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Driver Crashes Into Cheyenne Bus On Thursday; Students Unharmed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Cheyenne Police Department on Friday was investigating an incident in which a vehicle collided with a school bus on Thursday afternoon.

According to CPD spokeswoman Alex Farkas, the preliminary investigation shows that the driver of a Ford Explorer drove through a red light and the car collided with a school bus traveling the intersection.

Three Laramie County School District No. 1 students, a transportation assistant and the bus driver were on the bus at the time of the incident.

“Our drivers and TAs go through hours of training, so they are prepared for these types of situations,” LCSD1 spokeswoman Mary Quast said Friday. “In this instance, the training really paid off. All protocols were followed, and students remained safe. Parents were notified as soon as students were taken care of and determined to be uninjured.”

Both the drivers assisted officers with the investigation on Thursday, but both sustained minor injuries from the crash and were ultimately taken to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for treatment. The students and TA were not injured.

Farkas did not comment to Cowboy State Daily on Friday about the status of either driver, but Quast said the bus driver was “doing well.”

“We are thankful that our students are safe and we hope that the driver of the other vehicle is okay,” Quast said.

Farkas told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the department always encourages drivers to keep safety at the top of their mind, not only around school buses, but any time they are behind the wheel.

“Slow down, stay alert and remember that if your attention is anywhere other than the road, you’re driving distracted, and that puts you and others on the roadway at risk,” she said.

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Drunk Cheyenne School Bus Driver Loses Commercial Driver’s License

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne bus driver who was arrested for driving under the influence while transporting students to South Dakota has lost his commercial drivers license, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Meanwhile, David Richard Williams now faces charges of child endangerment in addition to a charge of driving under the influence of intoxicants, according to the mother of one of the students who was on Williams’ bus.

The FMCSA disqualified David Richard Williams, 60, earlier this month from holding a CDL after determining that the Cheyenne bus driver constitutes an “imminent hazard” to public safety. The department also ordered him to immediately cease operating any commercial motor vehicle.

Williams was served with the order on March 16, one month after he was arrested for DUI outside of Hawk Springs.

Prior to the February arrest, Williams had no violations on his driving record, the Wyoming Department of Transportation told Cowboy State Daily.

Williams was arrested by a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper in February while transporting Laramie County School District No. 1 students to a speech and debate tournament in Spearfish, South Dakota.

He was stopped, failed a field sobriety test and was then arrested. His breath test showed Williams had a blood-alcohol concentration of around 0.15%, significantly higher than the level of 0.04% allowed for a commercial motor vehicle driver and almost twice the level of 0.08% at which the driver of a regular vehicle is considered intoxicated.

In-vehicle video showed Williams to be drinking alcohol both before and while driving the students, according to the FMCSA.

Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, drivers with a commercial driver’s license are subject to a variety of prohibitions on the use of alcohol prior to and while driving CMVs, including a prohibition on using any alcohol within four hours of driving and a prohibition on driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.04% or greater.    

Williams is now listed as prohibited from holding a CDL in FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse and faces a number of possible criminal charges.

Jessica Lyday and Johanna Thomas, whose children were on the trip to Spearfish, intended to press charges against Williams for child endangerment, they told Cowboy State Daily in February.

Thomas told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that she joined a group of LCSD1 speech and debate parents who asked the Goshen County district attorney to charge Williams with reckless endangerment and child endangerment.

“They told us they added child endangerment and reckless endangerment charges to him according to the kids’ ages,” Thomas told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “Then they said he opted for a jury trial. That was the last I heard, and that was about a month ago.”

Lyday did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment Tuesday.

FMCSA’s imminent hazard disqualification order states that Williams’ “blatant violations of the [regulations] and disregard for the safety of your school-age passengers and other highway users demonstrated by these actions substantially increases the likelihood of serious injury or death to you and the motoring public.”

LCSD1 officials have declined to comment on the situation with Williams, citing personnel reasons. However, the district has implemented new mandatory drug and alcohol awareness training following Williams’ arrest.

