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Wyoming News Briefs


December 13, 2018

Man fined $25,000 in grizzly shooting

CODY (WNE) — While hunting for elk in October 2017 a Casper man encountered a much larger animal, in that of a sow grizzly bear. He will now pay a steep price for illegally shooting the bear – he was recently fined $25,500 in Park County Circuit Court.

Brent Stalkup, 38, reported the incident to Wyoming Game and Fish and told authorities the bear approached his hunting camp off Monument Hill Road, west of WYO 120 and about 14 miles northwest of Cody, three different times.

Through investigation, G&F officer Scott Werbelow said this was not the case.

Werbelow said by studying the grizzly paw prints in snow near the hunting camp, it was apparent the bear never came close.

“The only tracks found were about 33 yards from his camp,” Werbelow said.

Stalkup told Werbelow his dog chased the bear away upon its first visit but the bear returned shortly afterward. On a yet third encounter Stalkup said he shot at the bear with his .22-caliber firearm and suspected he hit it in the buttocks, but said he wasn’t certain if he had killed it.

“It appeared not in self defense,” Werbelow said. “I think he killed it to get it out of camp.”

Stalkup pleaded guilty early in the fall and paid all $25,500 of his fine on his sentencing date Nov. 19. In the sentence handed out by Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters, Stalkup is also prohibited from hunting, fishing or trapping for one year starting Jan. 1.

Steamboat Geyser erupts for record 30th time

JACKSON (WNE) — The highest-shooting geyser in the world, which propels water up to 300 feet over the Norris Geyser Basin, has shot off for a record 30th time this year.

An eruption of the Steamboat Geyser at 1:07 a.m. Saturday nudged 2018’s activity past the previous most-eruptive year, 1964, when the geothermal feature was documented going off 29 times.

“The heightened activity at Steamboat this year is uncommon but not unprecedented,” Yellowstone National Park geologist Jeff Hungerford said in a statement. “We have seen similar activity twice previously; once in the early 1960s, and again in the early 1980s. Conversely, the world’s tallest active geyser has also exhibited years of quiescence or no major eruptions, with the longest being the 50-year period between 1911 and 1961.

“We’ll continue to monitor this extraordinary geyser,” he said.

Steamboat’s spate of activity began in March after a nearly four-year dormancy. Its frequency picked up in spring, with two eruptions in April and four more in May, according to a log maintained by

The eruptive state never slowed in the months that followed, with three eruptions in June, two in July, three in August, six in September, four in October and four in November before the latest eruption last weekend.

Scientists who study Yellowstone’s geothermal features say they don’t have a good grip on what’s causing Steamboat Geyser’s renewed activity, but they were able to collect raw data that may help them figure it out.

Cheyenne condemns iconic hotel

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne icon is down for the count.

City building safety officials on Monday condemned the Hitching Post Inn and gave its owner 30 days to demolish the place before the city does it for her.

In a letter sent Friday to owner Dipalie Jariwalla, Chief Building Official Blas Hernandez said a Thursday inspection of the property found the structure “unfit for human habitation” and impractical to repair.

He added that the hotel, which has sat shuttered since September 2017, has become “a nuisance to the community” and “dangerous to public safety,” a statement backed up by police reports of trespassing and other minor infractions in the past year.

Once Jariwalla receives the letter, she’ll have 20 days to file an appeal with the city.

The hotel was once a center of Cheyenne society and an informal dormitory to state legislators during winter sessions away from home, but it’s been repeatedly humbled in the last decade.

The hotel filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and a fire destroyed its front building in 2010. In 2013, a partner in a new ownership group pleaded guilty to arson in connection with the latter fiasco, and two years later, the then-owner pleaded guilty to insurance fraud.

And ever since water service and power were cut off in fall 2017, Mayor Marian Orr has made leveling the place a top priority.

Man fined for shooting wolf

POWELL (WNE) — A Cody man has been ordered to pay $1,855 for killing a gray wolf in the state’s trophy zone without a license — and then attempting to pretend he’d taken the animal legally. 

In addition to the financial penalties, a judge suspended 21-year-old Austin Kondash’s hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for three years. 

Kondash pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of illegally taking a wolf without a license at a Nov. 19 hearing in Park County’s Circuit Court. 

In most of the state, wolves are classified as predators and can be killed at any time, with the only requirement being that the harvest is reported to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. However, the species is classified as a trophy animal in the northwest corner of the state, with a regulated hunting season. 

