Aster and Prairie Rose. Zoo keepers selected these names, which pay tribute to the native plants and animals of the American prairie.

National Zoo members can help name one of the male kits, while players of the zoo’s mobile game, Zoo Guardians, can help name the other male.

Later this summer, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan scientists will conduct a genetic assessment of the entire black-footed ferret population managed in human care and will determine whether the three kits should remain at the Smithsonian Institute, transfer to another breeding facility or join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service preconditioning program in preparation for their release into the wild.

In deciding where the kits will go, scientists consider the animals’ genetic makeup, health and temperament, among other factors.

More than 1,000 black-footed ferrets have been born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, including 140 born via artificial insemination. Depending on their genetic value and ability to hunt live prey, some kits remain in breeding facilities, while others are released into the wild.

More than 350 of the Smithsonian’s kits have gone into ferret preconditioning programs, where they learn to live in burrows and demonstrate that they can successfully catch prey before being released into the wild.

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Country Star Suzy Bogguss Returns To Wyoming For Sunday Concert

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Suzy Bogguss LOVES Wyoming. And Wyoming loves Suzy.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the award-winning singer-songwriter came to the Mountain West in search of places to play and found kindred spirits.

“My first trips out there, I was still in my Datsun b210,” Bogguss told Cowboy State Daily this week. “But as soon as I realized how much I loved the West, I ended up investing in an RV — I just had one of those little camper trucks with a pop top — and I would come back for, say, nine weeks in the winter and nine weeks in the summer. And I worked myself through Colorado, most of Wyoming, and all of the wonderful back roads.“

My big break came in a little town called Centennial, Wyoming,” Bogguss said, “and the reason I say that is that I met some people there that have been lifelong friends, and they gave me the courage to go out on my own. I just kind of worked my way into all sorts of different places, little by little … for a few dollars and then that would put me into a larger venue. And I did that for about five years before I got the the actual courage to move down to Nashville.”

This weekend, the Bogguss will treat her fans in Cody to a free outdoor concert in City Park. The show will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday and attendees are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs and picnic blankets and be ready to enjoy Bogguss’ down-home, Americana style and country hit songs.

Bogguss had a string of top 10 songs in the early 1990s, with singles such as “Outbound Plane,” “Aces,” and “Hey, Cinderella,” the sentimental mother-daughter song “Letting Go,” and the song that climbed highest on the charts, “Drive South.”

Bogguss, who has made concert appearances in Cody several times over the last 15 years, planned this particular stop on her tour around her appearance at the White Sulphur Springs, Montana, Red Ants Pants Festival on Saturday. 

“While I’m there I’ll judge a yodeling contest, which is a stitch,” Bogguss said, laughing. “There’s like 10 or 12 people that sign up to yodel, and there’s actually a panel of judges, and I’m sort of the emcee for it. It’s just pretty funny.” 

She was looking for an additional venue while she was out West, so she reached out to her longtime friend Dan Miller, a Cody entertainer who offered to put together a concert in the park.

“I’m thinking that I met Dan on the Ralph Emery Show (on The Nashville Network) probably for the first time, or maybe when he was hosting another one of his shows that he was so well known for on TNN,” Bogguss said.  “We’re both from the Midwest, I think we just bonded early on, and we just knew that we were supposed to be good friends.”

“I have known Suzy a long time, and she thinks of Cody as a second home,” Miller agreed. 

Bogguss’ fondness for Wyoming comes out in her song “I’m At Home On the Range.” Lyrics from that song include lines such as “Seven nights in Jackson at the Million Dollar Bar,” with a chorus of “I’m at home on the range, I’m a queen on the plains. Way out where the West is wild, from Billings down to Laramie, the cowboys take good care of me.”

“That song was about those times that I spent out there, especially in the winter,” Bogguss said. “There would be so many people who actually had big jobs, were businessmen and gals that left different careers, and they would move out (to Jackson) because it was so beautiful and life was so simple, and the lifestyle was just really laid back.”

Since the pandemic hit, Bogguss has only played a few live venues — her Cody appearance will be only the seventh time she’s performed since public health regulations have allowed live audiences at shows. 

“This is probably the shortest trip out West I’ve ever taken,” Bogguss said. “We usually try to work in some vacation time around it, but because I had to push all of my shows from a year and a half into this year, I have to stay busy.”

During the pandemic, Bogguss said she stayed connected to her fans through weekly Facebook Live posts.

“Having to prepare a couple of songs or three songs for every (weekly) performance, it kept me practicing, kept the calluses on my fingers,” Bogguss said.

But she added that performing live, even over the internet, helped her maintain a connection with her fan base. 

“We were all locked down, and the comments, and the way that people would be thankful for all of it — these people got to know each other by coming there onto this little site every Wednesday,” she said. “And I’ve still maintained it, I’ve done, I think 68 weeks in a row.”

But Bogguss said that the experience of performing for live audiences is unmatched, which is one of the reasons she’s looking forward to her concert in Cody on Sunday. She added that events like the Red Ants Pants Festival tick all the boxes for her.

“A portion of the proceeds goes to promoting local farmers up in Montana, and helping them keep their doors open, but also it promotes female leaders in companies, and small businesses,” she said. “It sits well with me because it’s helping chicks that want to get out there and do their own thing, so I love it.”

And Bogguss said she is happy to be back out on the road, performing for live audiences.

“I just like people to clap, I really like attention. I’m a ham,” Bogguss said. “You know, I like music, I like to share it, I like to feel the communication and the camaraderie between me and the audience, and the way that the energy gets passed back and forth.”

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