Hot Springs County 2016 year in review
The Thermopolis Independent Record publishes each week of the year to bring local news and information to our readers.
Here is a look back of some of the memorable stories from 2016.
January 7: Joe and Barbara Campbell, on behalf of themselves and as representatives of a class of similarly situated persons, filed a class action lawsuit against Chris Davidson, Tri-County Telephone Association, Inc. in Park County District Court.
The suit stems from Campbell’s belief that 800 members of the Tri-County Telephone (TCT) co-op were victims of fraud. Campbells live in the Hamilton Dome TCT prefix in Hot Springs County.
The claim alleges the fraud was perpetrated by Chris Davidson the CEO of TCT and several former board members, Clifford Alexander, J.O. Sutherland, Daniel Greet and John K. Johnson. It is alleged that these members had cooperated with Neil Schlenker a resident of Park County.
January 14: The Thermopolis Police Department retired one of its most respected officers at midnight on Dec. 31. Maris, unlike other TPD members, was unique for her sense of smell and sight. She also had four legs.
The departments only canine unit spent just over four years on the force serving and protecting Hot Springs County residents with her nose, ears and wagging tail.
Maris’s arrival to Thermopolis began five years ago when Mandy Wilson, a patrol officer at that time, sought a program to help the department acquire and train a dog. “It’s a beneficial tool,” Wilson said. One that would use its unique sense abilities to enforce laws.
January 21: Crews from Specialty Towing worked to recover a wrecked semi from Wind river Canyon. Owner Dennis Leonhardt hoped to have the canyon shut down during the recovery due to the lengthy time it would take. State officials recommended that they close one lane of traffic if possible or only keep the traffic closed off an hour at a time.
John Cannon, 43, of Clearfield, Utah, was driving a semi-truck on U.S. 20/Wyoming 789. The semi began to slid on the slick roadway and Cannon found himself inside his semi, with the trailer and pup still attached, clinging to the bank of the river in Wind River Canyon. Cannon was hauling bulk sugar, as he rounded a corner known as Big Windy inside the canyon. Cannon’s trailing pup lost traction and slid into the guard rail. Momentum ended up pulling the rest of his rig over the side taking out several hundred feet of guard rail.
January 28: Martin Bader, Tom Christensen and Arnold Pennoyer brought forward concerns about the fairground’s Multi-Purpose (MP) Building roof, which was replaced by Atlas Roofing in 2013.
Since the new roof was installed, Bader and Pennoyer noted the roof leaks because the ridge cap has not been sealed. Ice guards, used to prevent sheets of snow and ice from falling off the building, have also not been installed. The falling snow and ice is a hazard to patrons going in and out of the building via the west side doors.
Commissioner Tom Ryan will discuss the issues with Atlas Roofing. All repairs should be covered under the contractor’s warranty. Warning signs and pylons have been placed around the building until repairs can be made.
February 4: The Thermopolis Town Council put the idea of a splash park to rest during their Tuesday meeting.
Town Engineer Heath Overfield stood before the council once again and presented the numbers to construct the splash park in the Bicentennial Park located downtown. The water feature was planned to increase activity in the downtown area by giving families a fun place to go during the summer months. The council originally set aside $100,000 to spend on the feature.
Overfield had been working on ways to reduce the cost of the construction, but in the end there was just no way to get the price to the $100,000 mark. Overfield presented the board with a final cost of $175,000 to $200,000.
Council member Mark Nelson felt maybe the council should wait and see what the next year’s budget would look like. Mortimore pressed that if the council does not get started on the project, it just may not happen, or the price would increase even more next year.
In the end the council did not make any motions to continue forward with the splash park, and with a heavy heart the Mayor announced the project dead.
February 11: Jurors in Washakie County deliberated just under eight and a half hours before bringing back a guilty verdict on three counts against Thermopolis man, Cody Shinost, in the 2014 roll-over accident that claimed the life of Madisen “Maddie” Price, left her sister, Delanie Price in a coma for months with severe head trauma and caused extreme injuries to a third passenger, Dylan Balstad.
The trial began in Washakie County Fifth Judicial Court on Monday, Feb. 1 after Shinost’s public defender, Richard Hopkinson, asked for a change of venue from Hot Springs County.
February 18: HSCSD will begin participating in the Farm to School program, according to school district food service director Cindy Wallingford.
