NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, March 3, 2019

Student pleads not guilty to attempted murder charges

GILLETTE (WNE) — Dale Warner’s voice grew fainter Friday afternoon as the eighth-grader pleaded not guilty to nine counts of attempted first-degree murder in Gillette.

The 14-year-old boy is accused of bringing two guns and 36 bullets to Sage Valley Junior High School with a plan to shoot nine teachers and students identified as people he wanted to target or who were in the classroom where he intended to shoot them Nov. 13.

He was later disarmed by the school principal and arrested by the Gillette Police Department.

Charged as an adult, Warner repeated “not guilty” nine times in his arraignment as District Court Judge Michael N. “Nick” Deegan asked him to plead to each of the nine counts.

Warner wore a lime-green Juvenile Detention Center outfit and was handcuffed throughout the proceeding, including when Deegan asked Warner to raise his right hand as high as he could to take his oath.

Warner smiled at his parents and family sitting in the front row of the courtroom as he was led into it by bailiffs at about 4:15 p.m. Friday.

It took just 15 minutes for Deegan to explain the charges, make sure Warner understood the charges and to ask for his pleas. Deegan said Jefferson Coombs of the Gillette Public Defender’s Office and Diane M. Lozano, the state public defender representing Warner, and Campbell County Attorney Ron Wirthwein and Deputy County Attorney Nathan Henkes will meet with him later in a pre-trial conference. They’ll schedule his trial at that time.

Deegan also continued Warner’s cash-only bond of $275,000.

Man arrested after plow hits mystery case pleads not guilty

RAWLINS (WNE) – Facing a multitude of drug charges, which includes possession of marijuana, ecstasy, and hallucinogenic mushrooms, with intent to deliver, an Ohio man pleaded not guilty on Monday in Carbon County District Court.

Cory Aldo Baxter, 36, along with two other suspects, who face similar charges, were caught by authorities on Jan. 31 through a fortuitous string of events.

According to court records, a Wyoming Department of Transportation plow driver was working on U.S. Interstate 80 eastbound near mile marker 252 when he reportedly struck a black case. Upon closer inspection, the plow driver observed money literally blowing in the air.

It was later discovered by authorities that the contents of the case turned out to be $53,844.

The same day the money was discovered, a WYDOT supervisor was contacted by Baxter and his fellow travelers, who inquired about the missing case.

At this point, Baxter was instructed to retrieve the case at the WYDOT facility in Elk Mountain. There, the suspects encountered troopers with the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

During questioning about the validity of the currency, authorities noticed a strong odor of marijuana coming from their vehicle. This warranted a subsequent search, according to court records.

Items seized during the search included six large duffle bags containing 81 plastic bags of suspected marijuana, one large duffle bag containing approximately 259 vials of liquid THC, along with additional vials of THC, two baggies with suspected psilocybin mushrooms, and one vitamin jar with capsules of a light brown substance, including an additional baggie with the same substance, which proved to be MDMA or ‘Ecstasy.”


Cheyenne Animal Shelter CEO hopes to restore public trust

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Nearly six months after a pepper-spraying incident at the Cheyenne Animal Shelter prompted former CEO Bob Fecht to resign, the shelter's new leader wants to restore public trust.

Don Kremer, a longtime animal control officer at the shelter, assumed his new role Feb. 11. He says he's ready to work with his toughest critics to make much-needed improvements.

He succeeds Fecht, who resigned last year after asking animal control officers to pepper spray a dog named Tanner the day after it bit an employee. This sparked public outrage and resulted in an independent audit of shelter policies, a new crisis management plan and a demand for increased transparency.

Board members hired Kremer after posting on national job boards in search of a new CEO. Board President Tammy Maas said he earned the staff's trust and demonstrated strong leadership skills during his time as an animal control officer.

Kremer said he believes decades in both law enforcement and ministry prepared him for the job. A former Lander police officer, he has worked undercover and with a tactical response team in the state.

He's now a pastor at Sun Valley Community Church in Cheyenne and the author of two books indicating how to prepare for events described in the Book of Revelation.

The shelter's interview process was nearly six hours long, he said. He met with staff, management and board members who asked about his vision moving forward.

His top priorities are public transparency and tackling audit suggestions.

"We're creating a citizens review committee for an objective standing report," he said.

Legislators don’t give extra dollars to towns

CASPER (WNE) — The legislative session wrapped up last week, and local governments aren’t walking away with the additional direct distribution money that officials were hoping for. 

“Unfortunately, there was no additional direct distribution dollars provided by the Legislature in the supplemental budget,” said Rick Kaysen, executive director for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities. The association advocates for local governments at the state and federal level. 

Direct distribution is a seemingly never-ending issue in Wyoming. The state does not grant cities or towns independent taxing authority, which leaves its municipalities largely dependent on direct distribution funding from the state. 

Given Wyoming’s boom-or-bust economy, local leaders often wonder each state budget cycle how much money they will receive. Direct distribution money tends to wildly fluctuate: The state Legislature has doled out under $100 million in tight times — or as much as $175 million when the economy is strong. 

“It’s very difficult to do long-term planning when there’s uncertainty on whether the dollars will be there or not,” Kaysen has said. 

Last year’s biannual budget included $105 million for direct distribution, but the association was hoping to secure more money this year. 

“We asked for consideration of $25 million to be distributed among the 99 municipalities and 23 counties,” said Kaysen. “But there was no consideration.”

Attempts to give local governments more financial independence were also shot down. 

“There were bills that came forward about local authority and taxation but none of those bills moved forward,” Kaysen said. 

Ordinance would make mouthwash, sanitizer ‘illegal intoxicants’

RIVERTON (WNE) — Mouthwash and hand sanitizer will be illegal intoxicants in Riverton if a new ordinance proposal becomes law.

The Riverton City Council approved the idea on first reading during a regular meeting Feb. 19. 

Council members will have to approve of the measure two more times before it is incorporated into the Riverton Municipal Code.

The ordinance includes mouthwash, hand sanitizer, extracts and “other similar substances” as items considered unlawful to use as intoxicants in the city of Riverton. 

Other items noted include paint thinner, gasoline, nail polish remover, glue, spray paint, deodorant, hair products, cooking products, fabric protectors, butane and “any toxic substance that is not manufactured for human consumption or inhalation.”

In a memo to the council, city administrator Tony Tolstedt said Wyoming State Statute was used as a “basis” for the ordinance proposal, but the phrase specifying mouthwash and hand sanitizer was added locally. 

He said the ordinance would “start closing some of those loopholes that aid in the public intoxication problem we’ve been combating.” 

It already is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a public place, but there are no rules barring open containers of mouthwash or hand sanitizer that are being used as intoxicants.

Violation of the rule would be punishable by up to six months in prison, a $750 fine, or both. 

The ordinance proposal came from the city’s Solutions Committee, which was formed to combat issues of substance abuse and public intoxication locally.