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Gillette Mother ‘Disgusted’ That Little League Treasurer Who Stole $30k Only Sentenced To 30 Days In Jail

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette mother and former Gillette Little League board member is “disgusted” with the 30-day jail sentence recommended for the league’s former treasurer after he was caught stealing almost $30,000 from the organization.

Melissa Blankenship told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that she thinks Rory Geis should serve prison time or be forced to work off his debt in public through community service.

“As soon as we figured out what was going on, we turned it in,” Blankenship said, noting she was speaking as an individual, not as a board member. “We were all really angry, because we trusted him. We were friends.”

Geis pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft as part of a plea agreement on June 16. A second felony theft count was dismissed. The state recommended a suspended sentence of four to six years in prison with five years of supervised probation and a 30-day jail sentence.

The plea agreement also required Geis to pay $2,300.75 in restitution to the Gillette Little League.

In 2020, Geis was found to have stolen nearly $30,000 from the league between 2019 and 2020.

According to court documents, Troy Stevens, the league’s president called local police in June 2020 after discovering suspicious transactions on the organization’s bank account.

At the time, four board members had credit or debit cards tied to the account which were meant to be used for official Little League business and not personal use.

Blankenship said she felt disgusted that Geis would put himself in a situation where he not only ruined his reputation in the community, he put his family through such a stressful situation, as well.

“I feel like the amount of money that was taken, that wasn’t an accident. It was done very decisively, like he had a plan,” she said. “I feel like giving somebody a 30-day sentence, it definitely isn’t teaching them anything. When you take from a nonprofit organization that’s pretty much funded itself for 50 years, you take money from 800 children.”

She added that if Geis was in need of money, the league’s board would have found ways to help him out, either through fundraising or their own personal revenue streams.

Blankenship said Geis’ theft destroyed a little bit of her faith in humanity, but she also noted it set a bad example for a group of children learning integrity, teamwork and a sense of belonging.

However, she added the team’s new treasurer has been great to work with and new checks and balances have been adopted to keep theft from happening again.

“I think, despite the situation, things have turned out great,” Blankenship said. “But I think he should have to work down at the ballfields, keeping score and taking out the trash at night or putting dirt down, all things the board members do on a daily basis. I think that would teach him a better lesson than 30 days in jail.”

Gillette Little League officials declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing litigation.

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Former Gillette Officer Pleads ‘No Contest’ In Sex With Inmate Case

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A former Campbell County jail officer accused of having sex with an inmate recently pleaded no contest to to a felony charge of sexual assault, court filings showed.

Sean Isaac Allen, 31, pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree sexual assault and saw a charge of third-degree sexual assault dismissed, recent court filings show. He will be sentenced in late July.

“No contest” means Allen did not admit that he committed the crime, but that he did agree prosecutors could obtain a conviction in court on the charges filed against him.

According to a probable cause affidavit, an inmate at the jail reported to Campbell County Sheriff’s Department officials on June 6, 2021, that a relationship was occurring between Allen and a female inmate, identified only as S.R.

The reporting inmate said Allen and S.R. would openly flirt with each other in common areas of the jail block and were having a sexual relationship.

Allen would frequently go into S.R.’s cell with her alone and out of the view of the surveillance cameras when he was working, the reporting inmate said, and S.R. openly bragged about their relationship in the jail block.

The reporting inmate said on several occasions, she heard what sounded like “sexual noises” coming from S.R.’s cell while Allen was alone with her in it.

The jail captain reviewed video footage from the last shift Allen worked and saw he went into S.R.’s cell and out of camera view for several minutes at a time.

The reporting inmate was later interviewed by Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents, when she reiterated her story, saying she noticed something odd between Allen and S.R. such as the flirtatious behavior.

She also said S.R. claimed Allen would bring items to her cell and openly talked about “hooking up” with the officer.

The reporting inmate said the relationship between the two was “obvious” and that she had never seen another detention officer enter an inmate’s cell for the length of time Allen was in S.R.’s.

S.R. allegedly said she was “working on him,” meaning she was trying to get him to do what she wanted, the affidavit said.

Another inmate, K.H., was also interviewed by DCI and told agents that she noticed something “weird” between S.R. and Allen the first day she arrived at the jail, a month earlier.

“There is no way he should be in her cell that long,” K.H. told agents. “There is no way he should have been constantly going in and out of her cell.”

K.H. also said that S.R. was “asking for it” and she would regularly walk around the jail block half-dressed.

The inmates interviewed also told agents S.R. was receiving certain benefits from Allen that the rest of them were not, such as contraband or extra items from the commissary.

When interviewed by agents, S.R. said the relationship began in April, when Allen sneaked into her cell and kissed her in the middle of the night. She said she woke up confused and did not know what the officer was doing in her cell.

He continued kissing the inmate and touched her under her cell jumpsuit, she said, and she performed oral sex on him.

After the first incident, Allen continued coming into S.R.’s cell and kissing her, frequently during the daytime, she said. Allen apparently told the woman he liked the “thrill” of their illicit relationship.

In June, S.R. messaged a man who she had been in a relationship with to end it, noting she would be giving herself “fully to a real man who has his [expletive] together, who’s in the Army…someone who likes me a lot and would never do anything to hurt me and he’d give everything just to make me smile.”

Allen was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves at the time of the message’s writing. He had also been an employee of the jail since August 2018.

He was interviewed in late July by DCI agents and acknowledged he had sneaked into S.R.’s cell in April, but asserted nothing happened between the two. He claimed he did it to feel “an adrenaline rush” and there was no particular reason he selected her cell.

Agents showed Allen the message S.R. sent to her former boyfriend and while he acknowledged the description sounded like him and added he had been monitoring the woman’s calls and messages because of what she said.

However, he also said he never spoke with S.R. about what she wrote or told a supervisor about it.

Surveillance footage showed incidents where Allen could be seen walking toward or away from S.R.’s cell, lining up with claims that the two had been intimate on multiple occasions over the three-month period.

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Now Pig Wrestling Tournaments In Wyoming Are Getting Canceled Due To Inflation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A traditional event at many Wyoming county fairs has been canceled for at least two counties this year due to the rising price of livestock.

This week, both the Park and Campbell county fairs were forced to cancel their pig wrestling events due to the fact vendors were not able to find enough pigs.

Park County Fair Board Chairman Tiffany Brando told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that she received word from Double D Livestock in Greybull, the fair’s vendor for pig wrestling, saying the company would not be doing any pig wrestling events this year.

The vendor said it did not have enough pigs to run the wrestling and could not obtain any more.

Campbell County Fair organizer Liz Edwards said she received a similar message from Double D.

“We’ve worked with them since 2013, but they gave us a call and told us they weren’t able to find enough pigs to supply for our show,” Edwards told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “They didn’t really give me a whole lot of detail on why they can’t find them.”

Both events received numerous applications from perspective participants prior their cancellations this week.

The lack of available pigs can be attributed to inflation and pandemic disruptions, as pork prices have gone up 13% in the last year, according to Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest meat processor. The price of feed has also increased in the last year, putting a strain on livestock producers to either kill or sell any extra animals in order to avoid any extra costs.

“It makes sense to me, because the prices of livestock are outrageous,” Edwards said. “But it’s not only the cost to feed the animals that has gone up but the price of subcontractors who have to haul the animals has increased and so has gas. It’s just been hard to hold on to things.”

Pig wrestling is an event that’s basically exactly what it sounds like. Teams will work to get a greased-up and muddy pig into a barrel in a certain amount of time.

It’s messy, it involves a lot of squealing and is one of the most popular events at county fairs across the state, being held in the past at fairs from Big Horn County all the way down to Laramie County.

Washakie County Fair chairman Jeff Lapp told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that they were also canceling its pig wrestling event due to the same reason.

As of Friday, it did not appear that any other county fairs have canceled their pig wrestling events. The Wyoming State Fair had not yet announced its list of events as of Friday.

Edwards said to her knowledge, pig wrestling at the Campbell County Fair has never been canceled in the past, at least not due to the lack of available pigs.

The Gillette fair usually has anywhere from 60 to 80 pigs in its wrestling event as there are several categories that teams can participate in, from young children to adults.

“We need a variety of sizes due to our categories, so we need not only a lot of pigs, but different sizes of them,” Edwards said.

She said the community members are disappointed about the cancellation, as the event is always popular. But Edwards and the rest of the fair board are hoping to find something just as good to replace pig wrestling this year for the fair’s entertainment lineup.

“We have a ranch rodeo and we’re bringing in monster trucks, but we want to find something good for our Friday night crowd, because pig wrestling is always a big draw,” she said.

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Another Gillette Resident Out Thousands After Bitcoin Scam

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Another Gillette resident has reportedly lost tens of thousands of dollars to a Bitcoin scam, Gillette Police told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Gillette Deputy Police Chief Brent Wasson said that an unidentified 62-year-old man reported to Gillette police on Friday that he had been scammed out of around $20,000. The man said a woman convinced him to participate in Bitcoin investments.

“Starting in May, he’d been in contact with a woman claiming to be from Greenhouse Investment Group,” Wasson said. “She offered to help him invest and he’d been investing with her. The exact amount hasn’t been determined, but it’s estimated by around $20,000.”

He could not say how the woman initially contacted the victim.

Greenhouse Investment Group is an Ireland-based investment firm focused on European enterprises.

Laura Baker, executive director of cybersecurity group CyberWyoming, told Cowboy State Daily that unfortunately, Bitcoin scams were becoming all too common in the state.

“Hackers are actually targeting Wyomingites about cryptocurrency scams because we pride ourselves in being a leader in blockchain,” she said. “There was a huge spike in cryptocurrency investment scams last year.”

Wasson said the police have requested bank statements and are investigating the man’s claims. He said officers will look into the man’s communications with the woman and attempt to track IP addresses and identify the suspect.

Scams in the Gillette area are not uncommon lately.

Just two weeks ago, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office told Cowboy State Daily that a local woman had been scammed out of $30,000 through a Bitcoin scam.

The woman was contacted by a man identified as “Stephen Weiner,” who claimed he worked with the Bush Foundation and was offering her a grant, but required a small investment first.

Over a two-month period, the 56-year-old victim made several transactions, converting cash into Bitcoin through an ATM at a local convenience store.

In March, a woman lost $800 in a puppy scam through Facebook when a person posing as someone selling a puppy requested funds for an animal that did not exist. The buyer sent the money, believing the animal to be real.

That same month, a Gillette man reported being scammed out of $15,000 by a woman he had never met face-to-face.

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Gillette Hospital Continues To Lose Millions, But CEO Optimistic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Despite the Campbell County Hospital continuing to lose money, months after officials declared it was on a path to “financial insolvency,” its CEO is optimistic about the future, he told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

According to the hospital’s most recent revenue report, it lost around $34 million over the last fiscal year. The new one begins on July 1.

This is significantly higher than the projected $10 million in losses the hospital was expecting when spokeswoman Karen Clarke spoke with Cowboy State Daily in April.

Hospital CEO Matt Shahan told Cowboy State Daily that rural hospitals in Wyoming and across the country have been struggling and Campbell County Health is no exception.

“We continue to work with staff, providers, and subject matter experts to implement innovative solutions to control costs and maximize revenue-generating opportunities,” he said.

The hospital’s board of trustees will approve the organization’s latest budget on July 21, but all of the departments submitted their preliminary capital and operating budgets in April.

In May, the hospital’s CFO, Mary Lou Tate, “separated employment” from the organization. Her replacement has not yet been announced, but an interim CFO has been working to assist and finalize the budget process, Shahan said.

In March, hospital officials announced that financial projections showed that without decisive action, the hospital could be bankrupt by 2026, leaving thousands of people without emergency health care in Campbell County.

Hospital officials said at the time that the issue of financial troubles is one many rural health care facilities are facing across the country. The situation was exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused hospitals across the country to lose “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Hospital officials said the issue of financial troubles is one many rural health care facilities are facing across the country and one that was exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused hospitals across the country to lose “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Nineteen rural hospitals in the United States closed in 2020, and more followed in 2021, according to the University of North Carolina, which has tracked the number of rural hospitals in the nation since 2005.

The 19 closures in 2020 was the biggest loss of rural hospitals in a year since UNC began tracking those records.

