NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, Dec. 30, 2019

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Wyoming’s flu season begins

JACKSON (WNE) — It’s flu season in Wyoming, but public health officials aren’t ready to make a determination about its severity.

“This is probably too early for us to put a real characterization on this season,” Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said.

However, people are still coming down with the mostly seasonal virus that causes fever, coughing, fatigue and other undesirable symptoms.

“We are seeing activity across the state,” Deti said. “I don’t know if it’s at widespread levels yet.”

The state Health Department sends out reports on the flu season throughout the winter, giving county and other local public health agencies a general view of the virus’s severity. The latest one from state epidemiologist Reginald McClinton gave a mixed review of the season so far.

McClinton said overall flu activity has been slow, but some areas of the state have seen significant activity. The report doesn’t specify which areas are seeing higher levels of the virus.

Though overall activity is still low, one peculiarity of the season is a high number of B viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal outbreaks, though A strains are the only ones known to cause pandemics, and they are more common in the early part of flu season.

The CDC’s weekly flu report says the nation is seeing the same trend as Wyoming, with more B viruses being reported.

“That is not typical for this part of the season,” Deti said.


Fatal house fire caused by overheated dryer

RIVERTON (WNE) — The fatal fire that took the lives of father and daughter Todd and Cambrie Pepper north of Riverton last Thursday has been determined to have been accidental. 

The father, Todd Pepper, was 49, and Cambrie was 11. She was a student at Riverton Middle School.

Riverton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Henri DeClercq, who was on scene Dec. 19 after the early-morning fire was reported from 36 Darnall Road, announced Monday that the cause of the fire was insufficient venting of the dryer. 

“The insufficient venting caused a buildup of lint inside the dryer where the friction and heat of the dryer eventually ignited the lint.” 

The fire grew and engulfed the home, so that responders who arrived soon after 5 a.m. Thursday encountered what DeClercq called “heavy involvement” of the flames with the residence. 

By 10 a.m. that day, the flames had been extinguished. The house had collapsed in the middle and was still pluming smoke visibly toward Burma Road and Highway 789. 

DeClercq emphasized the tragedy of the incident and urged caution in the community. 

“I would highly encourage everyone to take some time to inspect and clean their dryers and the associated venting” on a regular basis, and also “take a few minutes and check your smoke alarms,” DeClercq’s statement reads. 

Smoke alarms have a roughly 10-year lifespan and should be replaced at least every decade, or replaced regardless if they don’t have a date on them, the chief said.


Cheyenne man charged with vehicular homicide

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne man has been charged with vehicular homicide after he allegedly entered an intersection without yielding, which caused the death of a person in the vehicle.

Leslie P. Flath, 77, of Cheyenne is charged with vehicular homicide, careless driving and failure to yield when entering a road. He was arrested on warrants Monday in connection with the 2018 crash.

Flath had his initial appearance in Laramie County Circuit Court on Dec. 23, and a $2,000 signature bond was set. 

On Oct. 20, 2018, Flath was driving a 2015 Buick Enclave northbound on Whitney Road with three passengers. Flath was approaching the intersection of U.S. Highway 30 and Whitney Road, where stop signs are posted.

Flath either didn’t stop or failed to yield the right of way to the car traveling through the intersection. Flath drove into the intersection in front of the oncoming car, which struck the back left portion of Flath’s car because they weren’t able to stop in time.

A passenger in Flath’s car, Yvonne Couture, was injured in the crash and taken to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. She suffered broken bones, contusions and a ruptured spleen from the crash, and died Oct. 23, 2018. The cause of her death was determined to be blunt force trauma and blood loss because due to her religious beliefs, she refused blood transfusions.


ACA enrollment similar to 2018

CASPER (WNE) — More than 24,600 Wyomingites signed up on the federal health exchanges during open enrollment, officials say, as Obamacare continues to bounce around federal courtrooms. 

The exact number of Wyoming enrollees — 24,665 — is down 227 from last year, a drop of about 1 percent. Nationwide, some 8.3 million people enrolled this year, compared to 8.5 million last year. The enrollment period started sluggishly in Wyoming, officials have said, but picked up and finished at roughly the same figure from 2018. 

The total number of people who pay their premiums in January — the number of people who “effectuate” their policy — is typically less than the raw enrollment figure. Last year, for instance, more than 22,000 people had actually paid for and used their plans, compared to the nearly 25,000 who enrolled. 

The majority of Wyomingites on the plans use tax credits to offset the price, while roughly a quarter get further subsidies. 

The premium costs for the exchange plans were expected to rise slightly this year; a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield, which provides the exchange plans, said the average increase of the plans is 1.16 percent. 

The figures show the exchanges, both here and nationally, are holding steady, even as the law that created them — the Affordable Care Act — continues to hang in limbo. The figures are perhaps more surprising given that Congress removed the tax penalty for not having insurance, meaning people who don’t otherwise have coverage can eschew the plans without having to deal with the IRS. 


Lander woman killed by ‘flash fire’

RIVERTON (WNE) — Officials have released the name of the Lander woman who died last week in a flash fire caused by smoking while using home oxygen. 

Kathlyn Werth, 77, died Dec. 19 in Salt Lake City. 

The fire was reported at about 10:40 a.m. Dec. 18 on Northside Drive in Lander. 

Officials said Werth’s son also was injured in the blaze. Both victims were flown to the University of Utah Burn Center, where the mother passed. 

Wyoming State Fire Marshal’s Office investigator Dalton Sanders said the flash fire originated in the bathroom of a single-wide mobile home. 

He identified the cause of the blaze as “smoking on home oxygen.” 

Sanders explained that oxygen acts like a “fuse” when it contacts flame, allowing a fire to travel along the path of the flammable substance. 

The flame also causes an explosion if it reaches the oxygen tank, as it did Dec. 18. Sanders said the trailer was destroyed in the resulting blaze. 

Lander Volunteer Fire Department chief Bobby Johnston said neighbors who reported the fire the morning of Dec. 18 indicated the home occupants “needed help getting out.” But when he arrived at the scene, Johnston said both victims were outside of the structure. 

Both were “severely burned,” he said, but Werth was “a lot worse off ” because she had been “wearing” the oxygen.