Mistaken identity leads to Yellowstone gate closure
POWELL (WNE) — With guns drawn, Yellowstone National Park law enforcement officers stopped two visitors on Tuesday morning, believing they might be wanted fugitives and suspected murderers. But it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
Park officials shut down Yellowstone’s East Entrance and stopped traffic near Sedge Bay after receiving a tip that Blane and Susan Barksdale may have passed through the gate. A manhunt has been underway for the Barksdales since late last month, when they overpowered guards and escaped from custody. At the time of their getaway, the couple was being transported to Arizona, where they face charges that include murder.
Believing that the Barksdales might be in Yellowstone, a large contingent of Park Service officers pulled over a gray Ford pickup with Illinois license plates around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
A witness at the scene said several park officers — carrying tactical weapons and wearing helmets and bulletproof vests — blocked the vehicle near Sedge Bay.
“Park law enforcement conducted a high risk traffic stop of a vehicle after a neighboring agency alerted us to potential fugitives,” said Yellowstone spokeswoman Linda Veress.
However, “in the end, the occupants of the vehicle were not the suspects,” Veress said.
The suspects were detained in handcuffs at 9:15 a.m., but it wasn’t long before the officers realized that the visitors, on closer inspection, did not match the description of the wanted fugitives.
The couple actually being sought by law enforcement — Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59 — remain at large.
Abuse charges filed after baby suffers 13 broken bones
RIVERTON (WNE) — A baby boy was placed in foster care earlier this year after medical professionals found reason to suspect one or both of his parents of abuse.
After a lengthy investigation, both parents were charged with child abuse last week and could face up to 40 years in prison, each.
The infant's father, Ronnie J. Reece (born 1999), and mother, Kylen M. Jenkins (born 1998), both of Riverton, attracted the scrutiny of medical staff at the Children's Hospital of Colorado when their baby, identified in court documents as R.J.R., was diagnosed with abnormal injuries after an apparent lifetime of malnourishment.
Born Nov. 25, 2018, the infant weighed 7 pounds at his 10-day wellness check and had no injuries. By his two-month checkup, however, R.J.R. had fallen under the first percentile for weight on wellness charts.
His breathing passages were marked as abnormal at that time due to a nose injury, and the family was referred to the Children's Hospital in Denver for urgent surgical consultation.
While preparing the infant for surgery, doctors discovered broken ribs, broken arm bones, and a tear of the frenulum - or skin that connects the top lip to the upper jaw - as well as the previously identified nasal mass that had made it difficult for the child to eat.
R.J.R. had a total of 13 broken bones.
During R.J.R.'s treatment in Denver, hospital staff had repeatedly reported concerns about the parents' "lack of interest, lack of consoling the child, lack of knowledge and appropriate feeding amounts, even disregard to diaper changes," according to court documents.
Supreme Court rules on estate administrator in civil rights case
CHEYENNE (WNE) — The Wyoming Supreme Court has reversed a decision by Laramie County District Court Judge Thomas Campbell concerning the appointment of an estate administrator in a federal civil rights claim against the city of Cheyenne.
Andrew Johnson filed a federal civil rights claim against the city of Cheyenne and several police officers for wrongful conviction and imprisonment after he was deemed innocent regarding a burglary in 1989 in which he was arrested.
The Supreme Court examined the issue of “did the probate court err in finding that the state of Wyoming had standing to object to the appointment of an administrator for Georgie W. Stanford’s estate.”
The Supreme Court found that the state didn’t have standing to object to the estate appointment, and, because of this, the probate court inappropriately ruled on the merits of the state’s objection.
According to the Supreme Court opinion:
In 2013, DNA evidence proved Johnson’s innocence and his conviction was vacated. On April 17, 2017, he filed a lawsuit against Cheyenne and city police for civil rights violations.
One of the detectives in the case, George W. Stanford, died in 2007, and in order to go forward with a case, Johnson had to file a petition in probate court to get an appointment for an estate administrator for Stanford. The probate court appointed an administrator, but a short time later, the state objected to that appointment.
On Oct. 15, 2018, the probate court vacated the appointment and closed the estate – which the Supreme Court ultimately reversed.
Thermopolis man killed in motorcycle wreck
THERMOPOLIS (WNE) — On Friday, Sept. 6, a fatal crash occurred around milepost 134 on US Highway 20 near Thermopolis. Around 4:45 p.m., Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched to the area for a motor vehicle collision.
A 2009 Harley Davidson was traveling northbound on US Highway 20 and had started to enter a construction zone. A Ford F-550 was slowing to a stop at the direction of a construction flagger. The driver of the Harley failed to notice traffic was slowing down and laid the motorcycle on its side as he was attempting to brake. The Harley collided with the back of the Ford.