The program helps to educate students on where their food comes from as well as putting money back into the pockets of local producers. Students will have access to fresh foods while strengthening the local economy.
“I will be trying to buy from local producers and will negotiate prices as producers come to me with local products,” said Wallingford. She added she could pay fair market price for items like beef, pork and lamb then take it to a state inspected facility for processing.
February 25: The Hot Springs County School District No. 1 Board of Directors agreed to change the start times for school for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year at their February meeting.
Monday through Thursday, Ralph Witters Elementary (RWE) and Thermopolis Middle School (TMS) will begin classes at 8:30 a.m. The high school will
convene at 8:20 a.m.
Release time, Monday through Thursday for RWE will be at 3:50, TMS will let out at 3:45 and the high school will end their day at 4 p.m.
The schedule changes a bit on Fridays, with the same start times, however, RWE will dismiss at 12:35 with TMS and the high school dismissing at 12:30.
March 3: Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation was awarded the prestigious Wyoming Governor’s Arts Award during an awards ceremony in Cheyenne.
The foundation is dedicated to bringing arts to Thermopolis.
“This is an award for the whole community because we have so many volunteers, sponsors and partnerships,” said HSGLF board member Jacky Wright. “We could not do what we do without the community support,” she added.
Wright said it was a privilege to accept the award and meet Gov. Matt Mead and his wife Carol, the First Lady, during the ceremony.
March 10: With the adjournment of the Wyoming Legislature, Representative Nathan Winters spoke on decisions made concerning the state’s budget.
“In a budget session,” Winters said, “you’re making, on average, 30 major decisions a day on various bills, some of which have millions of dollars attached.”
In previous years, the budget has been combined into one large omnibus bill to include all sources of funding: the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML), the Capital Construction, the School Capital Construction funding and General Operations.
This year, that omnibus was divided amongst four or five different bills. General Operations was separated out as one piece of Legislation, and other bills came through separately for Capital Construction, etc.
March 17: Hot Springs County High School freshman Barbara Jean Kissel received congratulations after tying for first place at the FFA district competition in Worland.
For her piece, Kissel chose a recitation of the FFA Creed, which all members believe in. She was inspired after an assignment to memorize the creed; in that assignment, she only missed two words, meaning she qualified in doing it. She then decided to participate in the district contest.
Upon announcement of her name as one of the first place finishers, Kissel said she felt as if she was going to faint.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” she said.
March 24: The Thermopolis-Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce 95th Annual Banquet awarded the 2015 business of the year, the nonprofit organization of the year and the citizen of the year at Saturday’s event.
After a round of casino-like games at the “Casino Royale” themed event, attendees enjoyed a meal followed by raffles and the awards ceremony.
Black Bear Café was named the Business of the Year, Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation was named the Nonprofit Organization of the Year and Phillip Scheel was named the Citizen of the Year.
March 31: Thermopolis Middle School students Logan Cole and Riley Shaffer represented their hometown last week when they traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to compete in the 2016 Lee Pamulak Amateur Athletic Union Middle School National Duals.
At the two-day competition Cole wrestled for the Wyoming Silver team, which won its bracket after defeating South Dakota Red No. 2 54-28, Iowa White 40-38 and Indiana Outlaws Silver 48-30.
Shaffer wrestled for the All-Stars, made up largely of alternates. Though the All-Stars did not place, Shaffer said, Wyoming Silver took ninth and Wyoming Gold took sixth.
April 7: The Hot Springs County school district honored the 2015-16 Teacher of the Year and five retirees on Wednesday at the annual Teacher of the Year/Retiree banquet held at the Thermopolis Middle School.
Sixth grade mathematics teacher Catelyn Deromedi was recognized as the 2015-16 Teacher of the Year.
Other teachers nominated were Emma Christoffersen, Mary McGillivray, Shannon Hill, Tom Koehler, Kay Uffelman, Donna Daniels, Brock Merrill and Jacob Strenger.
Retirees recognized at the banquet were the Hot Springs County school district business manager Colleen Anderson, school nurse Janet Chimenti, literacy coordinator and reading coach Sonja Holm, Thermopolis Middle School librarian Carol Burns and instructional facilitator John Gores.
April 14: Hot Springs County High School senior Kameron Olsen is one of 226 students from Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah selected as Daniels Scholars.
