Wyoming News Briefs April 17


April 16, 2020

COVID-19 could delay training of armed educators in Gillette

GILLETTE (WNE) – After months of research, meetings and public comment, the Campbell County School District has a policy that allows select employees in six of the district’s rural schools to carry concealed firearms.

But even with a policy in place, there is still quite a bit of work left to be done — and possible delays because of the coronavirus — before armed educators will be in those schools, said Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, getting employees trained to carry might take longer than expected. Before the pandemic, the thought was that if there were qualified applicants, they could be trained this summer.

“We don’t know if that would be possible at this point,” Eisenhauer said.

Larry Reznicek, the district’s human resources director, said the immediate next step is to get information to the schools.

The policy states that the school board may approve or deny any application.

Applicants must have worked for the district for at least five years, be in good standing and not have had any disciplinary action in the past five years.

A local vendor will do drug testing, Reznicek said. The state Division of Criminal Investigation will conduct background checks on applicants, and the Department of Family Services will screen them.

The district will need to solicit bids for someone to train the qualified applicants once they’ve been approved by the board. The cost to train one employee has been estimated at $3,000.

That includes 32 hours of training with live fire and 24 hours of scenario-based training to replicate the mental, emotional and physical stress of an actual encounter, including de-escalation and verbal-control techniques. Applicants must show 80% proficiency in both types of training.


Man charged in 2001 Evanston murder gets 242 years in prison for Utah rapes

EVANSTON (WNE) — The Utah man charged with the 2001 murder of Evanston resident Sue Ellen Higgins has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life imprisoned in Utah.

Mark Douglas Burns, 69, pleaded guilty in February to 17 charges unrelated to the Higgins murder, including eight counts of aggravated sexual assault, six counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated burglary and one count of aggravated robbery. On Monday, April 6, a Utah judge sentenced Burns to a total of 242 years in prison for those offenses.

Burns was arrested in Utah last fall after DNA evidence linked him to multiple cold case sexual assaults that occurred in Utah and Wyoming over roughly a decade in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

After his arrest, he allegedly confessed to the cold case Higgins murder, which has remained unsolved since her husband found her dead in their home on a July afternoon in 2001, with two bullet wounds to the head.

Although a lengthy investigation ensued, and Higgins’s husband was at one point wrongfully charged with the murder, local authorities had been unable to determine who was responsible for Higgins’s death until the sudden break in January when Burns told Utah and Evanston investigators he had committed the crime.

Burns allegedly also confessed to other murders in Arizona and Oregon, although he has reportedly not yet been charged with those crimes.

After providing substantial detail regarding the Higgins murder, Burns has been charged in Uinta County with first-degree murder, attempt to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, larceny and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Burns had previously served prison time for rape in North Carolina in the 1970s.


EPA approves Fremont Lake study

PINEDALE (WNE) — After a year of testing, the Town of Pinedale has been given approval by the Environmental Protection Agency to continue getting its drinking water from Fremont Lake.

Better yet, while there are added expenses to protect the water source, there was no mandate for a $16-million filtration system.

Beginning in July 2018, water samples in Fremont Lake, which provides the Town of Pinedale’s drinking water, started testing positive for fecal coliform – a bacteria that grows in the intestines of warm-blooded mammals.

By the end of August, results were high enough to repeatedly exceed limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA notified the town that it no longer met standards acceptable for a water system that did not use filtration.

Initially, the town was given 18 months to install a pricey filtration system.

Pinedale’s water from Fremont Lake is treated with ultraviolet light and chlorine. It is not filtered to remove large particles that could hide fecal coliform.

The town paid more than $250,000 in studies and testing, adding training for in-house laboratory and staff. Ironically, the high levels measured in 2018 did not return in 2019. Without any positive tests, the town was unable to point a direct finger at what could have been causing the high levels.

The town responded to the EPA with the study and some proposed remedies to minimize future potential contamination.


COVID economics hitting community colleges

TORRINGTON (WNE) — Eastern Wyoming College – and community colleges around the state – are feeling the economic pinch of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. President Lesley Travers on Tuesday told the Board of Trustees, meeting virtually from around the region, an anticipated windfall from the state may not appear.

Travers told the board in March that plans were in the works at the state level to provide an additional $3.5 million to the state’s community colleges. EWC’s share would have been about $500,000 in additional funding, part of a one-time $5 million distribution to the colleges that was included in the state budget at the time.

Now, due to the economic impacts across the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, Travers said Tuesday that money may not be coming.

“I heard this morning the $3.5 million the community colleges were given, $500,000 to each college, I heard this morning they might take it back,” she said. “That was pretty disturbing.”

Travers based her belief the money wouldn’t be coming on meetings with Gov. Mark Gordon’s staff and a report that said the financial situation “isn’t pretty for the state,” she told trustees.

“I’m not going to count any of those chickens until they’re in the bank, I guess,” she said.

A significant portion of a projected $9 million deficit faced this week by the state’s community colleges is due to closures mandated by Gordon, Travers said.

That necessitated reimbursing students for housing costs and food plans they’d paid for, anticipating a full school year.


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