NEWS BRIEFS for Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Fire that threatened Hanna extinguished

RAWLINS (WNE) — Heavy, wet snow Tuesday put out a 14,201-acre wildfire that burned just outside Hanna over Labor Day weekend.

“We were at 60 percent containment (Monday) night, and due to the weather event today, I think we are pretty safe to say that the thing is down and cold,” Carbon County Fire Warden Ron Brown said on Tuesday.

FEMA on Saturday authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs due to the blaze, which threatened roughly 200 home and 846 residents. As of Tuesday, no structures within or outside the city limits were destroyed.

Fire officials issued an evacuation order for residents in the area on Saturday, and Black Hills Energy activated its emergency response plan to maintain natural gas infrastructure threatened by the wildfire. Also at the request of fire officials, Black Hills Energy shut off natural gas service to customers in Hanna. By Sunday afternoon, the Carbon County Office of Emergency Management was working with local authorities to bring back the residents who evacuated under a shelter-in-place order, which was lifted Tuesday morning.

Hanna Mayor Lois Buchanan said she witnessed the fire come frighteningly close to the south end of town Saturday afternoon.

“It was the wildest Labor Day weekend I’ve ever had in my life,” Buchanan said. “It was a big scare — a huge scare — and something that was new to everyone in town. I don’t think we have ever had to evacuate before.”


Former fire chief pleads guilty to embezzlement

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — Former Fire Chief Michael Nomis changed his plea Tuesday afternoon to guilty of embezzling funds from the Green River Fire Department Foundation.

Originally, Nomis pleaded not guilty to felony theft and wrongful appropriation of public property at his arraignment May 21 in Sweetwater County 3rd District Court. Nomis decided to change his plea despite the lack of a plea agreement in the case. Nomis entered his pleas before Judge Suzannah G. Robinson via video conference Tuesday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sentencing will be at a later date, and bond was continued at $15,000 cash or surety.

Nomis told Judge Robinson that between Feb. 4 and Dec. 23, 2019, he used money that belonged to the Green River Fire Department for personal use in an amount more than $1,000. Some of the items he mentioned buying included fuel, lunches and tools. He also admitted to wrongfully possessing and converting public property for personal use. Nomis was emotional throughout the hearing and had difficulty speaking at times. He said that he is a lifelong resident of Green River and worked as a firefighter, sergeant and lieutenant with the fire department before becoming fire chief.

Sweetwater County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Nomis and his wife, Stephanie Nomis, on March 2, assisted by special agents from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation’s Southwest Enforcement Team. Michael Nomis was chief of the Green River Fire Department at the time.


Guilty plea entered in 2019 fatal wreck

GILLETTE (WNE) — Friends and families of two young men who died in the primes of their lives are one step closer to legal closure as the woman responsible for the crash that killed them has changed her plea from not guilty to guilty.

Sydney Peterson, 34, was charged with two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide by driving in a reckless manner.

Peterson, in her orange jumpsuit, occupied just a fraction of the computer screen as the hearing happened via video conference Friday, while the other sections of the screen were occupied by her attorney, Greg Steward, Campbell County Attorney Ronald Wirthwein and District Court Judge Michael N. “Nick” Deegan.

The judge asked her how she would like to plead, and she answered guilty to both charges.

The plea agreement included sentencing recommendations of not less than 10 years and not more than 14 years in prison for each to be served consecutively with 10 years of supervised probation upon Peterson’s eventual release.

On July 15, 2019, Peterson was driving from Casper to Gillette on Highway 50 when she crossed over the center line and collided head-on with a vehicle carrying three young men who’d traveled west to do some rock climbing. Two of the men, Alex Gill and Stephen Biddle, did not survive the crash.


Green River schools sued over employee’s removal

GREEN RIVER (WNE) — The former transportation director for Sweetwater County School District No. 2 filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming he was unjustly removed from his position last year.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 10, names both the district and Donna Little-Kaumo, former superintendent for the district, as defendants. According to court documents, the transportation director, Oscar Barton, was fired after an incident in which the department’s mechanic was found to have been working on private vehicles at district-owned facilities.

The complaint states the practice was a condition of employment the district approved when it hired a new transportation mechanic in 2014.

Barton is seeking to recover economic damages as the result of lost earnings and benefits, future lost earnings and benefits, loss of retirement benefits, loss of future retirement benefits and loss of fringe benefits.

Barton’s claim further states the practice was widely-known and accepted by the district’s administration. The complaint alleges work was done on vehicles owned by district employees, administrators and school board members and claimed Barton was never told the practice was unacceptable or against school district polity.

Steve Core, the board’s chairman, was unable to comment on the lawsuit.

“We’re in receipt of the lawsuit and our lawyers are working on it,” Core said. “I’m not allowed to comment.”


Woman pleads not guilty in alleged instrument repair scam

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A woman accused of pawning other people’s musical instruments through a repair scam entered a plea of not guilty to three felony charges Tuesday in Laramie County District Court.

Melinda Churchill, 27, pleaded not guilty to two charges of felony theft and one count of obtaining property by false pretenses during a hearing Tuesday afternoon.

The Cheyenne Police Department first issued a public warning regarding Churchill’s operation in a statement in June.

CPD officials had received multiple calls from people reporting someone who would offer to repair instruments, collect them and eventually cease all contact. Some of the instruments would later turn up in pawn shops, according to CPD officials.

After Churchill’s plea of not guilty was entered Monday, her trial date was initially set for Jan. 12 by District Court Judge Thomas Campbell.