NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, Aug. 3, 2020


Cheyenne woman gets prison time for meth-fueled assault

CHEYENNE (WNE) -- A Cheyenne woman who has long battled drug addiction will spend at least four years in prison for a methamphetamine-fueled attack on another woman last fall.

On Thursday, Laramie County Judge Peter Froelicher sentenced Bryanna Salinas to a minimum of four years and a maximum of six years for the aggravated assault and battery of Britnee Gilmore, who was left permanently disfigured as a result of the fight.

Salinas was scheduled to go to a drug treatment program after being released on bond for those charges, but failed to report. This spring, she was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance. She pleaded guilty to that charge Thursday and was sentenced to a minimum of two years, which will be served concurrently with the other sentence.

Before Froelicher handed down his sentences, Ross McKelvey, Salinas’ attorney, asked that her client be allowed to check into an inpatient drug treatment facility while remaining on probation. 

Salinas, who is in her late 20s, first used methamphetamine when she was 15 years old.

In October 2019, Salinas and an accomplice, Scott Johnson, beat Gilmore during an argument over methamphetamine. Salinas used a curtain rod to beat Gilmore, which Harper said left the victim without the top half of her left index finger and permanent facial scarring.

"She has been given the chance to better herself if she's been using drugs since 2009," deputy district attorney Caitlin Harper said, as she asked the judge for a sentence of eight to 10 years. "Here we are 11 years later, and a woman is left permanently disfigured because of (Salinas') actions."

Harper did request that Salinas be admitted to a drug treatment program while she is incarcerated.

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Task force recommends grants for Wyoming college students

LARAMIE (WNE) — A Wyoming legislative task force recommended legislation on Friday which would provide grants of up to $6,500 to most students at the University of Wyoming and other post-secondary institutions in the state.

The Wyoming’s Tomorrow Task Force unanimously voted in favor of the proposal by House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper.

Because the task force includes members who are not legislators, it does not have the power to sponsor bills, but only to recommend them. As the sitting Speaker of the House, Harshman said that he would look into ways to get the bill on the legislative agenda.

The grants would come from the federal CARES Act funding that the state has received. Each full-time UW student who enrolls for the full year and is an American citizen would receive $6,500.

Community college students would have their full tuition and fees covered by the grants. Lawmakers amended the bill to include other workforce training programs, such as WyoTech, although final language has not been released saying exactly how much of the cost would be covered.

The governor’s office is looking at a similar plan to provide student aid from the CARES Act funding, Harshman said. The governor has broad control over that funding, and it is possible that grants to students could be secured without any action by the Legislature.

It is also possible that the Legislature could hold a special session in the next few months, especially if Congress passes another stimulus bill, Harshman said. His proposed legislation could be considered at a special session.

“In the end, the governor and the Legislature decide what the law is,” Harshman said. “We’re going to go forward with the best policy we can.”

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Albany County man charged in campground shooting

LARAMIE (WNE) — An Albany County man shot a stranger late last month at the Willow Campground west of Centennial, according to charging documents filed by Albany County prosecutors.

John Howitt had been camping at the site for five days when he shot someone in the leg after dark on July 24, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office. 

Howitt told sheriff’s deputies that a visibly intoxicated man had frightened him, and he shot at the man’s leg in self-defense. Officials have not released the name of the man who was shot.

Howitt told police that the man had acted belligerently toward him earlier in the night, then returned later at night. The man rubbed against a car that Howitt was sleeping inside and threatened to beat him up, Howitt said. 

Howitt claimed he shot the man once in the leg when he was within an arm’s reach of the rear passenger-side door. He said he feared for his life when he shot.  

The victim told police he had not had a confrontation with anyone that night, and he never met Howitt. He had arrived at the campground less than half an hour before and taken his dog for a walk.  He said he was walking down a road in the campground when he felt a sharp pain in his left hip area and realized he’d been shot.  The victim denied he was drunk or otherwise intoxicated at the time. 

Sheriff’s deputies inspected the scene of the shooting and determined Howitt’s story of a confrontation was likely not true, according to court documents.

Howitt has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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Campbell County hospital still negotiating ransomware insurance settlement

GILLETTE (WNE) — Campbell County Health continues to negotiate its insurance claim to cover financial losses from last year’s ransomware attack, said Chief Financial Officer Mary Lou Tate.

Now that negotiations are underway and having already dragged on longer than expected, CCH is expecting to receive less than its initial claim, if and when a settlement is reached.

In September, a ransomware attack shut down more than 1,500 computers and servers at Campbell County Memorial Hospital and Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center.

It wasn’t until December that the hospital returned to normal and fully recovered its technology infrastructure.

In January, Tate said that she expected an insurance settlement of about $1.5 million, which she said is about how much CCH lost from the attack.

There are three insurance companies involved in settling the claim. CCH’s primary insurance policy is through Aspen Insurance Holdings Ltd., with additional insurance riders from The Travelers Companies and Tokio Marine Holdings.

“Part of the negotiation is who is responsible for what because they all have different language in their policies,” Tate said.

At a luncheon in February, CEO Colleen Heeter said that no patient information was compromised during the cyberattack, but the organization did not release financial numbers related to the attack, including how much ransom was being demanded.

CCH did not pay a ransom to unlock its systems.

Following the ransomware incident, CCH leadership reassessed its information technology infrastructure and philosophy toward cybersecurity.

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Teton County elections office encouraging absentee-by-mail voting during COVID-19 pandemic

JACKSON (WNE) – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people’s lives in countless ways this year. Now Teton County election officials are asking residents to change the way they have traditionally cast their ballots.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Teton County Clerk’s Office is encouraging all voters to vote absentee-by-mail this year,” the Teton County Elections webpage states.

The elections office currently has an absentee polling site open where people can vote now through the day before the Aug. 18 primary election, and then again from Sept. 18 through Nov. 2 for the general election.

The goal, said Kellie Dickerson, the county’s elections senior deputy clerk, is to avoid a massive crush of people on Election Day, as the in-person voting process may work more slowly this year due to sanitation and social distancing requirements that will be enforced at polling stations.

“We’re encouraging [absentee-by-mail voting] just so we don’t have as many people at the polls on Election Day,” she said. “We’re just trying to spread everybody out as much as possible.”

As for Election Day itself, Dickerson said there would be some changes this year, most of them attributable to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lines are likely to move more slowly because of an increased focus on sanitizing voting booths. Election judges will all be wearing masks, and protective shields “like you’d see at the grocery store” will be installed, she said.

“Overall, it will probably be a little bit slower of a process than the voters are used to at the polls, but we should be able to help everybody with no problem,” Dickerson said.

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