NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Gillette vehicular homicide case sent to district court

GILLETTE (WNE) — Circuit Court Judge Paul S. Phillips found probable cause Monday morning to bind over Matthew Coleman, 37, to District Court on a charge of aggravated vehicular homicide either by driving under the influence or recklessly.

While on a “joy ride” with five minors in his truck June 6, Coleman was “corner-hopping” when his pickup flipped over near the corner of Burma Avenue and Metz Drive, killing one of the passengers, a 14-year-old boy, according to court documents.

Coleman admitted to having consumed alcohol that day and his blood alcohol content after the crash was nearly twice the legal limit at 0.15%.

Gillette Police Detective Jeremiah Wagner testified about the crash and arrest.

County Attorney Ron Wirthwein argued probable cause based on the evidence from observations of officers, the defendant’s admission of having consumed alcohol, his red, watery eyes, slurred speech and breath test.

Coleman left out the letters “U” and “V” when asked to recite the alphabet after the crash, he said.

“The defendant had a truck full of minors and was fishtailing around a corner while under the influence of alcohol,” Wirthwein said.

Defense attorney Steven Titus argued it’s too early to charge drunken driving without blood test results taken the night of the crash and also claimed no scientific value to the field sobriety tests given to Coleman.

Aggravated vehicular homicide either by driving while under the influence or recklessly carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.


Enzi proposes park fee hike to pay for improvements

CODY (WNE) — Cody residents may end up paying more to visit Yellowstone National Park. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has proposed an amendment to the Great American Outdoors Act that will increase the fees for weekly passes to the national parks by $5 and yearly passes by $20. 

If passed, the bill in its current form will provide the national parks with $6.65 billion and other federal lands with $2.85 billion total over the next five years to make much-needed infrastructure repairs. 

As of press time the amendment was being considered.

The National Park Service said that it needed nearly $12 billion in 2018 to get caught up with repairs across all its parks, which include such facilities as buildings, campgrounds and water systems. 

Enzi called the Great American Outdoors Act a “one-time fix” that is “neither responsible nor permanent.” The Congressional Budget Office said the current bill would add more than $17 billion to the national debt.

The bill pays for the repairs by taking 50% of the revenues generated by energy development on federal lands for five years, totaling a maximum of $9.5 billion, $2.5 billion short of the amount the NPS alone needs, and that funding would have to be reauthorized to continue after 2025. 

Enzi’s proposed amendment provides a permanent funding solution for maintaining the national parks and would reduce the increase to the national debt.

His amendment increases the visa fees for foreign visitors by $16-$25, to be used for public lands.

The amendment also raises the prices for passes to the parks domestically by $5 for individual park passes–both week-long and year-long passes – and $20 for the wider-ranging America the Beautiful passes.


Arapaho tribe distributes COVID relief funds to members

RIVERTON (WNE) — The Northern Arapaho Tribe has received more than $19 million to mitigate the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a June 5 address from Northern Arapaho Business Council chairman Lee Spoonhunter.

More than one-quarter of the money - $5.275 million - will be allocated to individual tribal members, Spoonhunter said.

"These dollars are available to assist enrolled tribal members with housing, utility costs (and) food," he said. "It will be distributed in the amount of $500 per enrolled tribal member around July 1."

Tribal elders will receive $1 million of the funding for "necessary infrastructure and safety improvements" at the Ethete and Black Coal senior centers, and for additional food delivery vans and meals, Spoonhunter said.

Tribal students will receive $1 million in funding to address technical needs they may encounter as they continue learning remotely during the pandemic, he said, and $1.5 million will be used to construct a small meat processing plant to "employ tribal members and help ensure a reliable beef supply for the community."

Tribal facilities, including Blue Sky Hall in Ethete and Great Plains Hall in Arapahoe, will get a total of $4.5 million in public health-related infrastructure improvements including water, sewer and heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Spoonhunter said; Wind River Family and Community Healthcare in Arapahoe also will receive money - $1 million - to assist in mitigating the spread of coronavirus, "including through the acquisition of a facility to isolate and treat patients.”


Lodge manager’s theft case bound over to district court

PINEDALE (WNE) — A former Boulder Lake Lodge manager charged with theft waived her right to her June 9 preliminary hearing in Sublette County Circuit Court. 

Katherine A. Entsminger and her husband Thomas W. Hickman were arrested Feb. 24 in Maryland and brought back to Sublette County to face allegations of horse rustling and theft, according to court records. The charges were amended to drop horse rustling and revise the felony theft allegations. 

Both worked at Boulder Lake Lodge in 2018 and after being fired by the owners in August, allegedly took saddles, tack, riding equipment, electronics and furnishings with a total value of more than $1,000 from the lodge, according to court records. 

Entsminger is also charged with misusing Boulder Lake Lodge funds to buy three horses but never signed them over to the owners. A third felony theft charge alleges that Entsminger misused Boulder Lake Lodge funds to buy personal items on Amazon and had them shipped to other addresses. 

Both are charged with the felony of conspiracy to commit theft, taking a substantial step to achieve that goal, records show. 

Hickman now faces one felony theft for the August 2018 incident. He appeared before Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws on March 18, who bound the case over to 9th District Court where he pleaded not guilty on April 30.

Entsminger waived her right to a speedy preliminary hearing and then the hearing itself; instead her felony case is bound over to 9th District Court. Both were released from custody after posting bond.


Grand Teton reopens Teton County visitor centers

JACKSON (WNE) — Nearly a month after Grand Teton National Park reopened its gates to the public, three park visitor centers will unlock their doors Tuesday for the first time this year.

On Monday, park officials announced the Tuesday openings of the Moose-area Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, the Colter Bay Visitor Center on Jackson Lake, and the ranger station and “welcome center” at Jenny Lake. There will be no cap on numbers of people admitted into the buildings at any one time, but park spokeswoman Denise Germann said that the centers’ operations will be different and that she’s telling people “to come with their patience.”

“We are using stanchions within the visitor centers,” Germann told the Jackson Hole Daily. “There may be a line of people waiting to talk to someone. We’re not limiting the people, we’re just organizing and structuring the people in a way that’s both safe for visitors and employees.”

Grand Teton’s three visitor centers are the first large visitor centers to open in Teton County.

In Yellowstone National Park, visitor and information centers located within Teton County include Grant Village, West Thumb, Fishing Bridge, Madison and Old Faithful.

Yellowstone public affairs employees authorized to speak to the press were unable to be reached for an interview Monday afternoon, but an attendant answering the phone at the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth said that all of the park’s visitor centers remain closed, though plans are to open them “sooner rather than later.”