In April, Clarke told Cowboy State Daily there were some misconceptions about the way the hospital was funded.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about CCH is that we are fully taxpayer-funded,” Clarke said at the time. “County and state funds account for approximately 5% of our revenue. So while Campbell County residents see $10 million going to CCH, that is only 3% of our operating revenue.”

Medicare, Medicaid and medical insurance make up most of the hospital’s revenues, Clarke said, but Medicare reimburses the hospital at a lower rate than medical insurance.

“Our aging population means there are going to be more and more Medicare patients, and those patients tend to be sicker,” she said. “Medicare reimburses at (87 cents per $1 spent) as opposed to $1.45 for commercial insurance  As more competitors come into the market, they are going after commercially insured patients because they do not have to accept all patients.”

While the hospital accepts all patients, regardless of their ability to pay, administrators have to figure out what services the hospital can provide at a loss and which services need to be expanded through partnerships, business development and marketing.

Clarke pointed out that Wyoming has a higher rate of Medicare and uninsured patients compared to the national rate, with 16.2% of Wyoming’s patients being on Medicare compared to 14.2% nationally and 12.3% having no insurance, compared to 9.2% nationally.

Clarke said that the hospital is taking several steps to attempt to resolve the budget issues, such as affiliating with health care system UCHealth and collaborating with a company to resolve billing issues.

Reps. Eric Barlow, Bill Fortner, John Bear and Chris Knapp, all R-Gillette, all did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on the situation by press time.

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Gillette Man Sentenced To Prison For Stealing $200K From Boss To Pay For Taxi Business

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette man last week was sentenced in U.S. District Court to federal prison and ordered to pay back more than $200,000 he stole through tax violations and wire fraud to pay for his taxi business.

David A. Jackson, 37, was sentenced on May 24 for wire fraud, willful failure to collect or pay over tax and filing a false tax return. He was also ordered to pay $203,251 in restitution.

He received just under four years imprisonment for the wire fraud and willful failure charges and just over three for filing a false tax return. The prison sentences will run concurrently.

Last fall, Jackson initially pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, but instead changed this after striking a plea agreement.

According to court documents, from October 2017 to April 2019, Jackson worked as the office manager for some Gillette businesses, all owned by a person identified as “T.K.”

Jackson was responsible for handling financial aspects of his employer’s businesses, including complying with IRS requirements.

During this time period, Jackson owned and operated a taxi business in Gillette and Casper under the names Need a Ride Transportation, All Star Transportation and WYRide LLC.

From February 2018 to May 2019, Jackson committed wire fraud by embezzling money from his employer, diverting money from the employer’s bank account and misusing a company credit card for his own personal expenditures, including expenses associated with his taxi business. 

He used at least three business credit cards to pay for personal charges.

As part of his scheme to defraud his employer, Jackson also failed to account for and pay over to the IRS the employer’s trust fund taxes.

He instead diverted these funds to pay for expenses associated with his taxi business, such as shipping charges, fuel for the vehicles, automobile repairs and more.  

In January 2019, Jackson filed a 2018 individual income tax return with the IRS in which he failed to report $136,008 in income from several sources, particularly the money he embezzled from his employer and other income he earned that year.

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Men Charged With Harboring Alaskan Fugitive, Alleged Kidnapper In Gillette

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Gillette men have been charged with harboring an Alaskan fugitive who was accused of kidnapping her daughter, recent court filings showed.

Joshua L. Richardson and Clayton R. Salyer were each charged with one count of being an accessory after the fact to kidnapping, a felony. The charge comes with a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $3,000.

The men are accused of hiding Alaskan resident Autumn Wilson, who was arrested on April 19 on charges of kidnapping her 2-year-old daughter and fleeing the state. She did not have custody of the girl prior to leaving Alaska.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Wilson and Salyer were reported to police in the early hours of April 19 as fugitives from Alaska. An Alaska arrest warrant had been issued for Wilson on the kidnapping charges and a second warrant was issued for her arrest in Gillette on charges of destruction of property, breach of peace and shoplifting.

While Campbell County Sheriff’s deputies were on their way to the apartment they were told Wilson and Salyer could be found, the caller told dispatchers the two suspects had left and gone into another apartment next door.

Deputies knocked on the door of the second apartment, which was answered by Richardson, who said that his “Uncle Clay” and his daughter were in the apartment.

Richardson denied the deputies entry into his apartment, saying that law enforcement had already been to his apartment to search for Wilson, but she was not there, the affidavit said. He also claimed he and his uncle “pull women like dime” and that women were at his apartment regularly.

Richardson also told deputies to get off of his property and informed them they were trespassing.

The caller who reported Salyer and Wilson as fugitives then met with deputies and told them the two had been at her residence drinking earlier.

Richardson ultimately left to go to work while deputies were still outside of his apartment and he again told them they were trespassing. Deputies told him they were working on getting a search warrant, to which he responded that if they “touch his door while he is not there, he will have our [expletive] and it is a $400 door,” the affidavit said.

While deputies were waiting to hear about a warrant, they saw someone dressed in a hoodie step out onto the front porch, then go back inside. A few minutes later, they saw a similarly dressed person step out onto the back porch and take a few steps down the stairs.

Around this time, Richardson called police and informed them Salyer would let them search the apartment.

Deputies found this strange, so they checked the back of the residence, where they found Wilson hiding in a fenced yard by a barbecue grill, the affidavit said. She was arrested and transported to the local jail. She declined to tell officers where she lived.

Deputies believe Richardson and Salyer were harboring Wilson in attempt to keep her from being arrested for kidnapping. Her child was not with her when she was arrested.

Gillette police and the U.S. Marshal’s office recovered the child in early May. She had been staying with a relative of Wilson’s.

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Gillette Woman Who Defrauded People Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars From Cheyenne Hotel Room Gets Prison

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette woman convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from various individuals and the Internal Revenue Service through three separate schemes, including one run while she was staying at Cheyenne’s Fairfield Inn, has been sentenced to almost three years in prison.

Alexa Kinney was sentenced to 33 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for wire fraud, using an unauthorized access device and making false claims to the Internal Revenue Service. She was also ordered to pay restitution in total of $172,400 to her victims.

“Alexa Kinney’s sentence shows attempts to defraud individuals and the federal government for one’s own personal gain will not be tolerated,” said Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge for Wyoming.  “IRS:CI will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who try to take from others what they are not rightfully entitled to.”

She initially faced 45 years in prison for on charges filed in connection with allegations she scammed one Cheyenne woman of $165,000, used a man’s credit card to pay for a rental car and lodging and improperly applied for a coronavirus stimulus payment with the IRS.

She pleaded guilty to the charges in January.

Kinney was accused of living in various hotels across Wyoming, often using money raised fraudulently to pay her bills.

According to court documents, Kinney, while staying at Cheyenne’s Fairfield Inn in 2019, defrauded a Cheyenne woman of $165,000. Kinney told the woman she would invest the money, but she kept it for herself, documents said.

An investigation revealed Kinney used the money for her personal expenses and to pay off creditors.

M.F. was not Kinney’s only victim in 2019, however, according to court documents.

In March 2019, Kinney met T.S. on a dating website, where she claimed she was a legal consultant. In May 2019, T.S. contacted Kinney regarding a legal matter and agreed to pay her $1,800 to act as his legal consultant.

T.S. provided Kinney with his credit card to make the payment, the only time he authorized her to use his card. A few weeks later, Kinney began charging food and hotel expenses to the card.

Text messages between the two showed Kinney claimed there was a merchant mix-up and that whenever she used her company credit card, T.S.’s card was mistakenly charged.

Additionally, in April 2020, Kinney applied to receive a stimulus check for $1,200 through the IRS’ website. She had not filed a 2019 tax return and was required to submit tax return and income information.

However, Kinney claimed that she was not required to file a 2019 tax return form because her gross income for the year was less than $12,200, which was a false statement, since she’d received at least $165,000 in taxable income from M.F. in 2019.

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90-Year-Old Gillette Woman Charged Again; This Time For Using A Whip On Son & Wife Over Chickens

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An elderly Gillette woman who was ticketed last week for smearing honey on her son’s door was cited again just two days later for hitting her son and his wife with a buggy whip.

Lt. Paul Pownall with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the unidentified 90-year-old woman was ticketed on Friday evening for unlawful touching after her son reported her hitting him and his wife with the whip.

“It appears this was over a dispute about a gate that leads to the common property they share,” Pownall said. “The son and his wife opened the gate to drive out to leave the property and the 90-year-old female got upset, because she closes the gate to keep her chickens in.”

An altercation resulted, which led to her hitting her son and daughter-in-law with the whip.

The woman and son live in separate houses on the same property.

Pownall said he believed the victims were only hit once apiece and the whip left “faint” imprints on them both. There was cell phone video of the altercation, which officers viewed while on the scene.

No chickens escaped during the altercation.

The woman will have to go to court for the unlawful touching charge, which is a misdemeanor.

Pownall said her court appearance is not slated until late June, when she will also have to answer for the destruction of property charge she received last week for smearing honey on her son’s door.

On May 11, the woman was cited after her son discovered a substance slathered on his doorknob.

When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, he observed a honey-like substance on the doorknob. After speaking with the mother, she confirmed she had smeared honey on the doorknob in attempt to “sweeten her son up,” Pownall said at the time.

He added that the sheriff’s department was hesitant to ticket the elderly woman for any crime, but her son was “adamant” that something be done about her action.

While the mother and son are relatively familiar to sheriff’s deputies, Pownall said this is the first time either of them have ever been ticketed for crimes in the same week.

There had been no calls about either the mother or son as of Wednesday, though, Pownall said.

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90-Year-Old Gillette Woman Charged $5 For Destruction Of Property After Smearing Honey On Doorknob

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette woman was ticketed this week after she smeared honey on her son’s front doorknob in an attempt to “sweeten him up,” a Campbell County sheriff’s lieutenant told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

The unidentified 90-year-old woman and her 59-year-old son have regularly been in conflict in recent years, according to Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Pownall. The two live in different houses on the same property.

“We were called on Wednesday by the son, who wanted to report his mother had come onto his part of the property and slathered something on his doorknob,” he said. “He has cameras on portions of the property, so he could identify that it was his mother.”

When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, he observed a honey-like substance on the doorknob. After speaking with the mother, she confirmed she had smeared honey on the doorknob in attempt to “sweeten her son up,” Pownall said.

He added that the sheriff’s department was hesitant to ticket the elderly woman for any crime, but her son was “adamant” that something be done about her action.

“She was issued a citation for destruction of property and the value was $5 for the clean-up,” Pownall said. “He was insistent that she be cited.”

The son cleaned the honey off of the doorknob.

While the sheriff’s office is familiar with both the mother and son, Pownall declined to address the potential root cause of their conlict.

“I believe that like any family dynamics, there’s always going to be the potential for conflict,” he said. “I think a lot of it is they’re in such close proximity to each other that if one does something that agitates or irritates the other, then it just goes from there.”

Pownall added that in his 21 years in law enforcement, this is the first-ever honey-related situation he has seen.

“I would hope that folks would be able to figure out a way to interact with one another in a peaceful manner,” he said. “That would be the best case scenario for everyone involved.”

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Missing Alaskan Girl Found In Gillette, Mother Charged

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A missing girl from Alaska was recovered on Friday afternoon by U.S. Marshals and Gillette police officers, the Marshal’s office announced.

The girl was kidnapped from her home state of Alaska in the spring by her non-custodial mother, Autumn Wilson.

Wilson was arrested April 19 on charges of custodial interference and kidnapping, but the child was not recovered at the time of Wilson’s arrest. Wilson is being housed at the Campbell County Detention Center, pending extradition back to Alaska.

“This case is a great example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement agencies work together,” said Randall Huff, U.S. Marshal for the District of Wyoming. “We are very thankful this child was rescued unharmed and will soon be returned to the family.”

The Gillette Police Department and Huff’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday. More information was not immediately available.

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Gillette Hospital Facing ‘Financial Insolvency’ By 2026

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Campbell County’s hospital is facing such massive budget shortfalls that it could be facing “financial insolvency” in just a few years, its leadership announced this week.

