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Report: Man Found Dead In Yellowstone Last Week Died Of Hypothermia; Brother Still Missing

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man found dead in Yellowstone National Park last week died of hypothermia, according to park officials.

Mark O’Neill, 67, of Chimacum, Washington, was found dead on the east shore of Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 20. An autopsy determined his cause of death was exposure, or hypothermia.

O’Neill and his brother, 74-year-old Kim Crumbo of Ogden, Utah, were reported overdue by a family member on Sept. 19 from a four-night backcountry trip to the lake.

Crumbo is still missing and search and rescue teams continue to search for his body, as park officials announced last week they expected to recover, not rescue, him.

Crews from the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center are using sonar equipment to detect clues in the water. Park crews continue to search for Crumbo by foot and boat, with assistance from Grand Teton National Park’s interagency helicopter and dog teams from Western Montana Search Dogs.

These recovery efforts will continue for the next several days as conditions warrant.

The incident remains under investigation. Officials are asking for the public’s help in putting together a timeline of events, so if anyone was in the Shoshone Lake area between Sept. 12-19, contact officials at 307-344-2428 or yell_tip@nps.gov.

Both O’Neill and Crumbo are National Park Service retirees, and Crumbo is a former U.S. Navy SEAL.

Shoshone Lake, the park’s second-largest, is located at the head of the Lewis River southwest of West Thumb. At 8,050 acres, its average year-round temperature is about 48 degrees. Survival time in the cold water is estimated to be only 20 to 30 minutes.

Editor’s note: Crumbo and O’Neill were previously reported to be half-brothers by park officials, but this was corrected on Wednesday to note they are brothers.

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Man Tased, Sedated After Allegedly Attacking Rangers, Damaging Yellowstone Hotel

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A California man who had to be subdued with a taser and sedatives after allegedly attacking park rangers and damaging Yellowstone National Park’s Lake Hotel now faces four charges in federal court.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Thursday for Benjamin Bagala, who faces three charges of assaulting U.S. Park Service rangers and causing more than $1,000 in damage to the Lake Hotel.

According to U.S. District Court documents, Park Ranger Matthew Chuvarsky was called to Lake Hotel late Saturday night to respond to reports of an intoxicated guest who was “howling” outside the hotel and had approached a security guard in a “threatening manner.”

The guest, later identified as Bagala, was reportedly “stomping around the hotel.”

An affidavit filed in support of Bagala’s charges by Chuvarsky said when Chuvarsky arrived at the hotel, he saw Bagala and noticed two broken plexiglass panels, similar to those used to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Bagala started walking toward the ranger, the affidavit said, and Chuvarsky noticed he had blood on his hands, arm and face. 

The affidavit said the two struggled briefly and when it appeared Bagala was preparing to punch Chuvarsky, the ranger used his taser on Bagala and the man fell to the ground. After a struggle, Bagala was handcuffed.

Because of his injuries and a perceived high level of intoxication, Bagala was moved from a patrol car into an ambulance for transport to a hospital in Livingston, Montana.

While in the ambulance, Bagala removed his seatbelt, began trying to get out of the handcuffs and struggled with one of the park rangers in the ambulance.

The ranger driving the ambulance stopped the vehicle and went to the back to help the other ranger. While he tried to control Bagala, he was kicked twice in the head.

During efforts to administer a sedative to Bagala, he began spitting saliva, blood and mucus on the rangers and a paramedic in the ambulance and spitting into the paramedic’s mouth.

After Bagala was sedated and being taken to the hospital, rangers returned to the Lake Hotel to survey the damage he allegedly caused.

The affidavit said rangers found damage allegedly caused by Bagala worth more than $1,000, including: the two broken plexiglass shields, blood splattered on the floor, walls and ceiling of the hotel lobby, broken plates, a broken door and damaged light fixtures.

If convicted on all charges, Bagala could face up to 34 years in prison, up to eight years for each assault charge and up to 10 years for the damaging of federal property.

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Overcrowding, Staff Shortages, Pandemic Wreak Havoc at Yellowstone; But Will Likely Break Tourism Record

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone in the summer is a magical place – geysers, wildlife, untamed beauty all around.

