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Prosecutors agree to release man detained after Yellowstone death

JACKSON — Michael Wayne McCollum will be released from a Montana jail where he was held on Yellowstone National Park’s behalf — even though federal prosecutors initially labeled him a flight risk after an accident that apparently led to a woman’s death last Saturday on Craig Pass.

“The court does believe release would be appropriate in your case,” Stephanie A. Hambrick, magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court of Wyoming in Mammoth Hot Springs, told McCollum in court Thursday.

Hambrick did, however, say McCollum had a “sketchy” history of appearing for court as required.

McCollum said he “absolutely will” appear when required.

Yellowstone has not provided the name of the man found outside the car where Catheryn Danyelle Griffin, 38, was found dead last Saturday evening. But the charges filed against McCollum, 47, and the timeline of his arrest match information the park has released.

Federal documents show that McCollum was arrested Saturday and charged with drug possession and traffic violations, the charges Yellowstone identified Monday.

All three charges are misdemeanors. There were no other charges against McCollum filed as of press time Thursday.

Until Thursday, McCollum was held at the Gallatin County Detention Center in Montana. Federal prosecutors originally asked for the Texas man to be detained while his case was adjudicated, calling him a flight risk. Assistant United States Attorney Timothy J. Forwood, the lead attorney for federal prosecutors, had said there was a “serious risk” that the defendant would flee, and that his case presented a “serious risk” of obstruction of justice. There were no conditions of release that would protect the “safety of any other person and the community” and “reasonably assure” that McCollum would appear as required, Forwood wrote.

But on Thursday, when McCollum appeared before Hambrick, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Elmore didn’t oppose his release. Elmore was present in court. The attorneys and a spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on why prosecutors’ position changed.

Hambrick imposed a number of conditions on McCollum, whose next hearing is set for July 6. McCollum will be able to attend that hearing by phone.

The defendant was not required to pay to get out of jail but is responsible for a $2,500 unsecured bond. He will be required to pay that if he fails to appear when required or to surrender for any sentence he receives.

McCollum cannot violate any federal, state or local laws while on release and must immediately advise the court, his attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office if he changes his address or phone number.

Hambrick, however, found that those conditions alone would not “reasonably assure” that McCollum would appear when required. So, she tacked three other conditions onto his release.

McCollum was required to surrender his passport, which Yellowstone officials had taken into custody when he was arrested. He will be required to reside with his brother in Brookfield, Missouri, unless traveling for work purposes or to bring his brother to cancer treatment. And McCollum will be required to maintain contact with his attorney, Federal Public Defender Laura Geyer Heinrich, at least every other week.

If McCollum violates any of those conditions, a warrant may be issued for his arrest, he may be jailed before trial and may be jailed for contempt of court, Hambrick said.

McCollum was allowed to retrieve his truck and wallet from the National Park Service. Heinrich said his brothers had driven up from Missouri and were staying in Bozeman, Montana, in case McCollum was released. The defendant said he agreed to the terms of his release.

Park rangers responded last Saturday to an accident on Craig Pass, the byway that traverses the Continental Divide and connects West Thumb Geyser Basin and Old Faithful. When they arrived, rangers found a single vehicle that had been driven into a snowbank with a man standing outside. Griffin was found inside.

Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue provided the Jackson Hole Daily with Griffin’s name and date of birth. Blue said Griffin was likely from Florida, though there were also addresses in Mississippi and Alabama tied to her name.

Blue said determining how Griffin died could take weeks.

Yellowstone is investigating how Griffin died and park officials said they would share more information as the investigation proceeds, although they have declined to provide more information since distributing a Monday press release.

This story was published on May 19, 2023.

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