Campbell County Health officials did not return Cowboy State Daily’s repeated requests for comment on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hospital officials announced this week that recent financial projections showed that without decisive action, the hospital could be bankrupt by 2026, leaving thousands of people without emergency health care in Campbell County.

Hospital officials said the issue of financial troubles is one many rural health care facilities are facing across the country and one that was exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused hospitals across the country to lose “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“More broadly, our community population is aging, our population is sicker, we have a higher number of people who are uninsured or underinsured, and our outdated technology has hampered our ability to quickly pivot and respond to financial losses,” hospital officials said this week.

Nineteen rural hospitals in the United States closed in 2020, and more followed in 2021, according to the University of North Carolina, which has tracked the number of rural hospitals in the nation since 2005.

The 19 closures in 2020 was the biggest loss of rural hospitals in a year since UNC began tracking those records.

Campbell County Health officials said they are addressing the situation “head-on” and are “on track to strengthen both the quality of healthcare and the financial viability of CCH for generations to come,” but did not respond to a question from Cowboy State Daily about the hospital’s strategies.

The announcement said hospital leadership and the board of trustees have been taking measures to move toward financial stability, such as affiliating with health care system UCHealth, working with a company to address billing issues, implementing a new health care software system and selecting a new CEO.

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Gillette Commissioners Appoint Cody Attorney To Investigate Cop Shooting

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Campbell County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to appoint the Park County prosecuting attorney to investigate the shooting of a Gillette man by police earlier this month.

Park County attorney Brian Skoric has been appointed to review information gathered by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation regarding the shooting of 22-year-old Ismael Montes earlier this month. He will also make a recommendation regarding criminal matters, if the situation does arise.

“The county attorney’s office has noted a conflict of interest and desires to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” deputy county attorney Emily Simper told the commission on Tuesday.

Simper was asked why Campbell County was asking a Park County attorney to investigate, when normally the county will ask neighboring ones to help with incidents like these. Simper said the caseload of neighboring county attorneys factored into asking Skoric to come aboard.

She also noted that counties are not paid for their time to investigate incidents like these, but Campbell County extends a similar courtesy to other counties in the state.

Montes was killed by police in January after officers were called by a person requesting assistance to remove Montes from their home. The caller indicated Montes made threats of violence to the occupants of the house and refused to leave.

When officers arrived at the house, they made contact with Montes, who was armed with a large edged weapon.

Montes refused multiple requests to drop the weapon. Officers deployed two forms of less lethal options and Montes retreated further into the home.

The officers continued to attempt to disarm Montes through less lethal means.

When Montes charged at the officers, swinging the weapon at them, both officers discharged their duty firearms, striking Montes and killing him.

The officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation.

The Gillette City Council also approved a resolution to bring in special counsel regarding an incident involving texts sent between the city’s former mayor and city administrator.

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Gillette Council Appoints City Of Cheyenne To Review Former Mayor’s Texts

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Gillette City Council this week approved a resolution to allow the City of Cheyenne to review claims of impropriety made by the Gillette’s former administrator in messages between himself and the town’s former mayor.

Gillette City Administrator Hyun Kim explained to council members during a meeting Tuesday that city staff wanted to find an independent third party to review the messages sent between former Mayor Louise Carter-King and former administrator Patrick Davidson.

“I want to commend you all, because you’re making yourselves really vulnerable here,” Kim told the council. “You don’t know where this is going to go. This is completely independent.”

There were allegations of improprieties among council members in the texts between Carter-King and Davidson, so having a third party review the incident will allow for transparency for the public, the Gillette city attorney told the council.

The City of Cheyenne has made itself available for the review and will be paid hourly for its work, it was noted during the council meeting.

Earlier this month, Carter-King took to social media to apologize to her constituents and explained that on Dec. 31, a number of her text messages she sent to Davidson while was the city’s administrator were emailed by Davidson to the city council, the Gillette city clerk and an “unknown number of other individuals.”

After Davidson’s release, Carter-King released nearly 500 pages of unredacted texts between her and Davidson to the public.

Many of the messages target Gillette Councilman Shay Lundvall, with one message calling him a “bumbling idiot”.

“Idiot” appeared to be one of Carter-King’s favorite descriptive terms. She also called an official from Riverton the same name during a Wyoming Association of Municipalities meeting. “Riverton is led by an idiot,” she said.

Carter-King did not appear to be impressed by the candidates for an empty city council seat as she bashed the finalists — Troy McKeown, Jeff Raney, and Colleen Faber.

“McKeown, Raney, and (Elgin Faber’s) wife. Monkeys think if they can’t get the guy they will get his wife,” Carter-King wrote Davidson. “Every seat was filled. We have to fumigate the chambers and I want a new chair. (Vikki Kissack) ruined mine I’m sure.”

“That’s funny,” Davidson replied. “I’ll get it cleaned up.”

“Thanks, or trade mine out with Shay’s,” Carter-King continued. “It’s hard to believe those freaks live and breath here. Wow. (Robert Palmer) was clearly the most qualified but that doesn’t matter to them.”

She also poked fun at Councilman Tim Carsrud’s religious beliefs and said Councilman Billy Montgomery could be manipulated to agree with her.

One message to Davidson in January 2020 was about Carsrud considering a run for the Campbell County Board of Commissioners.

“Surely he’s kidding. He would have to go to meetings,” Carter-King wrote in the text.

That same day, the two discussed a presentation Lundvall recently gave, where Davidson alleged that the councilman copied and pasted goals from the city of Lakewood, Washington and passed it off as his own.

Another message from Davidson to the mayor was about Lundvall wanting a phone call with him, which Carter-King apologized for.

“You should get hazard pay,” she joked.

In her resignation letter, Carter-King said she knew she would have to have “difficult” conversations with the city council members and others who might have been impacted by her texts, which she has had in the last several days.

“It was never my intention to hurt anyone, but I recognize that I have hurt people and damaged relationships,” Carter-King wrote in her resignation letter. “I believe that it is in the best interest in the City for me to step down from my position.”

Carter-King was first elected to the Gillette City Council in 1990 and served five terms in the position. She took office as mayor in 2015 and was re-elected in 2018.

The process to select her replacement will begin next month.

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Suspect Killed By Gillette Police After Allegedly Swinging Weapon At Them

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man was killed by Gillette police on Sunday after swinging a large bladed weapon at officers, the city of Gillette announced.

According to the city, police were called Sunday morning by a person requesting assistance to remove a subject from a home in Gillette. The caller indicated the subject made threats of violence to the occupants of the house and refused to leave.

When officers arrived at the house, they made contact with the suspect, who was armed with a large edged weapon.

The man refused multiple requests to drop the weapon, the city said. Officers deployed two forms of less lethal options and the suspected retreated further into the home.

The officers continued to attempt to disarm the suspect through less lethal means.

When the man charged at the officers, swinging the weapon at them, both officers discharged their duty firearms, striking the man.

Lifesaving measures were initiated, but the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency medical personnel.

One of the officer was treated for minor injuries. The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations is looking into the incident.

There will be no further information released until the investigation is complete. The suspect and officers were unnamed Sunday.

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Popcorn Trailer Explodes in Gillette Due to Propane Leak

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A popcorn food trailer was destroyed Thursday when an explosion — a bit more vigorous than what is usually associated with the crunchy treat — resulted from a propane leak.

The Krazy Kid Kettle Korn food trailer, which was parked in the lot of the EZ Too Auto Wash on East Boxelder Road in Gillette, blew into pieces when an electric space heater ignited the leaked propane, causing an explosion around 3:30 p.m. Thursday that was heard as far as a mile away.

According to Campbell County Fire Marshal Eric Acton, the blast was consistent with explosions of this kind. 

“It’s really common,” he said. “We’re lucky that the (propane) tank itself didn’t explode.”

No one was injured in the explosion, Acton said, and the resulting small fire was put out with an extinguisher.

One diner at Frida’s House of Mexican Food on Camel Drive about one-half mile from the explosion heard a loud bang and said that both customers and staff went out into the parking lot to see what was going on.

Another witness in the Indian Hill condominiums a few blocks from Frida’s said his sliding glass door was rattled by the force of the boom.

There’s no word on how much popcorn was lost or whether any kernels were burnt as a result of the blast.

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Report: Gillette Police Officer Justified In Shooting Dog

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette police officer was justified in shooting a dog last month after it attacked a police K-9 officer, according to the results of an internal review of the incident.

The internal review of the incident concluded that due to the seriousness and immediacy of the attack on the K-9, the unidentified officer’s actions that day were in compliance with policies and law.

City spokeswoman Jennifer Toscana told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that it was police department policy to not reveal the name of the officer involved.

According to the City of Gillette, around 4 p.m. on Dec. 15, Gillette police visited a Gillette home in response to a call from a 64-year-old woman who alleged her 18-year-old grandson was out of control and “torturing and scaring [her] dogs.”

When police arrived, the grandmother and teen suspect were contacted in the living room of the home. The teen went into the kitchen and retrieved a kitchen knife, which had a blade approximately 8 inches long.

The suspect failed to comply with orders to drop the knife and retreated to the home’s back porch after making slashing motions toward the grandmother and officers. While on the porch, the grandson caused damage to the outside of the home with the knife.

The suspect eventually discarded the knife after receiving multiple verbal commands from officers, who informed him that a police K-9 would be used in his apprehension.

Officers moved in to detain the teen, but while doing so, one of the dogs in the residence got out. The dog, a two-year-old Shepherd mix, began attacking the police K-9.

After several attempts to get the dog off of the K-9, including the use of pepper spray, the K-9 handler shot the grandmother’s dog. The dog retreated into the home and was later taken to a local veterinary clinic by animal control officers.

The police K-9 sustained multiple bites and was treated for minor injuries.

In addition to finding that the officer acted within the Gillette Police Department’s policies and the law when he shot the dog, the review confirmed that another option, pepper spray, was first attempted, but was ineffective. Further, the review said the use of a taser or specialty impact munition may or may not have been effective at subduing the dog.

According to County 17, the teen was ultimately arrested without further incident. He was charged with reckless endangerment and destruction of property.

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Gillette Mayor Apologizes For Leaked Texts Bashing Council Members

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gillette’s mayor apologized late Tuesday for text messages she sent containing disparaging comments about fellow city council members and others.

Louise Carter-King took to social media on Tuesday night to apologize to her constituents and explained that on Dec. 31, a number of her text messages were leaked when former City Administrator Patrick Davidson emailed the city council, the Gillette city clerk and an “unknown number of other individuals” to share texts between himself and Carter-King that took place over several years.

“In some of these messages, I am disparaging and disrespectful to members of this City Council and other individuals,” Carter-King said. “I am ultimately responsible for my behavior, and I sincerely apologize for any pain or embarrassment I have caused to my fellow Council Members and other members of the public that I insulted.”

Carter-King did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

After the release of the texts, citing transparency interests, Carter-King released nearly 500 pages of unredacted texts between her and Davidson to the public.

Some of the messages target Gillette Councilman Shay Lundvall, with one message saying “Of course Shay didn’t help. No surprise there.”

She also poked fun at Councilman Tim Carsrud’s religious beliefs and said Councilman Billy Montgomery could be manipulated to agree with her.

One message to Davidson in January 2020 was about Carsrud considering a run for the Campbell County Board of Commissioners.

“Surely he’s kidding. He would have to go to meetings,” Carter-King wrote in the text.

That same day, the two discussed a presentation Lundvall recently gave, where Davidson alleged that the councilman copied and pasted goals from the city of Lakewood, Washington and passed it off as his own.

Another message from Davidson to the mayor was about Lundvall wanting a phone call with him, which Carter-King apologized for.

“You should get hazard pay,” she joked.

Former legislator Scott Clem shared the email Davidson sent to the city council in a Facebook comment, but did not explain how he obtained the message.

“Recently I updated my phone and found the following files which may be of interest to you. It is a transcript of the various text messages between Mayor Carter-King and me, for a period of time,” Davidson wrote in the email. “I think you will find them insightful as they contain her unfiltered thoughts regarding members of the Council and the public.”

Davidson was let go from his position as city administrator in February 2021, after taking over in June 2017. Carter-King has been serving as mayor since 2015.

“My only request of the public is not to let my words and actions overshadow the good work of our City employees,” Carter-King wrote in her social media post. “I will spend the remainder of my term committed to rebuilding relationships and continuing to serve the best interests of the City of Gillette.”

