Wyoming news briefs for August 26
Teton County students will start year with masks
JACKSON — In a meeting full of heightened emotion and at times lacking clear medical guidance, school officials ultimately voted to mandate masks in all Teton County public schools.
The mandate, approved unanimously by Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees late Wednesday evening, will require all students and staff to wear face coverings as long as the county remains at elevated risk for COVID-19 transmission.
At the meeting, there was extensive discussion about the county’s color-coded risk tracker. On Aug. 19, Teton County Health Department changed its metrics for that tracker to align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metrics.
There remains some confusion around which data was used to send Teton County into the red (high) risk level. According to the health department, the main criteria are: new cases, based on a rolling 7-day sum, and percent of positive tests over a 2-week period. Whichever is more severe takes precedent.
At the meeting, board members reasoned that it would only take two new daily COVID-19 cases to keep the county in orange (substantial). Because the schools’ mask mandate will only lift when transmission falls to yellow (moderate) or green (low), some trustees were concerned students would be masking unnecessarily.
That’s a concern shared by about half of the parents who spoke up during public comment. They argued masking should be a parental choice, similar to the mask-optional approach taken by at least 48 other school districts in Wyoming.
Woman sentenced for walking on Yellowstone thermal area
POWELL — A Yellowstone National Park visitor from Connecticut was ordered to spend a week in jail after she was caught walking on thermal ground in the Norris Geyser Basin last month.
Madeline S. Casey, 26, was with two other people who made their way up to a thermal pool and geyser on July 22. Casey and one other person got off the boardwalk and walked on thermal ground — prompting concerned visitors to take photos and videos of the three, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming said in a Wednesday news release.
Park rangers cited Casey for a misdemeanor offense of foot travel in a thermal area. On Aug. 18, she pleaded guilty. In addition to the seven-day stint in jail, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Carman of Mammoth Hot Springs banned Casey from Yellowstone for the next two years and ordered her to pay a $1,000 fine, $40 in fees and $1,000 to the Yellowstone Forever Geological Resource Fund.
Federal prosecutors noted the Norris Geyser Basin is well-marked with signs telling visitors to stay on the boardwalks and noting the dangers of walking on the fragile terrain that sits above scalding waters.
“For those who lack a natural ability to appreciate the dangerousness of crusty and unstable ground, boiling water, and scalding mud, the National Park Service does a darn good job of warning them to stay on the boardwalk and trail in thermal areas,” Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray of Cheyenne said in a statement.
Preliminary hearing postponed in Osage shooting
NEWCASTLE — The preliminary hearing in the case against Paul Manders for murder in the second degree has been postponed to Sept. 1, following a request for continuance from the public defender’s office, according to documents filed in Sixth Judicial Court in Newcastle.
Rick Weisheimer, a Gillette-based assistant public defender, signed a motion to continue the preliminary hearing stating that, due to the gravity of the allegations, the defense needs “additional time to properly meet with Mr. Manders to discuss the facts and circumstances of his case in an effort to provide him with effective assistance.”
The hearing was originally scheduled for Aug. 4.
Manders has been charged in the murder of Vernon Clyde in Osage after an ongoing property dispute, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
“On July 27, 2021, at approximately 6:19 p.m., the Weston County dispatch center received a 911 call from Paul Manders who provided that an unknown person had come at him with a ‘skid steer’ and that he (Manders) had killed him,” the affidavit says.
Deputy Dan Fields, who arrived at the scene, said that it appeared to him that the victim, later identified as Clyde, had been shot while sitting in a John Deere skid steer parked east of 410 Metz St. The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation was contacted to help with the investigation.
DCI agents, the affidavit states, discovered four .45 caliber shells at the scene, and witnesses stated that they had heard four gunshots.
New sentence handed down for woman in 2018 death
SUNDANCE — Marty Smith has been sentenced for a second time on charges that she was criminally involved in the death of local man Doug Haar in 2018.
The remainder of her sentence will be suspended pending successful completion of a year of unsupervised probation with Smith to be issued an alcohol monitoring device for the duration.
Smith was originally found guilty of both accessory to involuntary manslaughter and to aggravated assault and battery by a jury in 2019 and sentenced to a minimum of six years and a maximum of 18 years in jail. However, a successful appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court sent the case back to District Court.
Earlier this year, Smith changed her plea to “no contest.” In exchange, the State agreed to suspend the remaining portion of Smith’s original jail sentence, of which she has served a total of 819 days.
Smith would then have been placed on unsupervised probation for the period of one year.
However, Judge Thomas W. Rumpke rejected the plea agreement on the basis that he feels Smith needs more supervision for her drug and alcohol problems before being released back into the community.
The new version of the plea agreement included the addition of an alcohol monitoring device, which Smith would need to wear throughout her year of unsupervised probation.
All remaining terms of the agreement remained the same, said Deputy County Attorney Lynda Black, acknowledging that this is “kind of a difficult case” because the person accused of actually causing Haar’s death was not found guilty of the charges Smith was found guilty of being an accessory to.
Weston County appoints new attorney
NEWCASTLE — Michael Stulken was appointed to take the Weston County and Prosecuting Attorney position following the resignation of former attorney Alex Berger. Stulken was the only person to submit a letter of interest to the Weston County Republican Party.
On Aug. 17 during the Board of Weston County Commissioners meeting the board voted unanimously to have Stulken fill the role although there was some reservation from Commissioners Tony Barton surrounding the lack of other potential candidates.
Chairman Marty Ertman said that she believes the Republican Party did their due diligence in gathering potential candidates. Per statute, the Weston County Republican Party was tasked with receiving intent from interested individuals, interviewing them and then forwarding on three potential candidates for the commissions consideration.
The Weston County Republican Party Central Committee held a public meeting on Aug. 14 to meet with those who professed an interest in the position. The group was to select three names to forward to the Board of Weston County Commissioners, which would then select one person from the list. But Stulken was the only one interested.
Stulken has lived in Weston County for approximately 16 months, he said during his interview. During that time, he has served as the deputy Weston County attorney, as well as attorney for the City of Newcastle.
Berger, a Gillette attorney, went to court to secure a spot on Weston County’s primary ballot for the county attorney’s office in 2018.