NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, May 5, 2020


Former Laramie dealership, Nissan settle lawsuit

LARAMIE (WNE) – A former car dealership in Laramie, Snowy Range Dodge, has settled a lawsuit with Nissan, which went to federal court last year in an attempt to seek upwards of $6.8 million owed by the local dealership.

In October 2019, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against the local dealership’s owner, Josh Griffin, barring him from moving certain account funds that Nissan had a claim to.

Since then, those account funds have been transferred to Nissan, according to court records.

On April 27, Judge Alan Johnson dismissed the federal lawsuit after both parties indicated that they’ve reached a settlement.

After the lawsuit was filed, the Pierce Street dealership was sold to a Colorado company in July and now operates as Johnson Auto of Laramie. Johnson Auto’s operations were unaffected by Griffin’s ongoing dispute with Nissan.

In December, Griffin’s business filed a counter-suit against Nissan, saying the car company owed the Laramie dealership more money than Nissan was owed.

Griffin’s business is alleged to have sold Nissan vehicles without paying the car manufacturer for the product.

Griffin contends that his default on loans under his “floor plan financing” agreement, which allowed JAG Auto to acquire an inventory of new and used vehicles without pre-paying for them, came only because of Nissan’s “breach of contract and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.”

Griffin’s court filings claim that Nissan forced the sale of Snowy Range Dodge and then impeded the sale, causing losses.

The delayed sale caused losses exceeding $100,000 from uninsured hail damage this year.

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Fremont County teacher charged with embezzlement offered chance to avoid prosecution

RIVERTON (WNE) — A special education teacher accused of stealing more than $32,000 from the Eastern Shoshone Tribe will avoid prosecution if she pays the money back.

Wyoming Indian Elementary School teacher Lindsey Van Dusen was indicted in January of embezzlement after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security accused her of obtaining eight checks from the Eastern Shoshone general fund, each in the amount of $4,060, under "false pretenses."

Investigators said she deposited them in a personal account.

The deposits are listed in eight installments from Aug. 8 to Oct. 2, 2017.

The federal crime deemed "theft from Indian tribal organization" is punishable by up to five years in prison, per charge, plus $250,000 in fines.

But Assistant United States Attorney for the district of Wyoming Eric Heimann saw Van Dusen as a candidate for "diversion" - a probationary period with behavioral stipulations lasting six months that, if fulfilled, would deflect prosecution by the federal attorneys.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Scott Skavdahl agreed.

In the diversion agreement signed April 24, Van Dusen agreed to pay back $32,480 within 30 days, and stay out of trouble, work full time, and stay in close and transparent contact with a pretrial services officer until Oct. 20.

If the court is satisfied with her actions on that date, prosecutors will ask to have the indictment dismissed.

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Colorado man pleads guilty to second degree murder of girlfriend

CODY (WNE) – A Colorado man who stabbed and killed his girlfriend and brought her body to Powell has pleaded guilty to second degree murder in connection with her death.

Jonathan Akin was originally scheduled to be sentenced in Adams County District Court in Colorado on Tuesday but that hearing has been pushed back to May 29.

In November 2018, Akin, who was 22 years old at the time of the crime, walked into the Powell Police Department and informed staff he had killed his girlfriend and her body was in his car trunk. 

Originally, Akin had been charged with first degree murder, but in the plea deal finalized in January, that was reduced to a second degree murder charge.

Colorado law states first degree murder occurs when, “after deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person other than himself, he causes the death of that person or of another person.” Second degree murder requires an awareness that death is practically certain to result from actions, but is lacking in premeditation. 

According to the Colorado warrant for his arrest, Akin admitted to killing Autumn Rivera, 21, at their Thornton, Colo., apartment, but said he “blacked out” and did not remember how the murder occurred. He then drove the body, which he wrapped in a blanket, to his mother’s house in Deaver, where he spent a night before turning himself in.

He faces 25-40 years in prison as part of his deal with prosecutors.

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Cody man injured in grizzly bear attack

POWELL (WNE) — A 41-year-old Cody man was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear while hunting for antlers in the Sunlight area Friday morning. 

Spencer Smith suffered “severe” injuries to his neck, along with other injuries, and was airlifted from the area to a Billings hospital around noon, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Office. 

At the time, “Smith was described as being alert and in stable condition,” said Charla Baugher-Torczon, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. 

Smith had been looking for antlers in the East Painter Creek drainage, north of the Sunlight Basin Wildlife Habitat Management Area, when he encountered the grizzly, according to a release from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

Following the attack, Smith sent an SOS from his satellite communication device, with the sheriff’s office receiving the distress signal around 10:47 a.m.; Smith reported that he was attempting to make his way back to his four-wheeler. 

Friday’s bear attack — the first of 2020 — followed a year in which no people were injured by bears in Wyoming for the first time in more than a decade. 

The attack occurred a couple hours after the Sunlight Wildlife Habitat Management Area opened for the season. The area had opened to humans at 8 a.m. Friday after being closed since mid-December to protect wintering elk. 

“Bears are out and active, and people should continue to be vigilant if enjoying the outdoors in bear country,” said Dan Thompson, the large carnivore section supervisor for the Game and Fish. The department is currently investigating the details of Friday’s incident.

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CFD offers to host in-person graduation ceremonies in June as "guinea pig" for July rodeo

CHEYENNE (WNE) – COVID-19 has upended the remainder of this school year, and it was looking like a traditional graduation ceremony could be one of its casualties.

But after Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown met with Cheyenne Frontier Days officials Monday afternoon, in-person high school graduation ceremonies are tentatively planned for June 12 and 13 at Frontier Park Arena.

Each of Cheyenne’s four high schools are expected to have their own individual ceremonies, spread out over those two days. Brown said that CFD has also offered use of the grounds June 11 as a day of practice and June 14 as an alternative in case inclement weather cancels one of the ceremonies.

Brown is still in the process of finalizing details with principals and county health officials, but said he intends to announce firm dates by the end of this week to allow families time to plan for guests and individual celebrations.

Brown said that he’s spoken with county health officials, who told him that because the CFD arena is so large – it has a 19,000-person capacity – if family units sit together, there shouldn’t be a need for every single person to sit six feet apart.

“Some rows would have people in them, some would not,” said Brown, who estimated they could get between 4,000 and 6,000 observers in the stands and still adhere to public health regulations. “I believe (CFD) is kind of using us as a guinea pig because they may have to do some of that”during Frontier Days, which is still scheduled for July 17-26.

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