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More Than 9,000 Customers Affected By Power Outage In Gillette

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By RJ Morgan, County 17 News

The timing of Monday’s power outage in Gillette was tricky as it hit during the evening commute home for many as it was reported just before 6 p.m. It affected most businesses and some traffic signals during the peak time along Douglas Highway between Lakeway and Boxelders roads.

Gillette Communications Manager Jennifer Toscana said Wednesday afternoon the power outage lasted approximately 39 minutes and affected the entire south side of Gillette.

“We had 9,139 customers without power for approximately 39 minutes. This was about 60 percent of our customers,” Toscana confirmed with the City of Gillette Electrical Division on Wednesday.

The outage was caused by galloping of the Wyodak 69kV transmission lines due to ice and wind.

Galloping transmission or power lines can occur when freezing rain creates icicles and ice on transmission towers and conductors. High winds push on the icicles and conductors and lift them up, creating a galloping, or jumping, motion.

Several businesses and residents told County 17 that their power “flickered” several times before ultimately going down completely.

Electrical crews spent Monday night checking lines throughout town. They urge residents to always stay clear of utility poles and lines if they believe galloping is occurring.

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Gillette Man Arrested For Pointing Gun At Neighbor While Drunk, Endangering Daughter

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Gillette man was arrested this past weekend after he reportedly pointed a gun at his neighbor while intoxicated and left the firearm within reach of his 9-year-old daughter, police said Monday.

Officers were dispatched to a residence on Saddle String Circle around 7 p.m. Nov. 13 after it was reported that two neighbors were reportedly having a dispute and that a firearm was involved, according to Gillette Police Corporal Dan Stroup.

One neighbor, identified by independent witnesses as 33-year-old Caleb Starr, allegedly approached his neighbor, who was standing outside, and pointed a black handgun at him before retreating inside his own residence, Stroup said.

Starr, when contacted by officers, was reportedly heavily intoxicated and had left the loaded pistol on a couch, where his 9-year-old daughter was able to pick it up and move it, per Stroup.

Officers charged Starr with reckless endangering with a firearm and child endangerment.

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Former Campbell County CEO Receives $675,000 Severance Pay

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Campbell County Health has agreed to pay Colleen Heeter, it’s former chief executive officer, $675,000 as part of her contract-obligated severance package, the organization announced Friday.

The Nov. 5 announcement comes just over three weeks after the sudden termination of Heeter’s employment at the direction of the CCH Board of Trustees during a special meeting on Oct. 14, according to the Gillette News-Record.

Heeter had been employed by CCH for three years, beginning her role with the organization in 2018 as interim director of the powder river surgery center before accepting a position as CCH’s chief operating officer in January 2019.

In 2020, she accepted a position as CCH’s top executive officer at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and oversaw the organization’s affiliation with UCHealth, with whom she was employed until her termination as part of a management services agreement, per CCH.

In a Nov. 5 release, CCH thanked Heeter for her time and commitment.

The process for finding a suitable replacement for Heeter has begun, CCH said in the release, adding that the organization feels it is essential to attract and retain the very best leaders.

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Gillette Commissioners Stop All Public Comment On Library Controversy

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Campbell County commissioners have extended their ban on public comments regarding the county’s library at their meetings to include all public comments, period.

Last week, the commissioners announced that they would no longer allow public comment regarding the library, which has been the center of controversy in the area for months.

But on Tuesday, During its meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners voted 3-2 to stop all public comment, according to County 17. The outlet also reported the decision was met with some resistance from several residents who said their rights were being taken away as citizens of Campbell County and called for the immediate resignation of some board members.

Former state legislator Scott Clem said he was asked to leave the meeting on Tuesday due to his objection to the commissioners’ move.

“So no one in the community can go and share any of their concerns or anything like that to the commission at a public meeting,” he said in a video posted to social media. “This is pretty remarkable.”

Clem said the commissioners did this to “shut up” a group of vocal protestors who have been upset regarding book displays at the library.

Commissioners have received numerous complaints from members of the public about what some feel are inappropriate books on display at the Campbell County Library for children and teenagers to see.

Commissioners, in a public comment Friday, pointed out the library is addressing a number of the complaints and is keeping commissioners informed on its review of the complaints.

“Although it is recognized that this is an important issue for our community, public comment will not be received on the library and the issues surrounding the library during the public comment period provided at the end of the regular meetings of the Board of Campbell County Commissioners … nor will comment be taken or received on this decision,” the statement said.

According to previous reporting by County 17, at every meeting since July, the commissioners have dedicated at least some time to addressing concerns over access to LGBTQ+ books at the library at the request of a small group of citizens, many of whom have openly admitted to acting on religious grounds.

Clem said that the commissioners refused to move the “pornographic” materials to the adult section, citing it as censorship. Ironically, they were now censoring public comment due to the relentlessness of the protestors.

“Maybe I’m completely off-base. Maybe children should have the right to be sexualized in the children’s section of the library,” Clem said.

County 17 reported that commissioners Rusty Bell, DG Reardon and Bob Maul made it clear that no rights have been removed. Emails, text messages, Facebook, letters, and phone calls were a few of the many ways to offer comments and concerns.

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Campbell County Commissioners No Longer Allowing Comment On Public Library In Their Meetings

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Campbell County Board of Commissioners is no longer allowing public comment during its meetings about the county’s public library following controversy over certain books on display.

Commissioners have received numerous complaints from members of the public about what some feel are inappropriate books on display for children and teenagers to see.

Commissioners, in a public comment Friday, pointed out the library is addressing a number of the complaints and is keeping commissioners informed on its review of the complaints.

“Although it is recognized that this is an important issue for our community, public comment will not be received on the library and the issues surrounding the library during the public comment period provided at the end of the regular meetings of the Board of Campbell County Commissioners … nor will comment be taken or received on this decision,” the statement said.

According to previous reporting by County 17, at every meeting since July, the commissioners have dedicated at least some time to addressing concerns over access to LGBTQ+ books at the library at the request of a small group of citizens, many of whom have openly admitted to acting on religious grounds.

Commissioners noted that the complaints led to meetings with library officials where they explained the process involved in challenging books that are available at the library.

“As a result of the comments, the Board has held two joint meetings with the Campbell County Public Library Board where additional comments were received, discussions held and questions fielded,” the board said. “During these meetings, the library collection and book challenge policies were discussed. The library has provided updates to this Board and the public on the status of the challenges it has received.”

The statement said now that the challenges of those books have been properly filed with the library, the library must be given time to process the challenges.

“The library is engaged in its book challenge process and although some may be displeased with the length of time required in completing this process, this process must be allowed to proceed to completion,” the statement said.

The library staff is currently working through about 40 challenges to books that residents consider obscene, according to County 17.

The commissioners’ decision was roundly criticized by Rep. Scott Clem who said the move amounted to censoring Campbell County residents.

“Looks like the county commission is trying to silence your right to free speech. Whether you agree with the library issue or not, to try and put a gag order on the public is something we should all stand against,” Clem wrote on social media. “What’s next? Are they going to tell the public they can’t speak about certain taxes, or covid restrictions, or (fill in the blank)? This is tyranny, and absolutely unconstitutional!”

Clem then included sections about the First Amendment from the U.S. Constitution and a number of portions from the Wyoming Constitution.

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Gillette Student Discuss LGBTQ Book Concerns With Campbell County Commissioners

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By RJ Morgan, County 17

The names of the two minors in this story have been edited to protect their privacy) 

Two local Boy Scout members called out the Campbell County Commissioners earlier this week for their reported fixation on LGBTQ+ material in the public library and reported attempts to meddle in the established challenge process.    

Sue and Gabby, both members of Boy Scout Troop BSA Scouting Troop 109 in Wright, expressed their frustration on Oct. 4 during the Campbell County Director’s meeting over criticism the library and its staff have received lately regarding books that some residents feel are inappropriate for children and teenagers to view.  

The two of them said that they have watched the issue and the ensuing chaos in local government meetings unfold through the eyes of Gillette Public Access TV after school have experienced a growing concern that the commissioners are not allowing the library to do its job properly.  

At every meeting since July, Gabby and Sue said, the commissioners have dedicated much of their time to addressing concerns over access to LGBTQ+ books at the library at the request of a small group of citizens, many of whom have openly admitted to acting on religious grounds, without stopping to assess whether their actions represent every citizen in Campbell County.  

Hiding LGBTQ+ material at a public library is censorship, they said, and it should be made available to readers of all ages.  

“Not everyone in Campbell County is a heterosexual, straight Christian and they should not feel threatened by going to public places that their taxes help support,” Sue said. “If you actually want to protect the children, how about send out messages of kindness. You do not have to agree with someone else’s life choices to be kind.” 

Additionally, they continued, not every person who is going to have an LGBTQ+-related question is going to be an adult, and it would be nice for a teenager to learn facts about the community from an informative book at the library as opposed to approaching parents and having to make do with opinions.  

They brought up community standards, which has been mentioned several times by members of the commission in previous weeks regarding library material, asking the commissioners to explain what process they use to determine what those would be.  

“What methods were used to develop those community standards?” Gabby asked. “Are you polling just library patrons, or the whole 46,000 resident in Campbell County, or just the 20 people who scream the loudest on what they feel is age appropriate?” 

The pair also expressed frustration that the commissioners seemed fixated on speeding up the review process for books challenged by the community, asking Commissioner Del Shelstad directly why he seems so frustrated and what he expects the library to do in a short amount of time. 

There is a 30-day working limit for each step, for every challenged book, which could add up to 120 days for a single challenge, Shelstad said.  

“Because of the continuous issue that is in our community, I feel that we could speed that up. That was my opinion, and my opinion only. And I still feel like that today,” he said.  

There is a logjam of more than three dozen books that are waiting to get through the review process, many of which could be read in an hour, and not four months, Shelstad continued. 

“I guess my point was this: I understand the process at the library,” Shelstad replied. “The process that was explained to me is a 30-day process (per book), originally- don’t shake your head, I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m answering a question.” 

Sue, who suffers from a tic disorder that causes her to shake her head involuntarily, and Gabby pled with the commission to allow the library to do its job so they could get on with addressing more important issues. 

Gabby, left, and Sue address their library concerns to the county commissioners. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

“Like the fact that the Wright Branch Library still has leaks in its basement despite the numerous and poorly executed attempts to repair the leak,” Sue said. “Or the fact that there is a baseball field in Wright owned by Parks and Rec that has been unusable for years because they are not taking care of it.” 

Shelstad said that the fact that the issue has gotten to the point that the commission had to sit and be chastised by children is sad and that the two Boy Scouts had come before them just to be argumentative.  

“I think it’s incredibly sad that we sit here today and be chastised by two children based on the agenda of things that are happening in the community, and I am part of that,” Shelstad said. “I think it’s sad the presentation that you girls are making is something to sit here and chastise us and ask us questions about and obviously be argumentative about. That’s the end of my statement.” (Video 32:35)

Sue objected to Shelstad’s characterization of their presentation as “sad.” 

“First off, we are not kids or children,” she said. “We are teenagers with developed brains- we can think. Second, it is not sad that you are being chastised by children. We are teens that have questions. So that is incredibly offensive, especially in this day and time that you would think so lowly of us as children. I would understand if you were upset if a couple of 6-year-old’s walked in.” 

Hiding LGBTQ + material at a public library is censorship, Gabby and Sue continued, and its material that should be available to readers of all ages.  

Commissioner Rusty Bell thanked the Sue and Gabby for their presentation and their concern.  

Sue and Gabby will give the same presentation at the next Library Board meeting.  

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Gillette Library Prosecution Up To Weston County Attorney

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A report accusing local library leadership of promoting obscene material will face review by the Weston County Attorney, who was appointed as a special prosecutor Tuesday by the Campbell County Board of Commissioners.  

The decision was made during the commissioners’ regular meeting on Oct. 5, after Deputy Campbell County Attorney Sean Brown informed the board this his office could not ethically or fairly investigate a criminal report filed against the library.  

Such an investigation, according to counsel by the Wyoming State Bar, would constitute a conflict of interest because the Campbell County Public Library (CCPL) is a subsidiary of the county and remains a client of the Campbell County Attorney’s Office, according to Brown.  

