Wyoming News Briefs AUGUST 29


August 29, 2019

Cheyenne man gets prison for sex abuse of a minor

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne man was sentenced Wednesday in Laramie County District Court to 12 to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl.

Kenneth Berry was sentenced by District Judge Thomas Campbell for charges of sexual abuse of a minor and sexual battery. He was 46 years old at the time.

The victim told officers that Berry touched her breasts and tried to touch her groin area, according to court documents.

“Every year, when she would start school, she would have a hug for the teachers,” the victim’s mother said in an interview with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “Now she’s just scared.”

The victim’s mother and grandmother said the girl encountered Berry several times while he was out on bond because he was working in the mall. After one of those interactions, the victim told her grandmother she didn’t want to live anymore. Her grandmother got her help, and she is now diagnosed with depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

This wasn’t Berry’s first offense. He was previously convicted of a sex offense in Missouri in which he fondled a girl in a school bus for months, District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove said. In the second offense, he sexually abused a 9-year-old girl during his church’s Bible study.


Fire destroys three structures on reservation

RIVERTON (WNE) — A 9-acre grass fire that destroyed three structures Aug. 25 on the Wind River Indian Reservation was started by fireworks, officials said this week.

At least one of the structures was occupied, but no one was injured in the blaze, which was reported at about 5:45 p.m. Sunday on Red Crow Street south of town.

Riverton Volunteer Fire Department chief Henri DeClercq said multiple agencies responded to the incident, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs Division of Forestry and Wildland Fire Management, which sent in a helicopter to assist.

DeClercq said the helicopter was a “huge help.”

“We were actually extremely lucky we had that,” he said, adding, “This is the first time I’ve ever had a fire that used an air asset, so it was pretty neat for us.”

He explained that the BIA stations the helicopter in Fort Washakie for the summer in case of wildfires, which are more likely to spark in the hot, dry summer months – especially on windy days.

DeClercq said a red flag warning was in effect Sunday, when wind gusts reached 50 mph, temperatures hit 80 degrees, and there was low humidity.

He cautioned residents not to set off fireworks on red flag days, or in the late summer in general.

“With the vegetation the way it is, and with the temperatures and the winds the way they are, I see no reason to be lighting fireworks,” DeClercq said.


Laramie resident pleads guilty to arson and burglary

LARAMIE (WNE) — Laramie resident Samuel Pennington, 22, pleaded guilty Wednesday to arson and burglary.

According to a plea agreement in the case, prosecutors will argue at sentencing for Pennington to be imprisoned for 3-5 years, while defense attorney Branden Vilos said he’ll argue for a “lesser remedy.”

After an extensive Laramie Police Department investigation, Pennington was charged in January with seven counts of third-degree arson and three counts of burglary. As part of the plea deal, Pennington pleaded guilty to just one count each of arson and burglary, with the Albany County Attorney’s Office dropping the rest of the charges.

Restitution is expected to be ordering at sentencing, and Pennington apologized for his crimes in court Wednesday.

“It was never my intention to hurt anyone,” he said. “On reflection, I acknowledge that someone could have been harmed.”

Pennington allegedly started seven fires between Sept. 4 and Jan. 14. LPD Detective Sergeant Taun Smith said in his affidavit the first fire — a Sept. 4 dumpster fire at The Verge Apartments, located at 3534 Willett Drive — was reported by Pennington himself.

Three other fires allegedly started by Pennington — vehicle fires on Oct. 18 and Jan. 8 and a trash compacter fire Jan. 14 — were also located at The Verge near his apartment.

Pennington’s three charges for burglary were for allegedly breaking windows to get into the vehicles to commit the arson.


Gillette man killed in wreck near Hulett

SUNDANCE (WNE) — A fatal crash took place on WY-24 near Hulett on August 25 at around 9:30 p.m. Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched to the area, responding to reports of a one-vehicle rollover.

A 1999 Ford Explorer was traveling southbound on the highway when the vehicle drifted off the right side of the roadway and overturned. The driver has been identified as Gillette resident Darin C. Barekman, age 46.

Barekman succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash. Driver impairment is being investigated as a possible contributing factor, according to Highway Patrol.


Powell student seriously injured in rollover

POWELL (WNE) — An 18-year-old Powell High School student was seriously injured Tuesday morning after his truck rolled over west of town.

On Wednesday, Ethan Asher was recovering from multiple surgeries in an intensive care unit in Billings, Montana, his parents said in a Facebook post.

They said doctors repaired a tear to Asher’s aorta — a large artery near the heart — worked to relieve pressure from his head due to swelling and placed him in a medically induced coma. Asher was reported to be “putting up a good fight” as he works to recover.

“He has always been a fighter and we don’t expect this to be any different,” his parents said on Facebook.

Asher had been heading east on Lane 9 — between roads 14 and 12 — when his 2007 Dodge pickup “appeared to veer off the roadway on the eastbound shoulder,” said Lance Mathess, a spokesman for the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

Asher then overcorrected, Mathess said, and the truck began sliding sideways. The Dodge went off the road on the westbound side, tipped and rolled three times before landing right-side up in a field. Asher was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected as the vehicle rolled, Mathess said. He also said the Dodge’s front air bags did not deploy.

After being taken by ambulance to Powell Valley Hospital, Asher was flown to Billings Clinic by helicopter.


Johnson County battles grasshoppers

BUFFALO (WNE) — Earlier this spring, Weed and Pest District Supervisor Rod Litzel predicted a big season for grasshoppers. Unfortunately for rangeland owners and hay producers, the grasshopper infestation proved larger than expected.

“We kind of planned on a program, and we ended up treating twice as much as we had planned on,” Litzel said. “And that was still a drop in the bucket for what we should have treated. We thought we could treat based off spotty infestations. I don't think we realized how many other spots there were and how big they were.”

Litzel said that the district treated 156,000 acres for grasshoppers at a cost of $450,000 to $500,000. Some of that cost will be borne by the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners. Litzel is optimistic that the state will cover costs for the treatment on state lands.

"They're pretty destructive to rangeland,” Litzel said. “A lot of species will take the leaves off and leave nothing but a stem.”

The goal in treatment, Litzel said, is not 100% eradication, but rather management.

“The goal of the treatment is not to completely kill everything – a few are good for the birds and the fish – but we do need to get them down to a manageable level,” he said.

This summer, managing the population was made difficult because there were “hot spots” spread out all over the county, making it hard to know where those hot spots were and where to do the survey counts, Litzel said.


Park County seeks grant to battle pollution

CODY (WNE) — Park County is requesting a $104,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration and Wyoming Department of Transportation to prevent pollution inside its borders.

If granted, the funding through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program will go toward road improvement work on gravel roads throughout the county, as an effort to reduce residual dust that seeps into the air when vehicles travel the roads – a real issue in a county with 190 miles of gravel roads.

The program stipulates Park County must match 25 percent of the granted total, meaning $130,000 would go towards the project.

The work is limited to about 25 miles of recently crushed gravel in Clark and a small portion of Meeteetse.

But Ben McDonald, a Park County public works project manager, said that is “very unlikely” to occur since the CMAQ bid process is highly competitive and the state rarely doles out what is requested, so the county’s portion will likely be lower.

Park County received $80,000 in 2018, a number McDonald thinks will be a likely estimate for this year.


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