Wyoming news briefs for September 16


City, private partners announce redevelopment of Hitching Post site

CHEYENNE – Thanks to a public-private partnership, the blighted site of the former Hitching Post Inn will finally have new life.

The city of Cheyenne, Banner Capital Bank and local developer Swagger Construction announced Wednesday that redevelopment of the Hitching Post site is underway. The Hitching Post Plaza, as it’s being called, will be a mixed-use development with planned retail, dining, residential and hotel space.

At a Wednesday news conference announcing the project, Cheyenne City Council President Jeff White recalled how the hotel – formerly a destination for travelers and meeting place for legislators – became a charred eyesore on West Lincolnway and a graveyard for failed development proposals. 

A 2010 arson fire destroyed the hotel, and though it was reopened, it fell into disrepair and was damaged by at least a few more fires, the most recent occurring in January.

Shortly afterward, the city ordered the Hitching Post be demolished.

Robert Chamberlin, owner of Swagger Construction, said that to honor the history of the old property, they plan to restore the Hitching Post Inn sign and keep it at the site.

After the asbestos is cleaned up and the buildings demolished, all of the asphalt on the site will be torn up, he said. The developer will then work on the infrastructure of the site – all of which needs to be replaced, other than water – before launching into building construction.

While timing is still “a moving target,” the plan is to start building two to three of the structures by spring or summer, Chamberlin said.


Driver pleads guilty to DUI after hitting two local businesses

GILLETTE — A man arrested for crashing into two businesses off Butler-Spaeth Road pleaded guilty at his initial appearance Monday afternoon.

The sentencing for Kaleb Eldridge, 26, of Gillette, is scheduled to happen in October, though no date has been announced.

Alexis De La Cruz was standing inside his business, De La Cruz Produce, when he saw a beige 2002 Ford Mustang swerve off Butler-Spaeth Road and hit the side of Hillcrest Pampered Pets on Saturday evening.

The impact dislodged the exterior air conditioning unit and pushed the brick wall into the building, causing more than $1,000 in damage.

The car looked like it was going 40 mph to 50 mph when it lost control, De La Cruz told the News Record.

De La Cruz stepped outside to see what was going on when the Mustang “bounced," made a "horseshoe-type" turn in the parking lot and hit a planter box. The box then hit De La Cruz Produce’s door, causing it to come off and hit De La Cruz’ right foot, the affidavit states.

Eldridge’s blood alcohol content was 0.26 percent, the affidavit states. He was arrested for driving under the influence — his third offense within 10 years — reckless driving and no proof of insurance.

The maximum penalties are up to six months in jail and a $3,000 fine for a DUI third offense, six months and a $750 fine for reckless driving, and six months and a $1,500 fine for no insurance.


Legislature launches redistricting webpage

SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Legislature has launched a webpage dedicated to providing the public with up-to-date information regarding this year’s legislative redistricting. A link to the webpage is now prominently displayed on the Legislature’s homepage at wyoleg.gov.  

The page provides the public with a wide variety of information about the redistricting process as well as a list of scheduled public meetings and work sessions. The webpage will continuously be updated with draft redistricting plans and maps as the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee’s work progresses. 

In addition to the webpage, the Legislature will also conduct informational meetings and work sessions in communities around the state to gather public input as part of the redistricting process. Details on these meetings can be found on the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee’s meeting page. 

Although remote participation will be provided for most of these meetings, the work sessions will not be streamed live on YouTube. Those wishing to participate remotely are encouraged to sign up on the Legislature’s website by 5 p.m. the day prior to the meeting. 

The purpose of redistricting is to redraw the geographic boundaries of an area from which people are elected as representatives to the Legislature. 

Under the state constitution, the Legislature is required to redraw state legislative districts prior to the first budget session following the U.S. Census to reflect shifts in the state’s population. The full Legislature will adopt the redistricting plan during the 2022 Budget Session, which is scheduled to convene Feb. 14. 


Man charged with murdering his wife

SUNDANCE — Charges have been filed against Edward Svoboda in connection to the death of his wife last week. Kathleen Svoboda was allegedly hit by a truck and trailer in her backyard.

Svoboda has been charged with murder in the first degree. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment at minimum, and could be given the death penalty, a $10,000 fine or both.

He has also been charged with murder in the second degree, which carries a minimum penalty of 20 years’ incarceration and a maximum penalty imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or both.

The difference between murder in the first and second degree is premeditation. To be convicted of murder in the first degree, Svoboda must be found guilty of purposely killing a human being with “premeditated malice.”