Given the serious nature of the allegations and the potentially significant consequences if criminal charges are pursued, any decision by the Campbell County Attorney’s Office could face immediate scrutiny by proponents on either side of the issue, Brown said.   

On one hand, if the Campbell County Attorney’s Office chose to continue investigating and charges were not pursued, he continued, there would undoubtedly be a group of people that would accuse the office of being biased or too lenient in their decision.  

On the other, Brown said, if charges were pursued then they would be prosecuting a Campbell County entity who, as the county attorney’s office, they would have to defend.

“That’s an impossible situation for our attorney’s office to resolve effectively and transparently,” Brown told the commission.  

As such, the only course of action is to seek an impartial review by the Weston County Attorney’s Office, which, with the commissioners’ decision Tuesday, will now take over the investigation and decide if a crime has been committed as alleged.  

If Weston County decides there’s something to pursue, then it would be up to that county attorney’s office to pursue and resolve any of those charges, Brown said.  

The potential charges referenced by Brown stem from a report filed at the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 29 by residents Hugh and Susan Bennet that accuses library leadership of spreading obscene material through dissemination.  

Obscene material, per W.S.§ 6-4-301, is defined as that which the average person would find encourages an excessive interest in sexual matters, depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. 

It’s the latest attempt by a relatively small, albeit loud, group of disgruntled residents to pressure library and county leadership into removing or moving publications they feel are inappropriate for children at the CCPL. The group initially sought the removal of the books but has since changed its approach to ask that the materials be moved to the adult section of the library. 

Until Tuesday, the issue has been under review by the Campbell County Attorney’s Office, which initially provided a verbal declination to pursue charges when the issue was first sent to the office for review, according to Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny.  

At the time, Campbell County Attorney Mitch Damsky declined to comment on an ongoing criminal issue, though he did confirm that three of his deputies were reviewing the report.  

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Damsky had said. “Like I said, I have my best minds working on it right now and they’ll decide on whether or not it’s going to be charged.” 

The Weston County Attorney’s Office declined to comment for this story.  

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Criminal Prosecution Over ‘Obscene Material’ Sought In Gillette Library Squabble

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17 

A report filed by citizens accusing leadership at the Campbell County Public Library of promoting obscene material has been forwarded on to the county attorney’s office for review, Sheriff Scott Matheny said Thursday.

The report, filed on Sept. 29 by county residents Hugh and Susan Bennett, alleges that a crime has been committed at the local library and brought in several books they said contained obscene material, according to Matheny, who said that his deputies took the report and forwarded it up the ladder to the Campbell County Attorney’s Office for consideration on potential charges.

Initially, Matheny continued, the county attorney’s office gave a verbal declination, which means they didn’t believe a crime occurred, but there has not been an official decision on paper as of Sept. 30.

Campbell County Attorney Mitch Damsky declined to comment on an ongoing criminal issue, though he confirmed the report has been received by his office and is currently being reviewed by his three brightest attorneys.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Damsky said. “Like I said, I have my best minds working on it right now and they’ll decide on whether or not it’s going to be charged.”

The report filed Wednesday by Bennett references W.S. § 6-4-302 (c) (ii), which alleges the library, through dissemination, is promoting obscene material.

Obscene material, per W.S. § 6-4-301, is defined as that which the average person would find encourages an excessive interest in sexual matters, depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

The statute referenced in Bennett’s report and the allegations made against the library on Wednesday have changed significantly from his other statements during a Campbell County Commission meeting on Sept. 28, where he, referencing a state statute, openly accused library leadership of committing sexual intrusion on minors.

“There are a lot of laws in existence that make what’s being done in this library, felony behavior,” Bennett said, adding that the commission should look up for themselves the definition of intrusion and that he was very surprised that the commission appeared to have “dug in” on the issue.

“I think that you guys should be on notice that you’re fighting a losing battle and the longer you resist, the worse it’s gonna be,” Bennett said during the meeting.

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Gillette Drunk Driver Smashes Into Pet Store

in News/Gillette

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Gillette man has been charged with driving while intoxicated after he reportedly lost control of his vehicle Saturday and crashed into a local pet shop, Gillette Police Lt. Brent Wasson said.

Officers were dispatched to the 600 block of S. Butler Spaeth Road around 7:10 p.m. after receiving a report that a vehicle had crashed into Hillcrest Pampered Pets, per Wasson.

The investigation revealed that an intoxicated 26-year-old male had lost control of a beige Ford Mustang after suddenly accelerating, crashing the vehicle into the wall of Hillcrest Pampered Pets and a planter in front of the shop door to De La Cruz Produce, Wasson said.

A 22-year-old male working inside De La Cruz Produce heard the initial crash and came outside to see what happened and saw the Ford Mustang coming directly at him, per Wasson, who added that the 22-year-old’s foot was injured when the Mustang struck the planter which then pushed the door into him.

The Mustang then continued until it struck a 2008 Chevrolet pickup. In total, the damage from the crash was estimated to be over $1,000.

Officers arrested the 26-year-old male for driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving, and driving without proof of insurance.

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No Fireworks Shows Within 100 Miles Of Gillette For Fourth Of July Weekend

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Wyoming Fireworks

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Fire bans outlawing fireworks in Campbell County and the surrounding area means residents will need to travel if they want to see any professional fireworks displays this coming Fourth of July.

With the cancellation of the annual fireworks show at Keyhole State Park in Crook County, announced Tuesday by the Pine Haven Volunteer Fire Department, residents will need to drive more than 100 miles in any direction to find a similar display.

For die-hard fireworks enthusiasts, however, there is still some hope as there are several professional fireworks displays scheduled in Natrona County and east across the South Dakota border.

The display in Natrona County will take place as part of the “307 fest” celebration at the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper. The event is free for the first time ever and will feature performances from six bands, food trucks, and other activities. Things kick off July 3 and will carry on until the fireworks show that will start at 8 p.m., according to the event page.

There are no professional fireworks displays in Converse County, but setting off personal fireworks at the Glenrock South Recreation Campus is allowed starting at 7 p.m. July 4, according to Oil City News.

Fireworks displays in South Dakota will start July 2 with a show scheduled for the Black Hills Speedway, a show at Post 22 Baseball in Rapid City and another in Sturgis at the fairgrounds on July 3, and two displays on July 4 one at the Executive Golf Course in Rapid City and the other on Pageant Hill in Custer.

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Gillette To Consider Allowing Alcohol Delivery

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

The Gillette City Council announced it will consider adopting regulations to comply with a new state statute that allows alcohol and malt beverage deliveries for some liquor license holders.

The new statute, W.S. § 12-5-601, implemented with the passage of House Bill 13 (HB0013) in the Wyoming Legislature Feb. 5 and signed into law by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Feb. 9, gives the council until July 1 to decide whether to allow alcohol deliveries in city limits or not, according to City Attorney Anthony Reyes.

“You don’t have to, but if you want to, we need to make some rules about it,” Reyes told the council on April 20. Making those rules would require the council to approve revisions to Chapter 3 of the Gillette City Code to allow retail, microbrewery, winery, winery satellite, and manufacturer satellite liquor license holders to deliver alcohol.

As of April 20, there are currently 33 liquor license holders in the city that would be eligible to make deliveries, according to Reyes, should they adhere to the requirements outlined by statute.

All delivery orders would need to be placed in the licensed building the same day as the sale and be placed by a person who is 21 or older. Delivery drivers would not be permitted to accept money for alcohol and would be required to verify the recipient’s age through their ID.

Any delivery would need to be sealed, meaning alcoholic beverages need to be in their original unopened package, in a plastic bag that is heat-sealed closed, or in a container fitted with a breakable seal in the top, Reyes said.

Retail liquor license holders, he continued, would also be allowed to contract with a third party to deliver alcohol and malt beverages, though the rest would only be allowed to deliver their manufactured products.

In addition to the statutory requirements, Reyes proposed a series of city mandates that any city liquor licensee would need to follow should they wish to deliver alcohol or be charged with a misdemeanor for violating the city code.

One mandate would require delivery drivers to complete alcohol server training programs, also known as TIPS training, prior to allowing a business to make any alcoholic deliveries, according to Reyes.

Another mandate would hold the liquor license holder accountable for infractions by their employees, businesses, entities, or any third-party contractors working on behalf of the licensee.

“If we don’t do this, we don’t have any way to reach back,” Reyes said. “The licensee could simply say ‘it’s the (contractor’s) fault.”

Requiring liquor licensees to notify the city that they intend to begin making deliveries and whether they plan to utilize third-party contractors, however, were not part of the mandates Reyes suggested to the council, though he stated that it was something that could be discussed in the future.

Before any changes can be made to the city code, they must be approved through three readings by the Gillette City Council, who expect to hear from proponents on both sides of the issue in the coming months, according to Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King.

But allowing the delivery of alcohol in city limits may not be an entirely bad thing, according to Carter-King, who expressed during the meeting that it could lead to fewer drunk drivers down the road if intoxicated residents don’t need to drive to purchase more alcohol when they run out.

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Gillette Family Creates Giant 23-Foot COVID Effigy, Burns It

in News/Good news/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Unsurprisingly, no one has taken well to the pandemic.

But Sandy Daly and her husband at the Daly Ranch in Gillette have especially struggled.

Both are older and are considered to be at higher risk for complications from the illness, meaning it could be dangerous if they caught it. So they have essentially been in quarantine for a year.

“I haven’t hugged my grandkids in a year,” Daly told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “I haven’t been to a grocery store or gotten my hair or nails done.”

So over the weekend, to celebrate the Dalys receiving their COVID vaccines about a month ago, the family and a number of their friends (all of whom had been vaccinated) gathered on the ranch to let off a little steam.

Well, maybe smoke would be a better word.

Either way, the family held a bonfire and the guest of honor was a 23-foot effigy to the coronavirus. The effigy looked like a man wearing a blue shirt that said “COVID” and a belt buckle reading “19.”

The man’s head looked like a COVID cell and was made from chicken wire and cloth.

Wilson Restrepo, who works on the Daly Ranch, made the effigy, but the idea itself came from Sandy Daly and stemmed from a time she visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, and saw a similar effigy burning.

Everyone at the bonfire received a card on which to write all of their frustrations from the last year. The cards were then burned with the effigy, providing a cathartic ending to such a crummy year.

“It’s been a long year and we needed some closure,” Daly said. “One of my friends said we needed more cards.”

The weekend party was made even better by the fact that the Dalys’ grandchildren got to spend the night, one of the first times they have gotten to do so in a year.

“I feel like we’re rejoining normality,” Daly said. “We just really hope to prevent anything like COVID from happening again.”

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Eight People Sentenced To Prison In Gillette Drug Ring Case

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Eight people were sentenced to prison terms of 8 to 17 years in federal court this week in relation to a drug ring in Gillette.

Raymond Arthur Carnahan, Kelly Miles Finnessey, Terry William Clifford, Cody Lee Shuck, Antonio Cortes Saez, Heather Rae Thomas, Quinton Michael Case and Jennifer Ann Moss were all convicted and sentenced in connection with what state Division of Criminal Investigation investigators called a meth distribution conspiracy.

Around September 2019, the DCI began receiving intelligence that Carnahan was distributing methamphetamine in the Gillette area.

DCI agents learned Carnahan’s source of supply was in either Colorado or Arizona. Based on this information, agents determined Carnahan would travel to Denver or Phoenix to meet with his methamphetamine source.

Carnahan would then bring the methamphetamine back to Gillette for distribution. 

To carry out distribution, Carnahan relied on other individuals, including all of his co-defendants — except Finnessey — to sell smaller quantities of methamphetamine throughout the community.

Carnahan then used the proceeds of these smaller sales to purchase additional methamphetamine from his supply source, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

On Jan. 28, 2019, after a high-speed chase with Carnahan, law enforcement recovered 12 1-pound bricks of methamphetamine. 

Through further investigation, DCI identified Carnahan’s source of supply as Finnessey, a Colorado resident.

Ultimately, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne prosecuted all eight, who were sentenced in U.S. District Court.

