Dec 31, 2012 - From staff reportsThe bizarre, ongoing saga of a crime in Hudson that started as a simple burglary and ended up a murder conspiracy has been voted the top Fremont County news story of 2012.
Voting was completed Friday by the news staffs of The Ranger, the Lander Journal and the Wind River News. Nine voters contributed to today's top-story balloting.
No. 2 on the list was the return of drought to Fremont County and the accompanying wildfires, regulations and agricultural concerns.
Voters considered a ballot of 32 contenders for the top 10, with the option of adding to the list if they chose to. The Hudson homicides got four first-place votes, a second and a fourth. It was listed on every ballot, as was drought and the third-place story, the 2012 election in Fremont County in all its facets.
In fourth position were the varied and complicated issues dealing with solid waste disposal in Fremont County, followed by the dual crises in the Central Wyoming College athletics department that cost one coach his job and another team all its victories for the past three seasons.
Completing the top 10 were the continuing examination and controversy over hydraulic fracturing and its possible impact on the water supply around Pavillion; the struggle by Fremont County school districts to comply with the state-mandated classroom ration of 16 students per one classroom teacher; the homicide trial of a man whose truck struck and killed an 11-year-old girl at Crowheart; further developments in the huge drug-dealing ring that began in 2011, dubbed Operation Angry Sun; and the record-tying number of suicides in Fremont County that could well end up as a new record once some continuing investigations are wrapped up early in 2013.
Of the 32 nominees, 23 got at least one vote for the top 10 list. Four different stories received at least one first-place vote -- the Hudson homicides, the election, the CWC sports trouble, and the Crowheart vehicular homicide trial.
1. HUDSON HOMICIDES -- When Fremont County residents first learned of the Nov. 17, 2011 house fire in Hudson, authorities were tight-lipped about the two bodies discovered inside the charred trailer and at first thought the blaze to be accidental.
It wasn't until January that police publicly announced their investigation was being treated as an arson, thus making the deaths of Eric Clinton Likes, 42, and his girlfriend, Elva Charlotte Quiver, 20, homicides.
Despite the revelation, law enforcement continued their silence about the case until the first arrest in March.
A blood-spotted cigarette lighter found in the alley near the trailer house Likes was renting, and blood found in Likes's vehicle, eventually led detectives to a 19-year-old Ethete teen.
Evidence found at Laziur Stephen Hanway Jr.'s residence on 17 Mile Road also solidified him as a suspect.
But the community soon learned Hanway Jr.'s March 8 arrest was just the beginning.
A few days later, police captured the teen's sister, Samantha June Hanway, 20, of Ethete, and her husband, Joseph Jude Jenkins, 20, of Arapahoe.
Another two days later, two more suspects were arrested for the murders -- Jude Blackburn, 15, and Ryan Blake Hanway (Myers), 22, both of Riverton.
Details about the crimes continued to be revealed in court hearings and charging documents, including that it all started with a robbery plot because Jenkins and a pregnant Samantha Hanway were facing eviction.
It's believed some of the suspects staked out the trailer house on or around Nov. 13, 2011. Two days later, part of the group returned to the scene, brutally killed the couple and robbed them, investigators believe.
When the bodies went undiscovered, three of the suspects are alleged to have returned to the scene and set the trailer house ablaze.
Samantha Hanway, her cousin Ryan Hanway and her husband Jenkins have since taken plea deals for their parts in the crimes and will sentenced some time next year.
Blackburn's attorneys argued unsuccessfully that their client's case be handled in juvenile court, and the case has since gone to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
As for Laziur Hanway Jr., the first arrested for the murders, he is set for trial in May. His attorneys are in the process of seeking a change of venue and are trying to get some of his statements made to police suppressed.
2. DROUGHT WORRIES -- Fremont County had been anything but dry in 2010 and 2011, when heavy mountain snowpack and perfectly timed warm weather sent rivers and streams over their banks in alarming and unforgettable fashion. That seemed a distant memory in 2012, however, when record-breaking warmth for much of the winter kept snowfall low while simultaneously starting the spring runoff far earlier than usual -- such as it was.