But this summer, the visitor experience has been marred by overcrowding, staff shortages and a pandemic.

As of the end of August, Yellowstone had already seen almost 3.6 million visitors in 2021, with two months left in the season.

Throw in the 837,000 visitors who came in through all five of the park’s gates in September 2020 and another 360,000 who came in October of last year and it’s possible another 1.19 million visitors could realistically boost the year’s total visitation to a record-breaking 4.79 million. The current record for one year’s visitation was set in 2016 at 4.26 million.

The high visitation numbers has had an impact on both visitors and park staff, officials said.

Mike Keller, general manger for Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the company that operates concessions in Yellowstone, said due to severe staffing shortages, Xanterra has had to strictly limit food service in the park.

“You know, from a dining standpoint, options are limited, and most restaurants, if open, are buffet only, or just grab-and-go food options,” Keller said.

He explained the company is operating at about 60% of normal staffing levels — and that’s even with some facilities closed or operating at limited capacity.

And the increase in visitor numbers means longer lines and slower service.

“So, normally you would go to the Old Faithful Inn, you’d sit down and have lunch,” he says. “Well, the inn is open, but we have 50% seating capacity because of COVID guidelines that we’re following, that are provided to us by our partner, the National Park Service. So I have fewer seats available for people to sit in our restaurants, which is why the lines are longer this year than people are used to.”

For tour bus companies who in the past have made reservations for their guests at the sit-down restaurants in the Park, the staffing issues and limited capacity seating definitely impacts how those guests are fed.

“With the Geyser Grill at Old Faithful, which is like our fast food restaurant, they call in advance, like when they’re leaving the west gate, and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a bus coming, I’ve got 50 people, we need 50 cheeseburgers, 50 orders of fries and 50 cokes, we’ll be there in an hour to pick it up,’” Keller said. “If they make a little bit of an effort to work with us, we can try to arrange some food options available for them before they arrive at their property.”

And then, of course, there’s COVID — which further complicates the visitor experience.

“In Yellowstone National Park, regardless of vaccination, and regardless of community transmission, masks are required indoors,” said Morgan Warthin, with the park’s public affairs office. “And they’re also required in crowded outdoor spaces. We also continue with other mitigation measures, and for the time being, we will continue to encourage visitors to social distance as we have done for the last year, and to wash their hands. And I think most importantly, for visitors who do not feel well, who are sick, we continue to ask them to stay home – to not visit the park.”

The Park will stay open through the first week of November, but restaurants and hotels will be closing soon, according to Keller – which makes addressing the staffing shortage for the rest of the season even more of a challenge.

“Roosevelt already closed.” he said, “And really, by the time we get to Oct. 10, Columbus Day, everything in the park will be closed except for Mammoth, Snow Lodge and Madison campgrounds. “We’ve brought in 230 new employees in the last 21 days,” he continued. “But the reality of it is, people don’t want to just pack up and move halfway across the country to live in a dorm with somebody they don’t know for five weeks and then go back home.”

Despite the challenges, Keller said the ultimate goal for both Xanterra and the National Park Service is a safe and positive visitor experience.

“It is our unified goal, to ensure that we are providing services to visitors while doing it safely and responsibly,” he said.

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Yellowstone Employee Severely Burned At Old Faithful

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A woman was life-flighted to an Idaho hospital on Thursday after suffering severe burns after leaving the boardwalk near Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

On Thursday morning, rangers provided initial care to a 19-year-old woman from Rhode Island who had suffered second- and third-degree burns to 5% of her body.

“The ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin, and there is scalding water just below the surface,” park officials said. “Everyone must always remain on boardwalks and trails and exercise extreme caution around thermal features.”

The patient, a concessions employee, was taken by ambulance to West Yellowstone, Montana, and life-flighted to the burn center at Eastern Idaho Medical Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Her condition was unknown as of Thursday evening.

Some social media reports said the woman fell into an area of Old Faithful as the geyser erupted.

Officials say the scalding water in Yellowstone can reach over 400 degrees, which means instant death.

In 2016, recovery efforts for a man who fell into a spring were stopped because park authorities believed the body simply dissolved.

