Wyoming news briefs for October 14

Posted 10/14/21

News from across Wyoming.

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Wyoming news briefs for October 14


Yellowstone sets visitation record for year

CODY — Yellowstone National Park has broken its all-time visitation record with three months still remaining in the year.

A record 4,463,000 million visitors have come through the Park in 2021 so far, shattering the previous full year record set in 2016 of 4.2 million visitors.

The new record was set after a seventh consecutive month of record monthly visitation was reached in September. In September, about 872,000 people visited the Park, a roughly 4.25-percent increase in attendance from the previous record set last year.

That visitation total is more similar to August attendance in recent years, and what July traffic amounted to about 10 years ago.

Park superintendent Cam Sholly attributed this growth to tour buses making their return to the Park after being prohibited because of the pandemic last year. Sholly said 900 tour buses entered Yellowstone in September alone.

Sholly said he anticipates Yellowstone finishing out the year at around 4.6-4.7 million for attendance, as he said October remained busy until the recent cold snap arrived.

“That’s busy,” he remarked.

Sholly commended his staff for handling the crowds despite having difficulty filling positions and ongoing COVID-19 concerns.

“Overall, considering record levels of visitation it was successful,” he said, “but I would also say the staff is under substantial amount of stress that comes with managing that level of visitation.”


Man pleads guilty in fatal wreck

RIVERTON — Though he pleaded not guilty in August, a Fort Washakie man accused of one violent crime and one fatal crash involving children has switched his plea to guilty. 

Royce “Chucky” Neil Perry, 24 was the driver in a vehicle fatality last November on the Wind River Indian Reservation, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol records. 

The 2003 Chevy Silverado rolled multiple times before coming to rest on its wheels, and all four occupants – including the driver, Laney Benally, a 2-year-old, and an infant — were ejected completely. Benally died at the scene. 

Perry, who is believed to have been intoxicated, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and two counts of child abuse. The rear seat of the pickup had been locked in the folded position, “and the 2-year-old occupant is believed to have been standing in the rear seat area at the time of the crash,” WHP records state. “The infant was in a car seat but not attached to the vehicle.” 

For assault resulting in serious bodily injury, Perry faces up to 10 years in prison, three years’ supervised release, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment. 

The manslaughter charge carries up to eight years’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment. 

Chief U.S. District Court Judge for Wyoming Scott W. Skavdahl accepted Perry’s plea and scheduled his sentencing for Dec. 20 in Casper. 

The FBI investigated the case; assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Elmore prosecuted it.


California man killed in hunting accident

WORLAND — A 63-year-old California man died in a hunting accident on Oct. 6. 

According to a release from Washakie County Sheriff Steve Rakness, the Washakie County Sheriff’s Office, Ten Sleep Emergency Medical Services and Worland Emergency Medical Services responded to a hunting accident located south, off the top of Smilo/Sand Draw Road on Wednesday, Oct. 6. 

The initial report indicated a male subject had been accidentally shot with a hunting rifle. 

The victim was identified as Ron Blank, 63, from California, who was hunting elk with his son, Dan Blank, approximately 40 years of age, from Texas. The pair were traveling back to their pickup and were climbing up a ridge, encountered a rock face and climbed over it. While handing rifles up so he could climb up the rock face, Ron Blank was struck in the upper right chest area after the rifle discharged. 

The son, Dan Blank, rendered immediate first aid and called Washakie County and requested assistance. 

Private vehicles and sheriff’s unit transported EMS to the Cabin Spring area, where units proceeded to the scene on foot. 

Guardian Life Flight was launched and responded to the area. On-ground EMS members conducted triage and stabilized Ron Blank for transport. 

Blank was carried up to the Life Flight landing zone where he was flown to Washakie Medical Center for further treatment. 

Per the release from Rakness, Ron Blank passed away in the operating room due to massive internal trauma/injuries and extreme loss of blood.


Five face trial on weapons allegations

CHEYENNE — Five people, including two Cheyenne residents, will be tried in federal court early next year after being charged with multiple firearms offenses. 

Tierra Holland, 33, and Darwin Francisco Thomas, 33, both live in Cheyenne. They were charged alongside Sherwin J. Williams, 26, of Lancaster, California; Dexter Alfred Thomas, 31, of Gardena, California; and Phillip Martin Flores of Las Vegas, Nevada. All have pleaded not guilty to their respective charges. 

All of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to make false statements during the purchase of firearms and unlawfully transporting firearms out of Wyoming. 

A jury trial is set for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 18 before U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson in Cheyenne. The trial is expected to last eight days, according to a Wednesday news release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for Wyoming. 

According to a grand jury indictment filed July 22, Holland, Darwin Thomas, Williams, Dexter Thomas and Flores conspired to direct and use two individuals to purchase firearms for them in Wyoming from July 2020 to about April 30, 2021. All except Holland allegedly provided money for these purchases. Williams, Dexter Thomas and Flores allegedly traveled across state lines into Wyoming and then left with the newly purchased firearms. 

Additionally, Holland was charged with one count of aiding and abetting someone making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm, while Darwin Thomas was charged with six counts of the same offense.


Commissioner pleads guilty to DUI

BUFFALO — Johnson County Commissioner Bill Novotny pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and attempting to elude the police in the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court. He was fined $1,040 and sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation. Prosecutors dismissed charges of reckless driving and driving with an open container in the vehicle.

Novotny received a 30-day suspended jail sentence with credit for one day served and will spend a year under unsupervised probation.

For the duration of his probation, he may not use or possess alcohol, knowingly be in the company of anyone using or possessing alcohol or be on the premises of an establishment whose primary purpose is to serve alcohol.

“I made a horrible decision and put the safety of others in jeopardy,” Novotny said in a prepared statement. “I accept full responsibility for driving while intoxicated

and the repercussions for my irresponsible actions.”

The charges stem from an incident in the early morning hours of July 18.

According to court documents, Novotny was driving eastbound in the westbound lane of Interstate 90 near Lake DeSmet at about 2 a.m., traveling at 50 mph.

After receiving a report of a vehicle traveling the wrong direction on the interstate, a sheriff's deputy arrived and turned on his lights and sirens to initiate a traffic stop. Novotny continued to drive for 5 miles, eventually merging onto Interstate 25. Multiple vehicles were reportedly in Novotny's path as he drove southbound in a northbound lane on I-25.


Company to proceed with rare earth demonstration plant

SUNDANCE — Rare Element Resources (RER) has finally received the $21.9 million funding promised by the U.S. Department of Energy. The company announced last week that its next goal is to construct a demonstration plant in Upton that will process and separate rare earth elements from ore that was previously stockpiled at the Bear Lodge Project in Crook County.

“The award represents approximately 50 percent of the total estimated project costs. Securing the remainder of the funds is the responsibility of Rare Element Resources,” says George Byers, RER.

To raise this money, the company intends to launch a $25 million rights offering of common shares. As of the close of business on October 19, each holder of RER common shares will be issued one non-transferable subscription right for each common share they own.

Each subscription right will entitle the holder to purchase one common share of the company at 24 cents per share. The rights offering will also include an oversubscription privilege, which entitles shareholders who exercise all of their subscription rights to purchase additional common shares subject to availability.

According to the press release, “The Company plans to use the net proceeds from the rights offering for the permitting, licensing, engineering, construction and operation of a rare earth separation and processing demonstration plant near the Company’s Bear Lodge Project and other general corporate purposes.”