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Wyoming News Briefs JULY 11

Damage from Hot Springs County hail storm could top $1 million

THERMOPOLIS (WNE) — The hail and wind storm that ravaged Hot Springs County July 1 caused severe damage to area homes, businesses and vehicles.

Contractors, automotive, and roofing businesses are flocking to Thermopolis to help with repairs. Many have set up temporary business locations in town to better serve the community.

Local businesses are also scrambling to repair the seemingly endless amount of damage.

Initial estimates put damages well over a million dollars, unlike anything experienced in Hot Springs County for several decades.

The current situation has some citizens wondering why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hasn't stepped in to offer help.

According to Hot Springs County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Gordon, FEMA offers assistance when uninsured damage goes over one million dollars.

The majority of the damaged business, homes and vehicles in the county are insured. The damage to the few uninsured properties will probably not reach a million dollars.


Black Hills wind farm, energy program plans approved

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Plans for a new wind farm and a renewable energy program for large-scale energy users have been approved by the Wyoming Public Service Commission, Black Hills Energy announced Wednesday.

The Corriedale Wind Energy Project is expected to open off the Otto Road exit west of Cheyenne in the fall of 2020 at a cost of $57 million. The wind farm will provide 40 megawatts of energy to commercial, industrial and governmental customers who use more than 300,000 kilowatt-hours per year. By comparison, the average U.S. residential household averaged just over 10,000 kilowatt-hours per year in 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The commission also approved Black Hills Energy’s Renewable Ready Service Tariff, which company spokeswoman Laurie Farkas described as “a voluntary green tariff for our large-use customers.”

Under Renewable Ready, large energy customers will be able to buy renewable energy for periods ranging from five to 25 years, Farkas said.

Black Hills Energy said in a news release that the Corriedale wind farm will be able to provide 100% of energy needs for customers in Wyoming and South Dakota. The company said it plans to hold an open subscription period for large-use customers in the fall, but early interest indicates high demand for the new wind farm.

Farkas added that non-subscribing customers will not see any cost increases related to construction of the wind farm or the Renewable Ready program.


New arrest made in October overdose death

GILLETTE (WNE) — A woman faces two felony charges for her alleged participation in helping Jacob “Walley” Wallentine move the body of a woman who had died of an overdose and try to conceal his part in her death.

Shalynn M. Muniz, 22, has been charged with accessory after the fact for manslaughter and conspiracy to dispose of a dead human body to conceal a felony in the death of Tamlyn Delgado, 27.

Delgado was found Oct. 3 in her car in the Eagle’s Nest Apartments parking lot with a tourniquet around her arm, a puncture mark in her right arm and a syringe in her lap.

Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies say that Wallentine staged the scene to make it look like a suicide because he didn’t want to go to prison. He reportedly worked with Muniz to move Delgado’s body from his home to her car, where he sat on top of her to drive it to the parking lot with Muniz following behind him in his car.

She allegedly waited for him for several minutes in the parking lot while he was in the car with Delgado’s body, according to court documents. He then got back in his car with Muniz and drove back to his home in Stroup’s Trailer Court early Oct. 2.

Wallentine, 29, pleaded no contest last month to manslaughter and disposing of a dead human body and was found guilty of the crimes. District Judge Michael N. “Nick” Deegan will sentence him Aug. 23.


NWC enrollment expected to drop by 7 percent

POWELL (WNE) — At its monthly meeting Monday, the Northwest College Board of Trustees wrestled with how to respond to a disappointing fall enrollment update.

The headcount going into the fall semester this year shows a 7 percent drop in enrollment over last year’s headcount.

College President Stefani Hicswa said while the figures show a decline, they’re an improvement over last year, when fall enrollment dropped 10 percent from 2017. Despite a smaller decline, the figures are not where the college leadership wants them to be.

“This is a bad trajectory to be on,” said Board President Dusty Spomer.

Trustee Bob Newsome said the figures show that past efforts are not producing results.

“It just seems like, how much lower can we go?” he said.

Hicswa cited low unemployment — now at 50-year lows — as a central cause of the problem. Many college institutions across the country are seeing their enrollment numbers decline.

Meanwhile, trustee John Housel said a greater effort, perhaps in coordination with other community colleges in the state, is needed to campaign in competition with the University of Wyoming.

