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Wyoming News Briefs


February 28, 2019

Man sentenced to five years in apartment fire

GILLETTE (WNE) — A 37-year-old man who set fire to a Gillette apartment building in December 2017 will serve five years in federal prison.

Chief Federal District Court Judge Scott W. Skavdahl sentenced Shaun Michael Sprague on Feb. 5 to 60 months in prison, followed by 36 months of supervised release for arson of a facility engaged in interstate commerce.

No one was hurt in the East 12th Street apartment fire, but several residents were displaced.

The fire destroyed the apartment, which was rented to Sprague’s brother, and damaged a nearby building.

Sprague had been charged locally with first-degree arson in the fire, but those charges were dropped when he was indicted federally, said Chris McDonald with the state Division of Criminal Investigation.

Sprague pleaded guilty to the federal charges in a plea agreement in which he would receive the 60-month sentence, the mandatory minimum, McDonald said.

Sprague had come to Gillette in early December 2017 to say with his brother, who asked that he not use drugs while living at the apartment, according to court documents. When the brother suspected that Sprague was using drugs, he confronted him.

Sprague sought drug treatment in South Dakota but returned to Gillette in time for Christmas, when he fought with his mother. She told investigators that he had made nonsensical statements and that she was worried about his drug use and mental health.

The next day, he tried to return an apartment key to his brother, who assured him he could stay at the apartment, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Then on Dec. 27, a neighbor saw Sprague drive away from the building and shortly afterward noticed flames. A firefighter smelled gasoline when he arrived on scene.

House approves bill blocking county zoning rules for private schools

JACKSON (WNE) — The Jackson Hole Classical Academy cleared a major hurdle to building a new school in South Park after lawmakers in Cheyenne approved legislation stripping county zoning authority over private schools.

Senate File 49 passed the House in a 33-26 vote Monday, which means now all that’s needed is Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature. The bill gives private schools across Wyoming the same exemptions from county zoning granted to public schools. It stems from the academy’s effort to build a new 116,000-square-foot campus in Teton County.

Instead of following county planning processes as they do now, private schools would instead be required to conform “substantially” to Wyoming’s School Facilities Commission guidelines, from restrictions on site size to design standards for walls and roofs.

It would be effective immediately, enabling the academy to get started right away on its plans, without seeking approval from the Teton County Board of County Commissioners.

Representatives of the Christian school, run by Steve and Polly Friess, said they sought legislative relief because Teton County’s planning process has proven too onerous. The search for a new school site has taken more than a year and commissioners recently rejected a request to expand maximum building size countywide to allow for a gym and auditorium, school officials said. But county commissioners statewide see the bill as an attack on local control.

On the House floor, legislators in favor of the bill argued that private schools should be treated equally to public schools, and that Teton County’s zoning regulations are infringing on the school’s private property rights. Those opposed said the dispute over the Classical Academy is best settled locally in Teton County.

Hemp farming bill headed to governor’s desk

CASPER (WNE) — A bill sponsored by one of Casper’s representatives to create a regulated industrial hemp industry in Wyoming is headed to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.

Spearheaded by Republican Rep. Bunky Loucks, House Bill 171breezed through the Wyoming Senate on Monday on its third reading with only two members of the body – Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton – voting “no” on the measure.

Backed by a bipartisan group of 23 lawmakers, HB171 creates a framework for the state’s growers to capitalize on a provision in the new farm bill that decriminalizes hemp, previously considered a controlled substance under federal law. If signed by the governor, the bill would allow farmers to apply for a state license to begin to grow hemp.

Upon receiving the license, farmers would then have to subject their crop to regular testing – including remaining below a certain THC threshold. 

Last week, Loucks was seen on the Senate side of Jonah Business Center lobbying members there to re-insert an appropriation for hemp testing back into the bill – one of the few contentious periods for the bill’s journey through both chambers. According to the amendment, the funding for the program would not have been appropriated unless another other state agency, including the University of Wyoming or any community college, or a private entity could have provide building maintenance, employee training, laboratory supplies and the equipment necessary to implement the act at a lower cost.

The Senate eventually put the funding — $120,000 for a full-time employee to handle the inspection of the plants – back into the bill, and backed away from their amendment.

Man fined nearly $12,000 in grizzly killing

CODY (WNE) — A Riverton man was recently fined nearly $12,000 for illegally killing a grizzly bear in 2017.

That man, Joel Blury, 57, was sentenced in Circuit Court Feb. 5 by judge Bruce Waters for illegally shooting and killing the endangered species. He also received a misdemeanor charge for shooting wildlife from a road.