The annual recertification class will become part of the training that existing bus drivers are required to take every August during their three-day in-service training prior to the start of the school year.

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Cheyenne School District Experiencing Milk Shortage

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

There have been shortages of chicken wings, fireworks and ammunition experienced all over the nation, but Wyoming’s largest school district is facing a shortage of another kind: milk.

Laramie County School District No. 1 announced Tuesday that it was struggling to receive enough milk for students at breakfast and lunch.

“This year, due to the effects of the pandemic, we are experiencing unprecedented supply-chain challenges,” said Carla Bankes, LCSD1’s Nutrition Services program administrator. 

Students are being encouraged to bring refillable water bottles to school.

Bankes explained that her department has been able to ward off other pandemic-related food shortages by  purchasing larger quantities and using direct shipments. 

However, since milk is a perishable item and the shortage is widespread, she said the district does not have a ready solution.  

“We continue to problem solve,” she said. “Whatever is served must align with the National Food  Program. We have evaluated other options including bottled water, but there is also bottling shortage.”  

Additionally, the shortages are intermittent, allowing some schools to have milk or other items when other schools do not. 

“We ask parents and staff to be patient as we work through this nationwide shortage,” Bankes said. “With a little grace, we will navigate these issues just as we have done throughout the pandemic.” 

According to Colorado TV station KRDO, Colorado schools have also been affected by the milk shortage.

The station reported that similar to other industries across the West and the nation, there are dozens of unfilled jobs in the dairy industry, including drivers transporting milk to businesses.

According to Bloomberg, the supply of basic goods at U.S. grocery stores and restaurants is once again falling victim to intermittent shortages and delays.

Bloomberg additionally reported that in Denver, broken parts at a local milk supplier’s plant affected shipments of half-pint cartons while also disrupting the supply and distribution of cereal, tortillas and juice.

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Cheyenne Schools Now Considering Mask Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In a reverse of a decision made less than one month ago, the board of Wyoming’s largest school district is considering implementing a mask mandate.

Laramie County School District 1, which encompasses Cheyenne, officials will discuss the changing health situation in the county and will consider a potential mask mandate during a special meeting on Wednesday night, not even one month after the board decided to recommend but not require masks.

The board will meet virtually at 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the mandate.

As of now, students are recommended to wear masks when they can’t be distanced a certain amount (6 feet during athletics and activities, 4 feet when seated in the lunchroom and 3 feet when in the classroom). They will be required to wear masks while on school buses, which is a federal mandate.

According to the district’s COVID dashboard, there have been 162 confirmed cases in the district since Aug. 18, about one week before school started for the fall. As of Tuesday, the district had 12 active staff cases and 61 active student cases.

Of those 162 confirmed cases, more than 130 of them have been in students, almost a completely even split between students in kindergarten through sixth grades (most of whom can’t be vaccinated due to the Pfizer vaccine only being available to children 12 and older) and students in seventh through 12th grades.

Seventeen active COVID cases were confirmed in the district on Tuesday, 14 of which were students.

As of Tuesday, Laramie County had 647 active COVID cases, second only to Natrona County’s 961 cases, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Only about 38% of the county had been vaccinated, a total of 37,725 residents.

Cheyenne also had the most COVID hospitalizations, with 40 patients at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center as of Friday, according to the state hospitalization tracker.

Other school districts across the state, including Teton, Sheridan, Albany and Goshen counties, have implemented mask mandates in the last two weeks due to rising cases both among their students and across the state.

Discussions about a mask requirement in LCSD1 grew heated during the board of trustees meeting in mid-August, with some people even calling school officials “criminals” and “child abusers.” Some people were even harassed by fellow audience members for supporting a mask requirement.

Gov. Mark Gordon has repeatedly said he will not implement a second statewide mask mandate, saying those decision are better left to local leaders.

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Laramie County School District Says No To Mask Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After a contentious board of trustees meeting on Monday night, Cheyenne school officials have decided to strongly recommend, but not require, the use of facemasks once the school year begins next week.

