NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, May 2, 2019

Yellowstone’s east gate to open Friday

CODY (WNE) — The east gate to Yellowstone National Park is scheduled to open for the season Friday morning, but motorists from Cody should be aware they may face a 30-minute delay due to construction before reaching the heart of the Park.

While the east entrance is scheduled to open, there is a potential for weather disruption. Cody has experienced snowfall this week and a late snow could sidetrack plans of drivers.

Sylvan Pass, at 8,524 feet, some 20 miles into the Park, is always susceptible to receiving a storm.

Park Service officials recommend visitors check Yellowstone weather reports and road conditions before venturing into the nation’s oldest national park.

The East Entrance closed earlier than normal in 2018 because of construction at Fishing Bridge. Work continues with nearby Indian Pond road construction. This will create the threat of delay for drivers before they get far into the Park.

Weather does have the potential to interfere with plans this weekend.

“We are expecting snow and cold temperatures the next few days, so visitors should check the road status before coming,” a Park spokesperson said.

Roads from the west gate to Madison Junction, Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, and Norris to Canyon Village, opened in mid-April.

Besides the east gate opening Friday, the road between Canyon Village and Lake Village is scheduled to open that day.


Former Buffalo chamber head to be sentenced

BUFFALO (WNE) — Former Buffalo Chamber of Commerce CEO Angela Fox, who was convicted of three counts of theft, will be sentenced on May 13.

Fox was accused of stealing $8,624 from the Chamber and was found guilty by a Johnson County jury on Jan. 15. She was set to be sentenced on March 25. The sentencing was later vacated when Fox’s defense team filed a series of motions that requested a ruling to be made by a judge other than Judge William Edelman, who presided over the trial in Fourth Judicial District Court in Buffalo.

Motions filed by Fox's defense team included a motion to acquit Fox on all charges due to lack of evidence of theft and a motion for a new trial stating that Buffalo Chamber of Commerce members were in the room during the jury selection process and part of the jury selection panel.

After Edelman dismissed the motions in an omnibus order filed Feb. 19, stating Fox’s team had not met the legal burden for either, Fox and her defense team then filed a motion for a change of judge and a new trial on March 13.

During a motions hearing on April 8, Judge John Perry found no wrongdoing on Edelman's part. He said that as a corporation, it was the chamber Fox had stolen from and not its individual members.

Perry ruled that Fox return to Johnson County to be sentenced at a later date.

Fox is out on $15,000 cash-only bond and has been ordered to wear a GPS monitoring anklet at all times. She will be sentenced at the Johnson County Justice Center.


Sex abuse case ends in mistrial, will be retried

WORLAND – The child sex abuse case of the State of Wyoming against Jason Arnold Miller for four counts of first degree sexual abuse of a minor, which ended in a mistrial Wednesday morning, April 24, will be retried, although a new trial date has not been set at this time. 

According to court documents the charges stem from incidents that took place from August 2014 to September 2016. 

According to a press release from the Washakie County Attorney’s Office, District Court Judge Bobbie Overfield declared a mistrial, making an evidentiary ruling based on some testimony from a witness she felt could imperil Miller’s right to a fair trial. 

Washakie County Deputy Attorney Anthony Barton stated that he respects the court’s decision and that he looks forward to retrying Miller. 

“We have a great opportunity to come back and present a clean case against Mr. Miller that won’t have the possibility of appeal,” Barton said. 

The trial of the state of Wyoming against Jason Miller started Monday morning, April 22, with jury selection.

When the prosecution called former Worland Police Officer John Core to the stand, the defense objected, stating that anything that Core had to say would be hearsay. Ovefield overruled the objection.

On Wednesday, April 24, the victim’s mother took the stand and after less than an hour’s worth of testimony, Washakie County Public Defender Richard Hopkinson requested a sidebar meeting with the judge. After about a half an hour counsel and the judge returned to the courtroom, where Overfield declared that the court would take a 15 minute break which actually lasted 47 minutes. 

Minutes after court convened Overfield declared a mistrial and thanked the jurors for their time.


Greybull councilman pleads guilty in water dispute confrontation

GREYBULL (WNE) — Clay Collingwood, an elected member of the Greybull Town Council, changed his plea to guilty to misdemeanor breach of peace in Big Horn County Fifth Judicial Circuit Court on Monday.

The guilty plea was part of a plea agreement. Brigita Krisjansons, Collingwood’s attorney, laid out the terms of the agreement. The original charge of unlawful contact would change to be breach of peace, she said. Collingwood would get six months of unsupervised probation and pay a $350 fine. A 15-day underlying jail sentence would be suspended.

The case stemmed from a water dispute between Collingwood and the victim, Heather Richter. As part of the plea agreement, Collingwood had to put in a diversion box and ditch to ensure no further contact between him and Richter.

According to a factual basis established in the court, on June 13, 2018, there was a confrontation between Collingwood and Richter. Collingwood allegedly used rude, threatening and foul language during the confrontation.

Richter was present in the hearing and gave a statement before Magistrate Randy Royal of the night of the incident. The statement was the same one she gave to Deputy Ken Nelson.

In her statement, she told of being confronted by an obviously intoxicated Collingwood. She alleged that he made sexual statements to her and recalled that he got a 2x2 piece of lumber about 2 feet long and raised it. Shealso alleged that he grabbed her arm and dragged her.

She told the court she should not have to endure sexual harassment. “I did the best I could,” she said, adding that she was not willing to sacrifice anymore.


Park County to give back more than $130,000 in taxes 

CODY (WNE) — Park County will provide more than $130,000 in tax rebates to a Texas petroleum company after the business over-assessed its equipment in the county.

At a Feb. 19 Park County Commissioners meeting it was announced Dallas-based Principle Petroleum Partners LLC was overcharged $131,573.80 on its 2018 taxes because of the faulty valuation. 

“It was an error on how they presented their billings corrections,” said Park County Treasurer Barb Poley. “It was their error and now we have to do a correction on it.”

The properties in question, oil wells north and west of County Road 2BD and on the Hoodoo Ranch off of WYO 120, south of Cody, were valued at $325,327 more than the real value. 

The assessment only covers Principle equipment as the company does not own land on any of the parcels their 14 wells sit on.

It wasn’t until Principle had already paid half its tax bill the county’s assessor office discovered the mistake.

The Park County Commissioners unanimously approved paying the entire lump sum in February instead of drawing out the payments over the State’s maximum allowed five years. 

“We owe this company the money,” Commissioner Lee Livingston said. “But then … the one-shot payout impacts the district. I guess I lean towards paying it all out.”

Poley said the special districts “are still in the negative” when it comes to paying back the debt. She said the second half of 2019 property tax revenue, which the county will collect May 10, will hopefully cover the remaining funds.