Wyoming news briefs for March 23

Thirty-five Honor Farm inmates test positive for COVID

RIVERTON — Thirty-five inmates tested positive for COVID-19 last week at the Wyoming Honor Farm north of Riverton - a drastic increase when compared to recent months.

No Honor Farm inmates tested positive for COVID-19 during the entire month of February, according to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, and only three inmate diagnoses had been recorded for the entire year leading up to March.

"I'm not sure I understand what's contributing to the spike," WDOC transparency division deputy administrator Paul L. Martin said Friday. 

The Honor Farm can house up to 279 inmates, according to the WDOC.

Martin also thought it was "strange" that this week's increase was isolated to the inmate population.

No Honor Farm staff members tested positive for COVID-19 this week, the WDOC said.

Martin said both staff and inmates at the facility utilize face masks in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and officials who work with confirmed COVID-19 patients don "medical-grade" personal protective equipment. Some employees also have been vaccinated against COVID-19, Martin said, noting that they were included in the "Phase 1B" of the state's vaccination rollout plan.

Inmates also share common areas, Martin said, so "it's not surprising to see a high count in a living unit."

Inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 are moved to a "containment living unit," Martin said, and inmates who have been exposed to the virus are isolated to protect those who were not exposed.


NWCC enrollment dips

POWELL — Northwest College’s spring 2021 enrollment was in-line with what it typically sees relative to its fall enrollment. 

Preliminary figures show the total headcount stood at 1,442 students this semester, down just one from the fall. 

Meanwhile, the full-time equivalent (FTE) — which is the total credit hours taken of all students divided by 12 — was 1,133.4. That represents a roughly 6-percent decline from last fall’s FTE of 1,204.8, but was consistent with historic trends; spring enrollment is usually about 7-percent lower than the fall FTE. 

The college has struggled with enrollment over the past decade, which has been a trend across the country and state for most institutions. NWC’s headcount from the fall 2009 semester stood at 2,198 and sank to 1,461 by the fall of 2019, according to the Wyoming Community College Commission. 

That 33.5% at NWC was the steepest decline among the state’s seven community colleges, according to the commission data. The next-highest was Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, where the headcount dropped 30.7 percent over the same period. 

Northwest College, however, started out with one of the highest headcounts in the state relative to the population of the county where it’s based. 

In 2009, NWC’s headcount represented 78 students per 1,000 residents in Park County. In comparison, Casper College had 62 students per 1,000 Natrona County residents; Casper College’s enrollment fell 22.3 percent over the decade. 


Cody sex offender sentenced to 25-30 years

CODY — A Cody sex offender was sentenced to 25-30 years in prison after pleading guilty to first degree sexual assault of a minor, last week in Park County.

Brannon Aune, 28, a Cody resident, was already serving 10 years supervised probation for a 2018 third degree sexual assault sentence in Sheridan County when he was arrested in June 2020 by Cody police for the first degree sexual assault. He will serve 10-15 years concurrently in Sheridan for breaking his probation there.

In that case, Aune attempted to rape a female when she had gone to Aune’s house in Sheridan County for a babysitting interview in 2017.

This prior crime was slightly reduced on his record, which took the life imprisonment possibility off the table, Park County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Hatfield said. The plea deal was approved by Hot Springs County District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield, who presided for District Court Judge Bill Simpson who recused himself.

In March 2019, Aune had his probation from the Sheridan offense challenged after allegedly committing a series of probation violations and then resisting arrest by an officer at his home.

Aune made a request to reintegrate with his children in August 2018, but in January 2019, he was terminated from his mental health counseling at Yellowstone Behavioral Health Center for missing appointments.

His probation was not revoked after these charges were made.

In 2010, he was tried as an adult for robbery with a deadly weapon. He completed his probation for the crime in 2016.


Backcountry ski area closed to prevent grizzly conflicts

JACKSON — Grand Teton National Park has closed the east face of 25 Short to prevent conflict between backcountry skiers and riders and a denning grizzly bear.

The closure is in effect until further notice and will impact the east-facing slope between the skier summit and the true summit of Peak 9975, which is colloquially referred to as 25 Short.

Direct access across the summit ridgeline to Turkey Chute, Chute the Moon and other routes into Avalanche Canyon remains open.

Skiers who choose to ski the steeper chutes off the westerly backside of 25 Short should have the appropriate knowledge, partners and plan.

Bears are beginning to emerge from hibernation. The first active grizzly of the season was spotted in Yellowstone National Park earlier this week.

About 50 percent of adult male grizzly bears are awake by mid-March, according to a Grand Teton National Park press release, while females with cubs tend to emerge between April and mid-May. Bears will be hungry after hibernation, and may be seeking out winter-killed carcasses in avalanche paths and other areas.

Grand Teton National Park encouraged backcountry skiers to “be alert, aware of the surrounding area, and carry bear spray.”

“Black and grizzly bears may be located anywhere within the park, including developed areas,” the press release continued. “All park visitors should carry bear spray and maintain a minimum of 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from other wildlife.”


Albrecht named new APG regional president

CHEYENNE — There’s a new face on the leadership team at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

On Monday, March 22, Bill Albrecht assumed the role of regional president for Adams Publishing Group’s Wyoming properties.

Albrecht and his wife, Lisa, are moving to Cheyenne from outside Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as regional vice president for Gannett’s Northern Ohio region (overseeing nine local print and digital operations).

Albrecht was raised near Sherrill, Iowa, a rural town of a few hundred people north of Dubuque. Although he’s never lived in Wyoming, Albrecht believes this background (and his love of pheasant hunting) will help him connect with residents.

“I grew up rural. I milked cows, and my brother ran a small implement dealership and construction company that I worked for in the summers,” he said. “I can fix a silo unloader, a chopper box … I can make a sidewalk for you.”

Prior to his recent years in Ohio, Albrecht worked throughout what he calls the “real Midwest,” in cities including Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Madison, Wisconsin; and St. Cloud, Minnesota. 

Albrecht’s first job out of school was at a weekly newspaper in Harlan, Iowa. He worked in advertising sales, but if his ads were late, he had to design them himself, and he often helped with paper inserts and mailing.

As the new publisher of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and its sister papers – the Laramie Boomerang, the Rawlins Times and the Rocket Miner – he plans to talk to as many people as possible to understand the personality and needs of southern Wyoming’s readers.