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Wyoming News Briefs

Driver booked for assault after hitting pedestrian with car

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A male pedestrian was transported to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center Thursday evening after a driver struck him with his vehicle. The victim is in custody, and the driver has been booked into the Laramie County jail on an assault charge.

Koby Rodriguez, 25, was arrested on the charge of aggravated assault with injury after an altercation at 5:40 p.m. Thursday.

Rodriguez told police that, after exiting Interstate 80, waiting at a light to turn onto North Greeley Highway, a man approached his vehicle and attempted to open his door handles. A press release by the Cheyenne Police Department said the man later walked away.

According to CPD’s release, Rodriguez allegedly maneuvered around traffic to strike the pedestrian, who was on the hood of his car. Police say Rodriguez drove recklessly to the intersection of North Greeley Highway and East Fox Farm Road, and the pedestrian later fell off the hood and into the roadway.

Rodriguez left the man in the road, but later returned to the scene, police say.

The Cheyenne Police Detective Bureau is still investigating the case. 

Missing hiker found dead in Winds

JACKSON (WNE) — Sublette County authorities on Thursday located the body of a hiker who had gone missing in the Wind River Range.

John Diepholz, a 64-year-old Minnesotan, was found dead at 11:30 a.m. near an unnamed lake above Spider Lake, according to Sgt. Travis Bingham, the public information officer for the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office. Bingham said Diepholz’s injuries were consistent with a fall.

“We don’t know exactly why he fell,” Bingham said. “He was there by himself. There were rock formations there and way up in the wilderness. There can be rock slides and rock beds, but he was not pinned under any rocks.”

Bingham was unsure how long Diepholz had been deceased when he was located by ground crews, who spotted him from afar via binoculars, about 15 miles from his starting point, the Elkhart Lake trailhead.

Authorities were notified that Diepholz was missing Monday afternoon, by his family who were expecting him to complete his journey Aug. 16. He started the journey a week and a half earlier, on Aug. 5. Search efforts began Tuesday after his car was located at the trailhead.

Bingham described Diepholz as an “avid hiker” who possessed experience and the proper gear.

One other fatality has been reported this summer in the Wind River Range. On July 4, a climber died after falling from Wolfs Head Mountain, a 12,165-foot peak in the southern Wind River Range. 

Bingham suggested that people document where they plan to go, their stops along the way and when they are going to be out. The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office accepts Wilderness Check-In Forms; these provide a road map for searches if something goes awry, Bingham said.

Two people killed in separate Interstate 80 crashes

CASPER (WNE) — Two people died recently in fatal commercial truck crashes in Sweetwater County, the Wyoming Highway Patrol reported. 

On Monday night at about 6 p.m., Safet Zornic was driving a Freightliner commercial truck in a single-lane construction zone on Interstate 80 near milepost 66 in Sweetwater County, the statement said. He failed to navigate a slight right-hand curve in the road and exited the road to the left before reentering the highway. The 56-year-old Idaho driver overcorrected to the left, which caused the truck to trip and slide on its passenger side. Zornic was not wearing a seatbelt at the time, according to the statement. 

Driver inattention and cell phone use are being considered as possible causes, it said. The weather was clear in the area, and the roads were dry. 

On Friday, Loren Brisco, a 54-year-old Michigan woman, was killed in a rollover crash on Interstate 80. Brisco was driving a tractor-trailer combination west near milepost 89 at the time, the statement said. The crash happened at 1:23 a.m. near Green River in Sweetwater County when Brisco was trying to take the exit into Green River but failed to navigate the right-hand curve. 

The semi-truck continued into the burrow ditch, so she overcorrected back to the right, which caused the truck to flip onto the driver’s side. Brisco was not wearing a seatbelt, and speed is being considered as a possible cause, the statement said. The roads were dry, and the weather was clear in the area. 

Zornic and Brisco were the 92nd and 93rd people to die on Wyoming’s roads in 2023. At the same time last year, there were 78 in 2022, 72 in 2021 and 79 in 2020.

Commercial flights to resume out of CYS early September

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Commercial flights out of Cheyenne Regional Airport are expected to resume on Sept. 10 as the 160-day renovation project for Runway 09-27 comes to an end.

The third and final phase of the $62 million project to reconstruct the 3600-foot runway began on April 1, which once again suspended all scheduled airline services with SkyWest, the regional carrier of United Express. 

Tim Bradshaw, director of aviation for Cheyenne Regional Airport, said he was confident the runway would be reopened to commercial flights by Sept. 10.

As the concrete of the newly redone runway cures, airport officials continue to test the tensile strength of the runway to be sure it will properly hold an aircraft.

The process is more complex than repaving a road, Bradshaw said, and the runway has to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s standards. Reconstruction of the runway included grooving the pavement and setting up lights along the outer edges. 

Despite a rainy summer, Bradshaw confirmed the wet weather has had no impact on the curing concrete.

The entire project of reconstructing Runway 09-27 was federally funded, paid for by the FAA, Wyoming Department of Transportation (using federal money) and the United States National Guard, according to Bradshaw.

The reconstruction of a “brand new, beautiful terminal and a brand new, beautiful runway” are hoped to entice new airline partnerships, said Wendy Volk, president of Cheyenne Regional Air Focus Team.

CRAFT is a 501(c)4 nonprofit entity with a mission to “improve air service” and increase travel choices and opportunities in the Cheyenne region.

Commercial flight services are now available for purchase from Cheyenne to Denver, and potential flyers can purchase their ticket through the United Airlines reservation website,

Michigan man in hot water with Yellowstone — but the water is murky

JACKSON (WNE) — Federal prosecutors have charged Jason D. Wicks, 49, of Hillman, Michigan, with two misdemeanors after he burned himself in a thermal feature in Yellowstone National Park.

