NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, April 6, 2020

Pandemic delays Jackson man’s federal drug case

JACKSON  (WNE) - The Jackson man facing federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges probably won’t go before a jury until 2021.

According to documents filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming, Bryan Jones, who originally was to have gone on trial last month, is now scheduled to be tried Jan. 19, more than a year after his arrest.

According to court files: “The court finds an ends-of-justice continuance is warranted in this case for two reasons: (1) the relative complexity of the matter requires more time for counsel to effectively prepare, and (2) the current coronavirus pandemic warrants a continuance because the court currently cannot safely assemble the participants for a jury trial.”

A grand jury indicted Jones and three co-defendants in January for conspiracy to distribute and manufacture a metric ton of marijuana, and conspiracy to launder money.

Jones was arrested by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration near his Teton County home in December after a five-year investigation into what federal officials called a large drug trafficking organization.

In the order, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl said a continuance is justified.

“There is an extensive amount of discovery here because the government has been investigating the matter for several years,” Skavdahl wrote. 

“Requiring the defendants to proceed to trial without adequate time to investigate the case and prepare the defense would result in a miscarriage of justice,” the order states.

Skavdahl said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic the court’s top priority “in this time of emergency is protecting the health and safety of the litigants, the public and the practicing bar.”


Rabid skunks are the first in Campbell County since 2010

GILLETTE (WNE) — The first case of rabies in Campbell County in 10 years should prompt people to make sure their pets are vaccinated against the disease.

Two skunks that were part of routine trapping done by the Campbell County Predator Board tested positive for rabies earlier this week. They were found in southern Campbell County, according to veterinarians at the Animal Medical Center, who received lab confirmation of the rabid animals.

No humans were exposed, but it is a good reminder that rabies exists and is a serious issue, said Dr. Darren Lynde, a veterinarian and senior partner at Animal Medical Center.

Rabies tends to cycle from year to year, but the early spring cases here this year indicate that there might be more to follow, Lynde said.

Skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats represent most of the rabies cases in Campbell County, Lynde said, but any warm-blooded animal can get rabies.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, people are postponing non-essential trips, such as getting their pets groomed. Instead, they’re only going to the vet if their pet has a serious problem.

If a pet is not up to date on its shots, or if it has an infection, Lynde recommends that its owner take it to the vet as soon as possible.

“We don’t want those animals to have to wait until this clears up, we want them to get that attended to now,” he said. “Protecting an animal against diseases that could kill them, vaccinating them, is very important.”

In addition to making sure to vaccinate their pets, people are encouraged to keep their distance from wildlife and stray animals and to be careful in approaching unfamiliar dogs and cats.


UW cancels graduation

LARAMIE (WNE) — The University of Wyoming announced Friday that it canceled its traditional spring commencement ceremonies scheduled for May amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, it plans to host a “virtual ceremony” that’s expected to be broadcast live May 16.

And other options are being developed for UW’s spring 2020 graduates to celebrate their accomplishments.

Details of the virtual ceremony are still being planned, but UW has said that students graduating this semester have the option of returning for a future spring or winter commencement.

“Maybe there will be even greater participation because people will be able to connect in a way they never have before,” UW Dean of Students Kimberly Chestnut said in a Friday video message.

According to Friday’s press release, UW is now “repurposing its spring 2020 commencement budget to purchase and deliver keepsakes for graduates, their families and friends.”

“These commencement packages each will include a mortar board, tassel and stole so that graduates can have a ‘tassel-turning’ moment during the virtual ceremony and take photographs,” the press release states. “Those students graduating with honors could receive appropriate cords, and graduate students could receive hoods and tams.”

Because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19’s future, UW is also giving students planning to attend UW in fall 2020 more time to confirm their intent to enroll.

UW typically has a May 1 deadline for students to confirm their intent to enroll for the fall semester by making a financial deposit.

This year, incoming freshmen can request an extension to June 1.


Sheridan woman indicted on federal child pornography charges

SHERIDAN (WNE) — U.S. Attorney Mark A. Klaassen announced Wednesday that Jessica Lynn Dierking, 34, of Sheridan was indicted by a federal grand jury March 18 for receipt of child pornography, distribution of child pornography and two counts of production of child pornography.

According to court documents, in 2019, Dierking knowingly “used, persuaded, induced, enticed and coerced a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct.” 

Court documents allege Dierking had utilized a cellphone to produce and distribute the child pornography.

The maximum penalty upon conviction for receipt and distribution of child pornography is five to 20 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, five years to life of supervised release and up to $35,000 in a special assessment. Restitution for any victim’s injuries and loss may also be ordered. The maximum penalty upon conviction for each count of production of child pornography is 15 to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, five years to life of supervised release and up to $35,000 in a special assessment. Restitution for the victim’s injuries and loss may also be ordered.

Dierking pleaded not guilty at her arraignment before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly H. Rankin on Tuesday. 

Judge Rankin remanded the defendant to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. A trial has been scheduled for May 26. 

The investigation is being conducted by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which is comprised of agents from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations.


Young 'not immune' to COVID-19, experts stress

RIVERTON  (WNE) — More than half of Fremont County's eight hospitalized coronavirus patients are critically ill and on ventilators, public health officer Brian Gee said in a press statement Tuesday.

Three of the patients considered seriously or critically ill are younger than 60.

"The young are not immune," Gee said in the video, which was posted online Tuesday and distributed Wednesday by the Fremont County Incident Management Team formed to respond to the epidemic.

Statewide 58 percent of confirmed COVID-19 patients are younger than 60, Gee said, and 23 percent are younger than 40.

In Fremont County, public health officials also have been tracking the number of people with symptoms of COVID-19 who have been told to self-isolate by their health care providers.

Gee said that group - which numbered more than 600 this week - also includes "people young and old."

"We have repeatedly called for those with any possible COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate in their households to quarantine themselves," he said.

"I understand this is difficult to do, but your actions now have important consequences for all of us,” he added. "Stay home if you're ill. Isolate or quarantine as directed. Do this if you're young or old."


Rock Springs Police: Teens involved in crash are bad example of social distancing

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) —  Officers from the Rock Springs Police Department were dispatched to a crash that occurred on a dirt road near Eagle Way on March 31. 

The crash involved the driver who was 15 years old and four passengers who ranged from age 14 to 15. The truck was traveling at an excessive speed and hit a ditch causing both front airbags to deploy, according to a press release. Three of the passengers were treated for minor injuries and the driver was cited for alleged reckless driving.

This incident is an example of how not to practice social distancing or to stay home when possible, the RSPD said. All five juveniles were from different families and were in close contact. This contact increases the potential for the spread of COVID-19 not only to each other, but to each of their families.

“The Rock Springs Police Department continues to observe that citizens are breaking the governor's orders to social distance and stay home. It is apparent many have not taken the COVID-19 situation as seriously as it really is,” the release said. “It is important to note that not all infected persons readily show the symptoms, however they can still spread COVID-19.”

The release encouraged members of the community to practice social distancing, avoid gathering in groups to include no social events, no sleepovers, no sporting events. Stay home when possible and enjoy outdoor activities with those who you live with, police said.

“Help us all to become COVID-19 aware!” the release said. “Remember folks, this is a pandemic, not a party!”