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

in News/Crime

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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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Two Killed, Four Injured In Accident Near Evanston

in News

By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Two people were killed and four injured in a crash on Interstate 80 near Evanston that closed part of the highway for several hours Sunday, according to the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

The patrol reported that Wolf Point, Montana, residents William Baker, 71, and Scobey Baker, a juvenile, both died when the SUV they were in was hit just inside the Wyoming border on the interstate.

According to patrol reports, the SUV driven by William Baker was stopped behind a pickup truck on the interstate because of an accident on the roadway ahead of them. Reports said the SUV was hit by a pickup truck driven by Braylin Wertenberger, 29, of Greeley, Colorado, and was pushed into the pickup truck.

Wertenberger failed to see the stopped traffic, the patrol said.

William Baker died after being flown to the University of Utah for treatment, while Scobey Baker died at the scene of the accident. A third passenger in the SUV was taken to Evanston Regional Hospital for treatment.

Wertenberger was also transported to the hospital in Evanston while his passenger, Mollie Wright of Brighton, Colorado, was flown to the University of Utah. Their conditions are unknown.

One passenger in the pickup truck in front of the SUV was taken to the Evanston hospital for treatment.

Speed and driver inattention on the part of Wertenberger are being investigated as contributing factors in the accident. This marks the 53rd and 54th fatalities on Wyoming’s roadways this year, compared to 59 in 2020.

Evanston Child Positive For COVID-19 – Related Testing Yields 53 Negatives

in News/Coronavirus

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EVANSTON — Following the confirmation of a COVID-19 infection in a child enrolled at the Evanston Child Development Center, a second point prevalence survey mass testing event was conducted at Evanston Community Health Center for ECDC on Tuesday, May 19.

Results from that testing were available on Wednesday afternoon and all 53 people tested were negative for the presence of the novel coronavirus.

A press release from Uinta County Public Health said the survey was recommended by the Wyoming Department of Health due to the high potential impact of a positive case in a child who had been attending a childcare facility and was targeted toward individuals who may have been in contact with the child.

Evanston Community Health Center volunteered time, staff and personal protective equipment to take samples from the dozens of children and adults in a drive-thru setting over two hours on Tuesday.

In an effort to expedite testing and results, the Wyoming State Fire Marshall’s Office volunteered to transport the samples directly to the Wyoming Public Health Lab in Cheyenne, which allowed for results to be returned in approximately 24 hours.

Uinta County Public Health staff said the results are very encouraging for the community and are very good news for the families of children attending ECDC, along with the center’s staff.

“This is a good sign, especially after the worry of not knowing the source for the infection in the positive case,” reads a release from public health. “The families involved were also incredibly patient and kind as they dealt with uncertainty and frightening prospects.”

Another case was confirmed in Uinta County on Thursday morning, unrelated to the child case. The new case is in an adult female residing in Evanston, who is said to be isolated and recovering at home. As with the last case, there is no known source for this infection.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Wyoming Department of Health website stated Uinta County has had nine confirmed and three probable cases, with seven of the confirmed and two of the probable listed as recovered.

Statewide, the WDH says there have been 596 confirmed cases with 191 probable for a total of 787 cases.

Of those 787, 534 are listed as officially recovered, which means at least 10 days have elapsed since the onset of symptoms and the infected individual has had no fever and improving symptoms for at least three days.

There have been 11 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Wyoming residents.

More than 18,000 tests have been conducted in the state, for a current positive test rate of about 3.3%, which is well below the current national average of approximately 10%. Uinta County’s positive test rate is listed on the WDH website as about 1%.

As the amount of testing increases, declining percentages of positive tests is one of the metrics utilized to determine whether it is safe to ease restrictions on businesses and individual activity.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said there were currently nine individuals hospitalized throughout the state.

During that conference, Wyoming State Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist emphasized officials continue to be concerned about high-risk individuals living in long-term care facilities around the state. Harrist said due to that concern the state is launching a proactive testing program of those individuals.

