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Wyoming News Briefs

Wyoming senators join effort to ban federal mask mandates

CHEYENNE (WNE) — U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, both R-Wyo., joined U.S. Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, in introducing legislation to prevent the government from imposing new federal mask mandates for domestic air travel, public transit systems and in schools.

The Freedom to Breathe Act would also prevent air carriers, public transit authorities and all educational institutions from refusing service to those who choose not to wear face masks.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats blocked the legislation from being passed unanimously on the Senate floor.

“The Freedom to Breathe Act is a commonsense step in protecting individual liberties and preserving states’ rights,” Barrasso said in a news release. “It is not the role of the federal government to mandate masks on airlines, transit authorities, or in schools.”

“If this administration is uninterested in defending the American people’s individual liberties and states’ rights from misguided and ineffective federal mask mandates, then it is up to Congress to preserve these sacred rights,” Lummis said in the release.

Retired district judge recognized by Wyoming State Bar

GILLETTE (WNE) — The Wyoming State Bar and the Wyoming Supreme Court recently awarded John R. Perry, retired District Court judge for the 6th Judicial District, the Larry L. Lehman Award for Judicial Excellence.

Perry served as a district court judge in Campbell County for 21 years before retiring in 2022.

Since then, he’s been active as a mentor to district court judges around the state. He also conducts mediations and has filled in for sitting judges when they’ve had conflicts or needed relief because of illness or need for time off.

Perry also has been serving as the chairman of the Judicial Branch Innovation Task Force, which has met monthly throughout 2022 and 2023. The task force was charged with taking a fresh look at how the judicial branch functions and how it could be improved to achieve greater job satisfaction for judges and employees, and to deliver more prompt, timely, and cost-effective resolution of legal disputes for Wyoming residents, according to a press release.

Perry’s leadership on the task force is moving the Wyoming Judicial Branch forward in numerous respects. As a result of the task force’s work, the branch governance structure has been reorganized to provide for greater participation by all judges, it has adopted a mission statement and strategic plan to guide its decisions and it is launching two pilot programs to address some of the judiciary’s greatest challenges — a court navigator to assist self-represented litigants, and a behavioral health diversion project to better use state resources for criminal defendants with behavioral health needs.

Suspect charged with murder in shooting

DOUGLAS — The Converse County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the Wyoming State Crime Lab, is continuing the investigation into a shooting death which occurred inside the residence located at 8 Charles Street, Douglas, WY. The deceased individual is 38-year-old Nicholas Michael Velazquez, a resident of Douglas, WY.

Douglas, WY. resident Mark Coleman Helms has been arrested and charged with first degree murder and bond has been set at $500,000 cash. The investigation is ongoing but there is no danger to the community in relation to this case.

The following was released by the Converse County Sheriff’s Office Thursday afternoon: more details will be posted when available.

On September 13, 2023, at about 2349 hours, the Converse County Joint Justice Center Dispatch was notified a 38-year-old male had been shot. The incident occurred in a residence in Converse County, near Douglas.

Douglas Police Department officers responded to, and secured, the scene until Converse County Sheriff’s deputies arrived. First responders were cleared to enter the home, but life saving measures were unsuccessful.

The incident remains under investigation by the Converse County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the Wyoming State Crime Laboratory. Evidence indicates this is an isolated incident and there is no related danger to the community. A person suspected of shooting the 38-year-old male has been arrested.

Rare bacterial infection reported in Laramie County

Human case may be first ever in Wyoming

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Department of Health announced on Friday that a rare, potentially serious bacterial infection has been identified in Laramie County: leptospirosis.

Often found in dogs, one case in Laramie County is believed to be the state’s first human case on record.

State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Emily Curren wants people to be aware that this infection is incredibly rare in humans and should not be a huge cause for concern.

The person with the infection has occupational exposure to animals, according to WDH.

“We’re not really expecting this outbreak in dogs to result in human cases, we just wanted people to be aware that it’s happening,” she said.

