Wyoming news briefs for March 22


Man charged in Riverton stabbing faces enhanced sentence

RIVERTON — Accused of stabbing a 55-year-old man in a van near North Federal Blvd last week, Jody VanFleet was sent to a higher court on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old VanFleet has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault, one for the stabbing, and one for threatening the alleged victim with a drawn deadly weapon.

One of the assaults is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

But because VanFleet has been convicted of two felonies prior and now faces an allegation of felonious violence, the state enhanced the other aggravated assault charge with the habitual criminal penalty – enabling a possible 10-50 years on the sentence.

He also faces one felony-level charge of domestic violence, which carries another 10-50-year enhancement, and again refers to VanFleet’s prior felonies.

He was convicted in 2016 in California, for “attempted corporal injury on… cohabitant,” and in 2007 in Wyoming, for assault resulting in a serious bodily injury.

Riverton Police Department Detective Jim Donahue testified during the hearing that officers responded on March 10 to reports of a man lying in the street, bleeding.

“Martin Harris was in fact bleeding from the chest, profusely… (and) had a large stab wound to the center of his chest,” the detective related.

“He said after he was stabbed he tried to seek medical attention and Mr. VanFleet would not allow him to leave in order to get help,” Donahue said.

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Health official urges spring breakers to test before, after trip

JACKSON — With spring break coming up, Teton County health officials are encouraging residents who plan to travel to do so safely, which includes getting tested a few days before leaving and again after returning home.

“This is the time to consider travel very carefully,” Dr. Travis Riddell, the Teton District health officer, said during Friday’s community COVID-19 briefing.

Also at the update, Riddell reported a local uptick in new infections. In the two-week period ending Thursday, Teton County saw 132 new cases, up 110 percent from the previous two-week period, he said.

As for traveling, Riddell noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages even vaccinated people to delay nonessential trips, as travel increases one’s risk of spreading and getting the disease.

CDC recommendations for those who go anyway, he said, include getting fully vaccinated and getting tested one to three days before travel.

He recommended the Vault test, which can be ordered online or picked up at the Teton County Health Department and done at home.

Even vaccinated people need to be tested, because there’s not enough data about post-vaccine transmission.

“Yes, the vaccine will prevent you from getting hospitalized or worse,” Riddell said, “but we can’t say for sure yet, especially given the presence of these variants, that getting vaccinated will prevent you from spreading the virus, perhaps without having symptoms.”

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LCCC closes auto body repair program

CHEYENNE — Laramie County Community College’s decision to deactivate its automotive body repair program is raising concerns with some industry partners, who say it’s one more blow to an industry already struggling to find talent.

Last week, the LCCC Board of Trustees voted to close the program at the end of this school year, citing low enrollment, the expensive nature of the program and lower starting wages than those in comparable technical fields. Fewer than 12 students have enrolled in the auto body repair program since 2019, and only a total of four students have enrolled during the 2020-21 school year.

LCCC President Joe Schaffer estimated that deactivating the program will save the college roughly $200,000, which he said the college intends to reallocate toward building its manufacturing program offerings. Right now, the college does not offer a degree program in the area.

David Robinette, the Northwest regional business development principal for the Inter-industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, which has provided the curriculum to LCCC’s program, said the deactivation is just one of several “unfortunate” auto body repair program closures he’s seen across the Mountain West over the past few years.

“We can’t keep closing these schools, because we’re in a critical state in the collision industry with a shortage of new entry-level technicians coming in. They’re not coming in as fast as the retirees are coming out,” Robinette said.

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