Dan Smith, a regional supervisor with Wyoming Game and Fish, said Blury mistook the adult grizzly for a black bear, a game he was legally hunting the May day he made his critical mistake.

“He blew a predator call and sure enough, he saw the bear coming out of the woods and walking towards him,” Smith said.

From his ATV vehicle on Road 203 in the Shoshone National Forest, west of Meeteetse near the Wood River area, Blury shot the bear with his .30-06 rifle, killing it with a single shot.

Within his punishment, Blury is prohibited from hunting, trapping or fishing for the remainder of 2019.

For the shooting, Blury must pay Game and Fish $10,000 restitution for the bear’s life and $1,680 to the county for his physical act. With court fees and other associated costs his grand total reaches $11,735. He already has paid $200 toward his debt, the minimum payment he must make each month.

Petition targets ‘coyote whacking’ in Wyoming

PINEDALE (WNE) — Almost 77,000 people have signed online petitions at with another 308,000 at against the legality of “coyote whacking” in Wyoming. 

Those 385,000 signatures come from across the country and many countries around the world for the petitions, which are aimed at Wyoming legislators and the governor. 

“We wish this was a twisted joke,” the Care2 petition begins. “Unfortunately, there really are people who participate in a sport called ‘coyote whacking’ and they can continue to legally do so. Wyoming legislators had an opportunity to outlaw it but they didn’t even bother looking at the bill, let alone passing it.” 

House Bill 288, titled “Animal cruelty – snowmobiles,” was introduced by freshman Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, on Jan. 28 after he reportedly received a video and photos of people chasing coyotes, wearing them out and killing them. Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, cosponsored the bill. 

It went to the Wyoming House of Representatives, where it was not considered for introduction by the Feb. 4 deadline. It requested criminal penalties for “aggravated cruelty to animals,” including sponsors, for using a snowmobile to “willfully and wantonly cause the death, injury or undue suffering of an animal, including a predatory animal.” 

Predator hunting is not controlled on public lands but private landowners can decide who does what on their property. Big Piney rancher Tara Miller recently submitted a letter to the editor that said coyote hunting with snowmobiles would not be allowed on Miller Land & Livestock’s property. 

Fisherman gets stuck in ice on Fremont Lake

PINEDALE (WNE) – A  man who walked out onto frozen Fremont Lake for some ice-fishing Sunday morning caught his waterproof boot in a hole or crack in the ice and fell half-seated into the frigid water. 

The Pinedale man, who says he has “been out there a thousand times,” asked that his name not be used because he “would never hear the end of it” from his friends. 

Earlier, he had parked at the boat dock and pulled his ice-fishing gear on a sled to a spot about 200 yards from shore where he drilled several fishing holes with his augur. He said the lake’s layers were kind of strange but safe. Six to 8 inches of new snow covered a 1 inch thick layer of ice, then about 5 inches of water on 10 inches of solid ice, he explained. 

He was walking back to his sled to put his augur away when his foot jammed into a crevice, crack or possibly another fisherman’s drilled hole that was freezing over. 

Whatever it was, it wasn’t visible, he said, and as his leg went down into the water, he fell against the augur and half-sat down. He was wearing waterproof Muck boots but he got soaked sitting there. 

For a change, no one else was fishing and after he worked away to free his foot for 15 or 20 minutes, he started worrying that no one knew he was out there. At that point, he grabbed his cell phone and called “911.” 

Woman receives jail time for provoking police shooting

 LARAMIE (WNE) — A woman who was shot by police officers after a provocation in Vedauwoo last year was sentenced to 45 days in jail Thursday morning.

Deborah Hanson pleaded no contest to two counts of reckless endangering that stemmed from an incident on May 26. Judge Robert Castor sentenced Hanson to 45 days in jail, two years probation with a suspended sentence of two years jail time.

Her sentence also requires mental health counseling, and her jail term could be reduced pursuant to current counseling the woman’s already seeking.

At about 11 p.m. on May 26, Albany County Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Rosier and Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Rick Colling were dispatched after receiving a report of an intoxicated woman — Deborah Hanson — who was driving a pick-up to Vedauwoo and had a gun.

When Colling found Hanson’s pick-up, he initiated a traffic stop.

He approached the driver’s side door and found Hanson, who was holding a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol.

Hanson “continued to place the gun to her head, the side of her head, in her mouth, under her chin while standing on the roadway,” according to an affidavit from DCI special agent Len Propps.

After a standoff, Hanson pointed her loaded gun at both officers, who fired their weapons and struck the woman.

Both officers were placed on administrative leave after the shooting.

Despite receiving gunshot wounds to her shoulder, left arm, abdomen and right hand, Hanson lived. She tested positive for alcohol, THC, amphetamines and benzodiazepines.


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