But it’s not clear which thermal feature Wicks encountered — Grand Prismatic? Old Faithful? One of the 10,000 others in the park? — and what alleged misadventure he had with the feature.

It’s also not clear how badly burnt he is. The Jackson Hole Daily was unable to contact Wicks before press time Friday.

On Friday, Morgan Warthin, Yellowstone’s chief of public affairs, referred the Daily’s questions to Lori Hogan, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Hogan referred the Daily back to Warthin.

In response, Warthin sent a list of recent accidents involving thermal features, and declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation. She referred the Daily back to the U.S. Attorney.

Wicks was charged for off-trail travel in a thermal area, and being under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the degree that he was a danger to himself or others. The incident happened Tuesday, according to federal documents, and federal officials said in a press release that he was arraigned Wednesday in federal court. Wicks pleaded not guilty to both charges.

He is banned from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks until his case is resolved.

Man found in Burns killed ‘without premeditation,’ DA says

CHEYENNE (WNE) — The man found dead by Laramie County Sheriff ’s deputies last week near Burns was allegedly killed in a domestic dispute by his girlfriend’s son, court documents indicate.

Ashley Bartel, 42, was pronounced dead by a volunteer for Laramie County Fire District 6 in the early afternoon Wednesday. Deputies had been told the man who shot him was driving a red vehicle.

The alleged shooter, 25-year-old Tyler Hill, of Hillsdale, was found and apprehended by Pine Bluffs Police Department later that afternoon. Hill was booked into the Laramie County jail Wednesday afternoon on a charge of second-degree murder.

Bartel had been dating Hill’s mother, Rhonda Bryan, according to a probable cause statement made by Deputy Ryan Martinez, who responded to the incident.

Hill lived with his mother and Bartel on a property with two to three other people, deputies were told. Eyewitness accounts from the property’s owner and another neighbor, along with Bryan, gave deputies more information on what transpired Wednesday.

“Hill was demanding keys to a car from Bartel,” Martinez wrote. “The two of them argued for a short time prior to Hill saying, ‘You think I’m playing?’ Hill then shot a round into the ground from a black semi-automatic handgun that he had.”

“Bryan said Bartel and Hill pushed one another ‘three or four times,’” Martinez’s account read. “... Bryan pushed Hill’s arm ‘away,’ during which the gun went off and shot Bartel ‘in the face,’ near the right cheek.”

Hill reportedly said “Oh my god, oh my god, I didn’t mean to,” according to Bryan.

Bryan told deputies that Bartel and Hill had known each other since before she began dating Bartel, and that she didn’t know why Hill shot Bartel. Other witnesses who knew them also said they were unaware of why Hill would want to shoot Bartel.

Hill is set to appear in Laramie County Circuit Court on Friday for his initial appearance.

Money available for struggling homeowners

GILLETTE (WNE) — Homeowners struggling to keep up with mortgage or utility costs can find help through the Wyoming Homeowner Assistance Fund Program, a federal program that reimburses homeowners who financially qualify up to $17,000. They also must have experienced a COVID-related financial hardship, like losing a job.

Sonya VanNortrick, Council of Community Services program assistant, said the program is similar to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program that ended in June, except it works with homeowners rather than renters.

The one-time grant covers past due mortgage and utility payments, along with up to three months of forward mortgage payments and other housing-related bills like property taxes or homeowner association fees. VanNortrick said families or individuals qualify financially. Income eligibility does depend on how many people live in the home.

A COVID hardship includes a job loss, reduced hours or increased expenses, like hospitalizations or more child care costs that can be tied back to the pandemic.

Not all properties qualify for the help. VanNortrick said those that do qualify include those fixed to “real property,” where everything is permanently attached to the land. For instance, mobile homes that are rented and can be moved off the land would not qualify for the program.

VanNortrick said people can apply online but the application process is extensive. Those with questions or those who’d like some help scanning in proof of income, mortgage statements and bank information can make an appointment by calling the Council at 307-686-2730.

So far, VanNortrick said she hasn’t seen many come into the Council asking about the program. She doesn’t know if that’s due to a lack of public knowledge about the program or a lack of need but plans on helping who she can as they come in.

Nonprofit sees outpouring of donations for the unhoused

JACKSON (WNE) — An event last week at the Teton County Library to support people who don’t have housing went so well that a nonprofit had to stop accepting donations 90 minutes in.

After moving the event inside due to rain, the team of six was “buried in donations” hours ahead of their 6 p.m. end time, said Wren Fialka, founder of the Spread the Love Commission.

Around a dozen people received items they really needed, like sleeping bags, outerwear and shoes.

Fialka said most are living outside, and some are living in their vehicles. Aside from connecting people dealing with housing insecurity to crucial items — like cooking stoves, lanterns and headlamps — a big piece of Spread the Love’s mission is to get to know them to foster greater understanding of their experience and needs.

“Just being able to provide a safe space and a giving space for the people that came in that needed some outreach was really beautiful,” Fialka said.

Her organization collected 10 times as many items as at its first donation event July 23. The library has been partnering with the nonprofit for the events, dubbed “Love Your Neighbor” parties.

Fialka’s team now has more sleeping bags than it’s ever had. They are a “game changer” for people, she said. The positive attitudes of those receiving resources at Tuesday’s event and those giving them was truly touching, she said.

Other items collected will go out to folks in the next month or so, with some already available at the Jackson Police Department. Some items may be delivered to other communities.

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