Wyoming news briefs March 16

Posted 3/16/21

News from across Wyoming.

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Wyoming news briefs March 16


Gasoline prices jump 23.4 cents in two weeks

GILLETTE – Wyoming gas prices have risen almost a quarter since March 1 as Americans emerge from the pandemic with an almost "insatiable" appetite for gasoline.

Wyoming's gas prices averaged $2.80 a gallon Monday — 23.4 cents higher than two weeks ago, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 494 stations in Wyoming. Prices had gone up an average of 10.2 cents a gallon in the past week, and 13.2 cents higher the week before.

That put the average price per gallon on March 15 at the highest prices since 2014. They are 46.1 cents per gallon higher than a month ago and 46.6 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

At $2.816 a gallon, Campbell County is among the counties with the highest prices in the state, joined by Teton ($2.859), Sweetwater ($2.839) and Fremont ($2.839) averaging $2.80/g as of Monday.

Gas prices in Wyoming are 46.1 cents per gallon higher than a month ago and stand 46.6 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

According to GasBuddy price reports, the cheapest station in Wyoming is priced at $2.60/g Monday while the most expensive is $2.99/g, a difference of 39.0 cents per gallon. The lowest price in the state today is $2.60/g while the highest is $2.99/g, a difference of 39.0 cents per gallon.


Second-degree murder verdict in Mills trial

RIVERTON — After a week’s deliberation, a jury convicted a Riverton man, Mario Mills, of second degree murder for the death of his friend, Trevor Bartlett.

The jury considered not one, but three alternate charges: first-degree murder, second, or voluntary manslaughter. Failing proof for all three, the jury could have chosen to exonerate. 

The state argued for first-degree murder, saying that Mills had acted with “premeditated malice.”

Mills’ team of defense attorneys fought for acquittal, saying Bartlett’s death was likely the result of a struggle involving the gun. 

On the night of March 25-26, 2020, Mills and his best friend, Bartlett, were in the former’s garage drinking and playing cribbage. Bartlett revealed a .31 blood alcohol concentration after death but when personnel arrived at Mills’ house the next morning, his BAC was not tested. 

Once Mills’ wife went to bed, the two friends began arguing about suicide. According to a police interview of Mills, Bartlett wanted to die. 

Next, Mills recalled, he put a round in his .45 Glock pistol, then unloaded it, and set it down on the workbench. Later, he said, he reloaded it and asked Bartlett “Are you sure about this?” – then shot his friend. 

According to the testimony of Destin Walker, Bartlett’s mother, there could have been no hatred between the two men; they’d been “like brothers” since they were 16. Bartlett had helped Mills to raise his daughter while the latter was still a single dad.

Second degree murder is punishable by between 20 years and life in prison. Sentencing has not yet occurred.


Mask up in Jackson through mid-April, rule says

JACKSON – Jackson Hole residents and visitors will have to keep covering their noses and mouths as a COVID-19 prevention measure through mid-April.

Though Wyoming’s statewide mask mandate ended Tuesday, Teton County has been approved for a local mask order Tuesday through April 16. It requires people 12 and older to wear face coverings outside the home, with several exceptions, including a medical condition that precludes mask wearing.

Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said in a press release that a mask mandate was still necessary and appropriate in Teton County. He cited the recent increase in case counts and the presence of variants of the coronavirus.

“We want to keep the mask order in place until a larger percentage of our community has been given the chance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.

Teton District Public Health Order No. 21-3 requires anyone older than 12 to wear a face covering when inside or in line to enter any business, government facility, health care facility, taxi or public transportation.

All employees of retail and commercial businesses, and local and municipal government facilities open to the public must wear a face covering when within 6 feet of customers, clients, volunteers or other employees.


Cody couple accused of identity theft

CODY — A Cody couple is being accused of fraud and identity theft impacting an estimated 50 victims.

Travis Dawe, 39, and Chelsea Velker, 33, were apprehended in a Colorado Springs, Colo., hotel room on Feb. 11. Scott Burlingame, Cody Police detective, said when Colorado Springs Police K-9 and SWAT teams forcibly breached the room, it became clear the duo was planning an elaborate escape.