Harrist said there are two parts to that program. The first is that facilities without a confirmed outbreak are being asked to test at least 20% of residents and staff every two weeks for monitoring purposes and to ensure early signs of a potential outbreak aren’t being missed.

The second part of the program involves facilities that have had confirmed cases, which will be asked to test all residents and staff weekly until officials are sure the outbreak has been controlled. Harrist said state public health offices will work with facilities to help facilitate and orchestrate the testing.

Gordon also addressed the challenges facing schools throughout the state, from the University of Wyoming and community colleges to K-12 schools and preschools, as they already begin to prepare for the next school year, noting those challenges are “extraordinary.”

He said folks statewide are already working every day to address the huge amount of work that will likely be required to get students back in buildings in the fall.

Gordon spoke of the looming challenges facing the state and the Wyoming Legislature to deal with the revenue losses related to the pandemic and what that will mean for the overall state budget, acknowledging the stark realities ahead.

The Legislature just wrapped up a two-day special session to delineate how the state will handle the $1.25 billion dollars received through the federal CARES Act.

Gordon signed three bills on Wednesday to cover many aspects of the pandemic, including costs related to testing and contact tracing, personal protective equipment, assistance to renters and landlords, workers’ compensation claims and more.

The Legislature also established three grant programs to help Wyoming small businesses, which will be handled by the Wyoming Business Council (WBC).

There are different grant programs designed to help businesses based on factors like the number of employees, whether a business was under closure orders, whether COVID-19 related expenses were incurred and more.

The WBC is working to get the programs up and running and accepting applications as soon as possible and plans to announce informational webinars in the coming days.

In the meantime, business owners are encouraged to get documents together, including W-9 forms and certificates of good standing, in preparation to file for some of the $325 million allocated for small business assistance.

There is also assistance available through the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security for businesses needing to acquire personal protective equipment required due to the public safety orders. Gordon said businesses can submit requests for assistance on the Wyoming DHS website at hls.wyo.gov.

Gordon again asked for continued cooperation with social distancing guidelines and recommendations for wearing cloth face coverings in public places, while also acknowledging the difficulties for businesses at the present time.

“I know that it is difficult to try to run a business at 50% capacity,” he said. “I want to thank the people of Wyoming for continuing to do the right thing, for your patience. … We are where we are today, and proudly so, because of what you were able to do exercising restraint, exercising responsibility and understanding that delicate balance between right and responsibility.

“The threat of COVID-19 has not gone, but with common sense precautions we will continue to make progress,” Gordon continued. “We’re way ahead of our peers and I’m excited about that. Our journey back won’t always be simple and easy, but here in Wyoming we are not scared of work. We know the value of community. We know the value of responsibility, of family, of common sense, and most especially, of faith. … I have faith that our state will continue, that our economy will improve, and that through the efforts of our people, we will continue to strengthen and that our great country will once again be able to do everything that we’ve wanted to do.”

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Testing Reveals No New Coronavirus Cases At State Hospital

in News/Coronavirus

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Testing of patients and staff at the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston revealed no new cases of coronavirus at the institution, the Department of Health announced Monday.

The department, in a news release, said its tests of 218 patients and staff members at the hospital who agreed to the testing showed none were infected with COVID-19.

The tests had been conducted at the recommendation of officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who visited the hospital in April. The CDC suggested the hospital conduct a “point prevalence survey,” which involves testing a large number of people within a limited time period.

Samples were collected from 172 staff members and 46 patients, about 61% of the hospital’s total population.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, said the hospital welcomed the opportunity for additional testing.

“With the unique challenges involving infection control within a psychiatric treatment facility and the state hospital’s role as an important employer in the Evanston community, we all welcomed this opportunity when it was offered by the CDC team,” she said.

Two patients from another facility who were brought to the State Hospital in April tested positive for coronavirus on their arrival. The two were housed in a quarantine area and did not have contact with other patients.

