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Wyoming News Briefs: February 13, 2019

SVI Media is a member of the Wyoming News Exchange. These stories come courtesy of the WNE.

Fremont coroner to proceed with inquest

RIVERTON (WNE) — Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen still plans to hold a public inquest in order to determine the cause and manner of Nicholas Garcia’s death. 

Garcia, 34, died Jan. 10 after an altercation with two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Neither officer was injured in the incident. 

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun determined last week that he will not press charges against them.

Following LeBrun’s statement last week, Stratmoen said the county attorney “has the right and the duty” to determine whether the officers will face legal repercussions – but, Stratmoen noted, “my job is different.” 

“Independent review by a public inquest jury is not dependent on the perceptions or opinions of those agencies within the state,” he said. “Whenever the (government) has applied lethal force on a citizen there needs to be an independent review of the evidence and circumstances to assure the public that it was justified or not.” 

When any fatalities are caused, or suspected to be caused, by law enforcement in his jurisdiction, Stratmoen said it is the policy of his agency – which is not part of the judicial system – to convene public inquests in order to “avoid any feeling in the public that something was covered up,” or that pertinent information was not disclosed. 

“The family of the deceased in these circumstances deserves an independent, outside and public inquiry in order to assess the truth of the matter regardless of appearance or mine or any other opinion within the system,” Stratmoen said. “ Otherwise there is room for doubt, justified or not, as we have seen in similar and other cases nationally.”

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Fatal accident numbers jump in 2019

GILLETTE (WNE) — After seeing a jump in fatal crashes in the early part of the year, Wyoming Highway Patrol is reminding drivers to be more cautious.

There have been 16 crash-related fatalities to date in 2019 compared with eight in 2018, nine in 2017 and six in 2016, according to a Highway Patrol press release.

One of the fatalities occurred in Campbell County on Jan. 23 when Joseph Lee Bailly, 48, died in a crash on Highway 59 near Bishop Road.

The jump in crash-related fatalities is particularly surprising coming on the heels of 2018, which had the lowest number of deaths in six years, according to the Highway Patrol press release.

“Over time, the public has done an incredible job helping us reduce fatalities and ensure they stay safe when driving on Wyoming’s roads,” Department of Transportation Director Bill Panos said. “We feel our messages that urge people not to drive drunk, not to drive distracted and to always wear their seat belts are resonating with Wyoming drivers. However, we can do much more to reduce our fatality rate.”

In the winter, Highway Patrol urges drivers to be mindful of adverse weather and to check the Department of Transportation’s website, www.wyoroad.info, for road and travel conditions.

To stay safe, Highway Patrol recommends that those traveling:

Have a survival kit that contains water, blankets, nonperishable food, cellphone chargers, flashlights, jumper cables and shovel;

Have a first aid kit;

Let someone know their travel route;

Have a full tank of gas, and

Get a winter maintenance check up on their vehicle.

“People think it’s not going to happen to me until it does happen,” said Highway Patrol Sgt. Momen Elaziz. “People need to do what’s important to go home safe.”

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South Dakota man killed in accident

AFTON (WNE) — A South Dakota man lost his life in a single vehicle accident Thursday on I-80 near Lyman.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol reports that the fatal crash occurred at milepost 32 on Interstate 80 west of Lyman, Wyoming.

WHP says a 2001 Chevrolet Silverado was traveling east on Interstate 80 when the vehicle drifted off the left side of the roadway and overturned.

The driver of the Chevrolet has been identified as 51-year-old Victorville, California, resident Alfonso Ortiz.  Ortiz was wearing his seatbelt and transported to Evanston Regional Hospital for injuries sustained in the crash.  

The passenger in the front has been identified as 40-year-old Victorville, California resident Julio Hernandez.  Hernandez was wearing his seatbelt and transported to the Evanston Regional Hospital for injuries sustained in the crash.  The passenger in the back seat of the Chevrolet has been identified as 37-year-old Batesland, South Dakota resident Theodore Earring.  Earring was not wearing his seatbelt and succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash.

Driving too fast for road conditions is being investigated as a contributing factor.  The road conditions were slick at the time of the crash.

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Lawmakers advance UW trustees changes

LARAMIE (WNE) — The University of Wyoming is likely to lose a president this year. No, not Laurie Nichols.

Dave True, the president of UW’s board of trustees, will have his title changed to “chairman” if, as expected, the Legislature passes House Bill 41.

HB 41 was drafted at the behest of UW, primarily to make that change to True’s title.

Despite UW’s preference, True’s title is currently “president” largely because state statute lays out the board’s structure and uses that title in all instances.

The bill easily passed the House on Jan. 16 and the Senate’s education committee unanimously signed off on the bill Monday. HB 41 could come up for a first reading vote on the Senate floor today.

Meredith Asay, UW’s governmental relations director, has taken the lead role in convincing legislators to support the change. Having Nichols and True sharing the title “president” is a “little bit confusing,” she told legislators this month.

It’s just a semantic change, but the proposal will be notable deviation from the board’s 128-year formal history.

The board’s original handwritten bylaws, written in 1891, provide that the “President of the Board of Trustees shall preside over all meetings of the board and perform such other duties, executive, as usually pertain to this office.”

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