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State Briefs

 

October 15, 2020



Yellowstone sees record visits in September

CODY (WNE) — Despite COVID-19, a national economic slowdown and fewer in-Park lodging options available, Yellowstone National Park broke its September record for visitation.

A total of 837,499 people passed through the Park’s turnstiles in September, a more than 21% increase in traffic from September 2019. The previous record was set in 2018.

After a very slow start to the year, Yellowstone has now rebounded to within 11% of 2019 visitation at this point, reaching 3,383,872 visitors. It is about 500,000 people fewer than the typical total achieved through September over the last five years.

The Park was closed due to health and safety reasons related to COVID-19 beginning March 24. The two Wyoming entrances opened on May 18 and the three Montana entrances opened on June 1.

Park County’s sales and use tax was also up for September by 2.7% to $496,728.81. The county is now down 9.4% on the year for sales and use. Barb Poley, Park County treasurer, also said September’s lodging tax numbers had increased from the previous year, but revenue from that tax is still down 42.6% when compared to the same July-September time period in 2019.

As of the beginning of October, 0.8% or 16 of the Park’s roughly 2000 employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The Park had four positive employee cases between May 18 and August 30. A contractor also tested positive in June.

Man pleads guilty to fentanyl, heroin charges

GILLETTE (WNE) — A man described as a “big player” in the drug trade in Campbell County has pleaded guilty to several drug charges.

Prosecutors will recommend that Matthew Skipper, 38, spend 12 to 14 years in prison for delivery of fentanyl and heroin — both counts that he pleaded guilty to Sept. 29. He pleaded no contest to possession with intent to deliver fentanyl.

The 12 to 14 years will be recommended on each count, but with recommendations that they be served concurrently, which would reduce his prison time.

Louey Williams, the team leader with the Northeast Wyoming drug task force through the Division of Criminal Investigation, said that Skipper was involved “in basically every drug on the planet, it seems like.”

“He was a significant player over there,” said Williams, who is based in Sheridan. “Meth is bad enough, but when you’ve got heroin and fentanyl, it’s horrible.”

DCI agents, along with the Gillette Police Department, Campbell County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Highway Patrol, had been investigating Skipper since March, Williams said.

Skipper had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012 on drug delivery charges in Park County, but it is unclear when he came to Gillette.

Skipper was arrested July 1 and 121 fentanyl pills and 40 grams of cocaine were found among his belongings.

Law enforcement agencies in Campbell County have been on the lookout for fentanyl after at least six people have died here since December of fentanyl overdoses.

Sugar beet harvest launched in northwest Wyoming

POWELL (WNE) — Warm temperatures held back the area’s sugar beet harvest for one of its latest calendar starts, but beets began flying out of the ground in the Lovell factory district of Western Sugar Cooperative as weather cooled over the weekend. 

The regular harvest officially launched at all receiving stations in the district Saturday, Oct. 10. The all-out harvest had been scheduled to begin on Oct. 6, but was restricted by unseasonably warm temperatures. 

Growers were shut down early Saturday afternoon when beet temperatures were getting too high for storage. But with a decided hint of fall in the air Sunday, the harvest was officially in full swing. 

“We put in a full day Sunday,” said Heart Mountain grower and beet board member Ric Rodriguez. “The weather ahead looks nice and cool, and we’re ready for a big push in the next two weeks.” 

Favorable crop reports continue to mount, particularly much high sugar contents. Sugars of harvested beets have been running between 17.5% and 18.5%, while the tonnage of early deliveries reflects the projected 28.5 tons per acre.

Riverton air traffic back up after COVID downturn

RIVERTON (WNE) — After a huge plunge as the coronavirus emerged in Fremont County, enplanements have been rising for the past several months at Central Wyoming Regional Airport despite the continued impacts of the ongoing viral pandemic that has had deep impact across the air travel industry.

“The airport numbers just keep climbing,” Riverton City Councilman Mike Bailey said during a regular meeting Tuesday.

In August, 760 people boarded commercial planes in Riverton, and the number stayed about the same for September, public works director Kyle Butterfield reported.

“That’s fantastic,” Mayor Richard Gard responded.

“The numbers at the airport are truly solid. ...We’re fortunate to have that airport.”

Bailey noted that ticket prices have gone down since SkyWest Airlines started serving Riverton in January.

“You can fly from Riverton for about the same cost you can fly from Casper,” Bailey said. “And it saves you two hours – and in the wintertime on snowy roads that’s huge. I think it’s great we have that service available.”

The enplanement totals for August and September represent a rebound from the spring, when the onset of the coronavirus pandemic prompted almost all travelers to cancel their flights in and out of Central Wyoming Regional.

A report from the Fremont Air Service Team shows Central Wyoming Regional enplanements fell about 95 percent in April compared the same month last year – almost to zero – so Butterfield said he is pleased with the recent resumption of activity.

Three-year-old suffers thermal burns in Yellowstone National Park

JACKSON (WNE) — A three-year-old suffered second-degree-thermal burns to the lower body and back in Yellowstone National Park on Friday. 

The accident occurred near the Fountain Freight Road near Midway Geyser Basin when the toddler took off running from the trail, slipped and then fell into a small thermal feature, according to a National Park Service press release. 

The child was life-flighted to the Burn Center at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

Park officials are investigating the incident and reminding visitors to stay on boardwalks and trails in thermal areas.

“The ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin, and there is scalding water just below the surface,” park officials stated in the release. “Visitors must always remain on boardwalks and trails and exercise extreme caution around thermal features.”

It was the second significant injury in a thermal area in 2020, park officials said. In May, a visitor – who had illegally entered the park – fell into a thermal feature at Old Faithful while backing up and taking photos.

Though infrequent compared to injuries resulting from encounters with wildlife in Yellowstone, there have been other thermal burn injuries scattered over the years.

In September 2019, a man suffered severe burns after falling into thermal water near the cone of Old Faithful Geyser. In June 2017, a man sustained severe burns after falling in a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin. In June 2016, a man left the boardwalk and died after slipping into a hot spring in Norris Geyser Basin. In August 2000, one person died and two people received severe burns from falling into a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin.

Woman sentenced to 5 to 7 years in prison for assault by vehicle in Gillette

GILLETTE (WNE) – A woman who ran into a semitruck on Interstate 90 after getting on the wrong on-ramp will spend up to 14 years in prison.

Mary Jane Steele, 52, was sentenced to five to seven years in prison for aggravated assault and battery related to the crash. 

Those are to be served consecutively to a probation revocation of four to seven years in prison for forgery. She has been credited with more than two years of time already served between the two charges.

She also must pay $26,700 in restitution to GT Express out of Mohena, Illinois, for damage to the semitruck.

Steele reportedly took a woman’s 1999 Buick LeSabre on Jan. 20, 2019, after being told she couldn’t use it. Soon after that theft was reported, the car was seen in the Boot Hill Nightclub parking lot before it took off northbound on Gurley Avenue and went into the opposite lane, nearly colliding with a truck near Little Powder River Road.

She took off on Northern Drive and then Garner Lake Road, where her speeds were estimated at up to 80 mph, according to the affidavit.

She then got onto the wrong on-ramp onto I-90 at Garner Lake Road and collided head-on with a semitrailer. 

She had substantial injuries from the crash, according to court documents. Before she was taken to Denver to be treated for the injuries, she told police that she had “depression,” according to the affidavit.

Three dogs were with her in the car and one died at the crash, which led to a misdemeanor conviction for cruelty to animals. Two other dogs were taken to the Animal Shelter.

 
 

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