The sentences handed down were:

  • Carnahan, sentenced to 200 months imprisonment;
  • Finnessey, sentenced to 168 months imprisonment;
  • Clifford, sentenced to 200 months imprisonment;
  • Shuck, sentenced to 120 months imprisonment;
  • Saez, sentenced to 121 months imprisonment;
  • Thomas, sentenced to 97 months imprisonment;
  • Case, sentenced to 130 months imprisonment;
  • and Moss, sentenced to 169 months imprisonment. 

“Methamphetamine continues to be Wyoming’s number one drug problem. This office’s concern  is not only for the users who struggle daily with addiction, but also for their family and friends. Especially children living with a meth-addicted parent who are often neglected and subjected to  dangerous, unpredictable conditions,” said acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “Our strategy is to reduce the availability of methamphetamine throughout Wyoming by using a  prosecutor-led, multi-agency approach to combat drug trafficking. We do this by targeting  suspicious activity, using top-notch investigative work and tips from the local community.” 

“The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) uses the force multiplier of the statewide  drug task forces to combat illegal narcotics distribution in our local communities. This case is a  prime example of how effective these task forces can be when local, state, and federal partners  work together towards a common goal,” said Matt Waldock, DCI Region 1 Commander.

This crime was investigated by DCI, Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, and Gillette Police  Department.

The United States was represented initially by Assistant United States Attorney Stuart Healy, who left the case after receiving a Wyoming judicial appointment, and later by Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Coppom.

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Pickup Crashes into Gillette Fitness Facility

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A two-vehicle collision Sunday night resulted in a pickup sliding out of control and crashing into a fitness facility on Highway 59, according to Gillette Police Detective Sgt. Eric Dearcorn.

The business, formerly Jake’s Tavern, which will be the future home of All Dimensions Fitness and currently houses adjoining businesses including Grinners Bar and Liquor and the Axe House sustained damage when a 2008 Ford pickup driven by a 29-year-old male struck the building around 7:40 p.m. Saturday, Dearcorn said Monday.

The 29-year-old male had been driving through the intersection of Highway 59 and Garner Lake Road when his vehicle was struck by a 2004 Dodge pickup, driven by a 68-year-old male.

The older male reportedly failed to stop for a red light while driving north on Highway 59, crashing into the 29-year-old’s vehicle, which then spun the vehicle several times on slick roads before it impacted the fitness facility, according to Dearcorn.

Both pickups and the business sustained damage estimated to be worth over $1,000, Dearcorn said.

The 29-year-old male was uninjured, but the 68-year-old male reported having hip pain following the collision though he declined treatment.

The 68-year-old male was cited for failing to stop at a red light.

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Gillette: Teen Arrested For Strangulation, Assault Of Pregnant Woman

in News/Crime

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A 19-year-old man is charged with aggravated assault of a pregnant woman after allegedly choking and pressing a knife to his girlfriend’s neck yesterday morning, Gillette Police Lt. Brent Wasson said Wednesday.

The alleged incident occurred at an apartment in the 100 block of East Walnut Street on Dec. 29 and was reported to police around 10:45 a.m., Wasson said.

The man and his girlfriend, a pregnant 21-year-old female, had been playing around when she accidentally struck him in the face, causing him to become angry, according to the police report.

The man did not recall what had specifically occurred, informing officers that he had blacked out during the incident. When he came to, he had his hands around the woman’s throat. The woman also reported that, during the alleged incident, the man had held a knife to her neck and face, Wasson said.

Officers noted visible signs of injury on the woman’s neck and chest and her shirt was ripped, according to Wasson.

The 19-year-old man was arrested and charged with felony strangulation of a household member and felony aggravated assault on a pregnant woman, according to the police report.

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Alcohol Fuels Fights, Chaos, And Mayhem In Gillette

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Alcohol-related incidents kept local police on their toes Monday night with officers intervening to stop an alleged drunk driver and two separate fights.

The incidents kicked off at 10:55 p.m., Dec. 28, after concerned citizens contacted the Gillette Police Department (GPD) to report an intoxicated 39-year-old man was about to drive his vehicle from the Old Chicago parking lot on Boxelder Road, according to GPD Lt. Brent Wasson.

The man was contacted in his running vehicle, but officers permitted him to walk to a nearby hotel after the man stated he was only starting his vehicle because it had oil pump issues, Wasson said Tuesday morning.

Approximately 30 minutes later, hotel staff contacted police to report the man had left the hotel and was about to drive his vehicle out of the parking lot. Officers responded, stopped him, and arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol, per Wasson.

Around the same time, officers were also dispatched to the Fireside Bar on Highway 14-16 for the report of a bar fight in progress. Upon their arrival, several parties were actively fighting with one another.

Officers broke up the fight and a 38-year-old man was identified for his alleged involvement. He was instructed not to leave while officers attempted to deescalate the situation further. The 38-year-old man reportedly slipped out of the bar and hid in his vehicle in the parking lot, where he was subsequently found and arrested, Wasson said.

During the ensuing investigation, witnesses informed officers that the 38-year-old man had reportedly started a fight with another unidentified male, who fled the area before officers arrived.

Several female patrons reportedly attempted to break up the fight, during which the 38-year-old man allegedly struck a 34-year-old woman in the head causing pain and swelling. He was charged with interference and battery, Wasson said.

At 3:30 this morning, police were again dispatched to the report of another fight on Sierra Drive involving two intoxicated male roommates, one 36 and the other 25.

The 36-year-old man claimed the 25-year-old man threatened to shoot him while brandishing a firearm, prompting the 36-year-old to strike the 25-year-old in the face multiple times in self-defense, per Wasson.

However, further investigation revealed the claims about the firearm were unsubstantiated and the 36-year-old man pursued the 25-year-old around the house before the younger man escaped out the back door.

Officers reportedly observed the 36-year-old man continue to cause a disturbance while they were on scene, Wasson said.

The 25-year-old man had a bloody nose and mouth and swelling to his face. The 36-year-old man was arrested and charged with battery as well as intoxication, according to Wasson.

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Gillette Man Accused of Assaulting, Kidnapping & Leaving Wife Naked in Walmart Parking Lot

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Republished with permission from County 17 News

A Gillette man was arrested Sunday morning for allegedly assaulting and kidnapping his wife and leaving her naked in the Walmart parking lot, where she sought help from store employees.

John Jesse Crump, 37, was arrested for domestic assault, domestic battery and kidnapping, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the Campbell County Circuit Court of the Sixth Judicial Court on Monday, Sept. 14.

Gillette Police Department (GPD) officers responded to a call from Walmart staff around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, reporting that a naked woman had run to a door of the business screaming for help.

She was completely nude and appeared to have been assaulted, staff told police, according to court documents.

The victim told police that her husband had allegedly assaulted her and dropped her off without clothing or undergraments in the Walmart parking lot in an attempt to embarrass her, per the affidavit.

The victim stated that the fight had begun earlier in the evening after the couple met with friends at Boot Hill Legendary Steakhouse and Nightclub, where Crump reportedly became intoxicated while she remained sober as the designated driver.

On the way home later that evening, the victim said that Crump allegedly began arguing with her over past issues in their marriage, stating that he wanted her to “pack her belongings and move out.”

In an attempt to deescalate the situation, the victim said she told him that it was late and that they should discuss it in the morning, per the affidavit.

As they drove home on Middle Prong Road, Crump allegedly asked his wife to pull over, so that he could relieve himself.

When she did, he allegedly demanded that she get out of the truck and walk home, according to documents filed in the case. When she refused, Crump then reportedly got irate and walked around the vehicle to the driver’s side door, per the affidavit.

The victim reported being scared and said she would walk home but first needed to get her jacket from the back seat.

As she attempted to put on her jacket, Crump allegedly “wrestled” her to the ground, grabbed her by her hair and drug her back toward the truck, causing her back to bleed from road rash, court documents state.

He then reportedly proceeded to rip off all of her clothes and force her into the driver’s side backseat while he got behind the wheel and drove back toward Gillette.

Crump stopped at Walmart and told her to get out of the truck and said that he’d allegedly intended to embarrass her and hoped that someone would cause her harm. She managed to run to the front door where store staff let her in and offered her a robe, per the affidavit.

Crump then allegedly parked his vehicle in an adjacent parking lot, walked over to Walmart and attempted to enter the store as officers apprehended him and transported him to the Campbell County Detention Center.

He was arraigned on Sept. 15, where he was given a “no plea” by the Circuit Court Judge and released on a $50,000 bond. If convicted, Crump could face up to 20 years in prison.

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4,000 People Attend Online Coronavirus Town Hall in Gillette

in News/Coronavirus

Reprinted with permission from County 17

By Stephanie Scarcliff & Jen Kocher

Nearly 4,000 viewers tuned in Sunday evening to watch as a handful of local leaders in government, education, public health and the medical field addressed community-wide concerns regarding Gillette and Campbell County’s immediate and ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Amongst the topics discussed during the one-hour live-streaming broadcast at the New Life Church were the silver lining of a community and nation-wide unification, and an emphasis on placing a focus on optimism, togetherness and loving our neighbors during this challenging time.

D.G. Reardon, chairman of the Campbell County Board of Commissioners, began the discussion with opening remarks about the gravity of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a very serious situation that we need to get a handle on,” he said, stressing that the community adhere to CDC and public health guidelines and recommendations including social distancing and handwashing. He also asked that people check on their neighbors, be thoughtful, kind and patient.

As of Monday morning, 26 people in Wyoming have tested positive for COVID-19 across seven counties, including one in Campbell County. Over the weekend, four more people had tested positive as the number slowly continues to rise.

Flattening the curve

Dr. Nahida Khan, geriatrics and internal medicine at Campbell County Health (CCH), began by sharing some information about the coronavirus including its origin and epidemiology. “There’s a lot of information we’re learning every day,” she said. “It’s a learning process… but there’s still a lot that we don’t know yet.”

In addition to stressing how information is ever evolving as medical professionals observe other countries and states as well as learn more about the new strain of virus, Dr. Khan eloquently encouraged the community.

“No one likes change. It creates anxiety, fear,” she said, noting information is continuously changing right now and the public needs to be aware that information and recommendations can and will continue to develop and change. She said the best way for the community to flatten the curve is through patience and kindness and discipline.

“By the grace of God and following the recommendations, this too shall pass,” she said.

More dangerous than the flu

More than 200 people sent in questions prior to the town hall to be answered by the panel. Of these, moderator and New Life Lead Pastor Mike Wilson chose 26 to be addressed.

Several people drew comparisons to the flu and wondered why we, as a community, are taking COVID-19 so much more seriously given that roughly 60,000 people die each year from the flu compared just over 400 coronavirus deaths so far in the United States.

The two viruses are actually very different, Chief Medical Officer and Urologist at Campbell County Health Dr. Attila Barabas explained, despite the commonality of symptoms.

“That’s where the similarities end,” Barabas said. Not only is COVID-19 much more contagious, he explained, it’s also much more deadly. The facts speak for themselves, he said: Only 1% of people with the flu are hospitalized compared to 20% of those with coronavirus. Unlike the flu, there is also no treatment.

“The health sector is equipped to handle the flu,” he added, “but this is something entirely new.”

Right now, they are learning as they go, he noted, and are erring on the side of caution based on what they do know. And given its high rate of contagion, social isolating and quarantine are good tactics to employ in order to help stop the spread.

Do we have enough tests?

One of the largest concerns voiced by the community, Wilson said, was whether the county has enough tests amongst growing fears on social media about the number of infected undiagnosed people throughout the county going untreated as well as several horror stories from people who showed symptoms but were denied the test.

“It is a limited resource, so we do have to choose who gets tested,” Barabas said. “That involves a strict criterion that has been given to us by the CDC and allows us to focus the tests on patients who are truly high risk – those patients that will truly make a clinical difference. As long as we use those criteria, we do have an appropriate number of tests at this moment.”

If they stick to these guidelines, he stressed, then they’ll have an “appropriate number” of tests on hand.

They also are confident they have enough hospital beds and other resources if people continue to remain diligent and practice social isolation. The key, he said, is prevention.

“Otherwise, we’ll have to reach outside the community for additional resources,” Barabas said.

Experiencing symptoms?

The panel also addressed what steps would be taken if members of the public see or experience symptoms of COVID-19 including cough, fever, tiredness or difficulty breathing.

