From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Arrest made after threat to Hot Springs County health officer

THERMOPOLIS (WNE) – On Thursday, November 19, Hot Springs County Sheriff Jerimie Kraushaar received a call directly from County Health Officer Dr. Vernon Miller.

Miller informed the sheriff that he received a threatening message by voicemail and played the message for him. The recording was an adult male who allegedly intended to cause harm to Dr. Miller because of his health orders to the county mandating citizens wear masks.

Deputy Casey Freund went to Dr. Miller and recovered the voicemail audio. The county was able to call the person who left the message and did some investigation. They found out the person was Conner Fairbairn, 27, who admitted to leaving the message.

Fairbairn was a recent resident of Colorado who came to Wyoming because he wanted to be free from COVID regulations there.

Fairbairn was arrested with a charge of making terroristic threats. However, those charges were later downgraded to telephonic threats.

Judge Edward Luhm saw Fairbairn, gave him a bond, and Fairbairn posted bail at $2,000.

Extra patrol was given to Dr. Miller and his office was temporarily shut down.

In the voicemail, Fairbairn said he was afraid the orders would shut the area down for one to two more months.

His voicemail message is as follows: “Well, Dr. Miller, you got some nuts facing off this goddn town. You know one of these fing days you’re going to pay for this. One man deciding what an entire town does. Well, there was no vote and you’re not my fing representative. You SOB, you better watch yourself.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon tests positive for COVID-19

CHEYENNE (WNE) – Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has tested positive for COVID-19, his office announced in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

Gordon received his positive result earlier in the day Wednesday, and he currently has only minor symptoms and plans to continue working remotely, according to the release.

Gordon’s test result came a day after the governor’s office at the Wyoming State Capitol was closed for deep cleaning due to another office employee testing positive for COVID-19.

The announcement of the positive test means Gordon will have to quarantine, though it will not be his first time to do so in recent weeks.

In early November, the governor had to quarantine for 14 days due to a possible exposure during a meeting in Riverton attended by a White House coronavirus official. Multiple test results came back negative for Gordon following that potential exposure.

Peabody slashes health benefits for older retirees

GILLETTE (WNE) — In a cost-cutting move, Peabody Energy Corp. is slashing some health and life insurance benefits for retirees at the end of the year.

Retirees older than 65 have been notified that their health benefits will disappear after Dec. 31 and all retirees will have their life insurance terminated, according to a statement from the company.

The move is expected to save the company nearly $175 million and will ensure Peabody retirees younger than 65 who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare can maintain their coverage, the company said.

“The change in financial support is designed to maintain Peabody’s retiree medical subsidy where it is needed most — for retirees and spouses who are not yet age 65 and Medicare-eligible,” the statement said.

It’s the latest financial move for the nation’s largest coal producer in a challenging year. Peabody wrote down the value of its largest asset, the North Antelope Rochelle mine in Campbell County, by $1.42 billion earlier this year. And in its third-quarter filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Peabody reported that it could be heading toward a second bankruptcy since 2016.

Just how many Peabody retirees in Wyoming and overall are affected by the move wasn’t immediately known, but slashing retirement benefits isn’t new for PRB coal companies.

Alpha Natural Resources cut benefits during its 2015 bankruptcy and Cloud Peak Energy did the same in 2018 prior to filing for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2019.

Sheridan County school district affirms face covering requirement, denies petition from parents

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Parents who brought a petition before the Sheridan County School District 2 Board of Trustees asked the district during a special meeting of the board Tuesday to reconsider its COVID-19 protocols.

In particular, parents expressed concern for the district’s requirement that children have to wear masks all day, even during recess and physical education classes. Some noted their children come home with dirty masks, complaining of headaches and indicating they are struggling socially due to the inability to see their teachers’ and peers’ facial expressions.

In response, the district affirmed its face covering requirement and Smart Start plan and denied the exemption requested in the petition.

In total, school district officials said nearly 50 parents and other citizens signed the petition.

Carrie Sisson, a local attorney and one of the parents who signed, indicated the petition was not about masks in general, but rather about whether the children of the parents who signed it were specifically and individually exempt pursuant to the exemptions allowed in the public health order.

The Wyoming Department of Health’s guidance for educational facilities includes an exception for “children for whom a face covering may interfere with the ability to effectively participate in educational activities or may increase the risk of disease transmission because of increased hand to face contact,” but Sheridan County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hunter said that exemption is meant to be rare.

Dr. Suzanne Oss, a pediatrician in Sheridan, spoke to the efficacy of masks and said most research and most conversations she has had with students indicate masks are not preventing students from participating in education.

Fremont County commissioners talk about, dismiss mask mandate

RIVERTON (WNE) — Noting the strain on Wyoming hospitals due to COVID-19, county leaders discussed Tuesday the possibility of a mask mandate in government facilities.

The Fremont County Commission voiced an informal vote in which the potential mask order was dismissed 3-2.

Fremont County Commissioners Clarence Thomas and Mike Jones were in favor of the mandate. Commissioners Jennifer McCarty, Larry Allen, and Chairman Travis Becker spoke out against it.

Several elected officials spoke at the meeting as well – most stating that their current procedures were adequate.

“I don’t think it’s actually that big a deal to ask for masks,” said Jones.

However, the commissioner said, he is not ready to ask for a mask mandate county-wide.

“In our buildings, I don’t think it’s that big of an imposition – and we should do it where we can’t social-distance.”

Becker said in county buildings or out of them, he didn’t want to infringe on “personal responsibility.”

“I don’t believe a mask mandate is called for,” he said, adding that the county’s remote technology systems are progressing and that staff already are sanitizing, distancing, and doing business over the phone wherever possible.

