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Wyoming News Briefs


November 28, 2019

Teen charged as adult for threats against schools

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A 15-year-old boy accused of making a bomb threat at Cheyenne schools had his preliminary hearing Friday afternoon in Laramie County Circuit Court.

Charles Reese Karn is being charged as an adult for allegedly making terroristic threats against several schools. The crime carries up to three years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Karn is being held in custody on a $5000 cash only bond.

Circuit Judge Denise Nau bound the case over to Laramie County District Court after finding there was probable cause for the charge.

During Friday’s preliminary hearing, Triumph High School Resource Officer Joseph Johnson testified he got a text message from a Triumph administrator at 8:41 a.m. Nov. 12 saying Karn had cut off his ankle monitor and left the school.

Later, a secretary at Triumph stated Karn called police after allegedly receiving a call from Karn in which he said he had bombs at Triumph, South High and Johnson Junior High.

During the phone call, he said he would be the next “Columbine shooter,” started to count down like he had a bomb detonator and said he would kill himself.

Officers responded to Johnson Junior High, where Karn was allegedly vandalizing faculty and staff vehicles in the school’s parking lot.

Johnson said Karn had admitted to officers that he had called in the bomb threat, and said he was “joking,” wanted to kill people and then said he just wanted to scare people.

Man convicted of mother’s murder

CASPER (WNE) — A Natrona County jury on Friday afternoon took 101 minutes to convict a man of murder for the February killing of his mother in her central Casper home. 

When a court clerk read the jury’s verdict at 5:15 p.m., Andrew Steplock, 28, put his right hand near his opposite wrist, rubbing the base of his left hand. He otherwise remained expressionless and largely motionless, as he had through the course of the five-day trial.

The audience of two dozen, including a mix of prosecutors, a public defender and family members, likewise remained silent while a court clerk read the verdict: guilty of felony murder. And guilty as well of second-degree murder, aggravated burglary and possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent. 

His lawyers did not contest a prosecution request to hold Steplock without bond in advance of sentencing, which due to his felony murder conviction will either be life imprisonment or life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The jury found for the purposes of that conviction that Steplock had both burglarized and attempted to burglarize his mother’s home on Feb. 26, when he shot and killed her. He drove a Toyota SUV to Colorado, where, he told detectives after his arrest, he had planned to live on the street. But police arrested him asleep in the SUV parked near a northern Colorado gas station. 

He confessed shortly after the arrest but eventually took the case to trial, where his court-appointed defense team acknowledged he shot and killed his mom.

Laramie teacher wins national math education award

LARAMIE (WNE) — Helen Ommen, a teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School, was recently honored with a national award for excellence in teaching elementary math.

Ommen, who teaches in the district’s Gifted and Talented Education program, also called the GATE program, received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching earlier this fall, along with a trip to Washington, D.C.

The award included a signed certificate from President Donald Trump and a $10,000 prize from the National Science Foundation.

The presidential awards recognize up to 108 teachers a year for their work in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science. The program was established by Congress in 1983.

Ommen, who has taught at Spring Creek for the last four years, said the rigorous application process required her to submit a video of herself teaching and answer questions about her own teaching practice and math theory. Applications were reviewed by teachers and scientists.

Ommen didn’t decide she wanted to be a teacher until after taking a graduate-level math class at the University of North Carolina. Up to that point, she was an engineering student who hated math.

“I had a couple professors who pushed us to embrace more problems that were open-ended and required making connections to lots of different types of math,” she said. “The language aspect of the class — math is a language that can describe the world around you — was really emphasized.”

After a “transformative” experience as a student, she started tutoring kids in math.

Attempted murder case bound over to district court

GILLETTE (WNE) — The woman accused of shooting her husband after he said he wanted to end their 30-plus year relationship had $5600 in cash on her when she was arrested by police Nov. 11, according to testimony in her preliminary hearing Thursday.

Paulette Iliff, 54, was bound over to District Court at the hearing after Circuit Judge Paul S. Phillips found probable cause to suspect her of attempted first-degree murder of her husband, Robert “Bobby” Iliff, and aggravated assault and battery against him when she pointed a gun at him Nov. 7.

She also had been seen throwing away documents near Powder River Dental after leaving the house and going to a friend’s house, where police arrested her, said Gillette Police Cpl. Dan Stroup.

Stroup testified Thursday that when police arrived at the house to arrest her, Paulette Iliff made the unsolicited comment that “she shouldn’t have shot her husband.”

Police knew she was at the house because the friend had called them shortly after Robert Iliff drove himself to the emergency room with a gunshot wound to the chest. The friend told police later that Paulette Iliff had called her to say she had shot her husband, and the friend told her to come to her house. When police arrived, Iliff had self-inflicted knife wounds on her neck and wrists, Stroup said.

Sheridan College to pursue 4-year degree

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Northern Wyoming Community College District Board President Walter Tribley announced that the college will pursue approval for an applied baccalaureate degree in management and leadership with an emphasis in either business or industrial technology at the NWCCD Board of Trustees’ November meeting.

Tribley submitted a draft resolution to the board and asked that they consider it at their Dec. 12 meeting. If the resolution is approved, the college will then begin developing the curriculum.

“Four-year degrees will float all boats in our state,” Tribley said. “They will help the University of Wyoming, they’ll help our citizens, they’ll help our business, and we have a real good opportunity to help the people in our district achieve.”

