Top local news stories of 2013
Date posted: December 31, 2013
SHERIDAN — Government stalemates, affordable health care, public shootings and deadly weather topped the national and world headlines in 2013.
Local news coverage in the last year has focused on a failed bond issue, a city council member who was arrested for drunken driving and a hailstorm that both wreaked havoc and helped local businesses.
Editorial staff at The Sheridan Press reviewed this year’s coverage, here are the stories we feel topped the list.
1. Sheridan College bond issue fails
In the spring, officials at the Northern Wyoming Community College District began to pitch a $15.85 million bond issue that would supply the funding needed to expand the technical education center at Sheridan College.
In August, voters defeated the bond issue at the polls by a margin of just 367 votes.
The summer months included a public information campaign by the college as well as an effort from local citizens to convince voters the tax was not in the community’s best interest. The private efforts included writing letters to the editor and demonstrating at various locations around the city.
Meanwhile, this fall Laramie voters OK’d a $25 million bond levy in a special election.
Sheridan College has other large projects in the works — a renovation and addition to the school’s student center and the planning for a large animal science facility on the north side of the city.
2. City Council member arrested for DUI
Ward I City Councilor Shelleen Smith was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in April.
Smith initially issued an apology and pleaded not guilty but later changed her plea and was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay $390 in fines and legal fees.
Police reports released in July showed Smith’s blood alcohol content was .12 and revealed that one of the city’s highest paid city employees, Public Works Director Nic Bateson, was a passenger in Smith’s car when she was pulled over.
Bateson placed a call to the city’s police chief while Smith was speaking with officers, but the chief said the conversation was not inappropriate.
3. Sheridan Inn to get another breath of life
After years of fundraising and several months of last-ditch efforts to save the nonprofit-owned Sheridan Inn in 2012, a Cheyenne bank foreclosed the historic building.
This September, a Tulsa-based man with Sheridan roots purchased the building with buy-in from employees at his Oklahoma business. Bob Townsend and his wife, Dana, closed on the inn later in the fall and promised the Sheridan community to finish what the nonprofit had started.
“I think that only makes sense to go ahead and finish that out,” Bob Townsend said. “Those 22 rooms — ideally you’d have more — but those rooms are what will make it viable.
“Anyone who has looked at the building and is willing to finish it with the business model the (nonprofit) Heritage Center started, knows that you won’t make a huge profit,” he continued. “But you can make money and you can keep it running in the black.”
4. Teen convicted of murder gets resentenced
After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles and a Wyoming Legislature vote that allowed juveniles to be considered for parole after 25 years, the Wyoming Supreme Court agreed to grant convicted murderer Wyatt Bear Cloud a new sentencing.
Bear Cloud was one of three teens who participated in a home invasion and murder of Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst in 2009. Bear Cloud was 16 at the time of the crime.
Bear Cloud was also charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and aggravated burglary for his connection to the 2009 crime. In his resentencing, it was determined that the original sentences for those two crimes would stand. He will therefore serve 20-25 years for the conspiracy crime, to be served concurrently to the murder sentence. He will also serve 20-25 years for aggravated burglary, to be consecutive to the other two sentences. County Attorney Matt Redle believed that sentence must be served first.
One of the other teens involved in the crime, triggerman Dharminder Vir Sen, will have a resentencing hearing in January.
5. Proposal for a Big Horn community center fails
Several Sheridan County residents were up in arms this spring when the Sheridan County School District 1 Recreation District pitched building a community center where an old bus barn had stood.
Residents were concerned about the lack of public input, the financial viability of such an endeavor and the mixed messages from the district about why the location chosen was a good fit.
In addition, the Sheridan Tennis Association wanted to build a second, tall building on the site and neighbors did not approve.
The district is set to try the pitch for a community center again, this time without the involvement of the tennis association and with the help of a public relations firm. The group said they hope to submit a new plan to the county in February.
6. Mick Wiest honored as Wyoming Teacher of the Year
In what Sheridan County School District 2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty said was the first time, a district teacher was recognized as teacher of the year by the state.
Mick Wiest, an English teacher at Fort Mackenzie High School received the honor in October.
Wiest began his employment at FMHS in 2010, but has previously taught in Cody and Douglas, as well as Glendive, Mont. He has been a teacher for more than 25 years.
Dougherty said in past years, through the work of Wiest and other staff, the school has achieved 100 percent proficiency on some state standardized tests and this past year, the school had the highest ACT composite score of any high school in the state.
“But the most important thing, testing aside, is what he does with kids every day,” Dougherty said. “He has a way of engaging kids in learning that relates high expectations but relevance at the same time. He just has a way of making connections with kids and through that relationship he creates kids who are learners and want to earn at a high level.
7. Hailstorm damages homes, cars
A storm that ripped through the Sheridan in early June left its mark on the community, causing thousands of dollars in hail damage to vehicles and homes.
Reports ranged from broken skylights and windows to stripped siding and shredded roofs on houses and businesses.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and the last time I can remember a storm like this was the summer of 1979,” State Farm Agent Bill Phillips said.
Phillips said his office handled more than 100 hail damage claims as of June 14. Other agents reported similar claim numbers, many with 40 or 50 claims taken during the remaining business hours after the storm June 13.
The storm caused damage of another kind, to the city’s reputation, when area residents saw city police cars being repaired at a temporary business set up on Coffeen Avenue called Hail USA. Some thought the city’s utilization of the business went against the “shop local” campaign efforts of organizations such as the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce.
8. Wyoming Supreme Court rules in favor of local IAFF
On March 20, the Wyoming State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Sheridan firefighters union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 276, reversing a summary judgment by Sheridan’s district court in favor of the city.
The city, it was ruled, owed more than $6,500, which will be split between four firefighters listed in the suit according to step level and years of service, union President George Neeson said.
The case centered on a disagreement between the firefighters union and the city of Sheridan on how to interpret a portion of their collective bargaining agreement regarding pay raises.
The case is being fought again in the courts, as the city has once again refused to honor the step pay increases and the union feels the city is required to by their contract. The IAFF filed its most recent lawsuit in November.
9. Woman gets minimum sentence for killing her mother
Caron D. Avery was sentenced in October in Sheridan County’s 4th Judicial District Court for involuntary manslaughter and two counts of felony forgery. Judge John Fenn assigned Avery suspended prison sentences for all three charges and instead assigned supervised probation.
Avery’s forgery charges stem from two incidents last summer when she forged endorsements on checks that were mailed to the previous tenant of the residence Avery rented at 273 Badger St., which she shared with her mother, Nina Avery.
On Sept. 14, police questioned Nina Avery and provided photographs of the person who had been conducting suspicious activity at the bank. Nina Avery had indicated the person in the photos looked like her daughter, Caron Avery. Later that night, Caron and Nina Avery became involved in an argument that became physical.
An autopsy performed at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings, Mont., listed the cause of death as asphyxiation by smothering, and determined Nina Avery had multiple rib fractures and three contusions on her head.
10. Erin Kilbride named 2013 Woman of the Year
During the first-ever FAB (For. About. By.) Women’s Conference, Erin Kilbride was recognized as the 2013 Woman of the Year.
Kilbride serves as executive director at the Tongue River Valley Community Center and had been nominated for the honor by her board of directors and a volunteer at the center.
“Her heart is in it,” said TRVCC Vice President Gina Donnor. “That’s it, that’s what it comes down to. Most people work for a paycheck, but she does it for the growth of the center. She really enjoys it. The center wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Erin.”
As director of the center, Kilbride has overseen the expansion of the center from its first building in Ranchester, to a second building in Dayton in late 2009.