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Lovell Officers Praised For Rescuing Boy From House Fire 

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Lovell police officer has been given the department’s “Lifesaver Award” for his role in saving an 8-year-old boy from a deadly fire.

Officer Dusty Schultz, who has been with the department since 2018, was honored last week by the Lovell Town Council for saving the life of a young boy trapped in a house fire on Montana Street in Lovell on March 4.

“That (award) is reserved for when an officer goes above and beyond the expectations of service, and actually their actions end up saving a person’s life,” Police Chief Dan Laffin told Cowboy State Daily. 

Schultz and Big Horn County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Angell worked together to prevent what would have been a terrible tragedy, Laffin noted, in an incident that no one in the department will soon forget.

“You know, it’s one o’clock in the morning, the whole family’s asleep,” he said. “The house caught on fire. There was a raging fire at this point. And the family had three small children. In the chaos of rounding everybody up, they thought they got everybody out. But there was an 8-year-old boy still trapped inside the house.”

Not Much Time

Officer Schultz told Cowboy State Daily that he and Deputy Angell were the first on the scene.

“Big Horn County Deputy Jeff Angell and I were in the Annex at the police department, and dispatch received a call – the dispatcher put it on speaker so we could hear what was going on – and it was a pretty frantic person trying to get help to the house because everything was evolving pretty quickly,” he said.

Schultz said he and Angell headed straight for the scene, where they found people gathered outside of the burning building. The way the structure was being consumed, Schultz said he knew they had very little time.

“In a lot of situations in law enforcement, you have time to think about things,” he said. “This is one of those situations where you really don’t; this is where you really rely on instinct.”

Schultz said he and Angell hurried around the house, shining their flashlights in windows and listening for any sounds of life from inside.

“We had to walk around the flames and it was so hot,” he recalled. “I mean, you could feel it just burning your face as you’re walking by. And as I was walking looking for an entry, I heard what I thought was a faint cry. It was really hard to hear, because when a fire like that is going, I mean, it’s super loud.”

“I Could Hear Him”

In trying to pinpoint the location of the voice, Schultz said he and Angell eventually came to one particular window, through which they could see nothing.

“I could hear him, but I couldn’t tell if he was in the room, or if he was in the hallway outside of the room, or in the room across the hallway,” he said. “And then I figured if I could hear him he could hear me.”

However, the closed window was a problem, and because Schultz said he doesn’t have any formal fire training, he relied on Angell, an experienced firefighter, for guidance.

“I know from fires, you don’t go and break windows out in fires because if you provide oxygen to the fire it gets worse,” he said. “So I told (Angell), I said, ‘I can hear a boy crying in here, can I break the window?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, the fire has already vented. You can break the window.’” 

Schultz said he used his expandable baton to break the window, which wasn’t easy, because it was framed in metal.

“I began beating on the window as hard as I could – I actually bent my baton a little bit,” he said. “I was beating on it pretty good, trying to make a hole big enough to fit through, either for me or for a child. And the whole time I’m beating on the window, Deputy Angell, he’s screaming through the window the kid’s name, Connor, telling him to come to the window.”

“The Smoke Was So Thick”

Schultz and Angell called loudly to the child for what felt like many, many minutes, but in reality, was just a short time.

“It felt like 45 minutes, but it was really only maybe three minutes,” Schultz said, “We made a hole big enough for a child to fit through, and we shined a flashlight in there – and I mean, you couldn’t see more than four inches through the window into the room. (The smoke) was so thick.”

“And it’s very discouraging at that point, because you think, if I can’t see in there, and the smoke is that bad, is this kid going to be able to move? Is he still alive? And it got real quiet. I couldn’t hear the boy. 

“And I told Deputy Angell to move back a little bit so I could break the window open some more, and just as he stepped back, he told me to stop, and he shined his flashlight in there, and then Connor’s face just came right through the smoke,” he continued.

Schultz said Deputy Angell reached in the window and pulled the boy out, walking him to safety. The boy is still undergoing breathing treatments, Schultz said, but was not burned in the fire.

Schultz said that in his opinion, incidents like this reiterate the need for emergency service cross-training for officers, which he said Chief Laffin is actively promoting.

