Wyoming news briefs for Feb. 24


Committee approves fuel tax increase bill

CASPER — After more than a year of work, a committee of Wyoming lawmakers advanced a proposed 9-cent increase to Wyoming’s fuel tax Tuesday, setting the stage for what will likely be an uphill battle on the unpopular tax hike as it heads to the full Legislature next month.

As proposed, the 9-cent increase to would be phased in over three years and bring Wyoming’s 24-cent fuel tax in line with states like Nebraska (34 cents), Montana (33 cents) and Idaho (33 cents), while generating an additional $62 million in revenue for the state’s highways in its first year, according to a fiscal note.

That revenue is much needed: according to estimates provided by the Wyoming Department of Transportation last year, the agency — which is funded off of the state’s general fund — is currently facing a funding shortfall of roughly $354 million, including $103 million short of what is needed to preserve the state’s roads and bridges.

“Our ability to satisfactorily maintain our roads has declined due to inflation,” WYDOT Director Luke Reiner told committee members.

While deemed as necessary by the WYDOT — and embraced by industry — the tax itself is a regressive one, and has proven unpopular with the public as well as groups like the National Federation of Independent Business, which reported 58% of its membership in opposition of the bill.

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Snowpack increases across state

DOUGLAS — Wyoming’s snowpack is slightly increasing, thanks to several days of snow across the state during the last couple of weeks. 

This is good news for ranchers and farmers – and everyone else who uses water in the Cowboy State. Plus, wetter conditions mean less grassfires this summer as temperatures increase.

Wyoming Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Hydrologist Jim Fahey said the snowpack/SWE has increased slightly to 94 percent of median, with a basin high of 108 percent (Yellowstone and Shoshone), and a basin low of 24 percent (South Platte), which is still slightly below average for this time of year.

“The biggest gains in snowpack/SWE (snow-water equivalent) in the past week were across basins in western and southern Wyoming. New snow amounts for the next week are forecasted to be over the far western mountain areas,” he reported Monday. 

Fahey said in 2020, the state median average was at 118 percent – 101 percent of median in 2019. 

And, March and April are right around the corner, the months when the state historically sees the most precipitation in the state. 

A map and chart displaying basin SWE percentages of median for the state and more information may be found online at www.wrds.uwyo. edu/wrds/nrcs/nrcs.html.

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California woman killed in crash near Rock Springs

LARAMIE — At 12:55 p.m. Sunday, Wyoming Highway Patrol was notified of a motor vehicle collision on Interstate 80 east of Rock Springs. 

A 2019 Dodge Caravan was traveling eastbound on the interstate and was approaching an area of the roadway recently closed due to hazardous winter driving conditions. At the time of the crash, the road conditions were ice and snow-covered from snow blowing across the roadway. 

The driver failed to notice traffic was being detoured to an exit and collided with the back of a slow-moving 2020 Freightliner Penske truck. 

The driver has been identified as Lucille Hopkins, 53, a California resident. Hopkins was wearing a seatbelt and transported to Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County for injuries sustained in the crash. 

The passenger was identified as Mary Gallego, 79, of Sacramento, California Gallego was not wearing a seatbelt and succumbed to her injuries at the scene of the crash.

The driver of the Freightliner has been identified as Anthony J. Montelongo Hewitt, 27, of Colorado. He was wearing a seatbelt and not injured in the crash.

Speed and driver inattention on the part of Hopkins is being investigated as potential contributing factors.

This is the 15th fatality on Wyoming’s roadways to date in 2021, compared to seven in 2020, 18 in 2019, and nine in 2018.

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Evanston man arrested after brandishing gun

EVANSTON — An Evanston man was arrested Monday after allegedly brandishing a gun in public.

Evanston Police Department Lt. Ken Pearson said Jamis Short was arrested after a brief scuffle when officers responded to the area near Trona Valley Credit Union on Harrison Drive in Evanston Monday afternoon.

Pearson said officers responded to a welfare check on Saturday night that involved Short, and led to his family leaving with his father-in-law for the night. Officers confiscated a handgun during that response, Pearson said, because Short was acting in a threatening manner at the time.

With no legal restriction to possess a firearm, EPD released the weapon on Monday morning, when Short arrived at the police station to retrieve it. 

Pearson said Short was acting fine during the pickup, but allegedly got drunk afterward and was again making threats. 

When officers caught up to him Monday afternoon, Pearson said Short had the handgun in the front of his pickup, so officers approached him with caution. Following a brief physical incident, Short was arrested on suspicion of DUI, resisting arrest and breach of peace.

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Woman sues Snow King over chairlift incident

JACKSON — A Colorado woman is suing Snow King Mountain Resort for more than $75,000 after she said a chair knocked her off a chairlift loading platform at Snow King’s summit.

Sabita Shrestha, 75, said she, her daughter and a Snow King employee were all knocked into the netting below after the employee failed to slow or stop the chair in order for her to board.

In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming by attorneys Robert Schuster and Bradley Brooke, Shrestha states she broke ribs and suffered other injuries and had to be admitted to the hospital.

Shrestha and her family were visiting Jackson in June 2020 when they decided to ride the chairlift to the top of Snow King.

A little after 3 p.m. the family went back to the chairlift to go down. The chairlift operator asked them if they wanted him to stop the lift long enough to allow Shrestha to safely get on and the lawsuit said they did ask that the lift be stopped.

“When the chairlift operator realized that he had failed to hit the stop button in time to stop the chair to allow Sabita Shrestha to board, he ran in front of the chair to try to help Sabita Shrestha to get up on to the moving chair,” the lawsuit states.

He was unable to get them onto the chair, and it knocked all three people off the loading platform and into the netting below, the complaint says.

Snow King says Shrestha’s claims are barred by the Wyoming Recreation Use Statute, so she isn’t entitled to the damages she claims.

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