Wyoming news briefs for April 26

Officials believe spark from maintenance caused rail car explosion

RIVERTON — Officials believe they know what caused the spark that led to a fatal explosion Wednesday in a railcar in Shoshoni, but they still are investigating how the combustible fuel in the tanker reached such a high level. 

The blast killed two men: Dallas Mitchell, 28, of Riverton, and Daniel Conway, 18, of Shoshoni.

The Wasatch Rail Repair employees were inside the tanker conducting routine maintenance when the explosion occurred at about 3:25 p.m. Wednesday. 

Citing information from initial investigations, Shoshoni Police Department chief Chris Konija said the spark that ignited the explosion likely was produced by the work the men were doing in the tanker — using a grinder to remove paint and perform an ultrasound test checking the thickness and integrity of the welds of the vessel. 

“The common practice is for a metal wheel to remove some of the paint so the test can be conducted against the metal,” Konija said. “That is believed to be what provided the spark, or source of the initial ignition.” 

What remains unknown, Konija said, is how the gaseous concentration in the container reached a combustible density level. 

“We’re trying to explain (that),” he said. “There are multiple theories of how that came to be, but we don’t have enough information at this time to make a determination of exactly why that level was present.”

The tanker involved in the Wednesday explosion most recently carried propane, Konija said, again citing information obtained in the initial investigation.


Hatchet threat yields prison sentence

CHEYENNE — A man was sentenced to prison in Laramie County District Court for threatening another man with a hatchet and then stealing his car.

Clyde Julius Tyler Jr. pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault and battery (threatening with weapon) on April 22 before being sentenced by Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher to four to seven years of incarceration.

An additional charge, felony theft, was dismissed at sentencing as part of a plea agreement.

Froelicher said Tyler’s criminal history was extensive, though relatively nonviolent, which led him to determine that probation was not appropriate.

At 8:29 p.m. Jan. 18, a Laramie County Sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of a stolen vehicle involving a hatchet, according to court documents. A man told the deputy Tyler had threatened him with a hatchet and demanded he hand over the keys to his Jeep.

Tyler was arrested Jan. 24 on unrelated misdemeanor warrants, according to court documents. The Jeep was later located, with a hatchet lying on the passenger seat.


Natrona schools to ask for end to mask mandate

CASPER — Natrona County School District officials will seek to end the mask mandate in schools, the district announced Saturday, just days after the school board voted to keep mask rules in effect through the end of the school year. 

The district statement did not give an explanation for the sudden change of direction. However, the shift comes two days before demonstrations were planned to protest against the board’s decision to not purse an exemption to Wyoming’s statewide mask rule. 

“The Natrona County School District Board of Trustees and the Superintendent have developed a path forward that will result in a variance request to the Statewide Public Health Order No. 1 (face covering order) in K-12 schools and facilities on May 10, 2021,” the district wrote in a statement sent to all staff and parents. “This will allow staff time to develop and implement plans for students and staff who have concerns regarding the removal of the statewide face covering order.” 

The district, which has had a mask requirement since schools reopened in the fall, has only 34 days remaining in the school year. Doctors have credited the mask rule for helping keep schools open amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On April 19, the board discussed whether to ask the state for permission to end the mask requirement. Board members were briefed on a survey that found 80-percent of parents and 70-percent of staff supported lifting the mask requirement.