Wyoming news briefs for June 21

Grand Teton scales back search for missing man

JACKSON — After six days of intense aerial and ground searching for missing hiker Cian McLaughlin, Grand Teton National Park officials said late Friday they will scale back their efforts.

"The search for McLaughlin will shift tactics to a continuous, but limited mode," a press release from the park said on Friday evening, the 10th day the 27-year-old had been missing. "New clues will be investigated as they come forward. Park staff will continue to patrol the backcountry and search for signs of McLaughlin's whereabouts."

Since McLaughlin was reported missing — four days after he disappeared — the park's investigation team has spoken with more than 140 people with tips and information about McLaughlin. More than 45 helicopter search missions have been conducted, using RECCO rescue technology and thermal imaging cameras. Up to 70 park staff each day and several dog teams searched the park's trails, canyons and woods for six days straight.

The last credible sighting of a man fitting McLaughlin's description was around 3:45 p.m. June 8 near the Surprise Lake junction heading into Garnet Canyon.

Reached late Friday, GTNP spokesman CJ Adams said the park and search-and-rescue teams haven't given up hope of locating McLaughlin alive, but acknowledged that the likelihood fades the longer a person is missing.

"Each day that passes and with the conditions and such, the likelihood is less and less" that McLaughlin will be found alive, Adams said. "But, you know, there's always a chance. So the park's going to do what we can to find him, and we'll put out missing person flyers at locations and talk to people that are going into the backcountry.”


Owner chases down stolen pickup truck

RIVERTON — Three people were arrested last week after allegedly stealing a vehicle that had been left running in the 300 block of East Pershing Avenue.

Officials said the vehicle owner had gotten out of the truck to check the sprinkler system at a rental property he owns in the area.

Riverton Police Department Lt. Wes Romero said while the owner was away from the truck, two female subjects "came walking by and just jumped in and took off."

The vehicle owner began running after the truck, covering about a block and a half before he "flagged down" another motorist who was willing to give him a ride, Romero said.

They followed the truck to the intersection of East Main Street and Broadway, where Romero said the female suspects had to stop at a red light.

The presence of traffic gave the vehicle owner enough time to exit his ride and approach the truck, Romero said.

When the man "quickly jumped into the back seat," Romero said all three suspects "quickly exited the truck" - so quickly, in fact, that the driver did not have time to put the vehicle in park.

Fortunately, the truck owner was able to maneuver into the driver's seat and stop the vehicle just as it "rolled up" on to the sidewalk.

Romero said the man "chased down" one of the suspects - Bryaira Whiteeagle, 30, of Riverton.

The other two suspects - Aleesha Hamilton, 21, of Ethete, and a 13-year-old girl - were found walking by East Lincoln Avenue and North Third Street East, Romero said - almost half of a mile away.


Man pleads guilty to sex abuse of child

CHEYENNE — A man accused of having repeated sexual contact with two children entered a plea Monday in Laramie County District Court. 

Billy Mike Carrera pleaded guilty, pursuant to a Alford plea, to two counts of felony second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, position of authority, and two counts of felony second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, guardian of victim. 

An Alford plea allows a defendant to accept the consequences of a guilty plea without having to admit guilt, while also admitting the prosecution could likely prove the charges against them in a jury trial. 

Additional charges – five counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor (position of authority) and one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor (guardian of victim) – would be dismissed at sentencing as part of a plea agreement. 

The state agreed to cap its sentencing argument at 10 to 12 years in prison, though Carrera and his attorney will be free to argue for a sentence of three to five years. 

Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell set Carrera’s sentencing for Sept. 7. Carrera is currently out of jail on bond. 

A mistrial was declared in the case on March 10 by Campbell, after the court was made aware of a possible exposure to COVID-19, according to court documents. 

The probable cause affidavit describing the incident has been put in a confidential file.


Two black bears killed on Teton County roads

JACKSON — Highways feeding into Jackson Hole claimed the lives of two black bears last week, one each on Togwotee Pass and Teton Pass.

The bruin struck on U.S. Highway 26/287 near the Togwotee Pass summit was killed late June 14 in a collision that occurred just inside the Teton County line, according to an online blotter published by Wind River Radio.

Then, on Thursday evening, a blond-phase black bear was hit and killed on Highway 22 on the west side of Teton Pass near the Wyoming/Idaho state line.

Photos of the dead bear, which collided with a California-plated white sedan, attracted scorn online, along with allegations of speeding.

Few black bears are hit and killed on Teton County roads most years, especially compared with the more numerous ungulates like mule deer, elk and moose. There were just six total black bears reported road-killed in Teton County in the decade-long period from 2010 to 2019, according to the most recent wildlife-vehicle collision report produced by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation. (That total does not include black bears hit and killed in Grand Teton National Park.)

Although road-killed black bears seldom achieve the celebrity of their grizzly bear relatives, that doesn’t make the fatalities trivial to wildlife proponents like longtime Jackson Hole resident Ann Smith.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Smith told the Daily, “every time it happens.”


Agencies plan to spray Mullen fire area for cheatgrass

LARAMIE — The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department are planning to treat cheatgrass on 9,200 acres within the 2020 Mullen wildfire area through the aerial application of the herbicide Rejuvra, with the goal of reducing or even eradicating this species on many burned areas. 

Aerial spraying with a helicopter began Sunday, June 20, on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests. Treatment units are located along the western slope of the Snowy Range, primarily in Wyoming but also in a portion of the area that burned in Colorado. 

Treatment will take place over an eight-week window; however, herbicide application is weather-permitting and could result in full, partial or no-spray days.

The emphasis is on controlling non-native, annual cheatgrass on critical big-game winter ranges, enhancing native vegetation species, stabilizing soils and reducing erosion. Treating cheatgrass also greatly minimizes the risk of a second wildfire in this area by the reduction in fine fuels and diminishes the threat of shorter fire intervals in the future. 

“It is great to continue collaboration efforts with our partners on controlling invasive species in the footprint of the Mullen Fire, said Jackie Roaque, rangeland management specialist for the Laramie Ranger District. “Our past treatments have proven to be successful in managing cheatgrass, which is a huge threat to native ecosystem recovery post wildfire. We are optimistic that there will be the same success with this project, and at an even larger scale than in the past.”