Thomas, a COVID-19 survivor, said his faith in masks is due to none of his contacts getting the virus from him in the hours before he knew he was sick. Like Jones, Thomas said did not want to mandate facial coverings county-wide, but he said he did hope to see a mask order in county buildings.

Park County GOP asks for mask mandate repeal

CODY (WNE) — The Park County GOP is asking county public health officer Dr. Aaron Billin to rescind the county mask mandate.

The resolution comes on the heels of a statement from the state Republican Party Committee opposing Gov. Mark Gordon’s state of emergency regarding the coronavirus, which gives him power to enact statewide rules related to COVID-19.

“We believe this mandate is unacceptable, outrageous and most importantly unconstitutional in a constitutional representative republic,” the resolution reads in part. “In light of the resolution passed by the numerous county Republican parties, the combined resolution of the Wyoming Republican Party, and the unconstitutional circumvention of our elected officials by the state and Park County health officer, we call on Dr. Billin to rescind his order immediately.”

Billin’s mask order went into effect Nov. 18 and runs through Dec. 4. He explained the mandate to the county commissioners – none of whom objected – after sending it to the state for approval.

Billin defended his implementation of the mask mandate last week in a Facebook post.

“During this pandemic, I have done multiple computerized searches of the medical literature and have yet to find a credible study that suggests that masks don’t reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” he wrote.

The county GOP executive committee signed the letter, including chair Martin Kimmet, vice chair Bob Ferguson, treasurer Robin Berry, state committeeman Charles Cloud, state committeewoman Sherry Johnson and secretary Vincent Vanata.

In the letter, they accused Billin of going around the county’s elected officials to enact the mandate and said Billin had gone beyond the limit to personal actions he had explained on a radio show.

State showing signs of economic recovery

SUNDANCE (WNE) — The latest Wyoming Economic Indicators report hints that the state is making a slow but sure recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

Prepared by the Economics Analysis Division, the report shows that unemployment is dropping and the overall economic health of the state is rebounding from a deep low earlier this year.

The report combines four individual economic indicators to create an index that measures the overall health of Wyoming’s economy. These include the monthly unemployment and total non-farm employment rates and monthly sales and use tax collections from the mining sector and lodging.

As of November, the index value has climbed back up to 99.9 after increasing every month since May. This is driven largely by improvements in the unemployment rate, which is weighted to be the most important factor in the index.

After reaching 9.6% unemployment across the state in April, unemployment has dropped to a rate of 6.1% in November, according to the report. This is still higher than the unemployment rate a year ago, which the report records at 3.7% in September, 2019.

However, says the report, “These improved unemployment rates over the last several months are a bright sign that the recovery from the COVID-19 business shutdowns is continuing.”

Total non-farm payroll jobs in Wyoming are also once again on the rise, having climbed by 3400 since August and showing increases for five consecutive months. However, the total of 273,900 recorded in September is still 16,100 lower than one year ago.

Sales and use tax collections are still lower than usual, however. Collections from the mining sector in September were $7.9 million below those collected a year ago, while lodging tax has seen seven consecutive months of year-over-year declines.

Middle school turkey hunt raises more than $950 for local charity

POWELL (WNE) —There was a turkey hunt Friday at Powell Middle School. But the only danger faced by the “turkeys” in question was having a fun time.

The turkeys were really principal Kyle Rohrer and assistant principal Chanler Buck. They were sought around the building by school resource officer Matt Koritnik in a giant game of hide-and-seek.

Koritnik was assisted by “guide” Stan Hedges, who also uploaded the search live to social media.

The principals — err, turkeys — sneaked around the school, leaving paper tracks, colorful feathers and occasionally gobbling as they traveled.

But there was a serious purpose behind the game.

A school group, the Breakfast Club, decided it would be a good year to hold a fundraiser for Powell Valley Loaves and Fishes. The intent of the club is to welcome others, spread kindness and help students make connections in the school and community.

The Breakfast Club determined it wanted to raise money for those in need and came up with the turkey hunt idea.

If the students met the first rung goal, $25 raised school-wide, Rohrer would dress up like a turkey. If the second rung was met, $50, both Rohrer and Buck would sprout feathers. If the third goal, or $75 was met, then Koritnik would also dress up and pursue the principals. The principals’ hiding places and escape routes were selected by the homeroom class that raised the most money.

The amount raised as of Friday morning was $950.

“Since it was going to be Thanksgiving, and we knew there were people without food, we wanted to donate to Loaves and Fishes so everyone would have food,” said Isabelle Lobingier, an eighth-grade club member.

Hi-Way Bar shooter sentenced

GREYBULL (WNE) — The case regarding the 2019 Super Bowl Sunday shooting at the Hi-Way Bar and Cafe came to a close on Thursday, Nov. 18 with the sentencing of Michael Verry.

Verry was sentenced to a prison term of eight to 10 years to the amended charge of aggravated assault and battery.

He was also sentenced to eight to 10 years for another count of assault and battery, but that sentence was suspended in favor of 10 years supervised probation that will be served after his prison sentence.

He was also assessed a fine in the total amount of $10,000 ($5,000 per count) that was suspended by Big Horn County Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield.

On the night of Feb. 3, 2019, Verry pulled a pistol and shot at Justin Rollins, the owner of the Hi-Way Bar and Café, after Rollins informed him that he had too much to drink and offered to let him stay at one of the cabins.

Verry also drove around the drive-thru of the establishment and fired rounds at the wood above the window before driving away on Highway 31 toward Hyattville.

Big Horn County Sheriff’s deputies were initially unable to locate Verry. His overturned truck was eventually discovered by a passerby on Highway 31. Verry was airlifted to Billings and lost his arm due to the accident.

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