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Wyoming News Briefs JULY 25

Third person dies after park crash

JACKSON (WNE) — A third person has died following the July 16 crash in Grand Teton National Park.

Dorothy Ashby, 78, was a passenger in the Nissan Xterra involved in the accident. She had been moved, along with Brian and Catherine Aubuchon, to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center following the crash. She died Monday morning.

The wreck killed Craig Edward Aubuchon, 65, of Town and Country, Missouri, and Carol Lynn Roemer, 68, of Riverton, who was driving the SUV that Aubuchon’s rental minivan collided with. The accident closed the highway four hours.

Coleen Niemann, the hospital’s director of marketing, said Brian and Catherine Aubuchon were discharged after spending several days in the hospital.

Investigators with Wyoming Highway Patrol and Grand Teton National Park are still trying to figure out what caused Craig Aubuchon to cross the centerline of Highway 89 into oncoming traffic. Trooper Todd Baxter previously told the News&Guide he wanted to speak with the passengers in the cars. He said Tuesday that the investigation was ongoing.

Two children under 2 years old were also in the minivan, Baxter said. One of them sustained a broken leg, but they are both OK. They were taken by ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where their parents were flown.


Wyo unemployment remains at 3.5 percent

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Wyoming’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.5 percent from May to June, according to the Research and Planning section of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.

Wyoming’s unemployment rate decreased from its year-ago level of 4.1 percent and was slightly lower than the current U.S. unemployment rate of 3.7 percent.

Most county unemployment rates increased from May to June. Unemployment sometimes rises in June as young people get out of school and begin looking for work. The largest unemployment rate increases occurred in Albany (up from 3 percent to 4 percent), Fremont (up from 3.8 percent to 4.7 percent), Platte (up from 3 percent to 3.7 percent), Sweetwater (up from 3.5 percent to 4.2 percent) and Washakie (up from 3.6 percent to 4.3 percent) counties. Teton County’s unemployment rate fell from 3 percent in May to 2.3 percent in June as seasonal tourist activity increased.

Compared to a year earlier, unemployment fell in 18 counties, rose slightly in three counties and remained unchanged in two counties. The largest decreases were seen in Weston (down from 3.7 percent to 3.1 percent), Fremont (down from 5.3 percent to 4.7 percent), Converse (down from 3.8 percent to 3.2 percent) and Campbell (down from 4.3 percent to 3.7 percent) counties. Small unemployment rate increases occurred in Sublette (up from 4 percent to 4.2 percent), Big Horn (up from 4.4 percent to 4.5 percent) and Goshen (up from 4 percent to 4.1 percent) counties.

Teton County had the lowest unemployment rate in June at 2.3 percent.


Fremont coroner says tariffs create office deficit

RIVERTON (WNE) — The Fremont County Coroner’s Office is starting the new fiscal year with a deficit as a result of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

Coroner Mark Stratmoen blamed the tariffs – and the “infinite wisdom” of the current federal administration – for a 20 percent, or $600, increase in the cost of the 150 body bags that he buys every year from China.

“It’s one of those little hidden things that, due to the trade wars, is starting to affect us down the line,” Stratmoen told the Fremont County Commission. “So when you see a negative item appear on the budget once we pay for that – after you’ve just approved the new budget – that’s the reason.”

He noted that the body bag purchase usually is the “largest single item planned for” in the coroner’s operating supplies budget.

“(We) will start fiscal year 2020 by wiping that line item out to a negative,” he said.


Supreme Court upholds psychiatrist’s assault conviction

POWELL (WNE) — The Wyoming Supreme Court says there was more than enough evidence to convict a former Cody psychiatrist of aggravated assault and battery for crashing into another vehicle while high.

On Tuesday, the state’s highest court rejected Matthew V. Hopkins’ appeal of his felony conviction, upholding a Park County jury’s decision from last year.

Hopkins received an 18- to 36-month prison sentence for the offense in June 2018 and has already been released. A spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Corrections said Hopkins was paroled last month and is now living in Texas.

Hopkins was apologetic at his sentencing last year and has never disputed the basic facts of the case: He got high off a can of compressed air on the morning of March 14, 2017, and passed out while driving to his office, crashing into an oncoming vehicle and injuring the other driver.

However, Hopkins has contended that his actions did not amount to aggravated assault and battery, defined as “knowingly caus[ing] bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.” (In this case, the Park County Attorney’s Office said his Toyota FJ Cruiser qualified as a weapon.)

However, justices unanimously rejected those arguments, finding that Wyoming law does not require prosecutors to show someone committed aggravated assault and battery on purpose. Rather, justices agreed the question for the jury was whether Hopkins acted “voluntarily.”

“Applying this reasoning, we have little trouble concluding that Mr. Hopkins knowingly caused bodily injury with a deadly weapon even though he was unconscious when he hit the victim’s vehicle,” the opinion said. “Mr. Hopkins did not suffer an accidental loss of consciousness, as he had full knowledge of the effects inhalants have on the brain.”


Arch posts gain in second quarter

GILLETTE (WNE) — Despite flat production and cash returns from its Powder River Basin mines, Arch Coal Inc. is reporting a strong financial performance in the second quarter of 2019 with nearly $63 million in net income.

It’s a significant increase from the $43.3 million in net income the company realized for the second quarter of 2018 and brings the company’s income to more than $135 million for the first half of 2019.

Touting “another strong operating performance,” Arch CEO John W. Eaves said the company was paced by record margins from its coking coal operations, which generated a cash margin of nearly $54 a ton in the second quarter.

The company also continued to return money to its shareholders, including $70.8 million via buybacks and dividends under its capital return program. Since launching the program in May 2017, Arch has returned nearly $800 million to shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends, Eaves said.

While the news was positive overall for Arch in the quarter, it also reported another difficult period of operation for its thermal mines in the Powder River Basin, Black Thunder and Coal Creek. Together, they produced 17.1 million tons of coal in the quarter, the same as in the first quarter this year and less than 18.8 million tons in the second quarter fo 2018.

Elevated costs related to rail disruptions due to flooding bumped up production costs, said Paul Lang, Arch’s president and chief operating officer. That led to the cash margin per ton of PRB coal sold dropping 34% from the first quarter to 79 cents a ton.


WYDOT to auction welcome signs

SHERIDAN (WNE) — People who may have missed the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s last Welcome to Wyoming sign auction have another chance to own a piece of history.

WYDOT is holding an online auction for two 4-by-8-foot aluminum “Welcome to Wyoming” signs. The signs feature the Tetons as the background image, with the bucking horse and rider and the words “Forever West” in the foreground.

“These are the last known state line signs to exist from that vintage,” said Joel Meena, state traffic engineer. “These have the potential to appeal to a collector because they’re unique. Rarely do you see a state line sign that is as colorful and scenic as Wyoming’s. We have led the nation on the look and feel of our state line signs.”

Those interested in placing a bid will need to do so by Aug. 5. The first sign auction ends at 8:30 a.m., while the second ends at 9:30 a.m.

The two signs come from the northwest part of the state, are in like-new condition and were not used on the roadside.

WYDOT previously auctioned five 4-by-8-foot signs featuring the Tetons during the summer of 2017. Those signs were posted at different parts of Wyoming at the state line.

Department employees recently discovered the last two signs in storage, so officials decided to hold another auction for those.

The money raised from this auction will go back into the department’s road improvement fund, just like it did for the 2017 auction. In 2017, the auction raised about $33,000.