Svoboda also faces a third felony charge of aggravated homicide by vehicle, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years’ incarceration, a $10,000 fine or both.

Svoboda was arrested on September 5 after allegedly causing the death of his wife of 53 years. Three deputies from the Crook County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports that Edward had driven his truck into the backyard and struck his wife. She was pronounced deceased when the Hulett ambulance arrived on scene.

According to the incident report, deputies learned that Edward had driven to the neighbor’s house and asked for a ride, saying his wife had kicked him out of the house. Edward allegedly then got into another person’s car and drove back to his residence.

Bond has been set in this case at $3 million, cash only. A preliminary hearing has been set for September 17.


Suspect in Jackson douses police with bear spray

JACKSON — A nearly three-hour standoff beginning with police officers answering a call for help and being doused with bear spray at an apartment near East Hall and Redmond ended just after 7 p.m. when officers apprehended the suspect.

Police initially showed up to the residence on the 500 block of East Hall to respond to a domestic disturbance involving the apprehended suspect, whose name will not be released until he is charged with a crime, according to Jackson Police Chief Michelle Weber.

The 24-year-old Jackson resident then bear sprayed two officers and barricaded himself, Jackson police Lt. Russ Ruschill said. The man had a knife and bear spray inside his residence.

The two officers who were sprayed are OK and returned to the scene, Lt. Ruschill said, where a large show of force gathered.

At around 7:05 p.m. police entered the home after receiving a search warrant and apprehended the suspect without incident.

During the standoff, much of the surrounding area on East Hall Avenue was impassable due to the presence of more than a dozen law officers. The area opened around 7:30 p.m.


Crater Ridge Fire grows to 6,726 miles

LOVELL — The Crater Ridge Fire stands at 68 percent containment after the wildfire grew more than 200 acres in the past week. 

The fire, which spanned 6,232 acres on September 7, grew to 6,502 acres on September 8 and then leapt to 6,726 acres on September 10. 

The containment level, which was reported as 75 percent on September 8, was decreased to 68 percent upon the fire’s expansion. The fire is located 30 miles northeast of Lovell in the Big Horn Mountains.

According to Sara Evans Kirol, a public affairs officer for the forest service, the fire grew due to both warmer and windier weather last week. Cooler weather and frost have helped reduce fire activity, Kirol reported on Tuesday, but warm weather is forecasted for the rest of the week. 

“Firefighters continue to engage, where it is safe to do so on the ground,” Kirol said. “Aviation means are being used to control areas that are not accessible.” 

Work also began on Monday to build a containment line on the perimeter of the fire near Lodge Grass Creek. The crew fighting the blaze stands at a current size of 61 personnel.

Stage 1 fire restrictions remain in effect, according to a Friday press release from the Forest Service.

Competition for firefighting resources continues to be high, the report stated. 

“Many of our firefighting resources are assigned to other units or are already working on the Crater Ridge Fire,” said Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Andrew Johnson.


Deadly roadway: Three fatal accidents occur in five weeks on U.S. 16

BUFFALO — A spate of fatal crashes on U.S. Highway 16 is giving officials pause. In the past five weeks, three people have died in motor vehicle crashes while passing through the Bighorn Mountains.

Capt. Ben Schloesser of the Wyoming Highway Patrol acknowledged that three fatalities in five weeks is "a lot," but added it's difficult to determine if it's an anomaly or a real problem. 

Schloesser said he doesn't think it's a highway engineering problem. Anecdotally, Johnson County has seen an increase in traffic, especially motorcycle traffic, which may contribute to an increase in incidents, he said.

While the WHP is discussing whether additional safety measures should be taken next summer, there may be extenuating circumstances, Schloesser said.

Two of the recent crashes involved motorcyclists and one of the crashes occurred when it was raining. In another, speed is being investigated as a contributing factor. 

The most recent crash, which occurred on Sept. 5 near milepost 67, according

to a press release, involved a motorcyclist who collided head-on with a vehicle. 

On Aug. 27, another motorcyclist died after crashing near milepost 57 in a single-vehicle accident, and on Aug. 12, a passenger in a passenger vehicle died after a crash near milepost 87 in a single-vehicle accident.

In 2020, there was just one fatal crash on the stretch of U.S. 16 between Buffalo and Ten Sleep. That crash also involved a motorcyclist.

Across Wyoming, the number of motor vehicle crashes has actually decreased slightly.

The Sept. 5 crash marks the 79th fatality on Wyoming's roadways so far in 2021, according to the press release. In 2020, there had been 87 in that time period, and in 2019 there had been 110.