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Wyoming News Briefs: July 2, 2018

The Star Valley Independent is a member of the Wyoming News Exchange. These stories come courtesy of the WNE.

Report warns of undercount in census

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Approximately 4,000 Wyoming children under the age of 5 could be overlooked in the upcoming 2020 census according to a report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation this week.

Samin Dadelahi, CEO of the Wyoming Community Foundation, which partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation on the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, said the report estimates 9 percent of children under the age of 5 in Wyoming could be undercounted in the 2020 census due to insufficient preparation. Because the census is only taken once every 10 years, Dadelahi said achieving an accurate picture of the state’s population in 2020 is critically important.

“That data is used for planning purposes,” Dadelahi said. “So, when we look at estimates on new schools or we look at estimates on child care facilities and expectations over the next few years in terms of what we need to adequately prepare ourselves for children and families, those are the counts we will be using.”

Several factors could contribute to the undercounting of people in the state, but a chief concern is reaching all of the rural populations throughout the state. Dadelahi said historically those populations have been more difficult to count.

“You have to make sure you hire enough people and you’re getting out there, on foot, to make sure that you get an accurate census,” Dadelahi said.

In Wyoming, past censuses have struggled to fully account for populations in Sweetwater County, Freemont County and Sublette County.

There have also been discussions about using digitized forms to collect census data, which Dadelahi said could exclude rural populations that either do not have digital access or are not aware of the digital forms.

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Woman sentenced to fed prison in kidnapping case

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne woman was sentenced last week in federal court to 10 years in prison in connection with a 2017 kidnapping that started in Cheyenne and ended in Weld County, Colorado.

Ashley M. Gonzales, 27, will spend the next decade in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised probation, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen’s office.

Gonzales was charged in December with seize, confine, kidnap, carry away and hold (the federal equivalent of kidnapping) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

Detailed complaints for the crime have been sealed, but initial court documents indicated Gonzales arrived at a home Sept. 2 in the 4400 block of East Sixth Street in Cheyenne.

Gonzales was in the home and took a woman’s cellphone. According to court documents, it contained a photo of the exterior of the house and the basement, which led the people in the home to believe that she could be working for the police.

The woman was pregnant, apparently with Cody Ahrens’ baby. Ahrens is Gonzales’ co-defendant. But house members and Ahrens continued to question the woman through the night. The woman told detectives that at one point, a gun was held to her head and she was told she’d be killed, according to court documents.

The next day, Ahrens and Gonzales took the woman to a car where the child lock system was engaged so she wouldn’t be able to get out, according to court documents.

They drove to Weld County, Colorado, told her to get out of the car and left her. Ahrens was accused of shooting a pistol out the window at her as they drove away. The woman was not shot, according to court documents.

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Boy killed, several injured in Campbell County crash

GILLETTE (WNE) — A two-vehicle collision on North Garner Lake Road on Friday afternoon claimed the life of a 6-year-old boy and injured several others.

Sgt. Gary Sams of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office said a minivan driven by a 31-year-old Wright woman was traveling north in the outside lane of Garner Lake Road when she slowed down due to hail. She turned into the inside lane in front of a pickup driven by a 27-year-old man, and the vehicles collided near the intersection of Garner Lake Road and Warlow Drive.

Four children had to be extricated from the minivan, Sams said. One of them, a 6-year-old boy, was dead at the scene. The other three children and the woman were taken to the hospital. One child, a 1-year-old girl, was flown to Denver with critical injuries.

On Saturday, Sams did not know the relationships of the people in the minivan and did not have the ages of the two other kids.

Sgt. Paul Pownall said the Sheriff’s Office is choosing not to release the name of the 6-year-old boy because the crash is still under investigation. He said the boy’s next of kin have been notified.

“We’re still looking at the facts surrounding the incident, and once we’ve looked at all those factors, that information can be released at that time,” he said.

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NWCC to sell lease on unique mountain campus

SHERIDAN (WNE) — The Northern Wyoming Community College District board of trustees approved the potential sale of the Spear-O Mountain Campus property during its regular meeting June 20.

The college has leased the property — through a special use permit from the United States Forest Service — in the Bighorn Mountains for about seven years but will soon put the lease up for sale due to financial reasons.

NWCCD board trustee Gary Koltiska first proposed the potential sale of the property last year.

“It’s not a benefit to our Sheridan students,” Koltiska said. “It just loses too much money every year … We’ve got to all be conservative and cut where we can.”

Spear-O Wigwam Ranch was established in 1923 and is about a two-hour drive from Sheridan. The property stretches over 16 acres and includes 11 cabins and a main lodge.

The cabins can be used as classrooms and meetings rooms, while the main lodge has a dining hall, kitchen, library, sitting area and fireplace.

Notably, Ernest Hemingway stayed in one of the cabins — which is now named after him — for a few weeks in 1928 and worked on “A Farewell to Arms.”

NWCCD paid $650,000 for the lease in April 2011, a time when the college received more local and state funding compared to now. Sheridan College President Paul Young said Spear-O cost between $150,000 and $250,000 to operate per year.

The college got its money back on programs it hosted at the campus but couldn’t find a way to recover the overhead costs of construction and maintenance. Facilities employees had to work on Spear-O while also preparing the Sheridan campus for the upcoming fall semester, which proved to be a difficult balancing act.

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Group collecting signatures in effort to curb political spending

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A group of Wyoming residents hoping to reverse the effects of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court campaign finance case is still hoping to acquire enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. 

Representatives from Wyoming Promise visited Washington, D.C., last week for a conference with other states pushing for the same or a similar ballot initiative and a meeting with the Wyoming congressional delegation. 

The group, which wants to change how money influences politics, has collected about 12,000 of the necessary 38,818 verified signatures to put an initiative on the ballot for Wyoming voters, Wyoming Promise Chairman Ken Chestek said Friday

Wyoming Promise, an offshoot of the national organization American Promise, is calling for a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would effectively nullify a case colloquially known as Citizens United – a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed nonprofits, corporations, labor unions and associations to spend unlimited money on political campaigns.

Many say the ruling has prompted the rise of what some call “dark money,” which often comes in the form of “political action committees,” or PACs. 

PACs often create advertisements, mailers or other supportive material for a candidate, and those organizations don’t have to disclose who is funding them or how much money they have. 

But in order to put language on the ballot that could potentially limit the influence of those groups, Wyoming Promise needs to collect a lot more signatures. 

Chestek said he estimates the group has more than 12,000 signatures, but volunteers have only verified that many. Chestek estimated the group is about halfway to meeting its goal.  

“We’re getting close to halfway done, but halfway is not all the way there,” Chestek said.

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