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May 2, 2019 Wyoming News Briefs

Man sentenced to prison for sex abuse in Yellowstone

Man sentenced to prison for sex abuse in Yellowstone

POWELL (WNE) — A Texas man has been ordered to serve a year in federal prison for sexually abusing a woman in Yellowstone National Park in June 2018.

Paul W. Wills III, 33, was sentenced last week on a felony count of abusive sexual contact. Federal prosecutors say Wills sexually touched the woman while she was “extremely intoxicated.” The elements of the crime say the woman was “incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct and was physically incapable of declining participation and communicating her unwillingness to engage in” the sexual contact.

A sexual assault nurse examiner reported observing some kind of injuries to the victim, according to court documents, which contain few details of the case.

The crime took place near some employee housing in Mammoth Hot Springs, where Wills had been working for a park concessionaire, said Mark Trimble, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Wills has been in federal custody since July 23, when he was arrested in Bozeman, Montana.

At last week’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ordered Wills to serve 12 months and one day in prison. That will be followed by five years of supervised release that will begin with a six-month stint at a residential re-entry center.

The National Park Service investigated the case.


Yellowstone’s east gate to open Friday

CODY (WNE) — The east gate to Yellowstone National Park is scheduled to open for the season Friday morning, but motorists from Cody should be aware they may face a 30-minute delay due to construction before reaching the heart of the Park.

While the east entrance is scheduled to open, there is a potential for weather disruption. Cody has experienced snowfall this week and a late snow could sidetrack plans of drivers.

Sylvan Pass, at 8,524 feet, some 20 miles into the Park, is always susceptible to receiving a storm.

Park Service officials recommend visitors check Yellowstone weather reports and road conditions before venturing into the nation’s oldest national park.

The East Entrance closed earlier than normal in 2018 because of construction at Fishing Bridge. Work continues with nearby Indian Pond road construction. This will create the threat of delay for drivers before they get far into the Park.

Weather does have the potential to interfere with plans this weekend.

“We are expecting snow and cold temperatures the next few days, so visitors should check the road status before coming,” a Park spokesperson said.

Roads from the west gate to Madison Junction, Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, and Norris to Canyon Village, opened in mid-April.

Besides the east gate opening Friday, the road between Canyon Village and Lake Village is scheduled to open that day.


Former Buffalo chamber head to be sentenced

BUFFALO (WNE) — Former Buffalo Chamber of Commerce CEO Angela Fox, who was convicted of three counts of theft, will be sentenced on May 13.

Fox was accused of stealing $8,624 from the Chamber and was found guilty by a Johnson County jury on Jan. 15. She was set to be sentenced on March 25. The sentencing was later vacated when Fox’s defense team filed a series of motions that requested a ruling to be made by a judge other than Judge William Edelman, who presided over the trial in Fourth Judicial District Court in Buffalo.

Motions filed by Fox's defense team included a motion to acquit Fox on all charges due to lack of evidence of theft and a motion for a new trial stating that Buffalo Chamber of Commerce members were in the room during the jury selection process and part of the jury selection panel.

After Edelman dismissed the motions in an omnibus order filed Feb. 19, stating Fox’s team had not met the legal burden for either, Fox and her defense team then filed a motion for a change of judge and a new trial on March 13.

During a motions hearing on April 8, Judge John Perry found no wrongdoing on Edelman's part. He said that as a corporation, it was the chamber Fox had stolen from and not its individual members.

Perry ruled that Fox return to Johnson County to be sentenced at a later date.

Fox is out on $15,000 cash-only bond and has been ordered to wear a GPS monitoring anklet at all times. She will be sentenced at the Johnson County Justice Center.


Greybull councilman pleads guilty in water dispute confrontation

GREYBULL (WNE) — Clay Collingwood, an elected member of the Greybull Town Council, changed his plea to guilty to misdemeanor breach of peace in Big Horn County Fifth Judicial Circuit Court on Monday.

The guilty plea was part of a plea agreement. Brigita Krisjansons, Collingwood’s attorney, laid out the terms of the agreement. The original charge of unlawful contact would change to be breach of peace, she said. Collingwood would get six months of unsupervised probation and pay a $350 fine. A 15-day underlying jail sentence would be suspended.

The case stemmed from a water dispute between Collingwood and the victim, Heather Richter. As part of the plea agreement, Collingwood had to put in a diversion box and ditch to ensure no further contact between him and Richter.

According to a factual basis established in the court, on June 13, 2018, there was a confrontation between Collingwood and Richter. Collingwood allegedly used rude, threatening and foul language during the confrontation.

Richter was present in the hearing and gave a statement before Magistrate Randy Royal of the night of the incident. The statement was the same one she gave to Deputy Ken Nelson.

In her statement, she told of being confronted by an obviously intoxicated Collingwood. She alleged that he made sexual statements to her and recalled that he got a 2x2 piece of lumber about 2 feet long and raised it. Shealso alleged that he grabbed her arm and dragged her.

She told the court she should not have to endure sexual harassment. “I did the best I could,” she said, adding that she was not willing to sacrifice anymore.


Park County to give back more than $130,000 in taxes

CODY (WNE) — Park County will provide more than $130,000 in tax rebates to a Texas petroleum company after the business over-assessed its equipment in the county.

