NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, May 4, 2020


Trucking company sued over Laramie man’s death

LARAMIE (WNE) – A trucking company and one of its former drivers, Nebraska woman Tonya Hightower, are being sued by the family of 57-year-old Laramie man Vidal Madera, who was killed in March 2018, when Hightower was driving west down Telephone Canyon when she lost control of her tractor-trailer and killed Madera, who was driving east on I-80.

Investigators said it appear Hightower fell asleep at the wheel; she was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and convicted by a jury in Albany County’s district court.

In November, Judge Tori Kricken sentenced the 48-year-old to 10-20 years imprisonment.

On April 17, a lawsuit was filed in federal court against Hightower and trucking company Carolina Logistic, Inc.

Madera’s son, James, is serving as the wrongful death representative.

“Tonya Hightower failed to keep a proper lookout for vehicles, failed to drive in the proper lanes, failed to take evasive action to avoid the collision, failed to apply her brakes to avoid the collision, failed to maintain the Carolina Logistic Inc. tractor-trailer under her control, failed to use reasonable cause on the operation of a commercial vehicle,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states that the company had “a duty to equip its vehicles with adequate safety measures, including, but not limited to a lane departure warning systems.”

Hightower is appealing her conviction of up to 20 years to the Wyoming Supreme Court. That case is still pending, and her opening brief is due May 21.

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Gillette Police: Reported Walmart hostage situation a hoax

GILLETTE (WNE) — A Saturday afternoon call to the Gillette Police Department that a Walmart employee was being held hostage in the parking lot of the store turned out to be a hoax.

Officers responded appropriately to what they believe was a tense situation and when on scene were able to make contact with the employee and verify there was no danger and the report was false, according to a report posted on the city’s Facebook page.

The Police Department said it is investigating the incident and expects to release more information Monday. It also expressed gratitude for people’s patience and understanding while officers were responding to the call.

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Teton County leads state in positive COVID test rate

JACKSON (WNE) – Teton County is leading the state with some unfortunate COVID-19 statistics.

In a letter appealing for a more restrictive variance to state health orders, Teton County District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said that of 733 COVID-19 tests conducted in Teton County, 9.4% came back positive — more than double the statewide rate of 4.5%. That high rate might indicate inadequate testing and a higher level of unidentified cases, he wrote.

Similarly, Riddell pointed to a few other state-leading statistics to justify a stricter local order, such as:

• The county’s “attack rate” of 277 per 100,000 residents is the highest of any county in Wyoming, more than four times the statewide rate.

• With 10 Teton County residents who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection having been admitted to St. John’s Health and another four having been admitted “to higher level units in other facilities,” the county’s hospitalization rate stands at more than 21% of confirmed cases.

• Over the weekend, the county reported two new lab-confirmed cases, bringing total cases, confirmed and probable, to 98. So far, the county is reporting 88 recovered and one death.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist signed Riddell’s proposed order, which keeps gyms, nail and hair salons, barbershops and a number of other personal service businesses closed through May 11. Other businesses, such as retails shops, may open as long as current health orders are followed.

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Special Olympics torch run to take place virtually

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Law enforcement across the state will host the “Wyoming Virtual Torch Run 2020” benefiting Special Olympics Wyoming starting May 15 through July 15.

With the cancellation of the 2020 Special Olympics Wyoming State Summer Games due to physical distancing regulations, Wyoming Law Enforcement Torch Run along with the support of hundreds of local law enforcement volunteers will host the Law Enforcement Torch Run Legs virtually.

“April 30 is the day the opening ceremonies for Special Olympics Summer Games would have commenced in Gillette and the final leg of our annual Torch Run would have taken place. Due to social distancing requirements our Torch Run will have a different look in 2020,” said Keith Groeneweg, Wyoming State Director for Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Law enforcement personnel, Special Olympics athletes, family and friends are encouraged to participate by walking or running outside or on a treadmill, exercising on an elliptical or cycling. 

The goal is to engage more officers and athletes, reach 2,020 miles and raise $20,200. Participants are encouraged to track their miles, take a picture or record a short video and post to the Wyoming Law Enforcement Torch Run Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/LETR4SOWY.