Irrigators, meteorologists and county elected officials recognized the problem early, and voluntary water restrictions were put in place almost immediately once the irrigation season began. The water cutbacks included municipalities as well, and recreationists were hampered all summer long by widespread bans on open fires due to harsh, dry conditions in the mountains and other rural areas. Fireworks also were banned in many places, and neither Lander's traditional Pioneer Days fireworks for the Fourth of July nor Riverton's big display to close the Little League baseball season were permitted.
Those measures weren't enough to stop a long wildfire season from raging in the county. First came the Bear Cub Fire which charred about 10,00 acres in rugged remote territory above Dubois, followed by the Alpine Lake fire near Bull Lake which was allowed to burn in its early stages. By the time firefighters attacked it, the blaze had grown beyond early predictions and could not be extinguished.
The fire grew to more than 50,000 acres and filled much of the Wind River Basin with smoke for days on end, with the Riverton Valley particularly hard hit.
As the dry weather continued, the fire burned into the fall before some late-September precipitation slowed it. It finally was declared out in October, when the recreational fire ban also was lifted.
Irrigators made out well enough thanks to measured use of irrigation water through the regulated irrigation districts, but many growers felt stressed. Although the season was dry, it was not particularly hot, which helped ease the strain.
Early snowfall in the Wind River drainage basin has been at or slightly above average so far this fall and winter, giving residents optimism for an easing of the water situation in 2013.
3. ELECTION -- As Fremont County geared up for the 2012 primary and general elections, ongoing difficulties with new Fremont County Commission districts occupied election planners, and legislative districts also faced revision due to the 2010 census. Occurring simultaneously were attempts to receive permission for the courts to redraw certain commission district boundaries just two years after the districts were instituted by court order for the first time. Eventually, the commissioner district represented by Pat Hickerson was redrawn, and Hickerson agreed to run in a special election in 2012 for a two-year term so that commission voting would be staggered in two-year increments.
Meanwhile, the Wyoming House district represented by first-term Republican Rita Campbell was redrawn extensively, removing Shoshoni from Fremont County representation after more than 100 years and reinstating Dubois to an all-Fremont County district after more than 20 years of being part of a majority Teton County district.
The county district difficulty surfaced dramatically after the Aug. 21 primary. Incumbent Republican Commissioner Dennis Christensen bested challenger Larry Allen on primary day by 20 votes, but a voting irregularity concerning the Big Bend voting precinct emerged when it was determined that 30 voters there should not have voted in Commission District 2 because they were no longer residents of that district after reconfiguration.
Election officials decided to rerun the election in District 2, minus Big Bend, but also ruled that two other challengers, Tim Salazar and Richard Denke, could not run in the second election, leaving only Christensen and Allen on the second ballot.
The revote was conducted by mail, and Allen emerged victorious the second time around in the head-to-head race with Christensen, winning by 377 votes. With no Democrat on the ballot, he cruised to victory in the November general election as well.
In Lander, City Councilman John Boulette finished behind two primary election challengers and did not advance to the general election. Dan Hahn defeated Sollie Cadman in the general. In Riverton, longtime City Councilwoman Diana Mahoney won her primary against Jonathan Faubion but later dropped out before the general election, leaving the seat for Faubion to claim in November.
With Christensen already eliminated in the primary, Commissioners Hickerson and Doug Thompson faced tough primary challenges as well but survived to advance to the general. Thompson, the Jeffrey City rancher seeking a fourth term, held off Jenny McCarty in Nov. 6 vote, but independent Stephanie Kessler of Lander defeated Hickerson, leaving the board with two new commissioners when it convenes in January. Incumbent Travis Becker of Riverton joins Thompson and Democrat Keja Whiteman as the incumbents set to welcome Kessler and Allen.
Del McOmie, a fixture in Fremont County politics since the 1970s, announced that he would retire from the Wyoming House of Representatives. A spirited race emerged to replace the 76-year-old former Lander mayor. Bruce Palmer won the Democratic primary, and Lloyd Larsen the Republican, with Larsen winning in November. He'll represent House District 54 in the only change in the county delegation. In the newly redrawn House District 28 that now includes Shoshoni, Nathan Winter of Thermopolis was elected.