The Daniels Scholarship Program is a four-year college scholarship for graduating seniors who demonstrate exceptional character, leadership and a commitment to serving their communities. While not providing “full ride” scholarships, the program does give “last dollar” scholarships intended to cover students’ unmet financial expenses.
April 21: The Hot Springs County Recreation Department has suspended recycling at the armory for the time being.
Recreation Director Brad Morrison said Riverton has issued a new protocol for recycling. Recyclable materials can no longer just be loaded up on a trailer every Friday and taken down.
“What they are saying now is that they no longer accept glass,” Morrison said. “They’ll only take Type 1 and Type 2 plastics, and it has to be uncontaminated and pre-sorted.”
Previously, they were accepting aluminum, plastics, glass and newspapers.
Morrison said what has been happening is that some individuals are putting the wrong material in the wrong place. When this happens, the whole load then becomes contaminated. When the load arrives in Riverton contaminated, it is then treated as garbage and is no longer recyclable. There is also a fee, which the Recreation Department cannot afford to pay, when recyclable materials are contaminated and treated as garbage.
April 28: Home to hundreds of petroglyphs, Legend Rock northwest of Thermopolis is considered a sacred site by many. It was recently named number 7 on a USA Today poll of the best archaeological sites across the country.
Hot Springs State Park Assistant Superintendent John Fish said a seventh place finish is fantastic, and he’s pleased to see Legend Rock made the final cut. It’s very large in terms of petroglyphs, and is one of the best-preserved glyph sites, he added.
May 5: At around 9:30 a.m. Monday, a call came into dispatch from Hot Springs County Treasurer Julie Mortimore. Lieutenant Dan Pebbles with the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office said when he visited with Mortimore she showed him a series of emails that were reported to be from Hot Springs County Commissioner Chairman John Lumley. The messages requested a wire transfer of over $38,000 to pay for a consultant.
No money was transferred, and Pebbles noted the FBI has been contacted in reference to the email. Mortimore further discovered this scam has appeared in Big Horn County and Uinta County.
May 12: At recent Town Council meetings, motions were approved — with Councilman Dusty Lewis voting “no” — to file declaratory judgment against the County, for clarification of the County’s duty under Title 25 to pay for detention, treatment and transportation of persons in need of mental hospitalization.
The complaint states the Town desires to have the status and other legal relations between the Town and County determined by the Court involving obligation imposed by the statute commonly referred to as Title 25 which involves involuntary emergency detentions.
May 19: Matthew Schwan, age 34, has been charged with a felony count of driving under the influence with serious bodily injury, following a Saturday incident. The charge is punishable by a $2,000-$5,000 fine or 10 years in prison, or both.
According to court documents, about 2:40 a.m. May 14 an officer responded to an ambulance page in the 1000 block of Broadway, in reference to a car vs. pedestrian accident. A person appeared to be underneath the vehicle, and the resident said it was Reilly Schwan, who was not responsive. EMS and fire department personnel responded, the vehicle was secured and lifted, and Reilly was extricated. Reilly is in a coma on life support.
According to a family member, she has shown some reflexes but doctors are guarded about her prognosis at this time.
May 26: James C. “Jim” Good, who represented Wyoming at the prestigious National Championship Air Races in Reno for decades, is the 2016 inductee into the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame.
Good, who served as an ambassador for aviation in the state for half a century, died in Casper on April 24 at the age of 83.
An induction ceremony in his honor is scheduled June 14 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport hangar that houses his Good Warbirds Museum, where he gave tours to school groups and other organizations interested in the vintage aircraft he gathered there, including a Korean War-era Russian MiG-15 jetfighter.
June 2: On Friday, May 20 in Casper, one of Thermopolis’ long-time businessmen was awarded the Pioneer Award from the Wyoming Trucking Association.
Thomas E. Ryan of Ryan Brothers Trucking was nominated for the award by his grandson Matt, who stated his grandfather began driving for his great-grandfather John in the late 1940’s at about the age of 13. That operation was based in Douglas, and hauled livestock and general flatbed freight.
Now 82 years old, Thomas stopped driving truck altogether a couple years ago, but noted that he worked in the office for several years and drove only when he absolutely had to.
June 9: Monday, in Hot Springs County District Court, it was a packed room — physically, and emotionally — for the sentencing of Cody Shinost, who was found guilty in February on a count of aggravated vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol and two counts of control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol resulting in serious bodily injury.
Judge Robert E. Skar sentenced Shinost to six to eight years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary on the aggravated assault.
