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Former court clerk makes first appearance on theft charges

Former court clerk makes first appearance on theft charges

TORRINGTON (WNE) – Former Goshen County District Court Clerk Kathi Rickard appeared in court for the first time Wednesday to begin the process of answering to six felony theft charges relating to her time as an elected official.

Rickard stands accused of stealing a large sum of money while serving in her elected position as court clerk – enough that the county was forced to pay $120,217.65 just to keep the affected accounts current.

During the hearing, Judge Randall Arp - in what could be his final bench appearance before retiring – listed six offenses between January 2016 and December 2018 where investigators from the Division of Criminal Investigation believe she stole amounts of money from WyUser accounts and a Quickbooks account that she was responsible for maintaining.

The amount ranged from $6,100 to more than $58,000. Each of Rickard’s six felony theft charges carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of $10,000, or both. Goshen County is also seeking restitution for the funds.

Cole Sherard, attorney for the defense, and prosecutor Spencer Allred of Lincoln County, both told Arp they felt it would be appropriate for Rickard to be released on her own recognizance.

Rickard has numerous health issues, including several life-threatening conditions related to a heart issue, and Sherard told the court that her issues might be more than the Goshen County Detention Center could handle.


Woman drowns in Shoshone River

CODY (WNE) — A Pahaska Teepee employee from New Hampshire died of an apparent drowning in the North Fork of the Shoshone River. Susan C. Hartley, 56, of Chichester, N.H., was found Wednesday afternoon by fellow employees from the resort. She was in the Shoshone River approximately one-half mile downstream from Pahaska.

Hartley was last seen at the resort on Tuesday at 3 p.m. When she didn’t report for work at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, fellow employees began searching for her. They eventually found her backpack and walking stick underneath the US 14-16-20 West bridge that crosses the Shoshone River just east of Pahaska. Because of the circumstances, the Park County Sheriff’s Office was notified and at 11 a.m., the decision was made to activate Search and Rescue.

SAR immediately deployed ground search units as well as a canine team. However, before they could reach the scene, workers from Pahaska discovered Hartley’s body in the river directly across from the Pahaska Trailhead. SAR then deployed their swift water team in order to recover her body. The Shoshone River was swollen and moving rapidly from the spring runoff.

The SAR swift water team entered the river at the 3-Mile Campground at 1:15 p.m. and floated to Hartley’s location. They then evacuated her body downstream and turned it over to County Coroner Tim Power. Although the exact cause of death is pending an autopsy, there were no apparent signs of foul play and Power has preliminarily ruled Hartley drowned.


Jackson hospital to raise rates by 8 percent

JACKSON (WNE) — In an attempt to reverse a new trend of expenses outpacing revenue, St. John’s Medical Center will raise its prices 8 percent in fiscal year 2020, which started Monday.

At its monthly meeting June 27, the hospital’s board of trustees voted unanimously for the average increase in its charge master, the document that sets its list prices for services. The bump is more than double St. John’s five-year average price increase, which was 3.6 percent heading into fiscal year 2019.

Trustees cited the need to boost revenue and bring prices more in line with competitors. Scott Gibson, who heads the finance committee, said insurance companies, not patients, will bear the brunt of the increase, though, like much of hospital finance, the picture may not be so clear.

“Most patients aren’t paying charge master prices,” St. John’s Communications Director Karen Connelly said. “Most of our patients won’t see an 8% out-of-pocket increase in the price of their care.”

The increase in average prices also doesn’t mean every service at St. John’s will go up by 8%. Some may go up more, some less. Because of the intricacies of how hospitals are paid, it is difficult to tell exactly how individual patients’ bills may change.

Hospital administrators and trustees spoke at the meeting about several factors that pushed expenses higher than revenue the past two fiscal years. The first was that, on average, prices at St. John’s are lower than at other regional hospitals or at ones in other resort towns. Prices gathered through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show St. John’s prices for several common procedures to be relatively even with similar hospitals or up to roughly 30% percent cheaper.


Pyrotechnics group wants to set off biggest bang

GILLETTE (WNE) — The Pyrotechnics Guild International wants to end its annual convention with a bang so big it sets a world record when it meets in Gillette Aug. 10-16.

To do that, however, would require a temporary road closure. Cam-plex General Manager Jeff Esposito said PGI is asking for the state Department of Transportation to shut down Highway 51 from Garner Lake Road to American Road from 10 to 10:45 p.m. Aug. 16.

“If we move it in any other direction, the safety radius would be inside of where houses are,” he said of the planned record display. “As bad as it is to close a highway, this is the best spot and really their only choice to do this.

He said PGI is a little behind the curve in making the request, but he’d like to accommodate his customer.

Esposito said he isn’t sure what kind of world record PGI is looking to set.

County clerk and fireworks enthusiast Susan Saunders asked what kind of fireworks it would involve.

“Does this involve pretty lights or is it just noise?” she asked.

“Pretty much a big boom,” Esposito said.

“A big boom, no lights?” she asked. “There’ll be a flash, but it’s not a really pretty one.”

Since the section that PGI hopes to shut down is in both the city and county jurisdictions, the Gillette City Council and commissioners would have to support the special event application.

The commissioners voted to support it at their regular meeting Tuesday afternoon.


Northwest College eyes tax for new student center

POWELL (WNE) — Stefani Hicswa, president of Northwest College, outlined to the Park County Commission Tuesday how a countywide capital facilities sales tax could provide an important element of funding for a new student center at the college.

The current student center is a 50-year-old building, and Hicswa said it’s “beyond its lifespan.” Architects are presently working with NWC on design plans for a new student center, an estimated $20 million project.

Northwest would approach the State of Wyoming for funding up to half of the project cost. The possibility of the 1 percent countywide specific purpose sales tax, in combination with private fundraising, is being explored for the other half of project financing. Approvals from legislators and voters would be necessary.

Hicswa told the commission the college is seeing the highest retention rates in the state, even higher than the University of Wyoming, and is seeing the highest completion rates in its history.

However, the college is struggling with low enrollment rates. This led to budget cuts in the coming fiscal year, which included the elimination of 21 positions and eight reductions in force.

Hicswa said surveys have found students place greater importance on the quality of a college’s facilities than they do the institution’s reputation.

She also cited the impact the college has on the economy of Park County. With its $30 million budget, Hicswa explained, this translates to $88 million in economic activity in the county.

Hicswa said she is “confident” the state would support half the cost of the project, and they would know for sure by the end of February.