NEWS BRIEFS for Friday, March 22, 2019

Capitol set for grand opening on Statehood Day

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A grand reopening of the renovated state Capitol is still on schedule to be part of Wyoming statehood celebrations July 10.

During a presentation to the Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group on Thursday, representatives from the project said the Capitol will be ready for the public to see what four years and $300 million can do to revitalize a nearly 130-year-old building.

The Statehood Day celebration will include live music and multiple historical presentations from Native American tribes and the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, O’Donnell said. The opening will also include a re-dedication of the cornerstone of the Capitol, a possible speech from Gov. Mark Gordon from the Capitol’s Roosevelt Balcony and a fireworks display.

Construction on the Capitol itself will be finished in time for the celebration, including work on the gold dome, O’Donnell said.

By April, the scaffolding that still surrounds the dome will start to come down as the final improvements are made.

But representatives from the Capitol Square Project said there will still be some final work on the Herschler West Building and in the new annex portion of the complex.

An update last year assumed the project wouldn’t have enough money to fit the Capitol with new furniture and audio/visual equipment, and a follow-up expenditure would have to be made. But on Thursday, members of the project said there was money for some new furniture and state-of-the-art A/V equipment, after all.

Those pieces won’t be ready for July 10, and instead will be installed throughout the fall and winter, in time for the Legislature’s 2020 budget session, set to start in February.



Two injured in oil rig explosion

GILLETTE (WNE) — Two men were taken to Campbell County Memorial Hospital after an explosion at an oil rig early Wednesday morning.

Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said the explosion happened during the loading of a hot oil tanker at a well site on Van Buggenum Road, southwest of the Pumpkin Buttes.

A 24-year-old man had burns to his face and hands from a direct blast. A 23-year-old man received the blast to his back and could not stop shaking after the explosion, Reynolds said.

Campbell County Fire Department Interim Chief J.R. Fox said that because the fire happened at an oil well location, the department does not have jurisdiction to investigate the cause and origin of the explosion.

Fox estimated that it took about four hours to deal with the fire. No firefighters were hurt responding, he said.

Both men were taken to the hospital and the extent of their injuries is not known at this time, Reynolds said.


WWCC ranked as best online community college in Wyoming

ROCK SPRINGS — Western Wyoming Community College was recently ranked by SR Education Group as the best online community college in Wyoming.

The rankings were posted on Wednesday afternoon. Each community college was ranked by several important factors, including retention rate, graduation rate, percentage of online enrollment data, and the number of online associate degrees offered. SR Education Group also provides a manually researched tuition based on the college’s website.

Besides Western, also ranked were Casper College, No. 2; Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, No. 3; Central Wyoming College in Riverton, No. 4; Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, No. 5; and Sheridan College, No. 6.

Western’s profile on the website reads:

“Multiple associate degrees and certificates are offered through Western Wyoming Community College’s distance learning program. All classwork can be done entirely online, with associate degrees averaging two years to complete.”

Western offers eight online associate degrees including associate of applied science in office information, associate of arts in criminal justice, associate of arts in social science, associate of arts in social work, associate of arts in sociology, associate of science in accounting, associate of science in business administration and associate of science in computer information systems.

In addition, Western offers four online certificate programs in accounting, digital design technologies, emergency management, and website development.

Out of the six colleges listed, two have an annual tuition above $3,000, WWCC at $7,344 and LCCC at $3,426


Prison recommended for man who served another’s sentence

GILLETTE (WNE) — A Gillette man who gave a fake name when he was arrested and then served that man’s jail time will do his own prison time if a judge follows the recommendation of prosecutors.

Hans J. Heller, 30, pleaded guilty March 6 to felony perjury and as part of a plea deal, prosecutors will recommend an imposed 2.5- to five-year prison term, but he can argue for a lesser sentence. 

The charges came after Heller was stopped Aug. 18 by a sheriff’s deputy and said his name was Scotty Knight. Since there was an active Campbell County warrant for Knight for failure to pay on a criminal trespass charge, Heller was arrested.

Even after the deputy told Heller about Knight’s active warrant, Heller continued the impersonation and went to jail, where he signed five documents with Knight’s name, according to court documents.

Two days later, he appeared before Circuit Court Judge Paul S. Phillips and swore under oath that he was Knight. Phillips, thinking he was Knight, sentenced him to two days in jail — which he had just served after the traffic stop — and reimposed fines for Knight’s criminal trespass charge. Heller was then released from jail as Knight.

A few days later, a deputy was looking through the list of inmates who had been recently released from jail when he noticed that the photo attached to Knight’s name wasn’t Knight, but was Heller, according to court documents. Deputies found and arrested Heller.

When he was pulled over, Heller was wanted on arrest warrants of this own, including interference with a peace officer, failure to comply with child support, failure to pay for driving under suspension and a municipal warrant, according to court documents.


New superintendent hired for State Hospital

EVANSTON (WNE) — The Wyoming State Hospital has a new superintendent. Bill Rein comes to Wyoming from Kansas. 

Rein grew up near Great Bend, Kansas, where his father worked in oil production. He graduated from high school in Stafford, Kansas, and went on to attend Washburn University in Topeka, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. He then attended Washburn Law School, and upon completion in 1977, practiced law in Larned, Kansas. 

One of the state’s four state psychiatric hospitals, and its only criminal forensic hospital was located there. As the newest attorney in town, Rein was appointed to represent many of the hospital’s patients. Rein has an extensive background working with both mental health patients and providers. 

“My career started with a mental health docket so, in 1978, I was asked to be the first in-house counsel at Larned State Hospital and served in that capacity until 1984. Then I was hired to represent the commissioner of Mental Health Services located in Topeka, where I also represented all eight mental health hospitals. I remained in that position until 1990,” Rein said. 

As senior counsel to the commissioner of mental health, Rein worked on changing the rules of commitment, as the law at that time placed almost exclusive emphasis on acts of violence and very little emphasis on the severity of mental illness and its effects on the ability to form rational thought. This made it especially difficult for the parents and loved ones of those who were experiencing a serious mental illness to help before acts of violence or self-injury occurred.