NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Health orders extended through end of month

POWELL (WNE) — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon says the current public health orders will be extended through at least the end of the month, citing increasing cases of COVID-19. 

“I’m disappointed again that we continue to see case numbers rise,” Gordon said. “Wyoming residents only need to look at what Texas, Florida and Arizona are experiencing to see how much damage being careless, not wearing a mask, and failing to social distance can cause to our state’s economy, our citizens’ health and our healthcare system.” 

The governor added that he’s been “encouraged” to see many businesses “requiring staff and urging customers to wear face coverings.” 

The current restrictions limit indoor gatherings to no more than 50 people and outdoor gatherings to no more than 250 people and, among other things, require precautions and increased spacing at places like restaurants. 

In his release, Gordon noted that the number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations in the state has risen — from five patients late last month to 17 on Monday. That’s the most hospitalizations since April 22, the governor’s office said, though below a peak of 23.

One Park County resident — an older man with a confirmed case of COVID-19 — was being treated at Powell Valley Hospital on Monday. He’s been a patient there since Wednesday, Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said. 


Confinement case brings prison sentence

RIVERTON (WNE) — Accused of ring-leading the captivity of two women, Fremont County resident Basil Blackburn has been sentenced to a prison term that could last nine years. 

He has been ordered to serve between 52 and 108 months in prison. 

Blackburn, 33, was charged in April 2019 with conspiracy to commit unlawful confinement, after two women told Riverton Police Department agents that Blackburn and others trapped and beat them in an apartment on College Hill in Riverton. 

“This victims in this case experienced a significant amount of trauma,” said Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun at thesentencing hearing, where he advocated for a five-to-10 year sentence for Blackburn. “They were at times hit, at times kicked; one of the ladies was burned with a cigarette. They were tased.” 

Blackburn’s defense attorney, Elisabeth Trefonas of Teton County, said the case was too murky to gather many assumptions. 

Though at first the women told police they were abused and not allowed to leave the apartment, Trefonas said they’d later tell defense investigators they didn’t leave because they were “so drunk it was dangerous.” 

Conflicting evidence on both sides and the shifting perspectives and locations of the victims in the case led to a legal situation known as an Alford plea. Blackburn accepted the plea agreement offered to him, in which the prosecution capped the 20-year maximum sentence at 10 years, but he did not admit to confining the women.


Man accused of trying to injure deputies

LARAMIE (WNE) — An Albany County man has been accused of trying to injure two sheriff’s deputies and attempting to grab one of their guns on June 29 while they arrested him for a probation violation.

Eric Bennett has been charged with four felony counts of interference with a police officer and attempted interference with a police officer.

Two of the charges come from attempting to injure the Albany County Sheriff’s deputies while resisting arrest, one comes from grabbing towards a deputy’s gun, and the fourth comes from allegedly “banging” his head against a deputy’s hand while being restrained in jail.

The deputies repeatedly used a Taser against Bennett when he did not initially follow their instructions, Corporal Jeffery McKinney, of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, said in an affidavit. McKinney said the incident was captured on body cameras.

At one point, Bennett unsuccessfully tried to grab a deputy’s gun, McKinney said. Deputies used the Taser on Bennett again, and they restrained him and placed him in handcuffs.

One of the deputies later claimed that Bennett had kicked him in the shins during the arrest. The other arresting deputy said that he injured his thumb.

Once Bennett was transferred to the Albany County Detention Center, he was placed in a restraint chair and a helmet was placed on his head, since he was banging his head “on any object/surface he could,” McKinney wrote in the affidavit.

While he was in the restrained chair, he banged a third deputy’s hand into the chair hard enough that it hurt afterward, McKinney said.


Campbell County seeks grant for industrial park

GILLETTE (WNE) — Campbell County is pursuing a federal grant to build an industrial park east of Cam-plex.

The federal coronavirus relief act has a pool of money dedicated to competitive grants for projects in coal-impacted communities.

Over the last 15 years, Gillette has been turned down for multiple projects because it didn’t have shovel-ready sites, said county administrative director Carol Seeger at a county meeting last week.

“This is a theme we have heard over the years a number of times, there are no shovel-ready industrial parks here,” Seeger said.

In 2014, the county bought 250 acres of land east of what is now the Gillette College rodeo ag complex with the long-term goal of building an industrial park on 160 acres of that property. Seeger said that while on a call with federal officials on the available grants, the industrial park came up as a good candidate for funding.

The estimated total cost of the industrial park is $11.5 million. This includes upgrading three roads and completing the buildout of the infrastructure, including sewer.

When completed, the Pronghorn Industrial Park would have eight shovel-ready sites. Seeger said the city is in support of the industrial park, which would have to be annexed into the city.

The grants will fund 80% to 100% of a project. The commissioners hope to get a 100% federally funded grant. It’s possible that Campbell County could be awarded the grant but not for 100%.


West’s new home could be Wyoming’s largest

CODY (WNE) — Kanye West will soon be making another imprint on the Cody landscape.

The Park County Planning and Zoning office recently confirmed West will be building a 52,000-square-foot, single-family residence on his property.

The house, which will be built on the northwest portion of the West Lake property, will not only become the largest house in Wyoming, but also the 45th largest in the nation. Wyoming’s largest home is the 25,000-square-foot McMurry house in Casper.

Prospective designs for West’s mansion carry a resemblance to a bicycle rim. The more than 50 foot tall house will have ten bedrooms and a “central hub” aspect with “spokes” feeding off of it into outer, pod-type rooms, said Joy Hill, Park County planning and zoning director. It has not been verified that this will be the final design of the project.

The house was approved for permitting by county staff on May 15, and there is also an associated small wastewater permit on the project.

Permit documents associated with the project contain blueprints designed by Engineering Associates, a Cody firm. EA refused to confirm they are working on this project.

Residences are not subject to site plan review by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Construction for the project must start within one year of it being permitted.