Wyoming news briefs for June 2

Drug charge added to other charges in conspiracy case

GILLETTE – A Gillette man whose cell phone was seized when he was arrested in May in a separate case led police to believe that he also was trafficking in meth.

James Whitten, 54, is awaiting his arraignment in District Court for possession with intent to deliver meth after Circuit Judge Paul S. Phillips found probable cause to bind him over to District Court on the charge.

He was arrested May 6 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and aggravated assault and battery. He’s also awaiting an arraignment on those charges after being bound over.

During Whitten’s arrest, his cellphone was taken and searched.

A card slot in the phone case had two jeweler’s bags of meth, one holding about 0.5 grams and the other 0.75 grams.

Most of the messages in the phone had been deleted, but there were a handful on the two days before his arrest that police believe indicate trafficking in drugs, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

In addition, three pictures were found in his photographs of a digital scale with a bag of meth on it, according to the affidavit.

Whitten was one of five arrested last month who were charged with conspiring to hold a man and beat him with a baseball bat — an altercation supposedly in retaliation for the victim’s treatment of other people in the past.


Albany County in the orange with uptick in COVID cases

LARAMIE – Several reports showing a rise in positive COVID-19 cases have circulated throughout all of Wyoming. As of Tuesday, the Wyoming Department of Health reported a statewide total of 60,364 lab-confirmed cases and 720 COVID-related deaths since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020. 

Currently, Albany County is in the “orange zone,” with 29 active cases and 15 total COVID-related deaths — three of which occurred within the last week, Nicole Rooney, chief nursing officer at Ivinson Medical Group, confirmed. 

There are six levels of color-coded indicators used by the Wyoming Department of Health to measure statewide and county COVID-19 transmission in accordance with national guidelines. They are, starting from the lowest transmission levels: dark green, light green, yellow, orange, red and dark red. 

The orange zone represents high transmission levels during the previous 14 days. 

“Every day, I get to work, and (I) look at the numbers … and I get this feeling of overwhelming anxiety,” said Emily Sanders, a registered nurse in the emergency department of the Ivinson Memorial Hospital. 

For the past month, Sanders has seen an increase in the number of COVID-symptomatic patients who need emergency care and/or require hospitalization. Her fear, she said, is they will run out of room if the numbers continue to grow. 

The patients testing positive are unvaccinated, Sanders said, who added anyone wary of getting a vaccine can look to her and others working closely with COVID-positive patients as living testaments to its efficacy. 

Kizzy Ledesma works in the ICU, and said there was a lull period, during which positive inpatient cases were nearly nonexistent. But for the last month, she has only cared for COVID patients.


Argument over song on radio sparks gunshot, felony charges

RIVERTON — Accused of shooting his friend in the belly after a fight about a song, Ronald Blaise Jenkins, 26, was charged last week by federal authorities with two counts of assault. 

The shooting is reported to have happened on Jan. 5. 

Jenkins faces one count of assault with a dangerous weapon, and another of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Each is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. 

The 20-year-old injured male, named in court documents as W.S., was dropped off at the emergency room by three or four males, according to emergency room staff at Riverton SageWest Health Care.

Jenkins consented to be interviewed by police. 

He said he, Dylon Blackburn, Clifton Littlethunder, and W.S. were out all night driving and pulled into a vehicle pullout known as Checkpoint Charlie. W.S., he said, started playing a song he didn’t like. They argued. 

W.S. “jumped out of the back seat, pulled open Jenkins’s door, and began punching Jenkins in the face,”  Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Michael Shockley wrote. 

Jenkins said he’d broken his neck several years ago, was very afraid of getting hurt, and feared for his life. 

During the assault, Jenkins said he found a pistol on the floor of the truck. He was reportedly “pleading” with the man to stop attacking him, then pointed the gun at W.S., and “it just went off.”


New Year’s Day driver changes plea to guilty 

PINEDALE — Earlier this month, Jade S. Jewkes, of Jackson, signaled a change of mind – or heart – about going to trial for aggravated homicide.

Jewkes was arrested Jan. 1 after her northbound Jeep Cherokee crossed Highway 191 and struck a southbound plow-truck driven by Shane Deal, of Pinedale, near Granite Creek Road, causing severe injuries. Deal died later that night at St. John's Hospital in Jackson. 

Jewkes was charged with two felony counts of aggravated homicide – one based on her having a blood alcohol concentration over .08 and one that she was intoxicated. She was also charged with driving while intoxicated. 

On March 10 in 9th District Court, she pleaded not guilty to the three charges and requested a jury trial. The trial was set to begin Sept. 20. She was released on $150,000 cash/surety bond with restrictions on driving, drinking or contacting the Deal family. 

However, on May 27, Jewkes entered a ‘cold’ guilty plea to the first and third counts, with the understanding that the state will remove the second count.

She faces a maximum sentence on the aggravated homicide and DUI charges of 20 years jail time and fines of $10,750.

Jewkes testified she “drank too much and made a horrible, horrible decision.” She said she made the drive to Jackson when her BAC was .22 after drinking mimosas and other drinks she could not remember. 

Judge Marv Tyler ordered a presentence investigation report and substance abuse evaluation.

“You may have to pay restitution as a result of the criminal conduct on your part,” he told Jewkes. “The victim’s family, for example.”