The official decision was made late Thursday, with Margaret Crespo, superintendent of Laramie County School District No. 1, sending out a letter to parents about the recommendation.

Students are recommended to wear masks when they can’t be distanced a certain amount (6 feet during athletics and activities, 4 feet when seated in the lunchroom and 3 feet when in the classroom). They will be required to wear masks while on school buses, which is a federal mandate.

“Bullying based on mask choice will not be tolerated and will be handled according to our discipline matrix,” the letter said.

Parents were told to monitor their children for COVID-19 symptoms and keep them home if they are sick.

Discussions about a mask requirement grew heated during the board of trustees meeting Monday, with some people even calling school officials “criminals” and “child abusers.” Some people were even harassed by fellow audience members for supporting a mask requirement.

No other school districts in Wyoming have adopted a mask mandate. However, the University of Wyoming is requiring students, staff and faculty to wear masks until at least Sept. 20.

The announcement by Cheyenne schools comes just days after Gov. Mark Gordon reaffirmed to reporters that he wouldn’t be implementing another mask mandate like he did, albeit reluctantly, last December.

“I think it’s advisable to wear masks, but there are those who feel very strongly that masks are not the appropriate measure to take,” he said. 

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Triumph High School grads overcome adversity on the road to a diploma

in News/Education

At Triumph High School, students overcome challenges outside the classroom in addition to the academic rigors of earning a high school diploma.

Their stories are remarkable and, not long ago, the likelihood of finding them in caps and gowns today was far from certain.

“There are a lot of complicated variables. I call it a constellation of variables that intersect and make schooling sometimes very difficult for our young people,” said Triumph High Principal Mike Helenbolt.

In a pre-graduation ceremony, 2019 graduate Chasely Moon thanked her son, in addition to teachers and advisors, for giving her the motivation to stay in school and earn her degree.

“I probably wouldn’t have put forth the effort to finish if I hadn’t realized how hard it was to make a living without a high school diploma,” Moon said.

Wyoming measles-free, but officials urge preventive action

in News/Health care
Wyoming measles-free, but officials urge preventive action

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE – Wyoming has not yet been affected by what has become the largest United States measles outbreak in 25 years. 

But local healthcare officials are echoing federal calls for parents to keep their children current on vaccinations and to trust the experts when they warn how serious – and how contagious – the disease can be.

While still common in the developing world, measles was declared effectively eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. The measles vaccine, licensed just 36 years earlier, was credited with bringing annual U.S. measles diagnoses down from more than 440,000 cases in the early 1960s to just 43 cases in 2007. 

But measles diagnoses have been jumping sharply in recent years, and so far in 2019 more than 700 cases of the disease have been reported in 22 states, with 500 of those cases contracted by unvaccinated patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s an alarming trend that healthcare specialists say is based in part on a long-discredited 1998 British research study that suggested the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was associated with higher rates of autism in patients who received the vaccine in childhood. 

The author was later banned from practicing medicine and the study was ultimately retracted from the prestigious medical journal that originally published it, but decades later, the seeds planted by that erroneous study are still bearing fruit, as this latest outbreak shows.

“I think social media has really aggravated it, and I just don’t think people know how to judge their sources.” said Dr. Robert Prentice, a pediatrician with Cheyenne Children’s Clinic. “There’s misinformation, there’s distrust, and for some people it’s almost like a religion. I think it’s an attempt to gain control over things that can’t be controlled.”

The reality, Prentice said, is that measles should not be dismissed as a harmless childhood disease one can bounce back from easily. The virus can remain contagious in airborne droplets for up to two hours after an infected person sneezes or coughs, and more than 90 percent of unvaccinated people who come into contact with the virus will contract it.

 “If you can prevent something, especially something like measles, which I had as a kid— my wife’s mother had it and thought she was going to die. It was a terrible disease,” Prentice said. “Yeah, most people survived it. But on the other hand lots of people died due to complications or the result of complications.”