4. SOLID WASTE -- Issues concerning the Fremont County Solid Waste Disposal District were in the news all hear. In January, district board member and vice chairman Dale Groutage quit after failing to be elected chairman.
During his final months on the board, Groutage strongly pushed for manning the county's several trash transfer stations and other changes to collect fees at the sites.
In June, the district's board implemented changes at most trash transfer stations in the county as a financial move that resulted in a rotation system with limited hours at two to three days a month compared to their former 24-7 availability.
The district also fenced and staffed and the stations earlier in an effort to control illegal dumping and to collect disposal fees, which previously were paid voluntarily.
The cut in operation ho
Many rural users of the transfer stations objected strenuously, citing factors ranging from sanitation to crime to negative business impacts. Complaints were particularly strong in the Atlantic City area.
The new hours and fee schedule also sparked concerns about illegal dumping at some of the more rural transfer stations. Less than two weeks after service hours were limited, two trash transfer stations were targets of criminal activity.
Despite concerns about public perception, the district's board in August agreed on salary adjustments to the tune of $164,000 annually. The board in December also agreed to pay $11,456 in safety bonuses for employees.
In response to citizen input, the board in October modified schedules to allow each of the county's seven transfer stations to have operation hours on one set day each week. The schedule will be used through December 2013.
Officials in November learned usage at transfer stations continue to grow. More good news followed in December when the district and tribes finally reached a temporary solution concerning waste management on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Worries tied to the Wind River Indian Reservation developed separately. The district voted in June to start a six-month termination notice on its trash disposal agreement with the tribes, which sparked conversations of potential litigation. The contract, set in 1996, was set to expire Dec. 14.
But four days prior to the deadline date, the board approved a six-month contract with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Superintendent Andy Frey said officials would use the next half-year to come up with long-term solutions.
5. CWC SPORTS CRISES -- In October 2012, the women's volleyball and men's basketball programs at Central Wyoming College both made front-page news.
First, CWC men's basketball coach Curtis Condie was put on leave from the team effective Oct. 10 -- just days after practice began Oct. 1. The leave was set to last one week, but by Oct. 25, Condie still had not returned to work at CWC, and on Oct. 29 administrators announced that Condie had "separated" from the college staff.
CWC does not comment on personnel issues, and President Jo Anne McFarland did not answer questions about any basketball players' involvement in the separation.
Condie, who was hired in June 2011, said he wishes nothing but the best for CWC and its men's basketball players. He was replaced by Shelby Lindley, who was hired in the fall as an assistant coach for CWC.
In the midst of Condie's separation process, administrators discovered that the CWC women's volleyball team had used one ineligible player during the 2010-2011 school year and another, separate ineligible player during the 2011-2012 school year.
As a result, the team had to forfeit all of its victories for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 volleyball seasons. The Rustlers also were placed on probation for the 2012-13 academic year and were not permitted to play in this year's Region IX volleyball tournament.
The discovery was made Oct. 24, at which point the team already had won 19 matches for the 2012 season and was ranked No. 16 in the new junior college volleyball poll. Last season, the team won 25 matches, and in 2010 the Rustlers tallied 19 victories.
In November, one of the two volleyball players who were determined to be ineligible wrote a letter apologizing for her mistake. Brazilian athlete Leticia Guimaraes said CWC staff did not know that she had competed professionally in the Brazilian Volleyball Superleague before she moved to the United States.
The BVS is not recognized by the National Junior College Athletic Association, and Guimaraes said a Brazilian sports agent advised her not to tell anyone about her involvement in the league.
"I thought it could be bad only for me," Guimaraes wrote. "I am truly sorry for the consequences of my wrong decision. ... I hope that CWC volleyball team (will) keep being respected and loved by CWC community."
CWC officials said they would work with athletic personnel to strengthen procedures and practices when it comes to student athletes, especially those who move to the U.S. to compete.