“There was a hole cut in the ceiling and a light fixture removed,” he said during a circuit court hearing Wednesday.

The pair are being investigated for forgery, credit card fraud, theft and theft of personal identifying information, as well as, potentially, two different burglaries.

Velker has a prior felony for forgery while Dawe only has misdemeanors on his record.

The charges will likely be officially filed later this week, said Jack Hatfield, Park County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. 

Velker and Dawe are each already facing charges in Park County for allowing a child in the presence of meth.

These charges were originally brought against Velker and Dawe in January but were temporarily dismissed because Burlingame was unable to make it to their preliminary hearing. Now, the charges have been refiled, and the two had a preliminary hearing last Wednesday.

In January, Cody Police performed a stakeout at their house on Goodturn Drive after doing previous surveillance there. That morning, Cody Police said they witnessed Velker leaving the home with an 8-year-old child. About 20 minutes later police entered the home and found meth and other drug paraphernalia laid out on the couple’s bed.

Dawe’s bond was set at $50,000 cash-only while Velker’s was set at $30,000 cash-only. Both are still in custody at the Park County Detention Center.


Drunk driver’s damaged wheel alleged to have started small fires

POWELL — Authorities allege a Powell man drunkenly drove through the Willwood area last week, running into multiple mailboxes and starting two small fires with his damaged vehicle. 

Keith B. Lance, 58, is facing misdemeanor counts of hit-and-run property damage, interference with a peace officer, having an open container of alcohol in a moving vehicle and driving while under the influence of alcohol; it’s alleged to have been Lance’s third DUI within the past decade, meaning he would face at least 30 days in jail if convicted. 

Lance pleaded not guilty to the charges at a Friday appearance in Park County Circuit Court. He remained in custody on Monday, with bail set at $10,000, according to jail records. 

An area resident reported Lance’s erratic driving around 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The caller told dispatchers with the Park County Sheriff’s Office he’d tried to get the driver to stop — as the vehicle had a flat tire — but was unable to do so. The damaged Toyota sedan, he said, had started multiple fires. 

The Powell Volunteer Fire Department was summoned to the scene and found two places were burning: one on Whitetail Road and another in the area of Road 13, said Powell Fire Chief Dustin Dicks; he guessed that less than a quarter of an acre of land burned before firefighters put out the flames. 

Meanwhile, Lance reportedly swerved into several mailboxes in the 1600 block of Lane 14 before eventually parking in a driveway in the 1100 block of Lane 13. 

A trial in the case is tentatively scheduled for April 22.


Sign vandalism, theft pose serious problem in Park County

POWELL — With dozens of Park County road signs turning up missing or damaged in recent months, commissioners are willing to pay out some money to find who’s responsible. 

At a March 2 meeting, commissioners agreed to pay up to $500 as a reward for information leading to the apprehension of the culprit or culprits. 

Sign vandalism is a recurring problem, but it’s become particularly acute since the start of the pandemic, said Park County Engineer Brian Edwards.

For example, between early December and late February — a span of less than three months — some 40 signs have been damaged or stolen. Some signs have been taken, some have been run over and others have been shot or flipped upside down. The vast majority of the recent damage has been dealt in rural Powell, with a handful of incidents in Clark.

Between Dec. 7 and Feb. 24, sign vandals and thieves cost the county more than $2,150, according to numbers compiled by the Park County Sheriff’s Office. 

That figure does not include the time that road and bridge crews are having to spend fixing and replacing signs, Edwards said, nor the time the sheriff’s office has spent investigating the crimes. 

Beyond the monetary damage, the destruction and removal of stop signs, construction signs, directional arrows and others could potentially prove deadly for drivers. 

It’s unclear whether the reward money will actually be used. It will ultimately be up to Sheriff Scott Steward to decide whether a reward is needed; Edwards said his hope was simply to have the cash available as “a tool in our arsenal” if the need arose.