NEWS BRIEFS for Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019

Public records bill wins final House approval

CHEYENNE (WNE) — The Senate's public records bill passed Tuesday on final reading in the House of Representatives and now heads back to the Senate for a concurrence vote. 

Senate File 57 was approved on a 55-4 vote in the House.

The bill would formalize the public records request process, including actual deadlines for responses, and create a public records ombudsman as a new executive branch position.

SF 57 saw a massive rewrite in the Senate committee process at the last minute, which removed substantial financial penalties and possible incarceration for violating the proposed law. 

One of the big back-and-forth battles in the House debate was whether a requester should be awarded legal fees if they had to take a government agency to court to gain access to a record. One final attempt was made Tuesday to amend SF 57 to allow a judge to award legal fees to a requester if they deemed it prudent. But that failed to gain enough support to be added to the bill. 

Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said he was open to studying the legal fees issue during the interim. But he didn't want to see SF 57 lose the support of numerous governmental groups that had been won over by the substantial changes made to the bill in the Senate. 

SF 57 would require government agencies to respond to a public records request within seven days of the request being made. The bill gives agencies 30 days to produce the records, unless good cause exists for withholding them. The ombudsman position created by SF 57 would help mediate disputes over records request. Requestors may also go to district court to sue for access to the records.


Check of phone in hunting case leads to voyeurism charge

GILLETTE (WNE) — A Campbell County man whose cellphone was seized last summer as evidence for a suspected hunting crime now faces additional criminal charges after the same phone had images of a woman showering.

Clifton Kennedy, 61, pleaded not guilty Feb. 1 to two felony counts of voyeurism.

Kennedy and a woman were investigated in June for allegedly killing big game animals out of season and for trespassing on private property. He reportedly admitted to Wyoming Game and Fish investigators that photos of the illegally killed animals had been taken on his cellphone, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

The investigators found numerous photos of the animals on the cellphone, but they also found two videos and a photo that appeared to have been taken from outside of a home looking through a bathroom window. They showed a nude woman preparing to take a shower, according to the affidavit.

The woman didn't know Kennedy was outside, and when she turned toward the window, he ducked out of view. The videos, which were taken in March, lasted about 1½ minutes and 3 minutes.

Gillette police were able to identify the home because at the end of one video, the camera turned toward Garner Lake Road, according to the affidavit.

Police then identified the woman, who told them she hadn't given permission to Kennedy to record her.

Voyeurism carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.


Jackson sees record snowfall in February

JACKSON (WNE) — It’s official. This is the snowiest February on the books for Jackson.

Valentine’s Day brought the final flakes needed to push 2019 ahead of 1977’s record of 33 inches. That morning the snowfall rose to about 35 inches, and by Friday it passed 38.

With more than a week to go this February could be a contender for second-snowiest month overall. That title belongs to December 2008 and its 47.5 inches.

And the Big One? January 1969 pummeled Jackson with a whopping 56 inches.


County to pay back some wind farm funds

LARAMIE (WNE) — Albany County will likely need to return — or stop the impeding payment of — roughly $600,000 of the $3.4 million that county coffers are scheduled to receive from the Boswell Springs wind project in northwestern Albany County.

Beginning in August, the county has started receiving monthly payments from the wind farm’s owners.

Local governments can receive “impact assistance” funds from companies with major industrial projects that can increase the need for governmental resources.

To date, the county has already received $1.5 million of the scheduled $3.4 million.

However, the $3.4 million is roughly $600,000 higher than the amount of projects that Albany County has earmarked the funds for.

The need to return $600,000 has become more pressing now that technology advances in wind turbines means the Boswell Springs project has been downsized, in turn downsizing the impact assistance funding that local governments should receive.

The project originally called for 170 wind turbines to be erected on 21,569 acres. However, the project has since been reduced to 80 turbines with higher capacities.

Brian Lovett, administrator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s industrial siting division, did not say how much impact assistance funding should be returned, but said his approach will be to recoup as much money as possible from Albany County governments before approaching Carbon County governments.

In his presentation to county commissioners Tuesday, Lovett said project permits have occasionally needed to be amended to provide for more impact assistance funding. The current situation, however, is foreign.

“The idea of reducing approved payments has never really come up before, so this is really new ground,” he said.


No charges in reservation crash

RIVERTON (WNE) — No charges will be filed in a fatal car crash last fall on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The incident resulted in the death of driver Jacob Bain, 29, of Crowheart.

The other person in the vehicle involved - Aspen Stagner, 21, of Crowheart - had made comments at the scene indicating she may have been driving, officials said, but a reconstruction of the crash determined she actually was the passenger.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute her in a memo filed Feb. 8.

"The evidence did not support charging (her)," public information officer Mark Trimble said Tuesday.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Travis Hauser said his agency determined Bain was driving at the time of the rollover due to the nature of Bain's injuries and the damage to the vehicle.

The WHP had made the determination in January, but Hauser had waited to release the information until the U.S. Attorney's Office completed its portion of the process.

Work at the U.S. Attorney's Office slowed during the federal government's partial shutdown that left much of the agency's staff on furlough.

Bain died at the scene of the crash, which took place at about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 11, 2018, near milepost 68 on U.S. Highway 26.

Toxicology testing showed his blood-alcohol content at the time of his death was .235.

Both Bain and Stagner were ejected from the Dodge Ram pickup truck involved, and Hauser said neither occupant was wearing a seatbelt.


Utah man killed in Lincoln County crash

AFTON (WNE) — A Utah man lost his life following a single vehicle accident in south Lincoln County.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol reports that on February 16, 2019, a fatal crash occurred at milepost 62 on US 30 east of Kemmerer, Wyoming.  Around 5:20 p.m., Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched to the area for a one-vehicle rollover.

A 2008 GMC Sierra was traveling westbound on US 30 when the vehicle crossed the center line and drifted off the left side of the roadway before the vehicle overturned.

The driver of the GMC has been identified as 35-year-old Hyrum, Utah resident Cesar Adrian Guzman Torres.  Torres was wearing his seatbelt but succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash.  The passenger has been identified as 25-year-old Logan, Utah resident Juan Diego Guzman Torres who was wearing his seatbelt and transported to South Lincoln Medical Center for injuries sustained in the crash.

Driving too fast for winter road conditions is being investigated as a contributing factor.

This is the 18th fatality on Wyoming’s highways in 2019 compared to 9 in 2018, 10 in 2017, and 7 in 2016 to date