You can also support the Wyoming Law Enforcement Virtual Torch Run by making a donation or purchasing a T-shirt at www.SpecialOlympicsWY.org or www.firstgiving.com/event/sowy/2020-WY-LETR-Virtual-Torch-Run.

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One dead, six hospitalized after head-on crash near Wright

GILLETTE (WNE) — A two-vehicle crash Thursday east of Wright left one person dead and six others hospitalized.

Kandi L. Tanner, a 39-year-old woman from St. George, Utah, was driving a 2019 Volkswagen Jetta on Highway 450 near Black Thunder mine in southern Campbell County when her car collided head-on with a 2020 Ram 1500, said Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds. The crash happened at 8:41 p.m.

The pickup, which was headed west, had slowed in the westbound lane of Highway 450 to turn into an adjacent drive on the right. Tanner failed to negotiate a slight curve to the right and crossed the center line colliding head-on with the Dodge, according to the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

Tanner was wearing a seat belt but died at the scene. The juvenile passenger in the Volkswagen was wearing a seat belt and taken to Campbell County Memorial Hospital for injuries.

The driver of the Dodge has been identified as 59-year-old Newcastle resident Tammy Elliott, who is in fair condition, according to Campbell County Health.

Also in the Dodge were Kent Elliott, 60, of Newcastle and Steven Elliott, 18, of Cheyenne, who both were treated and released from the hospital, and two juveniles whose names were not provided.

All of the occupants in the Dodge were wearing seat belts and were taken to the Campbell County Memorial Hospital for their injuries, the Highway Patrol said in a press release.

It is the 23rd fatality on Wyoming’s roadways in 2020 compared to 52 in 2019, 26 in 2018, and 33 in 2017 to date.

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Land donated for critical access hospital in Saratoga

RAWLINS (WNE) — The Platte Valley Healthcare Project (PVHP) has accepted the donation from Paul McCarthy of approximately 7.8 acres of land at the intersection of West Bridge Ave and N. 13th Street in Saratoga as the new site for the North Platte Valley Medical Center (NPVMC), according to a press release.

“This generous donation by long-time resident and community supporter Paul McCarthy brings us that much closer to realizing our goal of building a critical access hospital to serve the North Platte Valley,” said Will Faust, Chairman of the Platte Valley Healthcare Project.

According to Faust, the property has water, sewer and natural gas onsite, and will have fiber optic by the end of summer. Because the property is zoned Retail Business, all that will be needed is a building permit.

The PVHP had been considering a different site on Hwy. 130 at the south edge of town, but when the sellers were unable to provide clear title to the property, the PVHP board began considering other options.

According to Faust, the architectural and construction development that has been done can be easily adapted to the new site, and the change in location should have no effect on the pending application to the USDA.

As soon as USDA approval is received, the PVHP hopes to break ground by early summer and complete construction in the fall of 2021.

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Sweetwater County school board agrees to four-day school week in close vote

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) —  Sweetwater County School District No. 1 schools in Rock Springs and Wamsutter will move to a four-day schedule beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, with most of the details to be worked out in the days ahead.

By a 4-3 vote, trustees approved and adopted the Alternative Task Force's recommendation of a schedule where students will attend school four days a week and staff will attend every other student day off for collaboration, professional development and/or planning each month. 

The decision was made at a special board meeting conducted virtually on Tuesday evening.

Before the vote, Sweetwater No. 1 Human Resources Director Nicole Bolton gave a presentation on the Task Force's decision-making process, the final three options considered, and the results of staff and public surveys about the options. 

More than 50 of the 100 public comments received were in support of a four-day school week, around 30 were opposed and others raised concerns, asked questions or recommended waiting to make a decision. Some questioned the timing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on families.  

The next step is for Sweetwater District No. 1 to get permission from the Wyoming Department of Education to pursue the adopted four-day option. Once approved by the state, the option would guide the district's calendar committee as they develop calendars for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. That committee would work out all the scheduling details.

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