Wyoming news briefs for July 21

Two killed in I-80 crash near Evanston

EVANSTON A man and boy are dead after another man drove his pickup into vehicles that were stopped for a previous accident on Interstate 80 near Evanston on Sunday, July 18, according to the Wyoming Highway Patrol. 

The fatal crash occurred around milepost 1 on Interstate 80, just west of Evanston. 

A 2002 Toyota RAV-4 and 2013 Ford F-150 were stopped in traffic that afternoon due to an earlier crash blocking the roadway. 

The driver of a 2018 GMC Sierra failed to see the stopped traffic and collided with the Toyota, causing the Toyota to hit the back of the Ford. 

The driver of the GMC has been identified as 29-year-old Greeley, Colorado, resident Braylin Wertenberger. Wertenberger was not wearing his seatbelt and was transported to the Evanston Regional Hospital for injuries sustained in the crash. 

The driver of the Toyota has been identified as 71-year-old Wolf Point, Montana, resident William J. Baker. Baker was wearing a seatbelt. He was transported by helicopter to the University of Utah, where he later succumbed to his injuries sustained in the crash. The juvenile passenger in the vehicle has been identified as Wolf Point, Montana, resident Scobey J. Baker. He was wearing a seatbelt and succumbed to injuries at the scene of the crash. 

The remaining passenger in the vehicle has been identified as 19-year-old Wolf Point, Montana, resident Kade Baker. He was transported to Evanston Regional Hospital for injuries sustained in the crash. 

The driver of the Ford and one passenger were not injured; the other passenger was transported to the hospital for treatment of injuries.

Driver inattention and speed on the part of Wertenberger are being investigated as potential contributing factors.


Converse County COVID cases roaring back as vaccination rates lag

GILLETTE  Converse County’s COVID-19 cases are increasing dramatically again, driving a major concern among local and state health officials who point to a low rate of vaccinations. 

During the week ending July 4, Converse County had two reported active cases. On Monday, that figure augmented by 1,150% percent to 24 active cases, according to the Converse County Emergency Management Agency. 

“That is a pretty dramatic increase, and it’s not showing signs of slowing down,” Converse County Public Health Nurse Manager Darcey Cowardin said. 

Most of those new cases are from people who are unvaccinated, Cowardin said. 

And those cases no longer are primarily older residents as it was a year ago. Of the new cases, 19 of those were of people 50 years old and younger, including three people who are under 20, according to the Converse County Emergency Management Agency. 

“Right now, in the U.S. 98%- 99% of all deaths are related to (being) unvaccinated,” said Cowardin.

“We are certainly concerned about continued infections and expect the Delta variant is a factor,” said Kim Deti, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman. “The data indicates the Delta variant is more easily transmitted than other strains of COVID, meaning it is easier to spread to other people and to spread it to more people.” 

“I totally understand we have severe pandemic fatigue,” said Cowardin. “We’re tired of this. We’re over it. But the only way to ensure we can continue to do those things and keep our families safe is to get the vaccine.”


Woman, 67, dies in Snake River guided fishing incident after boat overturned

JACKSON — A 67-year-old woman died on the Snake River shortly after noon Tuesday in a guided fishing accident when the drift boat she and two other people were in tipped at an eddyline, “began to take on water and kind of overturned,” said Cody Lockhart, Teton County Search and Rescue chief advisor.

“[The boat] hit a little whirlypool, and it was enough to suck the side under a little bit where it would take on water,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said the woman was not from Jackson and was in the boat with a fellow tourist and a “longtime local fishing guide.” The guide and other people in the boat were able to swim to safety and were uninjured, Lockhart added.

Whether the woman or any of the others in the boat were wearing personal floatation devices at the time of the incident “is under investigation,” Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said.

“Significant resources were there in a timely manner — SAR and Fire/EMS — but we weren’t able to get her heart back,” Lockhart said. “We worked it for a while. Like, they worked it for a significant amount of time” using CPR to try to revive her. 

The woman’s identity will not be available until notification of next-of-kin is completed, which could be Wednesday or even later in the week, Carr said.

“This incident serves as a tragic reminder that accidents on the river can happen at any time, and often occur quickly with severe consequences,” Search and Rescue officials wrote in a statement.