Bill Rein, the State Hospital’s administrator, said the CDC was pleased with the facility’s infection control measures, including multiple levels of screenings for new patients, testing patients before admissions and discharges and limiting attendance at meetings.

“I want to commend hospital staff for their hard work and thank the CDC team members, local public health representatives and the staff at the state (Public Health Laboratory) for their help with this project,” Rein said.

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Two State Hospital Patients Test Positive For Coronavirus

in News/Coronavirus

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming State Hospital patients have tested positive for coronavirus after being moved to the Evanston facility from Casper, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Friday.

The department, in a news release, said the two adult females were transferred from a Casper facility “that has been at the center of a Natrona County COVID-19 outbreak.”

A cluster of cases linked to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute has accounted for most of Natrona County’s coronavirus cases.

The department said one of the patients is still at the Wyoming State Hospital, while the other is being treated at an out-of-state hospital.

Neither of the patients showed any signs of the illness when they were picked up in Casper, the department said. However, both were tested when they arrived at the Evanston facility and were held in a quarantine area.

“We have been preparing for the possibility that the hospital might see coronavirus patients for quite some time,” said Bill Rein, administrator for the State Hospital.

Rein added the hospital was aware of the outbreak at the Casper facility before the patients were transferred, so officials were ready for their arrival.

The two cases had not been added to the Health Department’s official coronavirus case count by Friday morning, when the count stood at 296.

Way out West! Evanston is unique gateway into state of Wyoming

in Travel/Column/Bill Sniffin
Evanston paddle boarding
A paddle boarder slowly works her way across the Bear River Ponds in the middle of Evanston. The ponds are used year-round for recreation by the 12,500 residents and visitors. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

EVANSTON – Most Wyomingites think of the city of Evanston as more of a gateway than a getaway. But upon closer examination, many might find their opinion changed.

Community leaders in the Uinta County seat have done a magnificent job of transforming their city into one of the nicest spots in Wyoming.

With a beautiful state park, perhaps the state’s best river walk, a gigantic railroad roundhouse complex converted into convention space, first-rate airport, 18-hole golf course, a towering mountain range plus nearby lakes – well, it could be argued that Evanston has just about anything that anyone might be looking for.

The Bear River only travels about 100 miles as the crow flies as it flows from the Uinta Mountains to the Great Salt Lake. Much of that flow is in Wyoming and because of its twists and turns, it covers probably over 1,000 miles, according to Mark Tesoro, publisher of the local newspaper, the Uinta County Herald. 

Bear River Evanston
The Bear River features elaborate landscaping along its banks as it flows through downtown Evanston. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

That river provides a spectacular greenway complex that includes some busy downtown ponds, which are full of fish,  paddle boarders, canoes, and kayaks. That river also flows into nearby Bear Lake in Idaho, a popular recreation area for residents of Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah.

Historically, Evanston was first and foremost a railroad town. It was the last “Hell on Wheels” outpost of the Union Pacific as its crews worked their way west to create the most fantastic engineering feat of the 19th century, the transcontinental railroad. This is one of the state’s oldest towns, with railroaders working here in 1868. 

Evanston River Walk
The Bear River is spectacular has it flows through downtown Evanston. Local leaders have created a scenic River Walk that criss-crosses the entire area. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Evanston was home to huge railroad repair facilities, most notably the massive roundhouse.  When the Union Pacific abandoned these structures, the community took them over and now they serve as venues for statewide and national conventions and events.

Most folks zip through Evanston on their way to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas or San Francisco. They can see big hills around them as they go, but they have little idea of the size of the mountains just over the horizon.  Utah is famous for mountain ranges, but the state’s biggest mountains actually border Wyoming.

The Uinta Range is one of the most unusual ranges in the country as it runs east and west, rather than the more typical south to north. The highest mountain in Utah, Kings Peak, towers over Wyoming’s Uinta County at more than 13,000 feet.  

