Wyoming news briefs for April 25

Man sentenced to 74-100 years on 58 child porn charges

GREEN RIVER — A 49-year-old Wamsutter resident will be spending the rest of his life in prison following a sentencing hearing where he plead guilty to 58 criminal charges.

Russell Jay Byrne was sentenced Monday to a prison sentence of 74-100 years by Third Judicial District Court Judge Suzannah Robinson for charges including the possession, manufacture and distribution of child pornography, as well as the sexual abuse of three children. 

According to the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, a joint investigation involving the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force started nearly two years ago after receiving tips about Byrne’s activity. Investigators and a team consisting of members from the Green River Police Department, Wyoming Department of Family Services, DCI’s southwest enforcement team and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigation team conducted an operation in November that led to Byrne being detained and serving multiple search warrants to secure various electronic devices and forensic evidence that also led to shutting down Byrne’s production and distribution operation.

Sweetwater County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said the goal of this case was to ensure Byrne never saw the outside of a prison wall again and the plea agreement offered to Byrne was long enough to accomplish that.

“The fact that we accomplished that goal without having to do a trial and putting our victims through that difficult process is a good thing,” Erramouspe said.


Flaming Gorge to be drawn down

CASPER — The Southwest is turning to upstream reservoirs as the water level in Lake Powell continues to fall.

Regulators plan to release an extra 500,000 acre-feet of water from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir between May of this year and April of next year to prevent Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River that’s a major source of both water and electricity, from becoming so depleted that it stops generating hydropower. 

Prolonged drought and high temperatures fueled by climate change have shrunk the water level in Lake Powell, which sits on both sides of the Utah-Arizona border, to about one-quarter of capacity. The first-ever planned effort to ease the effects of drought at the reservoir comes less than a year after regulators announced an emergency release of 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge — about 4 feet in elevation loss — for the same purpose last summer. 

If approved by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the additional release is expected to lower the water level at Flaming Gorge by 10 feet from its current elevation — including a 6-foot drop by August — and by about 15 feet compared with the estimated water level without any drought response.

Historically, there’s been less demand for water from Flaming Gorge than other upper-basin reservoirs. The lower demand kept its water level high, which in turn kept it popular for recreation — an important factor affecting decisions about releasing some of that water. 


Jackson reinstates ‘Old West’ parade

JACKSON — In a surprising reversal, the Old West Days committee of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce has decided to plan a Memorial Day parade, even without hitting its target number of participants.

Chamber president and CEO Anna Olson let a late Friday press release do the talking. A story in this week's News&Guide spelled out the primary issue with hosting an Old West Parade: not enough participation.

On a News&Guide social media post for the story, one commenter wrote: "A [community's] soul and traditions are created and sustained by its residents. Lack of interest or passion is why communities change over time. In so many aspects we have all been witnessing the Hole lose its soul for decades now."

But the Old West Days committee decided that dying day has not come yet for the parade.

"Despite still not meeting the criteria of 30 entrants, (only 20 confirmed at time of release) there was agreement and recognition the community wants to see a parade," members wrote in a media release.

One of those members, Vicki Garnick, owner of the Jackson Hole Playhouse, said specifically: “We recognize this was hard for the community and decided to revisit by encouraging those who wanted to participate to reach out."

Olson explained further: “During the past 10 days we have seen some sparks of community support, so in the 'Ride for the Brand' spirit let's ignite those sparks and anticipate others.”


Man dies in Cheyenne motorcycle crash

CHEYENNE — A man died in a motorcycle crash in Cheyenne earlier this month, according to a Wyoming Highway Patrol crash report summary. 

Joseph Sharp, 56, of Wyoming died after being thrown from the motorcycle at around 10 p.m. April 9. 

Sharp was riding southbound on Powderhouse Road near milepost 3.78 when he failed to negotiate a curve after cresting a hill, the report summary said. His motorcycle crossed into the northbound lane, and he then left the roadway. 

After attempting to get the motorcycle back onto the road, it began to slide, the report said. The motorcycle flipped several times, and Sharp was thrown from the bike. 

Sharp was not wearing a helmet. 

No contributing factors were listed. The weather was described in the report summary as clear, and the roadway as dry.