He further sentenced Shinost to four to six years on each of count of control of a vehicle while under the influence resulting in serious bodily injury; those two sentences, however, will be suspended and Shinost was sentenced to 10 years supervised probation on each, consecutively, for a total 20 years probation following the end of the first prison term.
June 16: On June 21, the Hot Springs County Commissioners will host a public hearing regarding the formation of a hospital district, which will provide operating revenue for Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital, and the Specific Purpose Sales and Use Excise Tax, which will go toward remodeling and adding on to the hospital building.
June 23: Hot Springs County Commissioners approved the Specific Purpose Tax Imposition Ballot Initiative and the Formation of a Hospital District and Board of Directors Ballot Initiative on Tuesday after a public hearing was held regarding both issues.
Residents on both sides of the issue were allowed to speak for two minutes on the issue before the County Commissioners made their decision.
June 30: The 2016 Fourth of July celebrations in Hot Springs County are certain to be bigger and better than ever this year. Not only will there be the usual Fourth of July Fireworks Celebration, but Hot Springs State Park will also be celebrating the Centennial Celebration for both the Swinging Bridge and the Bison.
After the presentations, at around 10 p.m., there will be the lighting of the bridge followed by a two-minute firework display on the Swinging Bridge.
July 7: Hot Springs County Commissioners decided to refund $7,000 to the Set Free Church at Tuesday’s meeting, due to disagreements between the church and the Sheriff’s Office.
Set Free Church minister Frank Robbins addressed the Commissioners regarding these disagreements. Robbins said his ministry raised $7,000, which they gave to the county to get the jail facilities upgraded. He also said he had set up a negotiation with the sheriff to visit with inmates for two hours at 8 a.m. on Thursdays. Recently, Robbins said the jail was trying to make him share his two-hour time slot with another religious group. Robbins also threatened to sue the county and the sheriff’s office over these disagreements.
July 14: A fatal crash between Thermopolis and Shoshoni on Tuesday, July 12 has resulted in the death of 45-year- old Marion Mabry Jr., of Calumet Park, Ill.
The truck initially left the highway to the west and was overcorrected to the left. The overcorrection caused the load in the trailer, approximately 42,000 lbs. of bagged bentonite, to shift. The load shift caused the truck and trailer to trip and rollover. The truck came to rest stuck in a section of guardrail. The trailer, that did breach, was left hanging over an approximate 40-foot embankment.
Mabry was not wearing his seat belt and was ejected during the crash. He sustained fatal injuries on scene.
July 21: Trepidation.
“It has crossed my mind,” Nathan Winters told the Independent Record from the floor of the Republican Convention in Cleveland on Monday.
Winters is one of three Hot Springs men to serve as national delegates this week and in the run up to politic’s biggest event in decades, he’s heard a lot of talk about the potential for violence in the streets.
“As far as being a delegate, I was one of the chairmen of the Platform Committee and a number of people asked if I was willing to be an alternate delegate and I kept saying, ‘no’ but after a while I realized that this is one of the most important conventions since 1976 with Reagan and Ford. So I ran and came in third (making him a delegate) and I was really honored and I mean to do my job in an honorable manner — it’s quite a responsibility,” he said.
July 28: Several county funded agencies including Thermopolis Economic Development, the Hot Springs County Counseling Services, the Chamber of Commerce, the Hot Springs Crisis Line, the Soil Conservation District and Predator Management were allotted no funds from the county despite requests for the 2016-17 budget year.
August 4: Hot Springs County Commissions signed a resolution establishing fire restrictions for Hot Springs County on Tuesday.
Thermopolis Volunteer Fire Department Lieutenant Clint Huckfeldt explained the resolution stating that the commissioners are empowered by the state of Wyoming to close areas to fire when fire danger in the County is extreme because of the presence of any excessive amount of flammable material or for any other sufficient reason and drought. The fire danger is aggravated by open burning and the use of incendiary devices.
August 11: The Big Spring in Hot Springs State Park shows a slight increase in output over the last three years. However, officials say the overall trend is still in decline.
According to a report from the State Engineers Office, the Big Spring has increased from 1336.42 gpm (gallons per minute) in July 2013 to 1693.51 gpm in July 2016.
The lowest output occurred in March 2014 at 1169.7 gpm, with the largest output being the last measurement in July 2016.