A climb up the hill northwest of Evanston to the municipal airport reveals a view of mountains that rivals that of Pinedale, Buffalo, Lander, or Sheridan.  There, laid out in front of you, is a full vista of snow-capped silver-gray mountains.  

Wyoming State Hospital
Construction is underway at the State Hospital in Evanston. This is part of a $182 million project that includes work in Evanston and also at the Life Resource Center in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Evanston has both enjoyed and endured the booms and busts typical to Wyoming.  In the 1970s and 1980s, the town doubled in size with an oil boom as companies discovered the Overthrust Belt, a unique formation full of oil.  Oil is still big but not as dominant as back in those hectic times. 

The Wyoming State Hospital was established in Evanston in 1887 and currently is undergoing a massive expansion. Its expansion, along with a shared expansion at the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander, will cost $182 million.  The State Hospital sits on a small hill overlooking the town.

Spankys Bar Evanston
Marsha Redding is the owner of Spankys Bar in Evanston, which features a comfortable patio setting. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Two local establishments stood out recently.  The philly cheesesteak and chicken fried steak at Jody’s Diner were treats, as was the patio atmosphere of Spanky’s Bar.  There are over 1,000 hotel rooms serving the traveling public. 

Most Wyomingites will speed through Evanston many times over the next few years either leaving the state or coming home to it. Spending some quality time in Evanston would be well worth the stop.

For more information future visitors can contact www.evanstonwyo.com

#TravelTuesday: Celtic music, food and fun on tap in Evanston this weekend

in Travel
Evanston Wyoming Celtic Festival

By Cowboy State Daily

Anyone with a taste for Celtic music, food and fun or a fake Scottish accent they want to show off should head for Evanston this weekend to take part in the city’s Ceili at the Roundhouse Celtic Festival.

The two-day festival, now in its 11th year, features traditional Irish music by bands from Ireland and Scotland, along with performances by regional bands, workshops on Celtic crafts and music and the opportunity to sample Celtic food and drink.

The Ceili (the Gaelic word for “party”) focuses on all Celtic cultures, not just the Irish or Scottish, said Carolee Bowen, executive director of The Arts Inc., the group organizing the celebration.

“Celtic is much more than Irish,” she said. “It’s really diversified Celtic, not just Irish or Scottish.”

The event was launched in 2009 as a way to draw visitors to Evanston and Bowen said it has succeeded, largely because of the broad variety of events offered.

“We have a lot going on at the festival,” she said. “You can bring the family and everyone’s going to be entertained.”

Headline musical acts include Realta, a Belfast-based band, Imar, a band from Glasgow and Irish supergroup The High Kings, a quartet referred to as the male version of “Celtic Woman.”

Bands from Colorado and Utah will also be performing throughout the weekend.

“I think you have to have a solid lineup of music if it’s going to be a Celtic festival,” Bowen said.

Unique workshops include Celtic craft sessions for children, a Great Norse shield-making workshop, musical workshops for the guitar, fiddle, Irish flute and fiddle a mead tasting session and many more.

Musicians who have attended workshops through the day can get a chance to apply what they’ve learned during a traditional musical session after Friday night’s concert by Realta.

For those with an urge to try exotic accents, a Fake Scottish Accent contest will be held Friday evening. The contest will feature a “real Scottish judge,” according to the event’s schedule.

The event takes place inside the Evanston Roundhouse, a tourist attraction itself. The roundhouse, formerly used by Union Pacific, was built in 1871 and restored in 2009. By holding the Ceili in the roundhouse, organizers can avoid problems caused by unpredictable Wyoming weather, Bowen said.

The Ceili is just one of the many events organized by The Arts Inc. during the year. Others include the MAT (music, arts and theater) Camp and the Young Musicians Festival.

The festival opens at 3 p.m. Friday and continues until 11 p.m. Saturday. For more details, visit the Chili’s website at EvanstonCelticFestival.com.

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