NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, Nov. 11, 2019

Firefighter killed in car crash

CHEYENNE – A Laramie County firefighter was killed in an off-duty accident around 3:43 p.m. Thursday on Interstate 80 near mile marker 342 west of Cheyenne.

Firefighter John L. Kennedy, 22, of Cheyenne died at the scene due to injuries suffered during the crash. He was wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident, according to a Wyoming Highway Patrol news release.

Kennedy was driving a 2006 Kia SUV and was traveling westbound on I-80 when he merged from the left lane, across the right lane and into the merge lane. When the Kia entered the merge lane, it hit the back of a 2016 international commercial vehicle.

The driver of the 2016 commercial vehicle has been identified as Joseph Philip, 48, of Ontario, Canada. He, too, was wearing his seat belt, and was not injured in the crash.

Kennedy may have been using his cellphone and speeding at the time of the crash, and both are being investigated as possible contributing factors. He is the 134th person to die on Wyoming roadways in 2019.


Man convicted of abusing 9-year-old

LARAMIE (WNE) — A 21-year-old Laramie man was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor last week after taking an Alford plea, a legal term meaning the defendant retains his assertion of innocence while pleading guilty because he acknowledges a jury is likely to convict him.

Zachary Skagen was charged with the crime for inflicting penetrative sexual abuse on a 9-year-old girl during at least three separate incidences in July 2018.

Second-degree sexual abuse can carry a prison term of up to 20 years, but Skagen’s plea deal means prosecutors will limit their recommendation for a sentence to 13-15 years imprisonment.

Skagen was arrested in November 2018, but has since been released on a partial house arrest after a $25,000 cash bond was posted.

He is not allowed to leave the house without the supervision of the adult who’s supervising him.

Since his initial release, he’s been living on Garfield Street near the University of Wyoming’s campus, but he’s now set to move into a different house in West Laramie.

James Pracheil, an officer with the Laramie Police Department, conducted an interview with the victim in October 2018. Skagen corroborated the details of the sex abuse to Pracheil.

“I don’t know why I did it,” he reportedly told a family member.

The first incident of abuse took place in Las Vegas, while the rest occurred in Laramie, according to court documents.


Ramaco wins grant for carbon fiber work

SHERIDAN — A Department of Energy grant that will receive more than $1 million in federal funding aims to develop an emissions-free process to produce carbon fiber using coal. The grant’s prime recipient, Sheridan-based Ramaco Carbon, will work with TerraPower, a nuclear innovation company in Bellevue, Washington, to develop the process, which could result in significant environmental benefits.

According to Randall Atkins, CEO of Ramaco Carbon, a prime environmental benefit of the project is developing higher-value uses for coal, beyond its use in power plants.

“Our company operates under a simple mantra: ‘Coal is too valuable to burn,’” Atkins said in a press release. “Through our research we are seeking higher technology uses for the carbon from coal, which will increase its value and lower the environmental footprint from its use. Every bit of coal that’s used to create an advanced product or material like carbon fiber is moving us toward a greener future, and a stronger American economy.”

Since 2015, TerraPower has been developing processes to use the heat from nuclear reactors to improve chemical and industrial processes currently dependent on fossil fuels.

Josh Walter, project manager for Integrated Energy Systems and innovation engineer at TerraPower, explained that using carbon dioxide-free heat from nuclear can displace the emission-intensive processes used to transform biomass and fossil resources into usable products.