Wyoming News Briefs
April 29, 2021
Officials believe spark from maintenance caused rail car explosion
RIVERTON (WNE) — Officials believe they know what caused the spark that led to a fatal explosion Wednesday in a railcar in Shoshoni, but they still are investigating how the combustible fuel in the tanker reached such a high level.
The blast killed two men: Dallas Mitchell, 28, of Riverton, and Daniel Conway, 18, of Shoshoni.
The Wasatch Rail Repair employees were inside the tanker conducting routine maintenance when the explosion occurred at about 3:25 p.m. Wednesday.
Citing information from initial investigations, Shoshoni Police Department chief Chris Konija said the spark that ignited the explosion likely was produced by the work the men were doing in the tanker — using a grinder to remove paint and perform an ultrasound test checking the thickness and integrity of the welds of the vessel.
“The common practice is for a metal wheel to remove some of the paint so the test can be conducted against the metal,” Konija said. “That is believed to be what provided the spark, or source of the initial ignition.”
What remains unknown, Konija said, is how the gaseous concentration in the container reached a combustible density level.
“We’re trying to explain [that],” he said. “There are multiple theories of how that came to be, but we don’t have enough information at this time to make a determination of exactly why that level was present.”
The tanker involved in the Wednesday explosion most recently carried propane, Konija said, again citing information obtained in the initial investigation.
Hatchet threat yields prison sentence
CHEYENNE (WNE) — A man was sentenced to prison in Laramie County District Court for threatening another man with a hatchet and then stealing his car.
Clyde Julius Tyler Jr. pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault and battery (threatening with weapon) on April 22 before being sentenced by Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher to four to seven years of incarceration.
An additional charge, felony theft, was dismissed at sentencing as part of a plea agreement.
Froelicher said Tyler’s criminal history was extensive, though relatively nonviolent, which led him to determine that probation was not appropriate.
At 8:29 p.m. Jan. 18, a Laramie County Sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of a stolen vehicle involving a hatchet, according to court documents. A man told the deputy Tyler had threatened him with a hatchet and demanded he hand over the keys to his Jeep.
Tyler was arrested Jan. 24 on unrelated misdemeanor warrants, according to court documents. The Jeep was later located, with a hatchet lying on the passenger seat.
Torrington police investigate murder
TORRINGTON (WNE) — The Torrington Police Department (TPD), Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and Goshen County Coroner are currently investigating a homicide, arson, and vehicle theft that were reported Tuesday morning, April 20.
According to a press release from Torrington Police Chief Matt Johnson, “our Communications Center was made aware of a fire in the 300 block of East Valley Road in Torrington” on the morning of April 20.
After the Torrington Volunteer Fire Department (TVFD) had arrived on scene and began working to battle the blaze, officers were made aware of suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident.
As a result of the information received, the fire is being investigated as a suspected arson.
The release continues, “Officers conducted a follow-up investigation based on the information that was received, and a deceased person was ultimately located in the 1300 block of East 17th Avenue in Torrington. The death is suspicious in nature and is being investigated as a suspected homicide at this time.”
Officers were made aware of a reported stolen vehicle in the 1700 block of East C Street while they were investigating the suspected homicide.
“All of these incidents are believed to be related and the crimes are associated with a single suspect,” Johnson said.
Sean Pettus, a 32-year-old male and owner of BadDreams&Robots tattoo parlor in Torrington, has been identified as the suspect in the matter.
He was arrested Tuesday morning, April 20 and is being detained at the Goshen County Detention Center without bail.
Arch on track to pull out of Powder River Basin coal
GILLETTE (WNE) — An accelerated plan to exit the Powder River Basin continues for Arch Resources Inc., which reported Thursday that it’s on pace to stop producing coal from its Coal Creek mine by the end of the year and to account for about 80% of its reclamation obligations at the mine by mid-2022.
“We are methodically harvesting value and cash from our legacy thermal assets while working down our long-term closure obligations in a systematic and measured way,” said Arch CEO Paul A. Lang in a 2021 first-quarter earnings report released Thursday morning.
