Wyoming news briefs for March 25

New manslaughter trial expected for Sundance woman

SUNDANCE — Marty Smith has been released on a $2500 bond in anticipation of her upcoming re-trial on charges related to the death of Sundance man Doug Haar, who died from traumatic asphyxiation in the early hours of Aug. 1, 2018. 

Smith was found guilty by jury of felony counts of accessory before the fact to involuntary manslaughter and accessory to aggravated assault and battery. However, in February, the Wyoming Supreme Court overturned her sentence of up to 18 years in jail. 

Wyoming Supreme Court Justices made this decision after hearing arguments that Smith’s original trial was flawed. Because the jury did not have all the relevant case law available to them, argued Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel Desiree Wilson, the conclusion was based on an incomplete understanding of the law. 

The jury’s guilty verdict was reversed and the case was remanded back to District Court for a new trial. A scheduling conference took place on March 16 with Judge Thomas W. Rumpke presiding. 

At this time, according to a subpoena that has been issued for forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Bennett to testify as a witness, the re-trial is expected to take place in the latter part of June. Bennett appeared at Smith’s original trial to state his findings as to cause of death.


PBS films documentary about Kemmerer fossil industry

KEMMERER — More than 52 million years ago, the Green River formation took up what was is now the Fossil Basin. 

The quality of the fossils preserved in the Fossil Basin is nearly unparalleled in the fossil record, according to the National Park Service. 

The water conditions and lack of predators in the area led to the preservation of these skeletons of the past. According to the National Park Service, 27 fish species, 10 mammal species, 15 reptile species, two amphibian species, over 30 bird species and numerous plant species have been discovered in the fossil basin.

This abundance of natural preservation has led Kemmerer and surrounding areas into the fossil industry. The nature of this industry is why Matt Hines and his team from Wyoming PBS were here to film a documentary in early March.

Arvid Aase, Fossil Butte National Park museum curator, said the PBS team had interviewed not only himself, but fossil store owners in town, City Administrator Brian Muir, the city council, and more for the documentary.

“The documentary is really about the different aspects of the fossil industry here,” Aase said. “It’s about the interaction between commercial, visitor and science aspects of fossil collecting and how we interact.”

According to Aase, the documentary is focused front and center on Kemmerer.

“We are thrilled to have a PBS documentary being made,” Aase said. “I was surprised when he said he was just focusing on Kemmerer for it. It has the potential to increase tourism to our area.”


Company to produce agricultural gypsum in Cody

POWELL — After shutting down its drywall manufacturing plant in Cody last year, CertainTeed Gypsum is repurposing the property to produce agricultural gypsum.

The company says it’s aiming to supply agri-gypsum — used as a natural fertilizer and soil amendment — to farmers and retailers in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota. 

“We are pleased to have a new opportunity to maintain our operations in Cody,” Roberto Margutti, CertainTeed’s U.S. mining operations manager, said in a news release earlier this month.

Margutti said the company is also pleased “to be building our new operation with support from many of the same employees who have worked in our drywall plant previously, who will now help operate and manage the agricultural gypsum business.”

CertainTeed had employed roughly 49 people at the drywall plant before beginning layoffs and starting to decommission the facility in early April 2020. About 10 people are currently employed at the site, the company says, a figure that includes both direct employees and local contractors. However, company representatives say that “new employment opportunities are expected in the coming years as the business develops.”

A subdivision of CertainTeed called Western Mining and Minerals, Inc. (WMMI) is running the new agricultural gypsum operation in Cody. WMMI says it will use the facility to process gypsum rocks and then ship the minerals out by truck or rail.


DCI investigates death of Big Horn County inmate

GREYBULL — The Big Horn County Sheriff's Office has released the name of the man who died Tuesday, March 16 while incarcerated in the county jail.

Mark Meyer, 51, and formerly of the Basin-Greybull area, was facing 10 sexual-related charges at the time of his death, including a single count of first-degree sexual assault and three additional counts of second-degree sexual assault.

According to court documents, his case had been bound over to Fifth Judicial District Court on Feb. 26 by Circuit Court Judge Randy Royal.

The Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation is conducting an independent investigation of the death. Attempts to reach the director of the regional office in Riverton for an update were unsuccessful Monday.

In a Facebook post, the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office stated that foul play was not suspected and that it was cooperating fully in the investigation being led by the DCI and also involving the Big Horn County Coroner's Office.

Sheriff Ken Blackburn would not provide any additional  details, saying only that it was under investigation.

Meyer’s death was discovered at about 8 p.m. March 16.


NWC esports team to launch in April

CODY — Joining legions of colleges and universities around the nation, Northwest College is gearing up to launch its own esports team. Guided by the college’s athletic department, gamers will have the opportunity to compete with their fellow joystick warriors from the comfort of a brand-new facility built in an unused classroom.

“We’re hoping by April we can have it up and running for current students,” said athletic director Brian Erickson, who will also coach the esports team.

Northwest is joining a long list of higher education institutions to offer esports. Inter-collegiate esports competition has been around since at least 2016. In the area, Boise State University and the University of Montana both have competitive teams and the University of Wyoming offers esports as a club activity. NWC will join 64 other schools that offer esports in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Esports have become a multi-billion dollar industry, with the top gamers raking in millions of dollars every year from streaming their games to fans through services like Twitch, prize pools in tournaments and sponsorships. 

Northwest, for its part, sees bringing esports in as a recruiting tool more than a way to make money.

“Most people know the history of NWC and enrollment going down, and it’s not just Northwest, around the country enrollment is going down,” Erickson said. “We thought it was a great opportunity to recruit students with no budget.”