NEWS BRIEFS for  Wednesday, May 8, 2019

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Plea deals reached for two men selling cocaine in Cheyenne

CHEYENNE (WNE) – Two men charged with cocaine distribution in Cheyenne have both reached plea deals that could keep them out of jail.

Sean Flannigan and Wesley Benson were arrested and charged with cocaine and crack distribution in Cheyenne last year. Flannigan pleaded guilty April 22 in Laramie County District Court to two of the seven charges he faced. The guilty plea was part of a deal that had the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office seek two two- to four-year sentences suspended for three years of probation.

Benson was set to plead guilty Monday to six counts related to cocaine and crack distribution in return for a 10- to 15-year sentence that would be suspended for 10 years of probation. He also was set to plead guilty to a charge of sexual abuse of a minor that stemmed from the investigation into his and Flannigan’s drug dealing.

The 10- to 15-year sentence in that sexual abuse case would also be suspended for another 10 years of probation.

But Benson’s change-of-plea hearing was delayed due to confusion and a potential typo in his plea agreement document. He is set to appear again in court for a change-of-plea hearing May 20.

The judge in each of the cases can ignore the plea deals reached and impose the maximum sentence for all the charges. Benson faced up to 20 years for each of his four felony charges, along with several misdemeanors, and a maximum of 15 years for the sexual abuse charge.  Flannigan faced three felony charges that had a maximum of 20 years each, along with several misdemeanors.

Sheridan city council votes to remove fluoride from water

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Sheridan City Council voted unanimously Monday night to cease adding fluoride to the city and Sheridan Area Water Supply’s water within 24 hours of the decision, passing Ordinance 24-19 with a resounding yes from the full-seated council.

Frontier Asset Management’s Jim Shellenberger handed Sheridan City Clerk Cecilia Good a USB drive with the results of a survey conducted earlier this year regarding fluoridation of the water system.

Out of 12,363 surveys sent out to water users throughout the billing cycle in March and April, 4,203 were returned to Shellenberger at Frontier, resulting in a 34 percent response rate. Sheridan City Councilor Clint Beaver said, in speaking with Sheridan County Elections Office staff, that response is around the same percentage usually recorded at a special election, which council considered holding for the fluoride decision. The cost of organizing a special election for one ballot measure, though, was estimated to cost between $40,000 and $45,000. Instead, the city spent $11,413 on the mailed-out survey, according to City Utilities Administrative Coordinator Jennifer Rizer.

The survey, distributed along with customer utility bills or by separate mailers between March 11 and April 3, had two questions for respondents to fill out, including whether they would like the city to continue fluoridating its water supply and whether the respondent was a business or residential location. Out of the total 4,203 responses, 3,905 responses came from residential water customers and 318 from businesses. Both types of respondents had similar percentages for and against fluoridation of the water supply.

In total, 1,900 or 45 percent responded in favor of keeping fluoride in the water and 2,323 or 55 percent responded opposed to fluoride. 

Gillette coal company puts off payment another 3 days

GILLETTE (WNE) — Cloud Peak Energy has until Friday to make good on a defaulted $1.8 million interest payment after gaining a third forbearance from its creditors.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday morning, the company reiterates its inability to “continue as a going concern.”

Saddled with about $400 million in debt due in the next five years and the “ongoing depressed Powder River Basin thermal coal industry conditions,” Cloud Peak reports it continues, through financial advisors, to pursue any and all options. That could include Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, the filing says.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that, “according to people familiar with the matter,” Cloud Peak will file for Chapter 11 in Delaware this week.

Wednesday's filing is another last-ditch effort that could indicate the company is on the verge of bankruptcy or possibly could reach an agreement to sell assets or attract an acquisition interest, said Robert Godby, director and associate professor for the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming.

Wednesday’s three-day forbearance is for a payment originally due March 15. At the time, Cloud Peak exercised an option for a 30-day grace period. When that was up April 14, a 15-day forbearance was granted, then another seven-day one May 1 that expired Tuesday.

It’s notable that each extension and forbearance so far has been about half the one before, Godby said. After the initial 30-day grace period, Cloud Peak’s creditors allowed a 15-day forbearance, then seven days and now three.

Converse County destroys property valuation record, up 150% over last year

DOUGLAS (WNE) — Converse County has broken its all-time valuation record. This year, the county valuation is $2.05 billion, 150 percent above last year’s $1.36 billion. 

“The largest increase obviously is state-assessed minerals,” Converse County Assessor Dixie Huxtable said. “Although coal has taken a significant drop, like a 50 percent drop, oil and gas has, by far, exceeded that.” 

As recently as 2007, the county valuation was about $500 million. During the most recent bust, the valuation fell to a little over $1 billion, while the previous record, set in 2015, was $1.8 billion.

Huxtable said she doesn’t yet have the figures for other counties. 

If other counties’ valuations stayed about the same, Converse could be ranked fourth or fifth statewide, with Campbell’s whopping $4.4 billion last year by far the largest. Sweetwater and Sublette were competing for the next two spots. But Converse and Laramie counties are closing in on their heels for the fourth and fifth spots. 

By comparison, Natrona County, with a population five times larger than Converse, was at $1.2 billion last year. 

Huxtable said personal property values have gone up by 25 percent – oil and gas rigs fall into that category – and industrial values have risen 25 percent. Residential values rose slightly, by 2 percent, and agricultural values remained steady. “If that holds, it’s good for the county coffers, as well as all the special districts,” Huxtable said. 

In her 20 years as county assessor, Huxtable has never seen a 50 percent spike in one year.

Goshen County School District cancels mock crisis drill

LINGLE (WNE)  – Goshen County School District No. 1 canceled a planned mock-crisis drill at Lingle-Fort Laramie Schools scheduled for today due to a school shooting that occurred in the Denver, Colo. area yesterday. 

"In sensitivity to today’s public school shooting in the Denver area, the (L-FL) Schools emergency crisis exercise for tomorrow, May 8 is being cancelled," Dr. Rick Patterson, interim superintendent, said in an email. "The schools will operate on a normal schedule. The planned exercise will be conducted at a future, as yet, undetermined date."

The drill was to feature a mock armed intruder and involve several local emergency agencies.

Two young men killed in crash outside of Wheatland

WHEATLAND (WNE) — On May 2 a fatal crash occurred at milepost 31 on Wyoming 34 west of Wheatland.  Around 5:29 a.m., Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched to the area for a one-vehicle rollover.

A 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche was traveling eastbound on Wyoming 34 when the vehicle drifted off the right side of the roadway.  The driver over-corrected the vehicle back to the left before driving off the right shoulder and overturning.    

The driver of the Chevrolet has been identified as 18-year-old Wheatland, Wyoming resident Jonathan L. Van Wey.  

Van Wey was not wearing his seatbelt and succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash.  

The passenger in the vehicle has been identified as 21-year-old Wheatland resident Michael D. Driskell.  Driskell was not wearing his seatbelt and succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash.    

Van Wey graduated from Wheatland High School a few weeks ago.

Driver intoxication and inattention are being investigated as contributing factors.

This is the 52nd and 53rd fatalities on Wyoming’s roadways in 2019 compared to 26 in 2018, 33 in 2017, and 15 in 2016 to date.