“Recovery efforts have been terminated in part because we have not been able to locate any remains, unfortunately,” a spokesperson for the park said at the time.

This is the first significant injury in a thermal area this year. In 2020, a three-year-old suffered second-degree-thermal burns to the lower body and back and a visitor (who illegally entered the park) fell into a thermal feature at Old Faithful while backing up and taking photos.

In September 2019, a man suffered severe burns after falling into thermal water near the cone of Old Faithful Geyser. In June 2017, a man sustained severe burns after falling in a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin.

In June 2016, a man left the boardwalk and died after slipping into a hot spring in Norris Geyser Basin. In August 2000, one person died and two people received severe burns from falling into a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin.

A woman from Connecticut was sentenced last month to seven days in jail for walking off the boardwalks and onto geothermal grounds in the park. Leaving the designated walkways in Yellowstone is a federal crime.

More than 20 people have died after leaving the boardwalk and walking on thermal ground. In some cases, victims have never been found as the scalding water dissolved their bodies.

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Connecticut Woman Jailed For Walking on Geyser at Yellowstone

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A woman from Connecticut was sentenced on Wednesday to seven days in jail for walking off the boardwalks and onto geothermal grounds in Yellowstone National Park.

Madeline Casey, of New Hartford, was immediately taken into custody and held at the Yellowstone jail — one of only two national parks with its own jail — after the July incident.

Leaving the designated walkways in Yellowstone is a federal crime and justice officials don’t wince about sentencing.

“Although a criminal prosecution and jailtime may seem harsh, it’s better than spending time in a hospital’s burn unit,” Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray said.

No hyperbole in that statement.

More than 20 people have died after leaving the boardwalk and walking on thermal ground.

As the Justice Department explained in a statement, the ground is fragile and thin and scalding water just below the surface can cause severe or fatal burns.

In some cases, victims have never been found as the scalding water dissolved their bodies.

In the book Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, author Lee Whittlesey said the pools are “so astringent that a dip in one would be like a swim in battery acid.”

Casey was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, $40 in fees, and a $1,000 community service payment to the Yellowstone Forever Geological Resource Fund.

The U.S. Attorney added a Darwinian-scolding as well.

“For those who lack a natural ability to appreciate the dangerousness of crusty and unstable ground, boiling water, and scalding mud, the National Park Service does a darn good job of warning them to stay on the boardwalk and trial in thermal areas,” Murray said.  “Yet there will always be those like Ms. Casey who don’t get it.”

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Yellowstone Saw 1 Million Visitors In July, Breaking Another Visitation Record

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park saw 1,080,767 recreation visits in July, the highest number of visitors seen in one month in the park’s history.

The total announced by park officials is a 13% increase from July 2020 (which saw 955,645 recreational visits) and a 15% increase from July 2019 (which saw 936,062 recreation visits).

The visitor numbers in July also marked the first time visitation to the park exceeded 1 million in a single month. 

So far in 2021, the park has hosted 2,668,765 recreation visits, up 16% from 2019. This year is compared to 2019 instead of 2020 because of COVID-19, which forced the closure of the park for part of 2020.   

The list below shows the year-to-date trend for recreation visits over the last several years (through July): 

2021 – 2,668,765

2020 – 1,674,699

2019 – 2,294,691

2018 – 2,322,271

2017 – 2,316,541

2016 – 2,427,988 

“Increases to Yellowstone’s visitation have accelerated rapidly over the past 12 months and we continue to be on pace to set record numbers for 2021,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “We are actively developing defensible short and long-term solutions, with our partners, which focus on protection of park resources, improving visitor experience, and considering impacts on park staffing, infrastructure and our gateway communities and regional economies.”

Yellowstone’s road corridors and parking areas equate to less than 1,500 acres of the park’s 2.2 million acres. Most visitors stay within one-half mile of these corridors.

As such, the park’s efforts to deal with the high visitor numbers are focused largely on the most heavily congested areas: Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Norris, Canyon rims and Lamar Valley.

