Wyoming news briefs for March 2

Three UW students killed in accident

LARAMIE — Three University of Wyoming students were killed in a two-car collision that took place on Saturday, Feb. 27, on the Colorado side of Highway 287. 

According to Colorado Trooper Josh Lewis, the collision occurred at about 4:38 p.m., at mile marker 377, in Colorado. A total of five people were involved; four are believed to be UW students.

According to Lewis, the driver of a 2005 Subaru Forester, a male, age 21, who was the only occupant, appeared to have lost control of his vehicle and the Forester began spinning, then crossed over into the next lane, where the front of Forester collided with the side of a 2013 Hyundai sedan.

The driver of the Hyundai, whose name has not been released yet, is an 18-year-old female from Omaha, Nebraska. Her passengers were two other females and a male.

The two females, one aged 18, from Laramie, the other aged 19, from Texas, were pronounced dead at the scene, as was the driver of the Subaru.

The University of Wyoming students who died include:

Sienna Potter, 18, a first-year student in early childhood education, who attended high school outside London, who has family in Laramie;

Rebecca Marley, 19, a first-year student in marketing who attended high school in Dubai and has family in The Woodlands, Texas, and

William Malone, 21, a senior in computer science from Fort Collins.

According to Lewis, it is believed that speed and winter road conditions may have contributed to the accident.


Legislators propose 4% state income tax

JACKSON — Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, is filing a bill calling for a flat, 4-percent personal income tax in Wyoming.

The Equality State is one of nine states that do not tax residents’ job-related earnings.

Supported for decades by revenues from mineral extraction, Wyoming is notoriously tax-averse. A number of newly-elected Wyoming legislators campaigned on a “no new taxes” pledge, and there are only nine other tax-friendly Democrats in the 60-person Wyoming Legislature. But Yin told the Jackson Hole Daily opposition to taxes “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be pushing this conversation.

“We have a budget crisis, and we need to deal with it,” he said.

Revenues from oil and gas have cratered in recent years, decimating the state budget. Lawmakers are expected to face tough questions about K-12 education funding this legislative session, which restarted Monday.

The income tax would generate roughly $337 million for the state, and there’s a $300 million or so shortfall in education funding for the current biennium, Yin said.

“So, when it comes to funding K-12, just this one income tax alone would close that gap,” the Jackson Democrat continued. “So I think just helping people realize that is important.”

Yin’s bill is set to be co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Rothfuss and Rep. Cathy Connolly, both Albany County Democrats.


House Speaker Barlow to retire at end of term

GILLETTE — State Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said he will not seek reelection in 2022.

"To the voters of House District 3, thank you for the five times you provided me with this opportunity," he told members of the state House on Monday morning. "I am humbled. This will be my last general session in the Wyoming House of Representatives and I will continue to make my time here an example of representative service."

Barlow decided to step down when his term ends in 2022 for a few reasons.

First, it is tradition for a speaker of the house or senate president to do so after they finish their terms, he told the News Record on the phone. 

Barlow has also reached his goal of serving 8-10 years in the House.

"It's been an honor and a pleasure serving the citizens in House District 3 and our broader community in the state of Wyoming," he said. "I love the legislative process, I love Wyoming, but there's a time when other people can do it."

Finally, he also attributes his decision to step down because of the upcoming redistricting that will happen when the 2020 Census is released.

The constituents in the district may be different and so it would be a good time for someone who is interested in running for House District 3 to do so.


Kitty litter company moves to Cheyenne

CHEYENNE —  Dr. Elsey’s veterinarian-owned cat product company has worked to create products that put felines first since its inception in 1987, and the company’s next step – to providing greater quantities of high-quality litter – involved a move to Wyoming’s capital city from northern Colorado.

At the Swan Ranch Business Development, the company recently wrapped up construction on a new 180,000-square-foot production facility, where cat litter will be produced and shipped to cat owners across the nation.

Being the number one seller on both Amazon and Chewy, Dr. Elsey’s Director of Marketing Gina Zaro said this new facility in Cheyenne gives them much-needed space.

“We knew that we were outgrowing where we were,” Zaro said. “This building has been under construction for a long time, for a couple years now, and we hope to be in full production within the next month or so.”

The main reason for the move, Zaro said, was to gain more direct access to a rail line and to be closer to the silver sodium bentonite clay used in Dr. Elsey’s cat litter, which comes from Casper. She said that premium clay is what helps separate Dr. Elsey’s from other brands.

When company founder Bruce Elsey was practicing as a feline veterinarian, he realized that the number one reason cats are surrendered to shelters is because they don’t use the litter box. So he developed his own litter, called Cat Attract, which the company says is the go-to “problem cat training litter.”


Man who tried to run over deputy faces 25 years

GILLETTE — The man accused of trying to run into a sheriff’s deputy last spring has pleaded no contest to three charges against him — which, if sentencing recommendations are followed, could mean he’ll spend up to 25 years in prison.

Nathan Schuerman, 41, was found guilty Feb. 18 of aggravated assault and battery, interference with a peace officer and possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent after entering his plea of no contest to the charges.

The case against Schuerman stems from an April 17 incident in which Campbell County deputies were asked to arrest Schuerman. They found his 2009 Toyota Tacoma and tried to get him to surrender.

He told them that he would not be taken alive, that he would shoot it out with cops and that he would ram cops with his vehicle, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Deputies, who had laid spike strips nearby to prevent him from leaving the area, watched him drive away after negotiations failed, but the spike strips didn’t disable the truck.

Deputy Eric Coxbill was farther down Coal Train Road and moved his vehicle off the road into the grass and stopped. He said he was completely off the road, “giving Schuerman the entire road to drive by me,” according to the affidavit.

But when Schuerman was about 50 yards away and going about 50 mph, he veered off the road and into the grass, aiming directly at Coxbill, who thought he was trying to hit him head on, according to the affidavit.


Committee approves ‘shield law’

CASPER — Wyoming lawmakers advanced legislation Monday that would prevent people from suing journalists to get them to reveal the names of anonymous sources, commonly known as a shield law.

The 6-2 vote came after several hours of debate in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, during which lawmakers and managers of several top media outlets discussed who would be protected by the law, what information would be protected under that law and why such a law was needed.

Wyoming is one of two states that do not offer these protections, according to Thursday’s discussion. 

Members of the media say the protections are an integral part of being able to perform investigative work. 

While some states offer full protections for journalists — Nebraska has a shield law written into its Constitution — the bill sponsored by Cheyenne Republican Rep. Dan Zwonitzer would be in the “middle category” of states, offering protections exclusively to reporting with legitimate news value. The bill would not protect libelous cases or purposefully inflammatory articles with malicious intent, and it would likely be up to the journalist themselves to prove their position in a court of law. 

“Scrutiny on the news media is at an all-time high right now, and that offers a layer of protection that nobody is abusing those privileges,” Zwonitzer said. “Only under the direst circumstances would they reserve this right.”

In testimony on the bill Thursday, many of the journalists who spoke — including Wyoming Tribune-Eagle Editor Brian Martin and Jim Beck, general manager of the Gray Television stations in Casper and Cheyenne — said shield laws would strengthen people’s First Amendment rights by ensuring the protections necessary for journalists’ sources to speak freely about sensitive information without fear of retribution from the entities they seek to hold accountable.