August 18: Tuesday evening, the Thermopolis Town Council approved a bar and grill license for Jennifer and Clyde “Binky” Fisher. Prior to approving the license, there was a brief public hearing with no public comment.
Jennifer explained the closing date of the sale on the building they’re buying — current home of the One Eyed Buffalo — was dependent on their obtaining the license. She further explained the license is not a transfer, but a new license, as the current license is for a restaurant and would not allow for the dispensation of food and alcohol from the same area.
August 25: Lola Vialpando, 34, is currently charged with 13 counts related to forgery and thefts that resulted in a $157,593.24 loss. According to court documents, Vialpando faces 10 counts of felony forgery, one count of felony larceny and two counts of felony theft.
September 1: Duane and Rose Watkins reflect on 50-year milestone of participating in the Wyoming State Fair.
Duane is the goat superintendent, making sure the animals are put in classes and properly stalled, and handling all the showings. He also worked the Open Dairy show and was the dairy cattle superintendent for a time. Rose announces the goat shows, but has also done horse, beef and sheep shows.
The couple spoke about the children they have seen and the experiences they’ve shared at the fair in half a century.
September 8: Thermopolis Town Council approved the first reading of a town ordinance concerning fees for construction and demolition trash and for disposal of tires.
The ordinance, which was later approved on third reading, came due to concern about dumping of extreme amounts of such materials, and set fee schedules for tire sizes and penalties for those caught dumping outside the landfill.
Though options were discussed as far as shredding or recycling tires, those services also come with additional costs. For instance, travel and how small of pieces the tires are cut into.
September 15: Hot Springs County School District #1 made changes to the food service program for the 2016-17 school year. Changes included moving from one food service director to three head cooks as well as using more recipes built from scratch to avoid feeding students processed food. The district also removed considerable paperwork from cooks’ duties to ensure more of their time is devoted to quality meals for students.
The structural change to three head cooks creates opportunities for the team to share ideas, while also being able to cater more to the age and tastes of the students. Each school is able to offer different menus.
September 22: Seventeen candidates submitted their names to fill five positions for the Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital District Directors, to be elected upon district formation approval in the general election.
Two positions were open to fill four-year terms, while the other three were for two-year terms. Three positions are open for two-year terms.
Also on the general election ballot were the Specific Purpose Tax Imposition Ballot Initiative and the Formation of a Hospital District and Board of Directors Ballot Initiative. The Hot Springs County Commissioners voted to add both to the ballot.
September 29: Senior Jules Ward not only took first place during the cross country invite at Worland, but her finishing time of 18:12 crushed the former record of 18:31, set by Francine Faure of Worland in 1984.
Ward said she was told what the record was before she ran, and that gave her a goal. After crossing the finish line, she assumed she came within a few tenths of a second of beating the record, as she has at past meets, so when she was told her time was 18:12 she could hardly believe it. Though Coach Brenna Abel’s aunt held the previous record, there were no hard feelings.
Ward’s inspiration for joining cross country, and running in general, stems from her youth, when she ran everywhere. She also does basketball and track, though cross country is her favorite.
October 6: Wyo-Ben, Inc. proposed to amend bentonite mining and concurrent reclamation of its 108T plan of operations on public land approximately five miles northwest of Thermopolis. The proposed amendment consisted of extending operations at pit 108T. The mining would be active for a period of 10 years and final concurrent reclamation for five more years, with a proposed total disturbance of 375.5 acres.
Though not a new mine, but an extension of pit 108T meaning mining will continue at the location through the extension and new holes will be mined, the proposal was met with concern from Hot Springs County citizens about how it could affect the environment and the view from Highway 120.
October 13: Hot Springs County saw the wettest fall since 1923. According to Brett McDonald with the Riverton office of the National Weather Service, the type of rains we had during September and the first part of October are quite unusual. Generally, we get a majority of our moisture in the spring months, particularly March and April.
In September, we hadd 1.36 inches of precipitation, and so far in October, we had .85 inches here in town. Other, unofficial reports show anywhere from 1.75 inches to a full two inches in a recent storm.
In 1923, in late September, early October, five inches of rain fell in the county during a three-day period.
October 20: The Hot Springs County High School girls cross country team won the Absaraka Conference Meet in Douglas with 36 points, beating out second place Newcastle’s 70.
Jules Ward, Tahja Hunt and McKenna Bomengen, as well as Hudson Roling from the boys team, were named All-Conference.
