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Wyoming News Briefs: August 1, 2018

The Star Valley Independent is part of the Wyoming News Exchange.

These stories come courtesy the WNE.

Rigging error blamed in climber’s death

JACKSON (WNE) — A improperly rigged ATC belay device likely caused the 300-foot fall that killed a New York professor who was descending a popular route on Storm Point last week.

Grand Teton National Park climbing rangers have not finished their investigative report into the death of Marco Dees, and say they’ll never know with 100 percent certainty what happened. But signs point toward Dees having made a rappelling mistake familiar to many seasoned climbers, but one that they were able to detect before there were catastrophic consequences.

“We think that he accidentally only clipped one of the strands through the device into his carabiner, and didn’t notice it until he leaned back,” said Jenny Lake climbing ranger Ryan Schuster, who was the “on-scene” investigator for the accident.

The result would have been that the loose strand of rope pulled out of belay device and through the anchor, causing Dees to free-fall and take the rappelling rope with him.

This type of rigging mistake, Schuster said, is elementary, but at the same time is the type of thing that could happen to anyone.

“Standing around the rescue cache with a bunch of other climbing rangers, this gave us the shivers,” Schuster said, “because we’ve all made the same mistake or came close to making the same mistake before, but were lucky enough to able to catch it before we leaned back or we leaned back and were in a spot that wasn’t consequential to us.”

Dees, 33, was climbing with a partner, Grace Mooney, who was stranded while clipped to the anchor, but without a rope after the fall.

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Judge denies request to seal some records in teacher case

DOUGLAS (WNE) — Sixth Judicial District Judge Thomas Rumpke ruled Tuesday morning that probation records submitted to the court are not privileged information and are public records. 

Attorneys for Katie Marcus argued that the records should be sealed – even though some news outlets, including the Douglas Budget and Powell Tribune, had already seen them – because they contain medical and other information. 

Marcus, a former Douglas teacher, was sentenced to four to five years of probation in 2016 after pleading guilty to a charge of sexual abuse in the third degree of a minor. She is facing a probation revocation hearing later this month on allegations she has repeatedly violated the terms of her probation by traveling out of state without permission, drinking alcohol and contacting minors on social media.

The Cody Enterprise newspaper had been refused access to Marcus’ probation and parole records because of the request from her attorneys that the files be sealed. The issue was turned over to Rumpke for a hearing in Douglas. 

Rumpke on Tuesday ruled in favor of the Cody Enterprise.

The judge found that once the report was filed with the district court that it became public record. 

He did acknowledge the Wyoming statue on confidentiality of probation records that was brought up by Marcus’ lawyer, but stated that statue is broad and open for interpretation.

Rumkpe stated the documents in question are typical of what is filed by Wyoming Probation Department officials and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be released. 

“We should use a scalpel instead of an axe to make this decision,” Rumpke remarked.

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Laramie’s inflation rate among lowest in U.S.

LARAMIE (WNE) — Laramie’s inflation rate is lower than 97 percent of American cities, according to a recent analysis by finance website SmartAsset based on data from 2007-2017.

During that time, the city’s cost of living dropped 0.10 percent while the purchasing power grew 26.5 percent.

Wyoming’s chief economist, Wenlin Liu, told the Laramie Boomerang the cost of housing is the main factor in a city’s inflation rate. The housing availability in Laramie has outpaced population growth in the last 10 years, he said.

Since 2010, the number of housing units in Laramie has grown 7.6 percent while the population grew 5.6 percent.

Federal data shows Laramie’s homeowner rate dropped from 55 percent to 53 percent during 2009-2016. The median household income also dropped by $1,000 from 2011-2015.

In the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis, Laramie’s population grew by more than 3,000. The population growth slowed after 2010, but more building permits for private housing were issued in 2011 than had been in any year since the housing bubble peaked in 2005.

SmartAsset’s analysis included 235 cities and used data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Council for Community and Economic Research. Laramie was the only Wyoming municipality included in the study.

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Casino details economic impact for council

RIVERTON (WNE) — The Northern Arapaho Tribe and Wind River Casino have spent about $1 million over the past 10 years on their annual youth celebration and backpack giveaway for children in Fremont County, casino marketing director Jackie Dorothy told the Riverton City Council.

She anticipates another 2,500 backpacks full of school supplies will be distributed to K-12 students at this year’s event on Wednesday.