6. FRACKING CONTROVERSY -- Groundwater contaminated by petroleum and natural gas has been an issue in the Pavillion area for a century, but in recent years some residents in and around the smallest Fremont County municipality have come to feel that the problems with groundwater and drinking water wells have been made worse by the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" used in the exploration for gas. Others said the concerns were overblown. Energy giant Encana denied that its exploration practices had damaged the water but also agreed to supply rural Pavillion residents with a cleaner water supply trucked to the area regularly.
Gov. Matt Mead hosted a meeting in Riverton to hear landowner concerns in February, when the opinions expressed by Pavillion area residents were mixed. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report in 2011 cited a possible link between water quality in the area and the practice of hydraulic fracturing, but no conclusions had been reached.
Some residents said the reputation of the Town of Pavillion itself, whose municipal water system was not affected, had suffered from the sometimes nationwide coverage of fracking around Pavillion, and others expressed worries about both water quality and falling property values.
Later in the month, Gov. Mead and State Sen. Eli Bebout of Riverton said they were ready to approach the Wyoming Legislature to seek initial funding to help deliver clean water to some homes east of Pavillion. A bill doing exactly that was signed buy the governor in March, allocating $750,000 in funding for installing cisterns at homes east of Pavillion affected by poor water quality.
The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes entered the fray later in March, partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state to conduct further groundwater testing east of Pavillion.
Other concerns centered on possible air quality problems tied to the contamination, but an air monitoring station in an area several miles east of Pavillion did not reveal pollution levels exceeding federal standards, according to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
State government officials were back in Pavillion in June, offering to install a cistern water system paid for and installed using State of Wyoming funds. Few residents accepted the offer initially, but about a dozen had enlisted in the state-funded cistern program by the Aug. 15 deadline.
Encana, meanwhile, said it would use hydraulic fracturing when it begins development at its properties in Fremont County near Moneta. "It's the only way the industry knows how to do it," said Encana community relations advisor Randy Teeuwen.
7. 16:1 CLASSROOM RATIO -- School districts throughout Fremont County struggled in 2012 to comply with a new state mandate requiring a 16:1 student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grades.
In Riverton, efforts began in February, when school officials decided to move all local third graders to Rendezvous Elementary School with the fourth and fifth grades.
Rendezvous became the largest elementary school in Wyoming, with 751 students this year compared to 374 in 2011. In the kindergarten through second-grade classrooms, teachers said they were thankful for smaller class sizes that made the learning process more effective.
The increase in students at Rendezvous required that changes be made to the school building, which was equipped with new walls, carpets and electronics during the summer of 2012. The school's old locker and shower rooms were renovated to make room for storage, offices and small classrooms, and two structures that previously were used for storage behind the building were converted into computer labs.
Administrators said they also hired 13 new teachers during the past year in an attempt to bring Riverton's K-3 ratio down from 25:1 -- the highest in the state. The new hires led to a tighter budget for the district in 2012, but the student-teacher ratio was down to 20:1.
In April, the state granted 20 districts, including Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton and Fremont County School District 24 in Shoshoni, waivers exempting them from the 16:1 ratio mandate for the 2012-2013 school year.
The Riverton district has applied to the Wyoming School Facilities Commission for one, possibly two, new school buildings to create adequate classroom space to meet the mandated 16:1 ratio. School officials have met with architects and legislators to discuss the lack of space in Riverton facilities, and in the fall of 2012, District 25 purchased almost two acres of land north of Jackson and Rendezvous elementary schools that could be the site of a new school in the future. For this year, the land will be used to help mitigate traffic problems due to the increase in enrollment at Rendezvous this year.
In Lander, the 16:1 ratio mandate has caused many headaches for School District 1's new Gannett Peak Elementary School now under construction.
When work first started on the future kindergarten through third-grade facility, classrooms were being built to accommodate 19 pupils. However, the Legislature in the midst of construction passed the 16:1 ratio rule and continues to deny Lander's request for funds to build the additional needed classrooms.
After considering 10 options suggested to handle the space shortage situation, the Board of Trustees on Dec. 18 agreed to seek a waiver from the state concerning the mandate if class sizes exceed 16 students when the new school opens next fall.