“I’m a police officer, not a firefighter, so this is the last thing I was trained for or expected,” he said. “We’re all CPR certified. We all carry AED’s, so we’re ready for medical emergencies. I think this incident might spark some interest in being a little cross trained as far as what we can and can’t do with fires. I know the assistant fire chief, when I was speaking to him the night of the fire, he talked about doing a basic course for all first responders.” 

Schultz added that in a town the size of Lovell, the police department is the only emergency service that is on duty 24 hours a day.

“And so when we get a call, whether it’s a med call or a fire call, we’re first on scene 99.9% of the time,” he pointed out.

Team Effort

Even though Schultz was the officer who was recognized by the Lovell Town Council last week, Laffin said he wanted to be sure to stress that Schultz didn’t save this young boy’s life all by himself.

“Dusty Schultz received the Lovell Police Department Lifesaver Award because it is a departmental award,” he explained. “That is not to say that Jeff Angell didn’t carry out the same exact tasks that Dusty Schultz did, and I’m sure his agency will recognize him at some point for sure.”

Although the police department in Lovell has only six sworn officers (Laffin pointed out that no police chief will ever say that they have enough officers in their department, they could always use more), he noted that he couldn’t be prouder of the people on his team.

“My new patrol sergeant, who just came up last year from Texas, he was stopped on the street by people – just randomly by citizens – telling him that this is the best police department they have ever seen in the town alone,” Laffin said. “So I’m extraordinarily proud.” 

Laffin added that the “Lifesaver Award” has only been issued once before in the history of the department, and that was last year.

“Officer Shantel Stahl responded to a cardiac patient who’s having a heart attack,” Laffin said. “So she rushed in there, performed CPR and actually regained the man’s heart rate and pulse. He ended up being life flighted for further cardiac care, but he made a full recovery. And he actually presented the medal to Officer Stahl during the ceremony.”

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Northwest Wyo Communities Rally Around Family of Teenage Siblings Killed in Head-On Collision

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

An outpouring of support for the family of two teenage siblings killed in an accident lat week is being seen in northwestern Wyoming.

Peiton and Phoenix Hackenberg died in an accident just east of Powell on Feb. 16, when slick roads contributed to a head-on collision with another vehicle as they were driving to school in Lovell.

According to the Wyoming Highway Patrol, 17-year-old Peiton and 15-year-old Phoenix Hackenberg both died in the crash, while the driver and passenger in the other vehicle, 31-year-old Powell resident Brittney Baldridge and 32-year-old Lovell resident Elliott Wittick, were both hospitalized. Wittick remains in a hospital in Billings, Montana. All occupants of both vehicles were wearing their seatbelts.

An outpouring of community support for the Hackenbergs began almost immediately. Although the family lives near Powell, because mom Brenda Hackenberg is a teacher in Lovell, her two youngest children transferred to that school district several years ago. Peiton was an active member of the Lovell cheerleading squad and dance team.

“If you get on the Lovell Cheerleading Facebook group you will see dozens of schools around Wyoming, they all wore purple ribbons for the (Hackenbergs) at their games Friday night,” said Cindy Allred, a Lovell resident who is organizing one of the fundraisers to help the family. “They put their pompoms in a heart and sent pictures. There’s Pinedale and Douglas and Rawlins and Cheyenne East and South. The coach from Utah that taught their state dance routine sent condolences. It is unbelievable.”

Two Facebook groups have been created to help raise money for the family’s expenses. Almost 5,000 people have joined the groups, which feature an auction of donated items organized by friends and family. 

And other, more personal moments over the weekend honored the two young people.

“Wild Edge Printing, the T-shirt place here in Lovell, they printed up 100 T-shirts for all the ball players and the cheerleaders and the dancers to wear in remembrance,” Allred told Cowboy State Daily. “They also printed up a whole bunch of other shirts for sale before the games Friday night, and $8 from every T-shirt will be donated to the Hackenbergs. They had big picture boards of the kids, they had big poster boards where you could write notes to the family. They took donations. 

“Before every game they did a moment of silence, the cheerleaders had their megaphone and the pompom for Peiton just sitting in the lineup with them alone,” Allred continued. “The dancers are making up a dance just for Peiton and they’re going to dance this Thursday night at senior night for her.”

One of the Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers who worked the crash scene posted a video on Facebook about the difficulty he had dealing with the tragic loss of these two young people.