The bacterial infection can lead to kidney damage, liver failure and even death in both pets and humans without appropriate treatment, according to WDH.

In the U.S., there are between 100 and 150 reported human cases annually, primarily occurring in subtropical climates like Puerto Rico or Hawaii, according to the CDC.

Leptospirosis is most commonly spread through direct contact with the urine of infected animals but can also be transmitted through contact with or ingestion of urine-contaminated water or food.

Wild animals, as well as cattle, horses and rodents, may also carry the bacteria.

Most often, the disease spreads between dogs from contact with animals from other environments. This can include contact with animals from other states, wildlife or exposure to livestock.

Curren doesn’t foresee this outbreak being an ongoing problem. She advises dog owners to appropriately care for their pet, wash their hands and consult their veterinarian if they’re concerned.

Civil Rights committee seeks testimony on housing discrimination in Wyoming

JACKSON — Both tenants and landlords will have a chance to air their experiences and perspectives related to housing discrimination and fair housing practices in Wyoming during two virtual forums Monday.

The Wyoming Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is organizing the two separate, web-based events.

“Housing is a critical issue across the state of Wyoming, and the Committee is looking forward to hearing from experts, officials, and those who have been impacted by discrimination,” Committee Chair James O’Brien said in a news release. “We want to gather all of the relevant information so that we can prepare recommendations that are bipartisan, balanced and thoughtful.”

The first forum will run from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. and is meant for tenants and purchasers. The registration link is (Meeting ID:160 384 5385) Individuals may also join by phone by calling the toll free number, 1-833-435-1820.

The second forum, from 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m., is directed at landlords and sellers. The second event uses the same registration link.

Tenants who fear their landlord might attend their forum may use an alias when they register. They will be asked to provide contact information, which will be necessary to join the Zoom. That contact information, however, will not be attached to their name if they use an alias, explained Kayla Fajota, the designated federal officer to the committee.

The committee also will accept written comments, which may be submitted until Oct. 18 to Liliana Schiller, at [email protected].

The 1957 Civil Rights Act established the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which is the only independent, bipartisan agency charged with advising the president and Congress on civil rights and reporting annually on federal civil rights enforcement. The Wyoming committee is one of 56 advisory committees that offer a broad perspective on civil rights concerns at state and local levels.

Man who crashed into Walgreens after chase with deputies gets up to 15 years

GILLETTE (WNE) — A man who led sheriff’s deputies on a chase through Gillette, caused thousands of dollars in damage throughout town and finally crashed into Walgreens has been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Rusty D. Locke, 45, was sentenced in late August on five charges: taking a controlled substance into jail, meth possession, a misdemeanor fentanyl charge, aggravated assault and battery and aggravated eluding. 

Locke is also ordered to pay $7106.38 in restitution to various parties, including three Gillette residents, Powder River Heating and Air Conditioning and more than $4000 to Walgreens, according to court documents.

The truck chase began about 9 a.m. March 6 when a Sheriff’s deputy saw Locke turn onto Highway 59 from Ninth Street in a green 2017 Dodge Ram 1500, driving 36 mph in a 30 mph zone. The deputy put on his overhead lights and Locke drove into the McDonald’s parking lot on Camel Drive.

While driving in the parking lot, Locke sped up quickly and pulled around the backside of McDonald’s through the drive-thru lane, hit a curb and ran into an unoccupied 2006 Ford Mustang, which then slid into an empty 2012 Chevy Equinox, according to court documents.

He also hit a 2017 Nissan Rogue before taking off toward Campbell County High School.

Locke led officers on a chase through town, during which he lost control and spun out into a yard, hitting a mailbox. He collided with another vehicle and was clocked driving 90 mph on Butler-Spaeth Road, where the speed limit is 30 mph. 

Locke drove into the Walgreens parking lot, where the truck ran into a curb and got stuck. He and a female passenger left the truck in drive and fled on foot, according to court documents. Locke was arrested nearby.