From what they know of the virus thus far, Khan said, the virus takes anywhere from three to 14 days to manifest.

“Fourteen seems to be the magic number,” she said.

And though there is currently no treatment for COVID-19, the virus seems to respond to Tylenol, which Kahn said is safe to take.

The first step, she noted, is to contact a healthcare provider, so they can triage symptoms and make the appropriate recommendations for the patient to be tested, if needed.

If a person doesn’t have a local healthcare provider, they are instructed to call the hospital hot line.

“The hospital has set up a phone line that is manned from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (307) 688-1000 is the phone number,” said Dr. Kirtikumar Patel, Campbell County Public Health officer and former internal medicine specialist at CCH. “If there is any reason for people to believe that they have been exposed or that they do have it (COVID-19), recommendations from Public Health’s point of view are to please try and self-quarantine yourself until the symptoms improve because testing is still very limited.”

If a person tests positive, in most cases they’ll be quarantined in their home unless the case is severe enough to be hospitalized. That person should be quarantined away from other family members, preferably in a separate part of the house with their own bathroom, Executive Director of Campbell County Public Health Jane Glaser said. During quarantine, someone from public health will call to check in on them twice a day. Other family members will also be tested. To have the quarantine lifted, the patient must get a clean bill of health from their doctor, as well as a letter from the Wyoming Department of Health.

Are we overreacting?

Another reoccurring question for the panel was whether Governor Gordon made a good call in shutting down local restaurants, businesses, bars, city offices and other public spaces, or if we’re overreacting with calls to self isolate and avoid crowds greater than 10 people, the latest mandate from the Governor.

Wilson asked the panel about the likelihood of the community coming together to practice social distancing for the CDC- recommended 15 days to which the panel overwhelming answered yes.

Self-quarantine seems to be working, Reardon said, and the key is to continue to try to flatten the curve. Thus far, he thinks that residents have done a pretty good job but thinks we can do even better.

When asked if the threat of the virus will extend beyond 14 days, Barabas nodded.

“This is likely to last for months, not weeks. I believe this will be the new normal for the foreseeable future to come,” he said. “One of the things that we learned in the 1918 flu pandemic, in Denver for example, was they restricted their social contacts and that resulted in a lower mortality (rate) and as that mortality (rate) was going down they said, ‘Hey, we’re doing well. Let’s let off of the gas,’ so to speak, and things got significantly worse again.”

Stay informed

Ivy Castleberry, information coordinator for Campbell County encouraged the public to arm themselves with information. “Good, clear communication is key to helping relieve some of the anxiety that the public is feeling as well as keeping them up to date as those changes do come about,” she said.

To this end, Castleberry urged the community to utilize informed resources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and the Campbell County website. Dr. Alex Ayers, superintendent of schools for the Campbell County School District, added the Campbell County School District website as a resource and Geno Palazarri, communication manager for City of Gillette, encouraged the community to visit the City of Gillette website and follow the city on social media including on Facebook page, IG and Twitter for real-time updates and public announcements.

Support local business

Reardon also asked that people utilize the curbside to-go service that most restaurants are using in lieu of dine-in. Castleberry, likewise, suggested ordering a gift certificate from one of the closed businesses to support them. Currently, the federal government is nailing down a relief package to help these businesses weather the shutdown.

Along with grocery stores, hair salons are also open, the panel noted. The city, too, is doing its part to help citizens keep the lights on, Geno Palazarri, public information officer for the City of Gillette, said. Nobody’s electricity will be turned off, he noted, and the city is waving any corresponding late fees and notices.

Likewise, county employees are still working on marriage licenses and other documents, and residents are encouraged to check the county and city websites for more information.

In closing, Barabas said, tellingly, “I do expect that this will, potentially, be sort of a new norm for many weeks, if not for many months.”

Ice sculpture and parades featured at Gillette’s Holiday Ice Festival

in Travel
Gillette Parade
A float passes by in a past “Parade of Lights” parade held in Gillette. The annual event, to be held on Saturday, features 30 to 40 floats and draws from 3,000 to 4,000 people.

By Cowboy State Daily

The art of ice sculpting will be on display in Gillette this weekend as the city launches its celebration of the holidays.

Gillette’s Downtown Holiday Ice Festival, which will lead into the city’s annual “Parade of Lights,” will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

During the day-long event, five sculptors will work with 200-pound blocks of ice to create sculptures that will be on display for visitors to downtown Gillette.

“One thing we seem to get a lot of is snow,” said Jessica Seders, executive director of Gillette Main Street, the organization holding the event. “We thought ‘What better way to get people downtown?’”

Ice sculpture
The art of ice sculpting will be on display in Gillette this weekend as the city launches its celebration of the holidays.

The ice festival was launched five years ago, but for its first three years, it was held in February. Last year, organizers changed the date to coincide with the city’s Christmas celebration.

The sculptors will work on their pieces from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

At the same time, samples of chowder and soup will be offered up for judging by members of the public in the “Chowder Challenge” and fire pits will be set up for the preparation of s’mores.

Other activities during the day will include an ugly sweater contest and a parade by the motorcycle club ABATE, which will launch its annual toy drive during the event. Selected merchants will also be taking part in a “concoction contest,” in which they will make specialty drinks — alcoholic and non-alcoholic — for tasting by shoppers.

The day’s events will be capped by the city’s annual “Parade of Lights,” which will begin at 5 p.m. The parade will feature 30 to 40 floats and usually draws from 3,000 to 4,000 people, Seders said.Seders said the day full of events is Gillette Main Street’s way to bolster local shopping during the holiday season.

“We’re just trying to help kick off that ‘shop local’ season,” she said. “Our community is very supportive. Most of our merchants are reporting increases in business, some as high as double-digits.”

The idea of community support has become especially important this year as Gillette deals with declines in the coal industry that saw two of Campbell County’s largest coal mines close temporarily earlier this year.

“That is why our community comes out in force and supports one another,” Seders said.

For more information on Gillette’s Downtown Holiday Ice Festival, go to Visit Gillette’s website or visit Gillette Main Street’s Facebook page.

Working dogs to show their skills at Gillette’s Cam-Plex

in Travel/Agriculture
Sheep herding trials
“Frank,” a 5-year-old border collie owned by Wendy Auzqui, shows his stuff while herding. Frank will be one of the 40 to 50 dogs to put their sheep herding skills on display on Saturday during sheep herding trials at Gillette’s Cam-Plex. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Auzqui)

The art of sheep herding will be on display in Gillette this weekend and the stars of the show will be man’s best friend.

From 40 to 50 dogs are expected to take part in sheep dog trials in an arena at Gillette’s Cam-Plex on Saturday and organizer Wendy Auzqui said those who attend will get a chance to see specially trained dogs show off their talents at herding sheep through a series of obstacles, guided only by audible commands from their handlers.

The dogs used for herding are bred for their ability to move livestock, said Auzqui, who owns Creekside Stockdogs in Clearmont.

“Your job is to put words to what the dog already knows so we can tell the dogs how to move the livestock,” said Auzqui, who owns Creekside Stockdogs in Clearmont. 

In the trials, three sheep will be put at one end of the arena, while the dog’s handler will stand at the other end, using words or whistles to give directions to the dog as it herds the sheep through a series of obstacles.

The dog that completes the task in the shortest time is the winner.

The event is open to any breed of dog, but the most commonly seen breed in trials is the border collie, Auzqui said.

“They’re high drive, intense and their intelligence level is one of the top three for dogs,” she said. “All that together, brains, intensity and the desire to work, is the thing that makes them amazing.”

Among the competitors at the trials, which will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will be Auzqui’s own “Frank,” a 5-year-old border collie who this summer won the championship at the sheep herding trials at the Calgary Stampede in Canada.

Competitors will be divided into four divisions — an open class for any dog and handler, a division for novices, an intermediate class and a “nursery” division for dogs under the age of 3.

There is no admission for people who wish to watch the trials, which are sanctioned by the Mountain States Stock Dog Association.

For more information, visit Auzqui’s Facebook page or CreeksideStockdogs.com.

Excavate an artifact at Gillette’s “Archaeology Fair”

in Travel
1st Annual Northeast Wyoming Archaeology Fair

Some hands-on experience with archaeology awaits those who visit Gillette’s Rockpile Museum this weekend.

The museum is hosting its first annual Archaeology Fair on Saturday, featuring stations where participants can get a feel for activities such as excavating artifacts, using an ancient tool to throw a spear, making pottery and grinding corn.

“We’re hoping the kids and adults get an idea of what archaeology is,” said Cara Reeves, the Rockpile’s collections assistant and a member of the committee that organized the fair. “We hope they get a better idea of what archaeologists do.”

This year’s inaugural Archaeology Fair, which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, coincides with Wyoming’s celebration of Archaeology Month in September.

A number of experts from different areas, such as the Wyoming Archaeological Society, Vore Buffalo Jump, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and University of Wyoming, will set up stations through the day where attendees can take part in different activities.

For instance, the Wyoming Archaeological Society’s Pumpkin Buttes Chapter will set up a booth where participants can take part in a mock excavation.

Reeves said replicas of artifacts will be placed inside boxes of dirt to be “excavated.”

“The kids or adults will learn how to excavate on a small scale,” she said. “There is an an activity sheet where they can draw what they find and talk about what it is so they get the idea of what archaeologists actually do.”

Another station will allow attendees to recreate ancient pottery using clay and cooking demonstrations, using a recreated hearth outside of the museum, will be offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.Also on tap is a demonstration of an “atlatl,” a device used to throw spears with added velocity and power. Attendees will get a chance to use the atlatl at targets on a range.

Dog sled racer Tara Lynn will also demonstrate the use of a “travois,” a sort of sled used to drag loads over land, with the assistance of two of her dogs which will pull the load.

For more information, visit the Rockpile Museum’s website.

Ransomware attack still affecting Campbell County Health

in News/Health care
Ransomware attack

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

A ransomware virus attack on Campbell County Health continued to plague its computer network, causing disruptions in service to Campbell County Hospital and connected systems on Monday. 

According to Kelly Ruiz, public information officer with the Department of Homeland Security in Cheyenne, two other institutions, both connected to Campbell County Health, were also affected by the attack. 

One was the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center in Gillette, a long-term care and short-term rehabilitation facility, Ruiz said. The other, according to Dane Joslyn, CCH public information officer, was Wright Clinic and Occupational Health, part of the Campbell County Medical Group.

Ruiz advised the public to follow common computer safeguards to defend against such virus attacks.

“There are some basic things that everyone whether it’s private industry or individuals can do … use strong passwords, don’t click on links, don’t open unknown email attachments,” she said. “Also use cyber security software, a good antivirus.”

It is unknown how the ransomware was transmitted to the CCH network. 

“It is still under investigation.” said Ruiz. “We are currently coordinating but we don’t yet know.”

Due to the ongoing criminal investigation, officials are not disclosing the nature of the ransom being demanded by the virus’ attacker. Most ransomware attacks direct the infected user to send an electronic payment through a given link before the system will be released. 

During a press conference at CCH Monday afternoon, hospital officials, affected department heads and investigators fielded questions about the attack and the investigation. 

“Our goal here is to bring in people that can help identify and go after the perpetrators,” said Leland Christensen, deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security.

Ian Swift, chair of the CCH board of directors, said work continues at the CCH despite the disruption.

“There is a sense of calm in CCH right now,” he said.

There is no estimate as to when the situation might be resolved, said Matt Sabus, information technologies director for CCH.

According to the CCH website, the county’s Emergency Medical Services, CCMH Emergency Department, Maternal Child (OB) and the CCMG Walk-in Clinic are open to assess patients and treat or transfer patients to area hospitals as appropriate.

Blackjewel closures bad, but not the worst, officials say

in Energy/News
Gillette Wyoming coal

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

GILLETTE – It’s been nearly a month since Blackjewel LLC abruptly shuttered its coal production operations, locking some 600 Gillette-area miners out of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines. And as Blackjewel continues to hammer out its fate in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Gillette searches for silver linings to this latest economic cumulonimbus.

For as threatening as the Blackjewel storm cloud may be, the city has seen worse; and not all that long ago, either. Mayor Louise Carter-King said that during the Peabody Energy and Arch Coal bankruptcy proceedings in 2016, oil and natural gas prices were also bottoming out, leaving displaced energy sector workers with few places to turn locally for employment.