He added that, in the past, isolated families were able to get by without vaccinating their children due to “herd immunity” – so many people were already immune to measles that it couldn’t spread to those who are not. But as more parents opt to skip the vaccine, herd immunity starts to break down, which poses problems not just for the unvaccinated children, but also for infants who are too young to safely receive the measles vaccine and adults whose immune systems may be compromised by other conditions.

“We can’t vaccinate children under a year of age; in an epidemic situation we can immunize after six months old, but at that point babies still have maternal blocking antibodies, so they don’t take viral vaccines very efficiently,” Prentice said. “Sometimes if kids are sick enough they have to be admitted to the hospital, and then I have to think about the other children there, the nurses there.”

Laramie County School District No. 1 Head Nurse Janet Farmer said all the district’s students must have documentation showing they’ve received two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine as recommended by the CDC and the Wyoming Department of Health. But there are ways some parents can get around that requirement by obtaining a medical or religious exemption.

She said it’s rare to see parents seeking a medical exemption from the measles vaccine, and even then they’re required to provide documentation explaining their why the exemption is medically necessary. 

“With the religious exemption, they just have to say they have a religious reason they don’t want the vaccine, and they don’t need to elaborate; and we’ve been told we cannot ask what their religion is or why they want it,” Farmer said. “(The exemption) still has to be approved by the Wyoming Department of Health, but they don’t have any recourse to say no.”

While such exemptions are still uncommon, Farmer agreed with Prentice’s impression that anti-vaccine sentiment is growing stronger lately, and the misinformation can be hard to correct.

“I don’t begrudge parents wanting to do what’s best for their child. But a lot of times people will believe what they read and see, and if they feel like the source is credible, they’ll believe it without doing research to see what’s behind that information,” she said. “So it’s hard to backtrack to convince people who’ve made up their minds.”

That said, Farmer noted that if a measles outbreak were to be confirmed within a district school, unvaccinated students would have to be sent home for safety’s sake.

Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said that while Wyoming remains measles-free for now –the last confirmed case was reported in 2010 – the best way to keep that streak going will be for parents to trust that their pediatrician has their child’s best interest at heart.

“What we want people to do is follow the vaccine schedules as recommended,” Deti said. “That was the reason measles was eliminated before.”

Update: Highways, offices to remain closed Thursday as major storm pummels Wyoming

in News/weather
Update from our Robert Geha in the midst of this winter bomb cyclone.

By Cowboy State Daily (Editor’s note: this story will be updated throughout the day. Last updated 7:00PM, March 13, 2019.)

Traffic in southeastern Wyoming ground to a halt on Wednesday as interstate, U.S. and state highways throughout the region were closed by a strong winter storm.

Businesses, schools and government offices in Cheyenne shut down as the storm raged through the region, with heavy snow and winds gusting to more than 50 mph dropping visibility to near zero.

A number, including Laramie County School Districts No. 1 and 2 and the Laramie County government offices, planned to remain closed through Thursday, when the storm hammering an area from Denver to the Dakotas was expected to release its grip on the region.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning through Thursday night for Laramie and Goshen counties and for the western Nebraska panhandle.

The City of Cheyenne, Laramie County School District No. 1 and the Cheyenne Regional Airport made their decisions Tuesday to close for Wednesday and the State of Wyoming followed suit early Wednesday morning, when Gov. Mark Gordon urged people to stay out of the weather.

“This storm has the potential to be particularly dangerous,” he said in a news release. “My advice is to stay put and shelter in place. Stay home, stay off the roads and stay safe and warm.”

Echoing that advice was the state Department of Homeland Security’s Deputy Director Leland Christensen.

“The message from Homeland Security is take care of your family, stay home and no unnecessary travel,” he said. “If there is a problem, rather than venture out, reach out to your officials and see if we can’t get you some help.”

As conditions deteriorated Wednesday, the Wyoming Department of Transportation closed Interstate 80 from Cheyenne west to Rock Springs and north to Buffalo. Accidents dotted Interstate 80 from Cheyenne to Rawlins.