The company already has completed $8 million worth of work in reducing Coal Creek’s retirement obligations along with $2 million for its flagship Black Thunder mine near Wright.
Overall, Arch reports a net loss of $6 million for the first quarter of the year, compared to losing $78.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 and $344.6 million overall in 2020.
After a sluggish start to the new year in January and February, mostly fueled by a continuing lag from the COVID-19 pandemic, Lang said the company had a very good March and is optimistic for that to continue into the summer.
He also said that while the PRB mines continue to show a profit, at 98 cents per ton in the first quarter, the company remains committed to extracting itself from thermal coal and the Powder River Basin.
Woman still faces charges in toddler’s death
CODY (WNE) — Carolyn Aune is still being charged with first-degree murder despite some ambiguity surrounding her role in the death of a 2-year-old partly in her care. Her case was bound over to district court.
The decision to keep the charge came after a more than two hour back-and-forth discussion in Judge Bruce Waters’ circuit court on Thursday morning. Although Waters said there is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence present in the case, the fact that a young child died while in Aune’s care was enough to sway him. Under Wyoming law, anyone who perpetrates child abuse against someone 16-years-old or younger that results in their death can be charged with first-degree murder, whether they intended to kill the child or not.
“As far as who actually inflicted the injury or injuries to the child, the state doesn’t know that, but we do have the responsible party of the child,” Waters said. “The court does find that probable cause exists, but Aune’s involvement in that crime is an issue.”
The state is prosecuting Aune and Moshe Williams jointly for their alleged roles in the death of Williams’ daughter, Paisleigh Williams, 2.
Thursday’s discussion centered on whether the state must know if it was Aune or Moshe Williams who caused the physical harm.
“If the state wants to say they don’t have to prove who did it, they have to prove whether it was intentional or reckless,” said Travis Smith, Aune’s public defender attorney said. “They can’t prove by probable cause the predicate (child abuse) offense.”
Greybull man killed in crash
POWELL (WNE) — A 73-year-old Greybull man died last week, after he lost control of his vehicle on a snowy road and crashed into a truck.
Alvaro Serna Zamudio had been traveling north on U.S. Highway 20, north of Worland, when the crash occurred. Troopers were dispatched to the scene at 10:25 a.m. on April 19.
The Wyoming Highway Patrol said Serna Zamudio had been negotiating a left-hand curve when his 2001 Buick LeSabre crossed into the southbound lane. It collided with a 2016 Volvo Conventional commercial truck.
Serna Zamudio, who was not wearing a seatbelt, succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash, the patrol said.
The driver of the Volvo commercial truck has been identified as 68-year-old Alberta, Canada, resident Eugene G. Klein. Klein was wearing his seatbelt and not injured.
Serna Zamudio’s speed is being investigated as a potential contributing factor to the crash.
It was the 26th fatality on Wyoming’s roadways in 2021, compared to 22 at the same point in 2020 and 45 in 2019.
Budget cuts close Gillette group home
GILLETTE (WNE) — The Greenhouse Group Home will no longer house residents beginning July 1 as a result of statewide budget cuts that reduced funding for behavioral health programs throughout the state.
The six-bed group home in Gillette, operated in partnership between the Council of Community Services and Campbell County Health, will relocate its residents and lay off its seven full-time workers by the start of July, said Mikel Scott, executive director of the Council of Community Services.
As part of a more than $15 million cut from the Wyoming Department of Health’s Behavioral Health Division, CCH had about $800,000 cut from its Behavioral Health Services Community Mental Health Center Grant for fiscal year 2022.
The Greenhouse Group Home’s funding was slashed by more than half with the cuts, forcing it to close and prompting both organizations to evaluate other uses for the Greenhouse facility, according to a CCH press release.
CCH has subcontracted the Council of Community Services to run the group home for the past 15 years. The home has given housing and stability to adults experiencing mental illness and homelessness with the goal of transitioning them into the community.
Both organizations sought solutions to keep the group home open in some capacity, but could not find a feasible way given the cut in state money, Scott said.