“Three years ago oil was down, natural gas was down, coal was down. It was like a perfect storm and it hit us very hard,” Carter-King said. “This time it was more due to (Blackjewel’s) mismanagement rather than the underlying economy, because both of these mines were profitable.”

While she expects the mine layoffs to have a ripple effect on the city’s sales tax revenues, it will be some time before that impact is seen because state remittance of sales taxes are backdated by two months. But Carter-King said she doesn’t expect any impact to be especially long-lived this time around, thanks to a stronger job market that’s provided fall-back opportunities for those who can’t afford to wait for the mines to reopen.

“I know some employees are holding out for that, but those who can get jobs that are equal or better are jumping ship,” she said. “The good news is, a lot of people have been able to find jobs.”

Rick Mansheim with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services said the DWS Employment and Training office in Gillette took immediate steps to get information out about resources available to the displaced miners, as well as to address some of their most urgent economic questions. In addition, DWS called upon its community and statewide partners to swiftly assemble a job fair that brought in employers from across Wyoming and the Mountain West.

“Five days after the (mine) closings, we had a big job fair at Gillette College where we had 40 employers, not just local, but from Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Montana,” Mansheim said. “They saw over 450 people in one day; and I know a good percentage of people were actually offered jobs that day. So if there’s a bright side at all to this layoff or whatever you want to term it, it’s the fact there were jobs available and a lot of these people were able to find employment relatively quickly.”

For the rest, Mansheim said DWS has been helping walk people through applying for unemployment benefits and ensuring they know how to maintain their health insurance coverage.

“A lot of these people have never gone through something like this, so we’re helping them understand the unemployment process – because it is a process, it’s not something where you just come in, type in your name and that’s it,” Mansheim said. “We’ll probably do another job fair if we hear something about whether the mines are going to be bringing people back or not, and we keep in contact with the city and the county to make sure we’re on the same page.”

City Communications Manager Geno Palazzari said Gillette has also been working with nonprofits and social service agencies to marshal assistance in the aftermath of the mine closures. One of the first calls, he said, was to the Food Bank of the Rockies to enlist the aid of that group’s mobile food pantry, which will set up at Family Life Church, 480 S. Highway 50, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. July 29 and Aug. 19.

“They’re already mobilizing to get trucks up here,” Palazzari said. “We’ve also reached out to some of the social service agencies in the community we fund … to make sure they didn’t need an advance on the funding we provide them to make sure they can make it through these times.”

While Blackjewel has been an important contributor to the city’s tax revenue base, Palazzari and Carter-King said they don’t expect these latest closures to impact city services. That’s mainly because the city has been extremely conservative with its spending since the 2016 downturn, when it had to cut nearly four dozen positions and $60 million out of its budget.

“Those were tough days. We had to lay off people and we looked at everything with a microscope,” Carter-King said. “Three years ago woke us up and taught us that we’ve got to be prepared for things like this.”

Prior to 2016, the city had enough cash in reserve to keep things running for 90 days without any new revenues. In 2016, the city council voted to increase that to 120 days, and then to 150 days in September 2018.

“There’s approximately $14 million (of operating reserves) budgeted for Fiscal Year 2020,” Carter-King said. “Now, if not another dime came into this city, we could make it 150 days.”

Miners face uncertainty of changing coal markets

in Energy/News

Miners left without jobs with the closure of two of Campbell County’s biggest coal mines are facing a changing reality in the nature of the coal industry, Gillette residents agree.

Residents said although the coal industry has traditionally been a stable source of income and employment, the dropping demand for coal has changed that.

“The coal jobs have historically been the stable jobs,” said Alison Gee, a Gillette attorney. “Now we’re shifting to an environment where we have to look to oil and gas to try and provide some of the stability for our families. And as you know, the oil and gas markets just aren’t that way. They’re very volatile because of the world economy.”

About 600 miners lost their jobs several weeks ago when Blackjewel closed the Belle Ayre and Eagle Butte mines. Efforts are being made to secure funding to return the mines to operation.

If those efforts fail, many of those who lost their jobs will probably leave the community, predicted Ken Anthony, a retired miner.

“You’ve got two to three kids at home and you’ve got a big old house payment and car payment and all of a sudden that stops,” he said. “It’s pretty scary. When they lose their jobs, it really makes a big effect on the whole county. If they can get the money and re-open (the mines), it will be fine. If they can’t, more than likely, most of (the miners) will leave.”

Gee noted that while some companies are offering jobs to Blackjewel’s former miners, most do not have the resources to offer the same level of salaries or benefits.

Tom Lubnau, a former speaker for Wyoming’s House of Representatives, said the mine closures show the state needs to work to offset the diminishing demand for coal.

“We have to, in some way, take control of our own destiny,” he said. “If we can boost the market in a certain way, develop the technologies that we need to use to market our resources, then we should do that.”

In the meantime, Gillette’s residents are doing what they can to ease the burden on the unemployed miners, said Trey McConnell, manager at the Railyard Restaurant.

“The people here, in bad times they bond together, they help one another out,” he said. “It’s one of these areas where you can kind of rely on your brothers and sisters. It’s just a very tight-knit community.”

Wyoming residents look to themselves to boost business, populations

in Economic development/News/Business
Wyoming small business

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Residents in many Wyoming cities and towns are pitching in to invigorate their communities in the face of declining populations.

About three-fourths of the larger cities and towns in Wyoming saw people leave between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, based on estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. A recent news release from Wenlin Liu, Wyoming Economic Administration’s senior economist, said Casper was the hardest hit community with a decline of 351 in population, followed by Rock Springs at a loss of 291. Cheyenne, meanwhile, gained 370 residents.

A random check with residents in towns and cities in the Cowboy State finds that many are trying to turn things around. Many get help from state and federal grants, non-money resources and education as well as private financial sources.

Lots of activity is going on now in Gillette, a city of about 31,903 people that depends heavily on the oil and gas revenues. Gillette lost 134 people between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, according to Liu’s news release. The loss reflects an economic slide caused by plummeting oil and gas prices and diminished coal production.

Phil Christopherson, chief executive officer for Energy Capital Economic Development, the economic development arm for Campbell County, said city and county revenues dropped 30 to 40 percent because of the downturn a couple of years ago. But residents stayed strong. 

“Everybody came together and said ‘we’re going to make it through this.’ The community spirit really showed through” and is there today, he said.

The county’s economy is rebounding now, but the downturn meant “that the community became committed to diversify the economy,” Christopherson said. 

Energy Capital Economic Development proceeded with a business incubator program that was in the works when the crash occurred. The business incubator opened in September and has about nine business interests involved.

The agency also started plans for an advanced carbon research facility for exploring the many uses of coal. Its goal is to prove the technology exists to make the alternative uses of coal commercially viable.

The Wyoming Business Council will vote June 20 on a $1.4 million grant for the project, which also received money from an EDA federal grant and private investments.

In Rock Springs, officials are trying to determine how best to develop 15,000 acres of land near the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, said Kayla McDonald, business development director for the Sweetwater County Economic Development organization.

Money for the $66,000 study will come mostly from a Wyoming Business Council grant as well as the economic development organization, the county, Rock Springs and Green River. The study will provide ideas about what businesses and industries would be best to recruit for the site, she said.

Economic development supporters also want to recruit more retail businesses and restaurants to the area, she said.

Meanwhile, Powell, a farming town in northwest Wyoming that added only four people to its census during the year, is also looking at new development. Residents now are excited about the planned construction of a new hotel and convention center, said Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership.

The center, with an estimated cost of $10 million, is planned to open in 2020 and should create around 33 new jobs. It is the result of a partnership between the Powell Economic Partnership and the Wyoming Business Council. Additional hotel rooms are in demand, Bekes said. 

“We’re right near Yellowstone National Park and the lodging is inadequate,” she said.

The new hotel will increase available lodging by 50 percent.

Other projects in Powell’s near future will rely heavily on community volunteers. A community action group is building Powell’s first public dog park. A dog park is high on the list of what people who are relocating want to see. 

“Those who live in urban environments come to expect it,” Bekes said.

Effective economic development also demands creative thinking.

“I think the communities that are thinking outside the box are finding some success” in terms of positive community development efforts, said Justin Schilling, coordinator of member services for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities. 

Schilling points as an example to high-tech education, such as Cheyenne’s Array School of Technology and Design. The city has a diversified workforce, allowing it to offer career training for high-tech jobs, he added.

Another creative project Schilling cited is the $7 million Evergreen Plaza, a proposed 30-room assisted living facility in Torrington, where the population dropped by 14 during the year.

Money to build the project will come from sources like a $2.6 million grant from the Wyoming Business Council, a loan from local banks and a partnership with the private assisted living provider. The facility can be a solid economic development tool, according to Schilling.

Positive economic development doesn’t always mean building big warehouses. Tom Dixon, marketing management coordinator for the Wyoming Business Council, said that some projects – like the Civic Center Commons park in Cheyenne – “help develop the soul of a place and make people feel more connected.”

Projects don’t have to be expensive, either. Sprucing up a downtown with flower planters, bushes or a giant chess set can make a big difference, Dixon added. 

Even though Cheyenne is the fastest-growing city in the state — it gained 370 people in one year — efforts to boost the economy are ongoing.

Economic development in Cheyenne long has relied on Cheyenne LEADS, a private, non-profit organization with its own volunteer board of directors. Business and community leaders formed LEADS 32 years ago to attract good jobs and industries to Laramie County, Executive Director Randy Bruns said. 

LEADS receives $50,000 a year each from the City of Cheyenne and Laramie County and money from private donations. More than 80 industries and 6,000 jobs have been created in Laramie County because of the work of LEADS. 

“I am still doing this job because when LEADS succeeds, when we have a success, we know that the result of our work helps to do good things in the community,” Bruns said.

Bakers battle in Gillette’s ‘Cupcake Wars’

in Travel
Gillette Cupcake Wars
The “Dr. Seuss” table prepared for a past “Cupcake Wars” competition to showcase the caramel latte cupcakes of Eurana Altizer and Jessica Howard. This year’s battle of the bakers will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Campbell County Public Library in Gillette. (Photo courtesy of the Campbell County Public Library)

By Cowboy State Daily

A battle of the bakers will take center stage this weekend as the Campbell County Public Library hosts its eighth annual “Cupcake Wars.”

More than 200 people are expected to visit the library Saturday to take part in the event, a fundraiser for the Campbell County Library Foundation and the final event in the library’s celebration of National Library Week.

There, they will sample cupcakes decorated according to each baker’s selected theme, such as the “Johnny Appleseed” cupcake entry (featuring apple pie cupcakes) or the “Elvis” cupcake seen in the past — featuring peanut butter and bananas.

“It’s really fun because people create their cupcakes and they also have a theme that they decorate their tables with,” said Genevieve Schlekeway, the library’s adult program coordinator. “It turns out to be a lot of work, too. We have 200-plus people come through the doors and people have to make a lot of cupcakes.”

The event began eight years ago as a way to raise matching funds for a state endowment program. Schlekeway said it was one of several events created to chase away the winter doldrums.

“It was the brainchild of someone working with the foundation,” she said. “She had a whole vision of ‘cabin fever relievers,’ a whole series of events. The Cupcake Wars is the one that hung around.”

Fourteen competitors will bring their baked and decorated cupcakes to the library, where they will spend most of a day decorating the 8-foot tables that will display their wares. 

“Some of (the tables) are very elegant and very elaborate,” Schlekeway said. “And some of the people come in costume.”

In addition to the “Elvis” themed cupcakes and table, past entries have included a 1950s “soda shop” theme, she said.The cupcakes will be judged by a panel including a local chef, a “junior” judge and three members of the library’s board of directors. Prizes will be awarded in three categories, a junior division for those under 18, an amateur division and an “experienced” division — for those who sell cupcakes.

The contest will also feature a “people’s choice” award determined in voting by the visitors who pay $5 each to sample the cupcakes.

Attendees at the event, to run from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, will also enjoy some entertainment from the Gillette Guitar Guild as they taste the cupcakes.

Money raised by the event will go to the foundation, which provides support for the library, such as bringing in authors to speak, providing continuing education classes and sponsoring fine art displays.

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