Wyoming News Briefs SEPTEMBER 16


September 12, 2019

Firefighter wins $280K in damages from Laramie

LARAMIE — A firefighter for the city of Laramie was awarded $280,357 in damages this week after he sued the city for firing him almost seven years ago.

A jury awarded Bret Vance the sum after a trial this week in the Albany County Courthouse.

The verdict was the culmination of years of litigation between Vance and the city after the firefighter was fired in December 2012.

Years of court battles, appeals and overturned decisions led the city to reinstate Vance and fire him again.

Ultimately, the city’s firing of him was determined to be unjustified by Laramie’s Civil Service Commission.

Before the jury issued a verdict in favor of Vance this week, attorneys for the city had tried to argue that the firefighter was not entitled to compensation for lost wages because the Laramie Fire Department’s collective bargaining agreement with employees doesn’t explicitly entitle pay for time not worked.

The city has a zero tolerance drug policy and also requires firefighters to submit to random drug and alcohol testing. In 2010, Vance tested positive for cocaine, but was subsequently allowed to return to work after attending rehab.

After testing positive for a small amount of alcohol in late 2012, Vance — a shift commander at the time — was placed on administrative leave and subsequently fired.

In November, Vance returned to work with the city as division chief of community risk reduction around the same time a district court judge ordered he be reinstated to a position of equal pay and rank.


Wyoming has 29 percent obesity rate

JACKSON (WNE) — Amid the growing obesity problem in the United States, Wyoming’s … not doing that bad.

That’s a less than ringing endorsement from the Trust for America’s Health, which for the past 16 years has published its “State of Obesity” report. In its latest report, the Trust found that Wyoming has the 37th highest rate of obesity (29 percent) in the United States, putting it close to other Mountain West states like Idaho, which was 39th at 28.4 percent.

In the bottom half is good, right? Kind of. Having more than a quarter of the state be obese isn’t stellar, no matter what the rates are across the country. And Wyoming has 64.4 percent of adults who self-report as overweight or obese.

Though Wyoming was one of just nine states whose obesity rates grew less than 5 percent between 2013 and 2018, the report points out some alarming facts for rural areas.

“More than one-third (34.2 percent) of adults in rural areas had self-reported obesity compared with 28.7 percent of metro adults,” the report says. “Rural areas also have higher levels of obesity-associated chronic diseases.”

The report also found that rural men are twice as likely to be obese than their urban counterparts. It found that increases in education level and income correlated with lower incidences of obesity.


WWC to pursue bachelor’s program

ROCK SPRINGS — Western Wyoming Community College took one step closer to handing out bachelor degrees in applied sciences to graduates. A simple endorsement vote from the Board of Trustees on Thursday night was all that was required for WWCC to next approach the Wyoming Community College Commission about adding the four-year degrees to its offerings.

Many more steps are required before they can start printing BAS diplomas, but college staff members are excited about the possibilities created by the Wyoming Legislature giving community colleges the option to develop these programs. Western is looking into BAS degrees in business management and industrial management for people interested in

leadership positions.

Board President George Eckman said it’s important to go about things the right way and not rush in to be first.

WWCC President Kim Dale noted that Central Wyoming College and Laramie County Community College are a little further ahead in the process, and that Western can learn from them.

“It’s a benefit that we have two colleges about two months ahead of us,” she said.

To be able to offer the degrees, WWCC has spent months reviewing existing classes, identifying new staff and classes that would need to be added, and making sure it has the staff and procedures ready to support the proposed programs. Next it will go before the college

commission and hopefully start working with the Higher Learning Commission. If the programs are approved, WWCC hopes to start offering classes in fall 2020 or spring 2021.


Woman pleads guilty to helping dispose of overdose victim’s body

GILLETTE (WNE) — The woman accused of helping Jacob Wallentine drive his dead girlfriend to an apartment building parking lot to conceal her overdose death has pleaded guilty in the case.

Shalynn M. Muniz, 23, pleaded guilty Thursday at her arraignment in District Court to conspiring to dispose of a dead human body to conceal a felony, a charge with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The plea was part of an agreement in which a charge of accessory after the fact in manslaughter was dismissed.

Nathan Henkes, Campbell County deputy and prosecuting attorney, and P. Craig Silva, Muniz’s attorney, will jointly recommend she get a suspended three- to six-year sentence and three years of supervised probation. She also will pay the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office the $322 cost of extraditing her from Lemhi County, Idaho, to face the charges.

A sentencing hearing has yet to be set.

Wallentine has been sentenced to up to 16 years in prison for his role in the October 2018 death of Tamlyn Delgado, 27.

Delgado was found Oct. 3 in her car in the 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.


Fremont County sees jump in ‘non-natural’ deaths

RIVERTON (WNE) — Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen reported that rising numbers of non-natural deaths in the county are "notable," and cited drugs and alcohol as a key factor.

Stratmoen reported his findings at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Fremont County Commissioners.

In a separate interview, the coroner defined "non-natural deaths" as any fatality resulting from suicide, homicide, accidents, or undetermined causes. In short, any death that results from circumstances other than ill health or old age could be considered non-natural.

By the second week in September in 2018, there had been four deaths by suicide, two by homicide, and 16 that were accidental in nature, for a total of 22 non-natural deaths. This year, however, there were 10 suicides, six homicides, and 25 accidental deaths as of Tuesday, Sept. 10 -- for a total of 41.

The fatal accidents of this year result from seven motor vehicle deaths, six due directly to drug/alcohol toxicity, five falls, two drownings, two deaths by asphyxiation, and one each by carbon monoxide and hypothermia.

With non-natural and natural deaths combined, there had been 94 as of mid-September 2018. As of last Tuesday, there had been 112 for 2019.

The comparatively minimal increase in total deaths from last year to this does not match up, proportionately, with the nearly-double spike in non-natural deaths.

The coroner's report clarifies the majority cause of non-natural fatalities in the county this year: "Including direct toxicity, drug and alcohol related deaths are 65 percent of the total of non-natural deaths," the report states.


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