8. BARNES TRIAL -- A high-profile trial in November ended with a jury rendering a not-guilty verdict on the primary accusation against the man charged as the driver who struck and killed an 11-year-old girl while she crossed the highway to her Crowheart home after exiting a school bus a few days before Christmas last year.
After nearly a week of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, William Dean Barnes of Lander was found innocent of aggravated vehicular homicide stemming from the Dec. 20, 2011 crash east of Crowheart on Highway 26.
Barnes, who was 52 years old at the time of the fatal collision, also was found not guilty of misdemeanor exercise of due care by drivers.
He was found guilty of the misdemeanors homicide by vehicle, maximum speed/too fast for conditions, and passing a stopped school bus with flashing red lights.
Barnes is set for sentencing in late January.
There wasn't a day during the trial the courtroom in Lander wasn't full of supporters for both Barnes and the victim. Testimony included the girl's father, a former Fremont County Sheriff's deputy who was the first on scene, and the bus driver.
But it was Barnes's 90 minutes on the stand that brought in the largest crowd and some of the most emotion.
Prosecutors took more than a month to file charges against Barnes.
According to court testimony and charging documents, Barnes was eastbound on Highway 26 four miles east of Crowheart when he fatally struck the girl as she crossed the roadway to her home after exiting her school bus, which was stopped in the westbound lane.
During the trial, defense attorneys argued Barnes did not see the bus's lights as he passed it and collided with the child. Several factors were brought up, including limited visibility due to patchy fog and the bus's bright headlights.
Prosecutors called witnesses to the stand who testified about seeing the flashing lights, weather conditions that evening ,and data from Barnes's truck indicating he didn't apply his brakes prior to the collision and was traveling 57 mph when he struck the girl.
Barnes was not under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the crash, and attorneys argued he was in no hurry to go home to Lander after a doctor's appointment in Jackson.
Attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense said afterward that they were satisfied with the jury's verdicts.
9. OPERATION ANGRY SUN -- A sweeping crackdown on drug trafficking in Fremont County that began in 2011 with nearly three dozen arrests on a single, memorable day continued to make news in 2012. Some defendants in Operation Angry Sun, the conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, saw their cases dismissed early in the year, while others made plea deals. In the first week of January, 19 of 35 defendants were arraigned in Lander's 9th District Court before Judge Norman Young. Prosecutors contended that lead defendant Gerardo Rico-Holguin, a Riverton restaurant owner, threatened to shoot a potential informant.
All 19 defendants entered not-guilty pleas that day, setting in motion a series of court proceedings spanning several months. The first dismissals began Jan. 26, and others followed as Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn's office examined and evaluated evidence.
In February, a plea agreement began to take shape under which Rico-Holguin agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to deliver cocaine rather than the numerous counts he faced. In exchange for a lighter sentence of no more than five years in prison, Rico-Holguin agreed to remain in Fremont County for two years so that he would be available to testify at trials and assist with state and federal prosecutions of other drug offenders in various ways.
After further procedures in February, the 39-year-old's final plea was entered March 15. Charges dismissed included delivery of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine and conspiracy to deliver marijuana. He would have faced a maximum punishment of 80 years in prison.
In May, after a pre-sentence investigation, Judge Young sentenced Rico-Holguin to five years of supervised probation to coincide with the defendant's cooperation in other drug cases.
10. SUICIDE RECORD -- By December 2012, Fremont County had tied its all-time record of 18 suicides, and Coroner Ed McAuslan said one more death may be attributed to suicide pending an autopsy.
The last year 18 people died by suicide in Fremont County was 2006, and the record was initially set in 1985.
McAuslan first reported an increased suicide rate for the year in July, when he told Fremont County Commissioners that 10 people had killed themselves during the first six months of 2012 -- three more than during the same time frame in 2011.
He couldn't guess why the rate was high again this year, but he said most of the incidents involved substance abuse. He added that the deaths took place throughout the county.
There were no youth suicides in 2012, McAuslan said in December. He plans to combat the increase in self-inflicted deaths by further educating the community about warning signs and available resources. The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at (800) 273-8255.
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