Wyoming news briefs for September 15
Woman who stabbed husband pleads guilty to manslaughter
RIVERTON — A Pavillion woman accused of stabbing her husband to death on Christmas Eve has agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter.
BenniLee Strock, who was 39 when arrested, was charged originally with second-degree murder, which is punishable by between 20 years and life in prison. On Aug. 31, she signed a plea agreement that would reduce the charge to manslaughter but would compel her to confess and forego her trial.
Wyoming law punishes manslaughter by no more than 20 years in prison, and defines the crime as killing a human being “without malice.”
In Strock’s plea agreement, there is no stipulation promising Strock’s length of sentence. Wyoming District Court Judge Marv Tyler would determine Strock’s prison time after argument by both attorneys and possible testimony by Strock and others.
Before it was cancelled, Strock’s trial had been slated for Sept. 13.
According to his testimony at a January court hearing, Fremont County Sheriff ’s Office detective Anthony Armstrong interviewed Strock late Christmas Eve. Armstrong testified in court that the pair came home from a local bar that night to their house in Pavillion, while quarreling.
“She’d gone into the kitchen, grabbed a kitchen knife, and (said) she had walked from the kitchen to the bedroom and confronted (her husband) Jeffrey Strock,” Armstrong recalled from the interview. The detective said Strock claimed her husband had “egged her on” into stabbing him with the knife. Then, Strock had related, she did.
Earlier in Strock’s prosecution, a large portion of her confession was stricken from trial evidence, due to what Judge Tyler deemed a clearly expressed wish by Strock to summon a lawyer during her police interview early Christmas morning, 2020.
Quarantining optional in Laramie County School District
CHEYENNE — Quarantining is now optional for students and faculty who have been exposed to COVID-19 in Laramie County School District 2.
The Board of Trustees in the eastern Laramie County district voted unanimously Monday night to make the change, which is effective immediately.
Instead of quarantining, those exposed to a person who has had a positive COVID-19 test, with no mask on, may go to school as long as they appear asymptomatic and wear a mask. They must wear the mask for five days after a negative COVID test, or a full 14 days without testing.
Although they will have the option to take masks off with a negative COVID-19 test after less than a week, students and faculty will not be required to take a COVID test if they are in contact with a positive case.
This decision will impact 57 individuals in LCSD2 who were actively quarantined as of Monday afternoon, giving them the option to come to school with a mask on instead. The 12 students and faculty with a confirmed case of COVID-19 still must stay home.
Superintendent Justin Pierantoni, who has asked at multiple board meetings to have a part-time masking requirement put in place, said the board felt comfortable making the decision without the counsel of the health department.
Kathy Emmons, the director of the Cheyenne/Laramie County Health Department, said she was disappointed with the final vote.
Last week, the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees mandated masks for indoor use when people can’t social distance from one another. As of Tuesday, there were 76 positive cases among students and 13 among staff, and 285 students and one staff member remained in quarantine at home.
Former Sheridan resident named to Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame
SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame recently announced former Sheridan resident Bob Hawkins has been selected as its inductee for 2021.
According to the WAHF, for more than 50 years, Hawkins operated many types of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters across Wyoming and the West.
He was co-owner of Hawkins & Powers Aviation, Inc., in Greybull, from 1992-2005 and was general manager and director of operations of Sky Aviation, in Worland, from 2005-2018. He also flew with Bighorn Airways in Sheridan.
Hawkins hauled firefighters and assisted with firefighting in Yellowstone during the 1988 fires. He had many other opportunities to fly in Yellowstone, including the wolf reintroduction program that began in the late 1990s.
In 1989, Hawkins was part of a National Parks Service project to make measurements of the faces of Mount Rushmore. The dimensions of the popular national memorial were previously unknown.
He has been part of wild horse and buffalo roundups and frequently flew for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department conducting aerial surveys, planting fish in high mountain lakes.
Hawkins also served the industry as president of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association, and he continued a fun tradition of his father, Dan, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020, by flying Santa Claus to several Big Horn Basin communities to greet children during the holiday season.
During his flying career, Hawkins operated 19 different helicopters and 34 different airplanes.
In his retirement, Hawkins has been president of the board and director of the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting in Greybull and is restoring a 1949 Cessna 190.
Jackson Hole search and rescue missions reach potentially record-breaking territory
JACKSON — As of Friday, Teton County Search and Rescue had logged 80 missions, matching the total number of responses recorded in all of 2020, according to Search and Rescue Chief Advisor Cody Lockhart.
With just four months left in the year, 2021 is poised to beat the team’s second busiest year on record, 2019, when the team saw 88 missions, and potentially 2017, when there were 105.
Likewise, Grand Teton National Park reported 72 search and rescues as of Sept. 13. Thirty-four of those were major, meaning they cost the park more than $500 in overtime, hazard pay or aviation costs, according to park spokesperson C.J. Adams.
Adams said that number is similar to last year’s, but the last two years are anomalous compared with previous years. Between 2016 and 2019, he said, the tally of call outs by mid-September stood in the 50s.
Also, the national park has responded to 317 EMS calls so far this year, which is around the average number of calls for an entire year, Adams said.
One trend the park is seeing is an uptick in accidents on the Snake River. The park has 11 documented search and rescues on the Snake River so far this year.
Another significant statistic of the likely record-breaking year, Lockhart said, is the 13 “short haul” rescues in January and February. A short haul, which consists of transporting the rescued person or persons suspended by a rope beneath a helicopter, is a last resort during a rescue, Lockhart said.
Those helicopter rescues in just the first two months of 2021 double the team’s previous record of six short hauls for the entire year in 2019.