Coach Brenna Abel stated the team had a great day on a challenging course. She noted it was windy, and the course had a large hill at the 1.5 mile mark. The girls team looked very strong, she stated, and there were some great finishes.
October 27: Tragedy was averted when two hunters located 82-year old Wayne Hockaday who had been missing five days. Hockaday left a note at his residence saying he was going hunting on Wednesday, Oct. 19. When he had not returned after dark, the Sheriff’s Department was notified and Hot Springs County Search and Rescue activated.
Search and rescue were out overnight on Wednesday, searching the Black Mountain area where Hockaday was believed to have gone. When he was not located that night, the Civil Air Patrol was called in out of Powell and sector searches by air began.
Hunters in the area were asked to keep a lookout for Hockaday and his truck and a few times, hopes were raised, thinking his brown Chevy had been spotted, only to discover it wasn’t his truck after all. The search continued through Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Hockaday was found Sunday, just before 2 p.m. by brothers Fred and Robert John who were in town hunting over the weekend. The John’s both grew up in Thermopolis and know the area well.
November 3: Emergency management plans began for the 2017 solar eclipse. The celestial happening could have a huge effect on our little community, not just from the standpoint of full hotels, full campgrounds, full restaurants and lots of gasoline sales, but from an emergency management standpoint as well.
Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Gordon said there have already been meetings between various entities to discuss emergency planning for the week prior to and the week following the Monday eclipse. “We can’t really tell how high our numbers will be,” Gordon said, “but the statewide numbers are expected to be huge, with people from all over the world.”
Meetings have been held here that include the State Park, Chamber of Commerce, the hospital, county health officer and public health, the Highway Patrol, BLM and WYDOT. An emergency plan needs to be in place well ahead of time to cover things like snake bites from visitors wandering around in unfamiliar places, broken or twisted limbs, and due to the time of year, August, heat stroke.
November 10: After much anticipation, the master plan for Hot Springs State Park was unveiled by State Parks and Cultural Resources Director Darin Westby. The gathering was held at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center with a standing room only crowd.
The master plan provides a 20-year strategy for physical improvements and management of the 1,100-acre park as well as providing a framework for those improvements based on need and available funding.
A study of the park and its facilities has shown it is not keeping pace with contemporary outdoor trends, recreational trends or the changing demographics of today’s travelers. Most significant is the change to the mineral waters coming from the Big Spring, which are diminishing from their historic flows, requiring a review of resource management.
November 17: The closing date for the old airport was set for Jan. 5, 2017. Part of the hold up on closing it previously has been the hangar situation. Some are completed, while others are not, and the commissioners were concerned about owners having to leave their planes outside at the new airport over the winter.
Nate Messenger, manager of the new airport, feels it would be in the best interest of the county to go forward with the January closure as right now, no one is monitoring the other airport and there are some wildlife issues with antelope on the runway.
Messenger suggested owners could leave their planes in the hangars at the old airport over the winter as most of them do not fly during the winter months. However, once the hangars are completed in the spring, they would then have to move their planes to the new airport.
November 24: Hot Springs County Clerk Nina Webber reported her office still has hundreds of new and same-day registrations to put into the Wyoming Registration system. Those votes were, of course, counted in the election, but all must be entered in the state’s registration system within 30 days of the election.
As for total voter turnout, this is the highest voter turnout in recent history for an election in Hot Springs County with 2,644 ballots cast. According to voter turn out numbers printed in the Independent Record over the last decade, this is the highest voter turnout for at least the past ten years.
There was also a very high number of absentee ballots sent out this year. The clerk’s office prepared 659 absentee ballots with 634 returned for counting.
December 1: Jerome Dunks was sentenced to 2.5 to four years in the penitentiary for a felony of wrongful receiving, concealing or disposing of property. Hot Springs District Court Judge Robert E. Skar additionally sentenced Dunks to 180 days on each misdemeanor of fleeing or attempting to elude police officer, and interference with an officer, served concurrently with each other and with the felony.
Dunks and Samantha Messick were arrested June 30 after a lengthy chase in Thermopolis involving several traffic violations including speeding and failing to obey traffic signs. The stolen bike they were riding was found abandoned, and Dunks and Messick were both picked up shortly afterward.
Messick pleaded guilty to conspiracy to wrongful receiving, concealing or disposing of property and interference with a peace officer, and was sentenced to three years supervised probation.
