NEWS BRIEFS for Wednesday, May 27, 2020

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Police search for suspect in Cheyenne shooting death

CHEYENNE (WNE) — The Cheyenne Police Department has named a suspect in the Friday night shooting death of Aaron Briggs, 36, of Cheyenne.

Benjamin Ketcham, 31, of Cheyenne, was named as a person of interest in the homicide and currently has a warrant for second-degree murder in connection with this case.

CPD officers responded to the 500 block of Central Avenue shortly after 11 p.m. Friday, May 22, and found Briggs had suffered an apparent gunshot wound. Briggs was taken to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, where he died from his injuries.

Officers determined the shooting occurred at the Lariat Motel, 600 Central Ave.

This case remains under investigation by CPD.

Ketcham had been previously arrested by CPD in July 2018 for fleeing/eluding, not stopping for police, reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, not having liability insurance and on a warrant for failure to appear.

He was arrested in April 2019 for misdemeanor possession of a methamphetamine-type drug and misdemeanor possession of a cocaine/heroin-type drug.


Laramie coronavirus spike blamed on lack of distancing

LARAMIE (WNE) — The sudden increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Albany County appears to have resulted from reduced social distancing, not increased testing, Albany County Public Health Officer Jean Allais said in a press release.

Between the start of the pandemic and Friday, only 10 cases had been confirmed in Albany County. During the last four days, state health officials have confirmed 11 more cases coming from within the county.

Only eight of the 21 Albany County patients have fully recovered. Another four Albany County residents have been deemed “probable” for a coronavirus infection.

“The main cause of the dramatic increase seems to be graduation parties, camping trips and other social situations where people did not practice social distancing and other recommended practices,” Allais’s press release states.  “Further, symptomatic and non-symptomatic patients returned to work and their families, furthering the spread.”

According to the University of Wyoming, “a number of those positive cases are UW students or people of traditional college age.”

Fifteen of Albany County’s cases come among residents aged 19-29. Community spread or unknown factors has been identified as the cause of 29% of the county’s cases.

While businesses start to reopen, Allais stressed that the pandemic remains a “public health emergency.”

Her press release urges the community to continue practice social distancing, increased hand-washing, and the wearing of masks.

“Social distancing is most important, particularly if you’re in a large group,” the press release states.


Devils Tower closes some routes because of falcons

GILLETTE (WNE) — Rock climbing routes on the southwest face and the southwest edges of Devils Tower summit are temporarily closed to protect nesting peregrine and prairie falcons. The annual closure provides the falcons with an undisturbed nesting location during their critical courtship and nest-selection period.

The presence of climbers near falcon nests can be distressing to parent birds and disturbance from climbing activities may force falcons to abandon eggs or chicks, according to a Devils Tower National Monument press release. The closure also is implemented to protect climbers, as falcons are known to defensively dive to protect their nests. Climbers are asked to report any defensive falcon behavior to park staff.

There are 49 climbing routes affected by the closure between “Good Holds for Godzilla” and “Accident Victim” (Nos. 135-182 in the Devils Tower climbing handbook). Route closures are posted at the climber registration kiosk near the visitor center and along climber approach trails. More than 100 climbing routes remain open for climbing.

The affected routes will remain closed until the young falcons fledge and are no longer dependent on the nest location or if the nesting falcons move to another location. Park staff monitor falcon activity and the closure area may be moved, extended or rescinded depending on nesting and fledgling activity.


Company plans to reopen Douglas refinery

DOUGLAS (WNE) — A potential new employer is coming to Converse County – and they couldn’t come at a better time – due to the current economic downturn we’re in between the coal and oil bust and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Converse County commissioners are considering issuing $10 million in industrial revenue bonds to Slate Refining LLC of Midland, Texas for the purpose of bringing the old Antelope Refinery on WYO 59 up to date and up to speed. 

Slate Refining LLC purchased the mothballed refinery last year from Genesis Energy with the intent of getting it up and running as quickly as possible.

Company officials said they intend to provide a minimum of 21-23 permanent jobs at the refinery by Oct. 31, the date they expect the project to be producing, but they intend to review their needs and hire more people as it becomes necessary. 

The Antelope refinery was mothballed in early 2014, but maintenance and upkeep has continued while the plant sat idle until Slate purchased the plant for an undisclosed amount in 2019. 

Slate Refinery LLC Director Bob Williams predicted the company will produce 5,000 to 6,500 barrels a day at peak. He said the firm can turn a profit at 2,500 barrels a day.

If issued, the $10 million in industrial revenue bonds will be used for repairs, upgrades, maintenance, etc. to get the refinery up and running as expediently as they can.


Jackson council approves raises for officials

JACKSON (WNE) — In a 4-to-1 vote at its regular meeting last week the Jackson Town Council voted to raise salaries next year for councilors and Jackson’s next mayor.

It was the third and final reading of the ordinance that will increase their salaries in July 2021, for the first time since 2005.

“To anyone paying attention and following this still, in the 15 years since this figure was last adjusted, in all those years the town has included in its budget salary increases for its employees,” Councilor Jim Stanford said at the meeting. “There have been zero adjustments since this was put in place 15 years ago.”

There has been little public comment when the raises have come up at meetings. Brooke Sausser, community planning manager, for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, spoke in favor of the raises during one reading of the ordinance at an April 20 meeting.

“Even though we all recognize that these are difficult times ... these raises are more than merited,” she said. 

But the raises drew a different and heated reaction on social media, with commenters criticizing the timing of the increases during deep pandemic-related budget cuts.

That led Mayor Pete Muldoon to write a Guest Shot, published in the April 15 News&Guide.

“The process for that increase began in January, when the council, during its annual retreat, discussed pay during a public meeting,” Muldoon wrote, describing the raises as long overdue cost-of-living increases.