Sweetwater County health officials warn of epidemic of the unvaccinated

ROCK SPRINGS — While coronavirus cases have slowly declined in Sweetwater County, health leaders said the trend could easily be reversed due to the community’s low vaccination rate and more infectious variations of COVID-19 appearing in Wyoming. 

They stressed it is a preventable disease that still hasn’t gone away, as Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County is seeing an increased number of cases in younger individuals and other counties in Wyoming are seeing cases spike. 

During the monthly update on the coronavirus, representatives from the Sweetwater County Health Department, Community Nursing, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County and others talked about recent figures, the latest revisions to safety guidelines and how vaccination participation could influence what happens next. 

“It has not gone away,” said Dr. Jean Stachon, the Sweetwater County public health officer. 

There have been three COVID-related fatalities in the county in the last three weeks, according to Stachon, ranging in age from mid-40s to 80s. She said those cases haven’t been added to the state figures yet. 

She said they are beginning to see an “epidemic of the unvaccinated” as most people who are becoming infected or hospitalized have not had any of the free vaccines that are available to the public. 

She said the vaccines are proving to be safe and effective at preventing serious cases of the coronavirus. 

Sweetwater County ranks second in the state in active cases with 32, according to the June 30-July 13 figures provided by the state. Laramie County had the most with 172. Sweetwater County also had the second highest rate of positive tests with 6.9% and was third in cases per 100,000 people with 203. Only Carbon and Laramie counties were higher with 223 and 330, respectively.


Town of Glenrock says no to info request

DOUGLAS — The Town of Glenrock continued to deny the Glenrock Independent access to its investigative report into Police Chief David Theel, although the town council has decided to grant Theel a public hearing to discuss why he was placed on leave and what the investigation into his conduct may show. 

For now, it is up to the courts to decide whether or not the Independent – and the public – have a right to the information contained within the report. 

Mayor Bruce Roumell, who put Theel on paid administrative leave in February, has refused to publicly cite his reasons for removing the chief from his duties. 

Independent Publisher Matt Adelman filed a lawsuit against the town a month ago in Converse County District Court. The Petition for Access to Records lawsuit against the town makes a formal request for the result of attorney Alaina Stedellie’s investigation. 

“Either the investigation into – and placing Chief Theel on paid administrative leave five months ago – was substantiated, or it was not,” said Adelman. “It is our duty to inform the public regarding why Roumell unilaterally placed Theel on leave and why. The public has a right to know why their police chief was investigated.”

Theel has asked town council several times over the last few months to have the investigation’s results and any discussions surrounding him be carried out in the open. He has said repeatedly he has nothing to hide. 

Government transparency aside, town attorney Craig Silva said the reason for not allowing the Independent to have a copy of the investigative report is to protect those individuals named in the report, other than Theel. 


New surge of COVID-19 patients floods Jackson hospital

JACKSON — The St. John’s Health Urgent Care clinic saw a sudden influx of patients who had contracted the COVID-19 virus and needed to be hospitalized over the weekend. 

St. John’s Chief Communications Officer Karen Connelly said limited bed capacity, staffing shortages and higher acuity of patients are growing concerns. The hospital’s COVID-19 response team is now meeting again on a regular basis “to stay on top of resource planning and other issues.”

Visitor restrictions are also in place, Connelly said, due to risk and occupancy levels.

“We saw the numbers steadily ticking up, but then yesterday we got hit all at once,” Lisa Campbell, director of the cardiopulmonary division at St. John’s Health said Tuesday.

The hospital’s website showed four laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients in the Primary Care Unit and two in the Intensive Care Unit.

Campbell said at least four COVID-19 patients were using high flow oxygen therapy units. Those units, which are preferred over ventilators, are in short supply. The hospital has eight and recently ordered more to be delivered from Salt Lake City.

On Monday, 83 percent of ICU beds were full, according to the hospital website. Some patients have since been able to transfer to primary care.

Half of the COVID-19 patients are local and the other half are tourists, Campbell said. The hospital is also seeing “breakthrough cases,” or fully vaccinated individuals who still contract the virus.

A couple visiting from Georgia received the Pfizer vaccine in March, but they both tested positive for COVID-19. Campbell said their condition was “not as severe,” as for most unvaccinated patients.

The majority of new cases are coming from unvaccinated individuals, Connelly said.