A third charge of possession of a controlled substance was dismissed.
December 8: Ninth District Court Judge Norman E. Young denied a motion to dismiss in the case of Campbell vs. Tri-County Telephone Association.
Joe and Barbara Campbell, representing themselves and similar persons, filed the original suit against the company on Dec. 28, 2015. Among the defendants are TCT CEO Chris Davidson, CFO Steve Harper, and former board members Dalin Winters, Clifford Alexander, J.O. Sutherland, Daniel Greet and John K. Johnson, along with Neil Schlenker, who was the purchaser of the member-owned cooperative TCT, and attorney Michael Rosenthal.
The suit stems from the Campbells’ belief that more than 800 members of the TCT co-op were victims of fraud. Campbells live in the Hamilton Dome TCT prefix in Hot Springs County. According to the suit, Davidson, the CEO of TCT co-operative, and several former board members allegedly robbed owners in the co-op of the value of their ownership interests after the co-op was sold at the end of 2014.
The plaintiffs are seeking to the have the lawsuit declared a class action, allowing other cooperative members to join.
December 15: The crash of a small aircraft in northern Wyoming claimed the life of Thermopolis pilot Grant Belden, 34. Belden was a pilot and wildlife specialist employed through the State of Wyoming Wildlife Services. They operate under the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Passenger, Miles Hausner, 56, of Worland was injured in the crash and transported to Billings.
The two men left the Worland airport on Dec. 7 on a predator control reconnaissance flight. The Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department received information regarding a downed aircraft in Big Horn County (BHC) at 11:22 a.m. A search for the men and crash investigation began immediately. The downed aircraft was located in a rugged, remote location southwest of an area known as the Wardell reservoir, off of Dorsey Creek Road. The nearest town in the area is Otto, Wyo.
According to Mike Foster, State Director of Wildlife Services, Belden went to work for the USDA in 2007 as a wildlife specialist. For several years, Belden flew as a passenger providing predator control services. Belden, who possessed both a private and commercial flying license, began performing pilot duties with the agency a few years ago.
“We loved Grant and Grant loved his job,” said Foster.
December 22: A suit filed by the Town of Thermopolis against the Hot Springs County Commissioners has been dismissed by Wyoming’s Fifth Judicial District Judge, John Fenn. The suit revolved around the differences in interpretation of the statutes surrounding Title 25 patients, with regard to “who pays for what.”
Title 25 refers to patients who are detained by law enforcement who may be a danger to themselves or others and are made to undergo involuntary psychiatric treatment (WY Stat 25-10-110).
Before the suit was even filed, the town had requested an interpretation of the statute from the State’s Attorney General, but was told that was not possible. That left the town with no other option than to file the lawsuit in order to get a formal interpretation. There was a small monetary issue included in the suit with the town requesting reimbursement from the county for police officer’s time spent watching over the Title 25 patients at the hospital, along with costs incurred for transportation to a mental health facility outside the city limits, generally the Wyoming Behavioral Institute (WBI) in Casper.
According to the summary, “Title 25 does not require law enforcement officers to provide standby services or to transport the patient to another facility. Nor does the statute authorize a county attorney or hospital to ‘order’ law enforcement agencies to provide these services.”
Further, the summary says, “It would be inconsistent with the intent of the statute to find that Title 25 allows the Police Department to choose which patients it will provide standby and transportation services for, and then bill the County for these services, without a written agreement or any prior notice to the County that it would be billed for these services.”
The summary judgement dismisses the case, including the financial request for reimbursement, and gives both sides a spot to go forward from.
December 29: Over the next couple years, people in Thermopolis can expect to see some heavy work with the water lines during a rehabilitation project. Town Engineer Anthony Barnett explained the lines included in the project are all transmission lines, and those are the lines the Wyoming Water Development Commission will provide funding for.
Phase 1 of the project goes from the water treatment plant along south Fifth and Seventh streets; Phase 2 involves Hot Springs State Park and Phase 3 involves Valley View Drive from the Cedar Ridge pump station.
Barnett is hopeful construction can begin in about 10 months, pending final design review and additional funding. Though funding would be available in July, Barnett said one of the main reasons for waiting until October is there can be no line replacements for those coming from the water treatment plant during peak water use in the summer, because they wouldn’t be able to get water into the system.
Though a definite project completion date is not set, Barnett estimated it would be in July 2018.