Should the Board of Trustees approve the resolution, the resolution will be forwarded to the Wyoming Community College Commission in February to request permission to seek the change from the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits the college.

“Mainly what they look at is the capacity of the institution,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Estella Castillo-Garrison said. “As an institution we want to be ready for our students in all of our advising and pathways [to the degree programs].”

The March 2019, legislation authorizing AB degrees at community colleges limits offerings to two degree programs per college.

Wyoming’s colleges will have to coordinate admissions, and especially transfer, processes to adapt to the changes.

Beet harvest halted with beets still in the ground

POWELL (WNE) — Western Sugar Cooperative has officially declared that any unharvested sugar beets will not be accepted. Last week’s announcement effectively ends the 2019 harvest — and means that all the sugar beets remaining in the ground will not be processed into sugar.

Western Sugar Board Vice Chairman Ric Rodriguez said that within the Lovell Factory District — which includes producers in the northern Big Horn Basin — 31 percent of this year’s planted acreage will not be harvested. 

Area growers were hit by freezing temperatures in October that damaged local crops. 

The cooperative made its first payment on the 2019 crop to growers and has notified growers that they can contact their insurance companies for claims on unharvested acres.

Western Sugar processes sugar beets from 850 growers in Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and Colorado. Those in other areas fared better: Rodriguez said Montana producers harvested 87 percent of their crops while Nebraska and Colorado producers harvested all but a few acres. 

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated on Nov. 3 that Wyoming’s sugar beet harvest was 70 percent complete, with producers harvesting 30,600 acres before the end of the year. That would represent a 100-acre drop from 2018.

Game and Fish Commission agrees to share grizzlies

CODY (WNE) — Although the action was neither confrontational, nor controversial, it was somewhat unusual. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission last week endorsed giving away grizzly bears if asked.

Just in case another state, the federal government, an international government or a Native American tribe requests a grizzly or so, the commission approved a process that could make it happen.

That is, as long as it does not impact local grizzly populations.

Scott Edberg, deputy chief of the wildlife division, made the request for philosophical support for the action called “translocation.”

This would basically be an amendment to existing statutes that allow for Wyoming to assist other entities if they wish to help reestablish wildlife in their historic ranges.

This specifically allows for the transfer of grizzlies.

The oddity here, in the timing at the meeting in Powell last week, is Wyoming does not currently have authority to manage grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

And it does not have the power to donate grizzlies on its own at the moment.

As one point of clarification to a commissioner’s question, Edberg said, “a live one.”

While the new regulation language the commission approved does indicate a willingness to assist other governments (perhaps for zoos, too), the last words in the paragraph read, “Any translocation of a grizzly bear outside of Wyoming while under Endangered Species Act protections must be approved and facilitated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Big Piney school installs vape detectors

BIG PINEY (WNE) — The school district installed new vape detectors at Big Piney High School earlier this month, District Superintendent Kevin Garvey reported to the board of trustees at its Nov. 19 meeting. 

The detectors are located inside all the bathrooms and some of the locker rooms at BPHS. 

Over the last two weeks, the machines detected vaping in the bathrooms four times. 

“I’m pleased to get so few positive hits (on the detectors),” Garvey said, but added that as vaping devices become smaller, students are possibly vaping outside the restrooms and locker rooms.

“The students are aware that the detectors are here,” Garvey added. “They really are designed to give the students a reason to say no.” 

If the detectors go off, administrators and student resource officers receive an immediate notification on their phones, Garvey explained. 

Any student caught vaping on school premises will “go through the proper disciplinary process,” Garvey said. Getting caught can also affect a student’s eligibility to play sports. 

Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, attended the board meeting and spoke about the vaping and education funding. 

Four bills meant to address the vaping problem in schools passed through the Joint Committee on Revenue after extensive hearings this fall in Pinedale, Sommers said. 

The students from Sublette and Lincoln counties that attended the meetings and testified deserve part of the credit for each bill’s passage through committee. 

“All the kids that showed up and testified are rock stars,” he said.

Wyoming this Weekend, Nov. 29-Dec. 1

By The Wyoming News Exchange

Wyoming’s towns are sparkling with Christmas celebrations this weekend. Many communities are launching downtown shopping promotions to encourage residents to do their Christmas shopping locally.

Shoppers in Rock Springs are encouraged wear something plaid on Plaid Friday, and the first 100 who stop by First Bank (the sponsor of the event) will receive a plaid shopping bag. The Christmas Gift Show in Bunning Hall features a variety of gift possibilities, and those who are lucky enough to spot a plaid rock somewhere downtown are eligible to win prizes. For more information, visit

Christmas tree lightings and Christmas parades top the list of this weekend’s festivities across the state, including the following.

On Friday evening: 

• The Pioneer Square Tree Lighting in Worland (;

• The Town Square Lighting in Jackson — to be attended by Santa himself (;

• The annual Christmas Stroll in Sheridan (

On Saturday evening:

• The Parade of Lights in downtown Newcastle (;

• Wheatland’s Parade of Lights, the theme of which is Christmas movies (; 

• The Christmas Stroll and Lighted Parade in Cody (; 

• Casper’s Downtown Christmas Parade evening ( and 

• The 29th Annual Cheyenne Christmas Parade (


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