NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, July 23, 2020

Campbell County Commissioners move forward to form new community college district

GILLETTE (WNE) — The Campbell County Commissioners are moving forward in the process to create a community college district in Campbell County.

At their regular meeting Tuesday morning, the commissioners approved a resolution approving submitting an application for the creation of a district.

The application will be submitted to the Wyoming Community College Commission, which will have 90 days to decide whether to approve it.

The county also will submit a petition that has been passed around the community in support of the formation of a new district; so far it has grown to more than 800 signatures, said county administrative director Carol Seeger. 

The County Clerk’s Office is verifying the signatures. It needs a minimum of 500 signatures from qualified electors.

The resolution also creates a task force to help with the process. 

“This is going to be a lot of work,” said Commission Chairman D.G. Reardon. “It’s not going to happen overnight, we do understand that.”

When the community college commission receives the application, it will conduct a survey to consider the need for a community college in the proposed district and the state, the ability of the proposed district to financially support a college and the educational soundness of the proposed community college plan.

If the community college commission approves the application, the proposed district would then need the approval of the state Legislature.


Laramie man threatens people with ax at gas station

LARAMIE (WNE) — A Laramie man threatened two other customers at the Gateway Fuels Shell gas station in Laramie with an ax July 6, prosecutors have alleged.

The man, 28-year-old Ryan Vernola, was charged earlier this month with two counts of felony aggravated assault and one misdemeanor count of property destruction.

The case was bound over to district court last week.

Vernola had an ongoing dispute with a group of people in Laramie over a motorcycle purchase, he told officers. Vernola claimed that a group had intimidated and threatened him in the days leading up to the alleged crime, including two people in a green van or minivan.

Vernola was at the Gateway Shell station, at 2471 W. Jackson St. in Laramie, on July 6, when the two people in the same green van pulled up and confronted him, he claimed. Police said that surveillance video shows that the two people in the van were not trying to confront Vernola.

Vernola pulled an ax out of his car, swung it at the two people in the van and pushed one of them onto the ground. He also took the cell phone of the person he pushed to the ground.

After this incident, Vernola left the gas station and drove to a nearby laundromat, where he called police. He reported that the people in the green van, unidentified in the police report, had threatened him. Police interviewed clerks at the gas station where the incident occurred, who told them that Vernola did not appear to be defending himself, according to court records.


Grizzly bear attacks man near South Fork

POWELL (WNE) —  A man was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear on Tuesday afternoon while hiking in the Shoshone National Forest southwest of Cody. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department said the man was hiking alone on a game trail near Deer Creek Pass in the Washakie Wilderness “when he surprised a single grizzly bear in a day bed within 7 to 8 feet.” 

Due to the suddenness of the encounter, the victim was not able to deploy his bear spray, the Game and Fish said.

 “The bear immediately charged, knocked the victim to the ground, then left the area,” said a news release from the department. “The victim sustained injuries to his chest and arm, but was able to bandage his wounds and hike out.” 

After reaching the Deer Creek trailhead — located about 42 miles outside of Cody on the South Fork — another hiker took the man to Cody Regional Health for treatment. 

“Due to the remote location and low probability of locating the bear, no management action is planned at this time,” said the Game and Fish release. 

The man is the third person to be attacked by a grizzly bear while recreating in the Greater Yellowstone Area this year; all have involved surprise encounters. 

Wildlife managers recommend staying vigilant while in bear country, carrying bear spray, hiking in groups of two or more and making noise.


Campbell County fraudster sentenced in Crook County

SUNDANCE (WNE) — Jason Barnum has been sentenced on fraud charges in Crook County. The Gillette man allegedly obtained property by false pretenses from two separate victims in Crook County.

He has also been sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for defrauding the Boy Scouts and a 76-year-old woman out of $150,000 in Campbell County. 

On February 21, Moorcroft Police Department was notified of the first incident. 