That licensed trophy zone includes the Sunlight area, where Kondash killed the wolf on Oct. 26. Kondash testified that he and a friend had been hunting deer early that morning. 

After killing the animal, Kondash drove to the Chief Joseph RV Park store in Crandall, bought a $21 resident wolf license, tagged the carcass with it and drove back to Cody. 

However, South Cody Game Warden Grant Gerharter became suspicious with the speed at which Kondash had been able to harvest a wolf. 

“It just doesn’t happen that you purchase a wolf license in the morning and take a wolf two hours later,” Gerharter said in an interview. “You can, but it’s rare.”

Former senior center director to be sentenced for embezzlement

EVANSTON — A former director of Uinta Senior Citizens, Inc., which operates the senior centers in Evanston and the Bridger Valley, is scheduled to be sentenced in Cheyenne on Jan. 3, 2019, for misusing public funds. 

Sarah Kristina Blakeman pleaded guilty on Oct. 4 to theft from an organization receiving federal funds. 

According to a federal indictment, Blakeman “knowingly and unlawfully embezzled and intentionally misapplied property worth at least $5,000 that was in the care, custody or control of Uinta Senior Citizens, Inc.” between the dates of July 23, 2013, and March 31, 2016. 

Blakeman was the director of the organization for 15 years before the board voted to remove her from her active role on Feb. 10, 2016, then fired her shortly after. 

Blakeman could receive zero to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $250,000 fine — or both — along with up to three years supervised probation and a $100 special assessment. 

Details of the crime have not been made public, but Mark Trimble, spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Wyoming, said that once the case is fully resolved, court documents that detail the incident are likely to be unsealed. 

Blakeman could potentially face other charges once the federal case is resolved. Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas said after Blakeman was indicted that she could receive a report to review for potential state charges, and “if and when such a report is submitted,” she’ll review it to determine if additional charges are appropriate. 

Miners to be moved to Black Thunder

CASPER (WNE) — The second largest thermal coal producer in the U.S. is moving about 100 miners from its Coal Creek mine in northern Wyoming to its higher-production Black Thunder mine outside Wright.

The move will cut the majority of the 154-miner workforce at Coal Creek.

Since a downturn in the nation’s coal industry that hit bottom in 2015 and 2016, producers in the Powder River Basin have had to be nimble, adjusting to fewer customers to buy their coal, as well as fewer contracts promising long-term demand. An expanding national fleet of natural gas plants has eroded coal’s dominance as the source for U.S. electricity in recent years.

Arch Coal did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the shift in their labor force following a short interview in mid-October.

Travis Deti of the Wyoming Mining Association declined to comment on Arch, but said that Wyoming’s coal producers are continually responding to changes in the market.

“The environment has changed a little bit and we are just adapting,” he said.

Black Thunder is one of the largest open surface coal mines in the country, lying just east of the town of Wright. It employed 1173 miners as of September.

Arch Coal took the unusual step of cutting production expectations at Black Thunder early this year by about 10 million tons.

Multiple coal firms in the basin have noted in calls with investors over the past year that unloading lower-heat coal has been a challenge in coal’s new normal. Companies with multiple mines, like Cloud Peak Energy, Peabody Energy and Arch, have also shifted to a basin-wide focus of their coal assets with the ability to move production and employees according to demand.

Cheyenne man pleads guilty to killing woman in car chase

CHEYENNE (WNE)— A Cheyenne man pleaded guilty Friday in Laramie County District Court to aggravated vehicular homicide in connection with a fatal chase with police in July. 

Aaron Higine made his plea in front of Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell on Friday morning, according to Laramie County District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg. 

In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss six other charges, including eluding, reckless driving, misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine and other traffic-related offenses, according to a plea agreement. 

Prosecutors will also recommend Higine receive a 16- to 20-year prison term, and Higine’s attorneys are free to argue whichever sentence they deem appropriate. 

Higine was initially charged in July in connection with a car chase that started near the junction of Interstate 80 and Interstate 180 and ended on Fox Farm Road. 

Higine, who was driving the car, swerved, drove off the road, hit a ditch, rolled through a fence and came to rest in a front yard. 

When the car rolled off the road, a woman was ejected from the front seat and pronounced dead at the scene. 

Another man in the rear passenger seat suffered minor injuries. 

Higine will be sentenced in several weeks, once a pre-sentence investigation is completed.


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