Housel said NWC leaders need to talk to legislators, saying UW is getting a lot of financial support for its advertising campaigns while community colleges must compete with fewer resources.

“I think this is a case of unfair competition,” he said.

Housel said NWC has a lot to offer in terms of affordability, smaller class sizes, lower student to teacher ratios, and better residency offerings, but playing on these strengths is hard, as the state has gone “overboard” in its support of UW’s advertising.


Three arrested in case of meth delivery by mail

CODY (WNE) — Three members of a Meeteetse family are facing charges for attempting to conspire to deliver meth, each with the potential of receiving up to 20 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

Daniel Justice, 57, Sloan Justice, 51, and Shania Justice, 23, have all been arrested in the past two weeks for alleged crimes that involved receiving packages of meth from California. In questioning, Shania Justice revealed the transactions had been occurring for about a year before allegedly caught in October 2018.

Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations agents first made contact with the Justices in October after enacting a delayed sting operation at the family’s Meeteetse home, but it was not until recently that the individuals were arrested.

The family first drew authorities’ attention when a package with a strong odor of marijuana came into the Cody FedEx store, addressed to a “Stalon Justice.” Inside the package sent from a Matt Gibbons of Palmdale, Calif., authorities discovered nearly an ounce of meth and 4.2 grams of marijuana.

The package was addressed to a home known to authorities to be a residence of the Justice family.

After engaging Sloan Justice in a controlled delivery in which she accepted the package, authorities later came back to the residence with a search warrant. Although drug paraphernalia was found in the home, it does not appear any additional drugs were found in the October visit.

At a later date in December, after repeated denials, Shania Justice admitted to receiving meth on a routine basis from a Gibbons, a family friend, through mail from California.


Propane, bullets ignite in fire near Lovell

LOVELL (WNE) — A botched fireworks launch led to a number of unexpected explosions near Crooked Creek on Monday, July 1.

Two camper trailers and a shed on Crooked Creek Road are considered a total loss after they went up in flames due to improper use of fireworks that ignited a propane tank and acetylene bottle on the property.

Members of the Lovell Fire Department responded to the scene at 4:58 p.m. to find both trailers engulfed.

“We pulled our first truck so we could go hit it quick because there was a welder and four-wheeler right there next to the trailers,” Assistant Fire Chief Bob Mangus said. “Maybe we can save them if we hit it quick. But that’s when the gunshots started going off.”

The fire had reached two ammo boxes full of bullets inside the trailers, and suddenly bullets started igniting within the fire.

Bullets set off in a fire aren’t nearly as dangerous as they are when fired in a gun, Mangus said. The heat typically blows the primer out of the shell, which causes the bullet to make a loud sound but doesn’t cause the velocity one might expect.

It’s still a risk, Mangus said.

“Rather than anyone going in and getting hurt we just decided to back off, and when our big truck got there we used our monitor,” Mangus recalled.

The monitor, commonly know as a water cannon, shoots a higher velocity stream of water, allowing the fire department to handle the fire quickly from a distance.

The deluge of water tampered down the flames significantly, and the fire was extinguished shortly after.


Accessibility project begins at Devils Tower

SUNDANCE (WNE) — A project to improve accessibility at Devils Tower National Monument is on the near horizon, says Superintendent Amnesty Kochanowski. The work will aim to make the popular site more accessible and safer for visitors and will concentrate on the main areas of visitor use within the park.

The project is just about to go out to bid, Kochanowski says, and the intention is to break ground in September.

The work will include renovation of both parking lots to add more handicap-accessible parking lots and improve the sidewalks to make access to the Tower easier, she said.

Secondly, the approach to the Tower trail will be redone to ensure it is graded to a more accessible level. New exhibits will also be added to the visitor’s center with improved accessibility for the visually or audio impaired and new signs will be visible throughout the park.

According to the proposal, the work will also include four new visitor plazas, including one at the visitor center and three along the Tower Trail; 12 new wayside exhibits along the trail; new accessible restrooms; new crosswalks and pedestrian crossings; a vehicular drop-off area near the climber registration office; and new accessible restrooms.

The estimated completion date for the project is November, 2020. The park is expecting, “Some pretty big impacts during the summer season next year,” says Kochanowski, but is looking for ways to mitigate them.