NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Yellowstone officials say park is pretty quiet

JACKSON (WNE) — Famous grizzly bears and geysers are certainly concentrating crowds, but entrance gate data indicates relatively open roads and a dearth of people in the first few opening days for northwest Wyoming’s national parks.

In Yellowstone National Park, only two of five gates were open during the first three days the public was admitted to the park. 

“It is estimated over the past three days, there is less than 20% of the normal traffic volume in the park compared to when all five entrances are open at this time of year,” Yellowstone officials announced in a press release late last week.

Typically, the west, north and northwest gates attract 70% of the visitation into Yellowstone, and traffic through Wyoming’s two gates via Cody and Jackson Hole account for the rest. Despite fears that the Montana closures would route more traffic through the south and east gates, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

From May 18 to May 20, Yellowstone gate attendants reported 90% of the normal traffic through the East Entrance atop Sylvan Pass.

Yellowstone’s South Entrance, accessed via Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, reported just 60% of normal traffic volume in those first three days.

The south gate admitted 910 vehicles on May 18, 2019, but that car count sagged to just 542 vehicles — a 40% reduction — the same day this year after the park opened for the season at noon. May 19 and 20 were similarly slow, attracting 71% and 45% of traffic volume for those days in 2019, respectively.


Man in fatal accident on meth, report says

RIVERTON (WNE) — The Jackson man who died last month in a two-vehicle crash involving a Lander family near Dubois was high on meth, according to toxicology testing. 

Scott E. Wright, 57, died of a cervical fracture due to blunt force trauma suffered in the collision, which was reported at about 1:45 p.m. Saturday, April 18, near milepost 95 on U.S. Highway 26.

Previous reports stated Wright was driving east in a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee when he crossed the center line and exited the left side of the roadway. He then overcorrected to the right – back onto the road – and over-corrected again to the left, causing the Jeep to enter into a passenger-side leading skid, Wyoming Highway Patrol officials said in their crash report. 

Daisy Ray, 33, of Lander, who was driving the westbound 2010 Ford Edge involved in the collision, attempted to avoid the crash by steering to the right and braking, officials said. 

Despite her efforts, the Ford’s front end struck the Jeep’s passenger side, according to the report. 

Wright was pronounced dead on scene, and Ray and her three juvenile passengers were transported by air and ground ambulance to “various medical facilities,” the WHP said. 

Toxicology testing showed Wright had 610 nanograms per milliliter of meth in his system, as well as 20 ng/ml of Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol.


Woman killed in rollover

PINEDALE (WNE) — Memorial Day Weekend started off on a tragic note after a single-vehicle rollover crash Friday morning claimed the life of a woman who just moved with her family to the Boulder area. 

Robyn Mathews, 31, was driving a 1997 Trailblazer with her two sons as passengers westbound toward Big Piney after getting on Highway 351 at Sand Draw, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Klief Guenther. 

Around 10:30 a.m., another driver came upon the scene at mile marker 20 and called in the emergency, he said. The initial investigation showed that Mathews drove to the edge of the north shoulder, over-corrected and did the same on the other shoulder before the Trailblazer went out of control, left the road and rolled multiple time, he said. 

Mathews, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected and died at the scene; the two boys were seriously injured and life-flighted from the scene. Lt. Guenther said one was seated in a booster seat; the other might have had a seat belt on. 

“If she had had her seat belt on, she probably would have been in good shape,” he said. 

High speed – over 70 mph – was likely a factor in the rollover from looking at crash evidence; distracted driving is also being looked into as a factor, according to Lt. Guenther.


Cody sewage negative for coronavirus

CODY (WNE) — The results are in from a test that tracks COVID-19 presence in local communities, and the City of Cody has come back negative for the virus.

That was the report made by Park County Public Health officer Dr. Aaron Billin Monday morning, in analysis of sewage samples taken April 28 at the city’s wastewater treatment center that came back Sunday.

“This suggests that we have been very successful in our local public health efforts,” Billin said. “This is encouraging as we work toward recovery.”

Two more samples will be taken in May to establish a baseline reading before the influx of tourists comes to Cody this summer. Tests will be continued throughout the summer, although the cost to run them will drastically increase at the start of June. The tests are sent to BioBot Analytics, a wastewater epidemiology company based in Somerville, Mass.

The first test was taken manually, but future tests will be performed via a Teledyne ISCO 6712C Compact Portable Sampler, a 5-gallon, bucket-like device that takes readings from untreated wastewater funneling down from Cody’s toilets. The device cost $9,544, whcih will later be reimbursed.

Although the City of Cody is paying testing costs up-front, Park County Public Health is considered owner of the test results, and will reimburse the city for the expense.

Public health is paying for the program through $100,000 dispersed to the county from the Wyoming Department of Health, and through federal funds provided in the CARES Act.


Laramie cuts $29 million in projects

LARAMIE (WNE) — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 50 city projects or expenses were removed by city of Laramie budget staff from the recommended 2021 fiscal year budget — scheduled to be adopted in June. That translates to a reduction of $29.2 million in the budget that’s been “put on the back burner,” said city manager Janine Jordan.

“We had indicated we are trying to stay nimble and react to the potential of federal and state funding to help offset expenses related to COVID-19,” she said. 

She said staff also plans to focus on projects related to the pandemic emergency, and carefully monitor revenues to determine expenses that may be incurred through December 30, 2020. She clarified that once the budget is adopted in June, which will begin the fiscal year on July 1, staff will most likely return with several more amendments. This is especially true because with the potential COVID-19 funding assistance, the city must first expend before requesting reimbursement, whereas the city typically appropriates funds before expending them, she explained.

“In some cases we think these projects may be eligible expenses for federal and state CARES Act reimbursement,” Jordan said. “In other cases we’re just uncertain that the revenue will be there to support them.”

Of the $29.2 million, $1.8 million of it is payroll related expenses.

“That doesn’t mean that we’re cutting payroll, it just means we’re going to remain nimble and able to adopt these expenses back in as they come,” Jordan said.