A report on the economic indicators for Wyoming for the first quarter of 2021 issued by the Department of Administration and Information shows tourism numbers have skyrocketed in the state this year compared to 2020.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks both saw more than a 20% increase in visitations from January through March of 2021, with Yellowstone seeing 107,846 visitors in the first quarter (up 20.7% compared to last year) and Grand Teton seeing 194,447 visitors (up 22.8% compared to last year).

“Visitation figures for both national parks were the highest recorded for the first quarter in history,” the report said, noting that this was attributed to people wanting to spend time outdoors during the pandemic, while coronavirus cases also trended downward.

According to a National Park Service report, more than 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and spent more than $444 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 6,110 jobs in the area near Yellowstone, which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $560 million.

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World’s Top Seismologist: Yellowstone Volcano Is Still Not Going to Blow-Up Soon

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Good news. Yellowstone National Park is still unlikely to blow up any time soon.

Despite speculation by some in the media that Yellowstone’s so-called “super-volcano” is getting ready to blow up, the world’s foremost seismic expert scoffed at the thought.

Bob Smith, who has studied seismology in Yellowstone for more than 60 years, told Cowboy State Daily that the latest round of discussion about the volcano exploding is just “hyperbole”.

“There is no imminent threat,” Smith said while laughing. “There is no likelihood that it’s going to happen any time soon.”

The longtime professor at the University of Utah and the founding member of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory said his office is used to “near constant” speculation that the park is going to blow up but said there was “no evidence to support the speculation.”

What seems to have started the discussion are reports that the seismic activity in the park in July — which was above normal — is something to be concerned about.

Anything but, Smith said. He said although there were more earthquakes — the overwhelming majority of which couldn’t be felt — but the activity was so insignificant that his office didn’t even put out a press release on it.

“There’s always a chance it could happen,” Smith said. “But that chance is .00014% per year. That’s an exceedingly small probability.”

The professor acknowledged the volcano will have an eruption at some point as it is still a living volcano, but there would likely be signs beforehand that would portend a major explosion.

“We have a very modern seismograph network of 35 stations which report back in real-time to the University of Utah,” Smith said.  “And we have a staff of people who are trained to analyze all of the earthquake activity in Yellowstone.”

Smith said no one on his staff was concerned with the earthquake activity in July.  

“We have a mathematical physics-based approach, not wild speculation,” Smith said, laughing again.

He said the largest earthquake in July registered a 3.6 — which is the “minimum range of people being able to feel it.”

“The activity in July wasn’t unusual at all,” he said.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich was in Yellowstone on a fishing trip the last time a magnitude 4 earthquake hit Yellowstone.

“There was some screaming going on and people worried that the volcano was going to explode,” Ulrich said of the June, 2017 quake. “Their screams — not the earthquake — were startling. So much so that I accidentally dropped my flyrod in the river and this wasn’t a cheap-ass Snoopy flyrod you buy at K-Mart. Sadly, it could not be retrieved. I hate that damn volcano.””

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Illinois Woman Charged With Disturbing Wildlife At Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Illinois woman had been charged with disturbing wildlife this week after she was caught on video getting too close to bears in Yellowstone National Park in May.

Samantha R. Dehrin, 25 of Carol Stream, Illinois, was charged with one count of willfully remaining, approaching and photographing wildlife within 100 yards and one count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife. She faces up to one year in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Dehring is expected to appear in front of U.S. District Court Magistrate Mark L. Carman in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming on Thursday, Aug. 26, for her arraignment.

According to the violation notices, Dehring was at Roaring Mountain within the park on May 10 when visitors noticed a sow grizzly and her three cubs. Other visitors slowly backed away and got into their vehicles, but Dehring remained to take pictures.

The sow bluff charged Dehring, which was captured on video and in photos. This helped lead to her identification.

According to the National Park Service, a bluff charge is the more common type of charge and is meant to scare or intimidate. If a bluff charge is about to happen, a person is supposed to slowly back away from the bear while waving their arms above their head and speaking to the bear in a calm voice.

People should not run when a bear bluff charges, because it may trigger the animal to attack.

Yellowstone rangers shared the results of their investigation to rangers in Illinois, who served Dehring with the violation notices in person.

