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Wyoming Briefs July 27 2023

Cheyenne teen dies in Colorado crash that results in death of two others

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne teen was among three individuals killed in a car accident last week, according to Colorado State Patrol.

The crash happened after a collision with a parked car on July 18 on southbound Interstate 25 in Larimer County, Colorado.

Trooper Gabriel Moltrer, a public affairs official with the Colorado Patrol, said the collision occurred when the driver, an 18-year-old from Cheyenne, drifted onto the shoulder of the highway and collided with a parked car.

According to the Greeley Tribune, the driver was Eddie Vaca, who attended high school in Cheyenne. Vaca had two passengers from Greeley, Colorado.

When troopers arrived at the scene of the accident, all three of them had “fatal injuries,” Moltrer said. None of them, he said, was wearing a seat belt.

The passengers were William David Franklin Kitchell, 16, a high school student, and Jasiah Angel Salazar, 18, a graduate of Greeley Central High School, the Greeley Tribune also reported.

Moltrer added that no drug or alcohol use was suspected at this time.

Vaca was operating a Dodge Durango, headed southbound on I-25. A Peterbilt 567, described by troopers as a “heavy wrecker,” was parked with its lights on on the shoulder of the interstate. The collision took place near mile marker 290. Moltrer said all cars were on four wheels at the time of the accident.

He also said that no other people were injured in the wreck.

This story was published on July 27, 2023.


Wyoming signs — including incorrect Beartooth Highway marker – stolen

POWELL (WNE) — After hearing from area residents that a couple of Beartooth Highway All American Road signs had been improperly printed, Wyoming Department of Transportation workers were quick to get replacement sign overlays printed.

WYDOT public relations specialist Cody Beers said as a worker went to replace the first sign, he found instead that the wooden post had been cut, the sign and top part of the post gone. “Somebody stole all three signs,” he said.

That included a sign with the words All and American reversed, as well as two signs on one post also on Wyo. Highway 296 — one saying Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and one Wyoming 296.

Now, all three signs will be replaced, Beers said, and it’s already cost the department roughly $3,000 in time and printing costs, with more costs to come as all three posts and actual signs, not just the overlays, will have to be replaced.

“We’ll have to reorder brand new signs, dig new holes, put new posts in,” he said.

Beers said a similar thing happened a few years before with flashing elk crossing signs between Cody and Meeteetse. They also appeared to have been sawed off and suspects, who were never found, carried away not just the signs but solar panels worth $1,500 each.

“When we put up steel posts that stopped,” Beers said.

Now he’s hoping area residents who have any information about who stole the signs will reach out to him with any information.

“These people from Cody were embarrassed by signs with typos,” he said. “Now the signs are stolen and gone, I wonder what they all think about that.”

This story was published on July 27, 2023.


Teton County commissioners expect record number of property tax appeals

JACKSON (WNE) — Anticipating a record number of people attempting to challenge their property’s assessed value through a county hearing, Teton County commissioners are asking landowners to use the venue appropriately.

“In recent years we have had many landowners appeal their property taxes and not have any credible evidence that the county assessor had done something incorrect or unlawful,” they said in a letter.

Most of the time, attempts to appeal are from people misunderstanding the tax system, but they weigh heavily on county resources. Email or public comment is best if all a homeowner has is frustration with the system, the letter said.

Hearings for 130 appeals — down from 250 initial filings — are being scheduled for August, so far taking up all or part of 10 days. Each hearing requires at least three county commissioners, the county clerk and county assessor, in addition to the hiring of a court reporter and a hearing officer.

Last year saw less than half that number, at 60 appeals, though some landowners didn’t show up to their scheduled hearings. Just five years ago, appeals were regularly in the single digits, according to Assessor Melissa Shinkle. In 2018, state officials mandated that Teton County fix errors in its valuations, resulting in large tax spikes as the county came into compliance.

The upward trend in hearings has aligned with property tax rate increases that averaged 35% in both 2021 and 2022, up from typical single-digit-percent increases in pre-pandemic times, according to state data.

The success rate for getting the assessor to look a second time at a property is around 1%, Shinkle said. No landowner in her six years in the office has secured a refund, though a few have seen value adjustments.

This story was published on July 27, 2023.


Jury finds Whitman guilty of felony assault

PINEDALE (WNE) — On Thursday, July 19, a jury of six men and six women retired after almost four days of testimony and evidence to deliberate on a verdict for defendant Chett Whitman, 25, charged with felony aggravated assault and battery with intent to injure Christopher Meeks.

The jury reached its guilty verdict in five hours.

The charges stem from an incident that took place late one night during Rendezvous Days behind the Cowboy Bar in Pinedale.

Whitman testified that he feared Meeks and believed he needed to protect himself and his then-girlfriend, Misty Jones.

Jones and Meeks had broken up after more than eight years together. Both testified at Whitman’s trial for assaulting Meeks.

Whitman’s defense attorney David McCarthy argued that Whitman struck Meeks in self-defense and said the prosecution had no direct evidence otherwise.

But Sublette County Attorney Clayton Melinkovich said Whitman’s striking Meeks three times, as the defendant testified he had, was not reasonably necessary and to use force when an aggressor’s threat no longer exists was not justified.

Ninth District Court Judge Kate McKay ordered Whitman to be taken into custody without bond and set his sentencing for Oct. 5.

This story was published on July 27, 2023.