U.S. and state highways throughout southeastern Wyoming were closed due to slick conditions and limited visibility. The Wyoming Transportation Department offered no estimate for when the roads might be open again.

As roads in and out of Cheyenne closed, truck drivers parked at truck stops or on roads nearby and prepared to spend a day or two waiting for the highways to open again.

At the Flying J Travel Center south of Cheyenne, employees said all 195 of the facility’s semi truck parking spaces were full.

“We have lots of drivers here,” said Amanda Gladgo. “They’re parked on the roads, too.”

Scattered power outages were also reported in rural Laramie County and near Glendo.

Storm conditions prompted the Red Cross to open a shelter at the Converse County National Guard Armory.

The storm was predicted to be the most widespread blizzard in almost 40 years, stretching from Denver north through southeastern Wyoming and into the Nebraska panhandle and Dakotas.

The historic nature of the storm drew a crew from The Weather Channel to Cheyenne on Wednesday.

A number of communities across southern and eastern Wyoming joined Cheyenne in shutting down schools and government offices, including Torrington, Laramie, Casper, Newcastle, Glendo and Chugwater. The University of Wyoming closed its classes at about 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Breaking: Schools, government offices close in face of storm predictions

in News/weather

By Cowboy State Daily

Schools and non-essential government offices in Cheyenne will be closed on Wednesday due to predictions of a winter storm expected to bring up to 20 inches of snow to the high plains by Thursday morning.

Laramie County School District No. 1 officials announced Tuesday that classes would be canceled Wednesday because of the storm forecast to bring winds of up to 65 mph in addition to heavy snow.

“District officials typically do not cancel school based on a weather forecast,” the district said in a news release. “However, in this situation, anticipated storm impacts including heavy snow and sustained wind gusts will take place at the time when school would release. Our primary concern is the safety of our students, parents and staff.”

Cheyenne officials announced non-emergency offices would be closed Wednesday, while the Cheyenne Regional Airport canceled all flights for Wednesday.

“Based on what (the National Weather Service is) telling us, we’re already canceling all commercial flights in anticipation of closing down the airport, probably around mid-morning,” said Nathan Banton, the airport’s general manager for aviation.

The storm moving northeast toward Wyoming was expected to arrive late Tuesday evening, after a day that saw sunny skies and high temperatures in the low to mid-50s.

“We have … what I call a textbook March snowstorm,” said Don Day, a meteorologist and owner of Day Weather. “The type of snowstorm … where we get heavy snow, a lot of wind and then springlike weather before and after.”

Forecasts called for snow reaching 10 to 15 inches across much of the plains, spreading from Denver north to the Nebraska panhandle, with heavier amounts expected in the north, where accumulations could reach 20 inches.

The National Weather Service said the impact from the storm could be the most widespread seen in almost 40 years.

“With this storm, we’ve got 10 to 15 inches of snow over much of the plains and into the Dakotas,” said Richard Emanuel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne. “So the area of impact is quite broad.”

Government agencies worked through the day Tuesday to make sure emergency measures were in place for the storm.

Jeanine West, director of the Laramie County Emergency Management Agency, said her organization was working with state and county and city officials to determine how best to deal with workers should travel be affected by the snow. In addition, she said the organization was working with the Red Cross to make sure shelters would be ready if needed.

West said her agency was even working to make sure additional parking space would be available should the storm stop truck traffic through Cheyenne.

State officials had not made any decision to close operations in advance of the storm Tuesday, but were keeping a close eye on conditions.

“We’re just watching the weather,” said Rachel Girt, spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Gordon.

Travel conditions were expected to deteriorate through the day Wednesday and Kevin Malatesta, public information officer for the Cheyenne Police Department, urged people to avoid traveling at all during the storm.

“If you really don’t meed to be out on the road, don’t go out on the road,” he said. “You are creating a hazard by being out on the road and tying up resources if you are in an accident. Stay warm, watch some Netflix, knit a sweater, do whatever you need to do, but you don’t need to go out on the road. Things can wait.”

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