She is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

This case is being investigated by Yellowstone National Park Rangers and will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Hambrick.

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Missouri Family Sues Over Mistaken Identity Stop By Yellowstone Rangers, Deputies

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Missouri family is suing officers of the National Park Service and Park County Sheriff’s Office, alleging they were held at gunpoint for more than one hour in 2017 in a case of mistaken identity.

Brett and Genalyn Hemry, of Independence, Missouri, are seeking unspecified damages for violations of their rights against improper search and seizure, use of excessive force and false imprisonment in the traffic stop near Yellowstone National Park that resulted from a search for a man suspected in a triple murder.

In a lawsuit filed July 19 in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, the Hemrys said they left Yellowstone through the park’s east gate on the morning of July 20, 2017, with their daughter, identified only as F.M.H.

According to the lawsuit, law enforcement officials in Teton and Park counties, along with Park Service officers, had been on the lookout for a week for a man named Gerald Michael Bullinger, who was wanted in connection with a triple murder in Idaho.

As the Hemrys left the east gate of the park, a ranger identified Hemry as Bullinger because both have white hair.

The lawsuit said as Brett Hemry drove the family’s car toward Cody along the North Fork Highway, he noticed he was being closely followed by two Park Service ranger vehicles. He pulled over to allow the vehicles to pass.

“When Mr. Hemry pulled over … the Park Ranger vehicles pulled in front of the Hemry family vehicle to block it from continuing down the highway, and from each vehicle, a Park Ranger exited with a drawn firearm in hand,” the complaint said. “The family was detained at gunpoint in their vehicle for about a half hour, without notice or knowledge of the rangers’ purpose.”

After about one-half hour, Park County Sheriff’s deputies arrived and forced Brett Hemry and his wife at gunpoint to get into their vehicles. While they were detained in the law enforcement vehicles, another officer continued to point a weapon at F.M.H., who remained in the family’s car.

The lawsuit said after about an hour of detention in the deputy’s vehicle, Brett Hemry was allowed to display his identification and was told why he was stopped. At that point, the three were told they were free to go, the lawsuit said.

The actions of the park rangers and deputies violated the Hemrys’ rights against unreasonable search and seizure, the lawsuit said, adding that park rangers had no authority to stop the Hemrys once they left Yellowstone.

“The seizure and detention of the plaintiffs by the Park County (deputies) was continued for an unreasonable time, and under unreasonable circumstances, in the complete absence of reasonable suspicion or other constitutional justification,” it said.

The lawsuit also alleged the deputies and park rangers used excessive force in the stop by “holding plaintiffs at gunpoint for an extended period.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to compensate the Hemrys for “their loss of freedom and for their emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life” and punitive damages for the “intentional, reckless, and outrageous actions” of the law enforcement officers.

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Yellowstone Says It’s Too Hot To Fish

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s too hot – even for the fish.

Due to high water temperatures and unprecedented low stream flows, anglers headed to Yellowstone National Park’s rivers and streams won’t be able to fish in the afternoon and evening.

The National Park Service released the closure notice on Friday, saying that the restrictions will protect the park’s native and wild trout fisheries.

Water temperatures have exceeded 68 degrees in recent days, according to park biologists, and flows on many rivers are approaching historic lows. Officials say these conditions are extremely stressful, and can be fatal to fish.

The extended forecast calls for continued hot and dry conditions with a slight chance of isolated afternoon thunderstorms, which contribute to continued low stream flows and high-water temperatures.

There is no indication when the closure might be lifted.

So until further notice, fishing on rivers and streams will be prohibited from 2 p.m. to sunrise the following day.

Anglers will be allowed to fish those areas from sunrise to 2 p.m. daily.

This does not mean all fishing is off limits in the later part of the day. Yellowstone Lake and other lakes will remain open to fishing from sunrise to sunset. 

Officials are urging anglers to fish during the coolest times of day, and land fish quickly; to gently handle fish in the water as much as possible; and to let them recover before release.

This cooperation will protect the park’s fisheries, and biologists note that precautions such as these may ensure that closures like this can be avoided if conditions worsen.

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