The driver of the Harley was 58-year-old Thermopolis resident Joseph B. Watkins. He was not wearing a helmet and transported to the Hot Springs Memorial Hospital where he succumbed to injuries sustained in the crash.
The driver of the Ford has been identified as 29-year-old Anaconda, Mont. resident Vern A. Tuss. The first passenger in the Ford has been identified as 36-year-old Miles City, Mont. resident Matthew Harding. The second passenger in the Ford has been identified as 22-year-old Bozeman, Mont. resident Connor Erickson. All three were wearing their seatbelts and were not injured.
Driver inattention is being investigated as a possible contributing factor.
This is the 110th fatality on Wyoming’s roadways in 2019 compared to 76 in 2018, 103 in 2017, and 82 in 2016 to date.
Granddaughter pleads guilty to stealing from Cody woman
CODY (WNE) — A 90-year-old Cody woman was robbed of more than $25,000 in 2018, a crime to which her granddaughter has pleaded guilty.
On Sept. 4, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters ordered Crystal Gwynn, 34, to pay $25,004.48 in restitution to her grandmother Mildred Krasovich for reckless exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Gwynn is a resident of Whitney, Texas, about 74 miles south of Dallas, but was made a primary agent to her grandmother’s finances when Krasovich established a durable power of attorney status on her banking account in 2016. Her boyfriend Thomas Conroy was listed as a secondary agent, according to the Cody police affidavit.
In June 2018, Gwynn was issued a debit card that gave her direct access to draw from Krasovich’s account. For the next five months, she proceeded to draw $24,644.79 off the account, with one withdrawal as large as $12,500.
“Crystal did not exercise her fiduciary responsibility as her grandmother’s agent with the … money but diverted the funds to her own use,” detective Richard Tillery said.
Krasovich was a patient at the Cody Regional Health Long-Term Care Center during the transactions, with her mobile home at Parkway RV Campground unoccupied. Gwynn had been added to the bank account – to Krasovich’s knowledge – for the purpose of paying her grandmother’s bills while in care, Tillery said.
Gwynn will also serve one year unsupervised probation and was given a 364-day suspended jail sentence, which could be imposed if she commits another crime.
Cool summer weather delays beet harvest
LOVELL (WNE) — Cooler and wetter conditions this summer have led a late harvest as local farmers attempt to regain footing after seeing last year’s crop devastated by hail.
According to Western Sugar Cooperative’s local agronomist Mark Bjornestead, a cool wet May and June hindered the growth of sugar beets and other local crops.
The result, an early harvest held later than usual. Beet trucks would have usually made their first trips to local farmers by now. This year, trucks won’t be rumbling beets back to the factory until September 16, with the regular factory campaign being pushed to October 6.
“This year has been kind of unique in the sense of the overall moisture and the climate in May and June, it’s usually warmer and drier,” Bjornestad said. “The impact is that we typically would be processing now. We decided to delay processing for two weeks. It doesn’t really have any impact on the factory. We’re just not operating until a week from Monday.”
Crop quality should not be impacted, Bjornestad said. Fully grown beets would normally be ready by now, but when they are grown enough to harvest, they should still carry the average amount of sugar, Bjornestad said, projected to hit 17 to 18 percent in October. The weather just has to cooperate.
Teton County raises rent for employee housing
JACKSON (WNE) — County commissioners officially agreed Monday to raise rents at the county’s employee housing units up to “fair market rates,” per U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards.
“If we unmoor from fair market rents, it gets into a pretty challenging discussion to really find a consistent handrail we can use year in and year out,” Commissioner Mark Newcomb said.
County Administrator Alyssa Watkins said Teton County rules have dictated that rents should be based on comparable market rates since the county’s worker housing program began in 2008. Commissioners reaffirmed that policy in August 2018.
But rents have mostly remained the same since then, she said, resulting in rates below market standards.
At the county units, rents are increasing from $685 a month to $1,056 a month for one-bedrooms, from $830 a month to $1,209 for two-bedrooms and from $750 or $1,200 to $1,699 a month for three-bedrooms, housing manager Stacy Stoker said. Those increases will be phased in gradually over four years.
“Four years is a reasonable time to adjust these rents,” Commissioner Mark Barron said. “It’s going to seem like they’re very high simply because they’ve been very, very low.”
Sheriff Matt Carr was disappointed with the change. He said the below-market units offer an important opportunity to maintain emergency and law enforcement workers living in Teton County and give them a chance to save up to buy a home.