It allegedly involved a Moorcroft resident who provided a work order signed by Barnum for work on her house, including painting multiple rooms. The victim provided a down payment of $500 to Barnum at his request.

Barnum repeatedly failed to turn up to complete the work, according to court reports. 

In another Crook County case, Barnum came to the victim’s residence in October to provide an estimate for work to be done, allegedly requiring a 50% down payment. The excuses began on November 24 and Barnum continued to postpone until February 24.

Barnum pleaded guilty to one felony count of attempting to obtain property by false pretenses and one misdemeanor count of obtaining property by false pretenses. He was sentenced on the misdemeanor count to at least six months of incarceration and restitution totaling $3,714.

On the felony count, Barnum was sentenced to between 36 months and 120 months in a state penal institution, as well as a total of $3,714 in restitution and a $1000 fine. This second sentence was suspended pending successful completion of ten years of probation following his release from incarceration, probation and parole in one of the two Campbell County cases.

Barnum’s sentence and probation on the misdemeanor count will be consecutive to the completion of District Court cases in Campbell and Weston Counties. The felony count will be served consecutively to the first of the two Campbell County cases and will then run concurrently with the second case and the Weston County case.


Teton County tourism jumps past '19 levels

JACKSON  (WNE) — The spike in active Teton County coronavirus cases comes amid a wave of tourism.

By a couple of measures, more people are venturing to Jackson Hole on any given day this summer than in 2019, which itself was a strong tourism season.

The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board has started using a cellphone data analytics firm,, to track numbers of nonresidents within town limits. Since the July 4 weekend, the estimate has ranged between 36,000 and 44,000 visitors daily.

Earlier in the season, tourism lagged behind 2019, often by double-digit percentage points. 

That changed last week. Going into the weekend, this summer’s people count exceeded last year’s marks on four straight days, with the largest difference coming last Friday, when the year-over-year tourism estimate was up 9%.

Traffic data gathered weekly at Yellowstone National Park’s South Gate corroborates that more and more people are flocking to northwest Wyoming, even as the pandemic tightens its grip on the region.

The National Park Service declined to share nuanced visitation data with the Jackson Hole Daily, but Yellowstone officials have made weekly figures for the park’s entrance stations available to local elected officials.

Those figures show that the volume of vehicles flowing through the entrance station just past Flagg Ranch was steadily running below last year’s levels until around the last week of June. Each week since then more cars, SUVs and camper vans were tallied than in the same week in 2019.

The gains are most pronounced recently: During the week that ended July 12, South Gate counters detected nearly 14,000 vehicles, up approximately 15% from traffic the same week last year.


Lovell woman charged in death of husband

LOVELL (WNE) — A Lovell woman faces manslaughter charges after allegedly shooting her husband twice the afternoon of July 9. Sandra Ford, 79, was immediately taken into custody Thursday afternoon after being determined a suspect in her husband Archer’s death by the Lovell Police Department.

The two were married for more than 50 years, according to Lovell Police Chief Dan Laffin.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, dispatch received a call at 4:17 p.m. from Sandra stating that she had shot her husband. According to a statement Sandra allegedly made to the Lovell police, the incident occurred when Archer entered her

bedroom unwelcomed. According to the affidavit, Sandra stated that Archer began throwing pillows and other items at her mirror before starting to growl at her and approach her.

According to the affidavit, Sandra said Archer then made a fist at her, threatening to kill her.

After retrieving a gun in her dresser drawer without arousing Archer’s attention, Sandra allegedly stated to police that she shot Archer once near the right shoulder and shot him a second time when he continued to approach her, resulting in his death. According to alleged statements made in the affidavit, Sandra told officers she thought if she just pointed the gun at Archer, that he would calm down

and leave and that she did not intend to kill him.

An alleged statement within the affidavit also states that Sandra had pointed a gun on earlier occasions to scare Archer. Laffin said the officers have responded to multiple calls related to domestic violence between the couple, and various threats had been made by both of them to each other, according to the affidavit. Sandra has since been released on bond.