Dorothy said she also is proud of the impact the casino has had on the unemployment rate on the Wind River Indian Reservation, which has fallen from 80 percent to 40 percent in recent years.

“I know 40 percent is still a high number, but we’ve been striving to employ them,” she said.

One strategy that the casino has adopted to help employees maintain their jobs involves drug and alcohol testing.

Dorothy said there used to be a “one strike, you’re out” policy that required employees to be terminated if they tested positive for drugs or alcohol. Now, she said, employees who test positive are suspended and taken to the casino’s wellness department to meet with an in-house counselor.

“They’ll put you on their program they do, and as soon as you’re compliant with that program and remain compliant, you’ll be on the (work) schedule,” Dorothy said.

“As soon as you mess up once – you don’t show up for an (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting or you drug test wrong – you’re taken off the schedule and re-evaluated.”

The success rate for program participants has been “better than average,” she said, noting that any managers whose employees require counseling also must attend the AA meetings.

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Special prosecutor studies citizen’s arrest case

JACKSON (WNE) — A special prosecutor has taken on the case involving an off-duty officer who detained a teenager at gunpoint earlier this month.

Patrick LeBrun, Fremont County attorney, hasn’t decided if he’ll file criminal charges against Vanessa Schultz, the vacationing officer who said she thought the 17-year-old man was committing a felony when she pointed her gun at him.

“It’s complex,” LeBrun told the News&Guide. “I want to take my time and do a good job on this because there is not an immediate threat to public safety.”

The Teton County Prosecutor’s Office asked the Teton County Board of County Commissioners to allow LeBrun to take the case because it has an unrelated pending felony case against the victim in the citizen’s arrest.

The incident happened July 6.

Schultz, a police agent with the Lakewood (Colorado) Police Department, was in Jackson. As she was driving near the Snow King Apartments she thought she witnessed a robbery, police said.

Schultz saw a teen running and assumed he had just committed a crime, police said, so she called 911.

“She was doing all the right things initially by being a good witness,” Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith said previously. “But at some point she reaches into her purse, pulls out her gun and yells, ‘Stop, police!’”

Witnesses said Schultz threatened to shoot the teen if he moved and kept him detained until the police got there.

“I think she crossed over a certain line,” Smith said.

The teenager told responding officers he was just running to the bus stop from his house.

An investigation led police to believe that the teenager was unfairly targeted.

But the case is in the hands of the prosecutor, who says he hopes to have a decision in the next two weeks.

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Zimmerman fire 100 percent contained 

WORLAND (WNE) — According to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public affairs Sarah Beckwith, Tuesday morning, the Zimmerman fire is now 100 percent contained, having burnt 3,857 acres. 

The Zimmerman fire was caused by a lightning strike on Zimmerman Butte, south of Worland and east of Kirby, around 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon. 

Fire personnel from Washakie and Hot Springs counties along with BLM, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Forest Service fought the fire and were able to keep it contained on a total of 3,857 acres of public and private land. 

While the fire is contained, Beckwith stated that fire crews would continue to patrol and work on mopping up for a few shifts.

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Homes spared from fire by wildfire fuel breaks

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Fire and forestry managers across Wyoming said wildfire fuel breaks — created with inexpensive tree thinning projects more than six years ago — spared hundreds of homes from devastation last month.

Near the Wyoming-Colorado border June 10, a wildfire started in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest two miles northwest of the Mountain Home subdivision. Within 72 hours of igniting, the Badger Creek Fire had grown to more than 11,000 acres in size.

“Everything happened fast,” said Travis Pardue, assistant district forester for the Wyoming State Forestry Division. “Not only did the fire move quickly, it was pretty unexpected given the time of year, so we didn’t have time to prepare subdivisions, much less the manpower to protect them while we evacuated 400 residences. Really the only thing protecting those subdivisions was the fuel breaks.”

The 339 acres of fuel breaks Pardue said “saved the Mountain Home and Wold Tract subdivisions” were put in by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in 2011 and 2012 in and near the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. These thinning treatments cost just $1,000 an acre — a drop in the bucket compared to the $12 million the Badger Creek Fire cost to suppress — and were planned and implemented in concert with WSFD and Albany County.

“With the fuel breaks, firefighters had enough of a buffer to safely direct retardant drops from air tankers,” said Reed Oldenburg, fuels mitigation coordinator for WSFD. “The fire never did get established within or across the fuel treatments.”

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