“In this job, we see a lot of things that most people don’t have to see, and we deal with a lot of things that most people don’t have to deal with,” said Trooper Randy Davis. “Normally, we say, well, it’s part of the job. We try not to let it bother us. The difference in this one was, I knew these two kids, I know their family, I’ve gone to church with them and their family. And it hits you a little differently sometimes when you’re close to the situation.” 

The Hackenberg family has seen its share of loss in recent years. Mother Brenda has been raising all four of her children alone since the death of her husband in 2017. Peiton and Phoenix were the youngest.

For the community, the loss of the Hackenberg siblings came just days after another young person from Lovell, 21-year-old Brenda Timmons, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Hawaii.

“We were still reeling from that when these two kids were killed,” Allred said. “So support has come for all of the children, all three of them. There’s bank accounts set up for both families.”

Services for the two Hackenberg children were held on Saturday morning, with live streaming available for those who couldn’t make it.

“The service was packed, overflowing,” Allred said. “This is the first day I have not cried, it has been hard.”

A fundraiser has also been set up to help with medical expenses for Brittney Baldridge and Elliott Wittick, the occupants of the other vehicle involved in the Feb. 16 crash.

To donate to the Hackenberg family, click on the Help the Hackenbergs Facebook group. 

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Grinches Vandalize Lovell Town Christmas Tree

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The Grinch struck the Big Horn Basin last week, un-decorating the town Christmas tree in the center of Lovell.

“The weekend before Thanksgiving, we have a Christmas tree lighting,” explained Lovell Parks Manager Gary Emmett. “Santa comes to town, and we have the Christmas tree lighting, and all the little kids come in and throw their happy glitter on the tree as it lights up – it’s the magic of Christmas. And then over the weekend, so the Tuesday or Wednesday night right before Thanksgiving, we’re assuming kids came in and took all of the ornaments.”

Emmett explained that the tree is from 25 and 30 feet tall and all the ornaments below a height of about 8 feet were forcibly removed.

“We have these large, various sizes of ornaments that decorate the tree,” he said. “And everything that’s below, say, between 7- and 8-foot high – so, reaching height – is ripped off the tree.”

Emmett said that the ornaments, which are commercial grade and shatter resistant, are about 12 inches in diameter, and are secured on the tree with heavy duty zip ties and wire.

“But when they got ripped off, you know, they left the ornament toppers,” he said. “They just grabbed all of the ornaments and left all those toppers still dangling on the tree.”

Both Emmett and the Town Administrator Jed Nebel said they believe that the vandalism is the work of kids.

“My suspicions are that it’s a young group of kids, just kind of messing with them or breaking them or whatnot,” Nebel said. “But I don’t think this is a rash of stealing, or that anything else is going to happen.”

“If it was an adult or somebody who was trying to take some for their own home, a little more caution would be taken,” Emmett said.

Emmett estimates that replacing the ornaments would cost around $500, but added the city won’t be able to order anything until after the first of the year. So members of the community have stepped up with some ideas of their own.

“There’s been citizens that had seen it, and stopped me at church or in the store and say, ‘Hey, what can we do, is there any way that we can help?’” Emmett said. “I have one family who said they would even make paper chains, the old-fashioned kind, just something to decorate the tree so that it doesn’t look half empty, you know?”

Lovell is a relatively safe community, according to both town staff and local shopkeepers.

Maci Lucht, the owner of Valley Flowers in downtown Lovell, said acts like this are rare.

“I haven’t noticed anything this year,” Lucht said. “I haven’t had any problems in my store, as far as I know. Lovell seems to be a pretty honest community.”

“This is my tenth year of decorating the tree,” Emmett said. “And I’ve never we’ve never had this happen before.”

Emmett is hopeful that the tree won’t remain bare this Christmas season.

“Every year there’s always extra ornaments added to the tree,” he said. “A family will come in and put little handmade bows or such on the trees, just by themselves – and that’s the neat thing about having a community tree.”

The incident occurred just a few days before someone stole Christmas trees being sold by a Powell Boy Scout troop. The troop lost about $1,100 in trees, but residents have since made donations to compensate the troop, visiting the troop’s sale lot to buy “invisible” trees.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, a Park County resident brought in a box of ornaments that he had found tossed on the side of the road. He and his granddaughter had picked up the ornaments, not knowing about the vandalism until the Lovell Chronicle reported on the incident.

“There are good people out there,” Emmett said.

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