At a Feb. 19 Park County Commissioners meeting it was announced Dallas-based Principle Petroleum Partners LLC was overcharged $131,573.80 on its 2018 taxes because of the faulty valuation.

“It was an error on how they presented their billings corrections,” said Park County Treasurer Barb Poley. “It was their error and now we have to do a correction on it.”

The properties in question, oil wells north and west of County Road 2BD and on the Hoodoo Ranch off of WYO 120, south of Cody, were valued at $325,327 more than the real value.

The assessment only covers Principle equipment as the company does not own land on any of the parcels their 14 wells sit on.

It wasn’t until Principle had already paid half its tax bill the county’s assessor office discovered the mistake.

The Park County Commissioners unanimously approved paying the entire lump sum in February instead of drawing out the payments over the State’s maximum allowed five years.

“We owe this company the money,” Commissioner Lee Livingston said. “But then … the one-shot payout impacts the district. I guess I lean towards paying it all out.”

Poley said the special districts “are still in the negative” when it comes to paying back the debt. She said the second half of 2019 property tax revenue, which the county will collect May 10, will hopefully cover the remaining funds.


WHP: No risk from wastewater spill near Woods Landing

LARAMIE (WNE) — Wastewater that spilled in Albany County on Tuesday does not pose a threat to fish, wildlife or humans, according to a preliminary assessment from the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

A semitrailer crashed just before 5 p.m. Tuesday about 3 miles south of Woods Landing on Wyoming Highway 230. The unidentified driver sustained injuries, but Jeremy Beck of the WHP said he didn’t have information about the condition of the driver or where he was transported.

It’s also not clear what caused the commercial truck transporting wastewater, which Beck said was “reclaimed water,” to crash, though it’s under investigation. The smell of gas hung in the air Wednesday at the mangled guard rail along the south side of the highway where the crash occurred. Running along that side of the highway is Woods Creek, which flows into the Laramie River.

Beck said 120 barrels of wastewater water spilled when the truck crashed. Diesel fuel also spilled, but Beck said it was concentrated on the side of the highway opposite the creek.

Reclaimed water refers to municipal wastewater that has been treated to meet specific water quality criteria with the intent of being used for a range of purposes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The term recycled water is synonymous with reclaimed water. The wastewater being transported Tuesday was not classified as hazardous, Beck said. The initial reading of the situation by the WHP, Beck said, is that the spilled fluids do not pose an environmental threat.


Rail disruptions hurt Peabody coal shipments

GILLETTE (WNE) — Rail disruptions caused by severe cold and flooding throughout the Plains states in mid-February contributed to a 22% drop in Peabody Energy Corp. coal shipments from the Powder River Basin in the first quarter of 2019.

The company’s three PRB mines — North Antelope Rochelle, Rawhide and Caballo — sold 25.3 million tons of coal in the first quarter of this year, compared to 32.4 million tons in the same period in 2018, according to Peabody’s 2019 first quarter report released Wednesday morning.

Peabody estimates those weather-related impacts to Powder River Basin shipments cost the company about $23 million in added expenses.

“Winter weather and severe flooding limited rail shipments from the PRB,” said Amy Schwetz, Peabody’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. For the quarter, Peabody posted a net income of $129.9 million on revenues of $1.25 billion, short of the $207 million recorded in the first quarter of 2018 with revenues of $1.46 billion.

The Powder River Basin struggles show up in those overall revenue numbers as well, with the area posting revenues of $287 million, 26% lower than the $389 million made in the first quarter of 2018.

The company also continues to recover from a devastating fire at its North Goonyella mine in Australia last year, and insurance settlements seem to have balanced the books on that front.

While Peabody’s thermal operations were impacted by weather in the first quarter, the company managed to return more than $300 million in cash to shareholders, CEO Glenn Kellow said.

That brings the company’s payback to shareholders to more than $1.4 billion since August 2017, he said.


Jackson, Teton County study hiring lobbyist

JACKSON (WNE) — Dollars for lobbying in Cheyenne are included in town and county draft budgets for next year.

A draft Teton County budget includes $30,000 for “legislative liaising,” and the town’s draft budget includes another $30,000, Town Manager Larry Pardee said.

“We can wait and let legislation happen to us,” Pardee said, “or we can become more proactive.”

The latest legislative session saw a slew of bills that targeted specific issues in Teton County. One bill, now a law, removed county authority over private school zoning to allow the Jackson Hole Classical Academy to move forward with plans to build a new school. Another bill, which failed, sought to restrict affordable housing programs. The influx of bills aimed at Teton County policies has prompted elected officials to consider allocating money toward representing local interests at the state level.

What that looks like remains to be determined, but county Commissioner Luther Propst said in an April 22 budget meeting that Teton County needs “pretty significant professional help” to communicate its message in Cheyenne.

“I think we need somebody who would help us organize our time, help us identify messages we need to get out in a timely manner and move quickly when it’s necessary and coordinate for us when the Legislature is in session,” Propst said.

“Freelancing” advocacy as a board, he said, means the county is “behind the eight ball all the time.”

Commission Chairwoman Natalia Macker had a slightly different vision for the funding.

“One of the potential intended uses of this funding was, if there were legislative meetings happening in the region, our involvement in hosting a gathering for legislators when they’re in town,” Macker said, suggesting a lower dollar amount for the first year.

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