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Friday, August 1st 2014
Associated Press Montana News Summary

Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Audit: Gender pay gap smaller in state government

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A new state audit shows the gender pay gap among Montana government employees is nearly 20 percent smaller than it is statewide.

Women make about 67 percent of what men earn on average across the state. The Montana Department of Administration audit released Thursday shows women in state government make about 86 percent of what men earn.

The audit says women in the same occupation as men make 98.68 percent of the men's salaries, but that women tend to be underrepresented in higher-level management positions.

The audit also says women are more likely than men to be underemployed, meaning they have a level of education that is higher than the level of work they do.

The audit was released by Gov. Steve Bullock's Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force.


Voting office to open on Blackfeet reservation

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch says a satellite voting office will open on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation for late voter registration and in-person absentee voting.

Thursday's announcement means satellite offices will open on at least four Montana reservations in time for the Nov. 4 election. McCulloch says preliminary talks have begun for offices on other reservations, as well.

The Browning office will be open twice a week for 30 days prior to the election.

In June, the state and three counties settled a federal voting-rights lawsuit. The settlement called for voting offices on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations.

The American Indian plaintiffs had argued they were discriminated against because they had to drive long distances to county courthouses to register late and vote early in elections.


Montana prairie reserve tops 300,000 acres

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A private conservation reserve on north-central Montana's open prairie now spans more than 300,000 acres with the addition of a large parcel south of Malta.

American Prairie Reserve manager James Barnett said Thursday the group recently bought a 22,000-acre ranch in Phillips County.

He says the deal marks an important step in the reserve's goal to piece together more than 3 million acres of public and private lands. That would allow the free flow of wildlife — including up to 10,000 bison.

The reserve is about 60 miles south of Canada and connects with the C. M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Some surrounding ranchers worry the project will doom the remote area's agricultural communities.

Owners of 14 ranches have voluntarily sold out to the reserve since 2004.


Billings attorney faces 10-month suspension

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Billings attorney faces a 10-month suspension for withholding information from a judge in an adoption case and hampering investigations into his conduct in two other cases.

The Billings Gazette reports the Montana Supreme Court filed orders last week that Roy W. Johnson Jr. be suspended practicing law for three months for the adoption case and for another seven months for failing to turn over requested documents in two other cases. The suspensions begin Sept. 1.

Johnson could not be reached for comment. His office phone number is out of service and no one answered a call to the phone number listed in the court filings.

Johnson was publicly censured by the Montana Supreme Court in 2008. In February 2011 he was censured and put on probation for two years, and in December 2011 he was suspended for 60 days.


Lockwood man arrested after girlfriend shot

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Yellowstone County authorities say they arrested a 27-year-old Lockwood man after he accidentally shot his girlfriend while swinging a handgun.

Sheriff Mike Linder says Christopher Ryan Gross faces a felony criminal endangerment charge.

The Billings Gazette reports deputies found Gross' girlfriend with a bullet hole in her chin Wednesday night. Charging documents say she suffered extensive injuries and the bullet appeared to travel down her spine.

The documents say Gross told a deputy he called a television station to talk about his experience in the military. He says he grabbed a handgun, didn't check to see if it was loaded and it went off while he was sitting on the couch swinging it up and down.

The documents say Gross had a blood-alcohol level of .220 percent.


Coroner identifies body found near Hardin

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Big Horn County coroner has identified a body found north of Hardin to be that of a 61-year-old St. Xavier man.

Coroner Terry Bullis told the Billings Gazette on Thursday the official cause of death has not been determined, but it appears that Maynard Kenneth Hill drowned.

Hill's body was found Sunday by a ranch hand on a river rock bed about 17 miles north of Hardin.

Bullis says authorities are investigating how Hill ended up in the river. Undersheriff Michael Fuss has said it appears the man's body was likely in the area for more than a week.


Former Griz basketball player pleads not guilty

(Information in the following story is from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A former University of Montana basketball player has pleaded not guilty to a charge of selling prescription stimulants.

The Missoulian reports 24-year-old Eric Taylor Hutchison appeared Thursday morning in Missoula County District Court on one count of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs.

Prosecutors say Hutchison sold 1,000 tablets of Adderall for $5 each. He allegedly sold pills twice to undercover law enforcement officers.

Adderall is used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder.

Hutchison played center and averaged 3.8 points and two rebounds per game last season.


68-year-old man killed in crash near Niehart

(Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Montana Highway Patrol officials say a 68-year-old man died after his car crashed off U.S. Highway 89 near Neihart.

The Great Falls Tribune reports the highway patrol identified the man as a White Sulphur Springs resident, but would not release his name until the family had been notified.

Authorities say the man's Chevrolet Camaro was headed south when it left the roadway sometime between midnight and 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

The driver overcorrected twice before the car rolled over, pinning him beneath it.


California couple guilty in 115-pound pot bust

COLUMBUS, Mont. (AP) — Two California residents have pleaded guilty to drug charges after being stopped on Interstate 90 in south-central Montana with 115 pounds of marijuana in their rental car.

The Stillwater County news reports 37-year-old Rick Franklin Voight and 41-year-old Dawn Delores Voight both pleaded guilty on July 24 to criminal possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute.

Under the plea agreement, both face a five-year commitment to the Department of Corrections with three years suspended when they are sentenced on Sept. 5.

They were arrested in April after a Montana Highway Patrol trooper pulled them over for speeding. Court records say they appeared nervous and gave conflicting stories about their travel plans.

The trooper asked for assistance from the Stillwater County K9 unit and officers impounded the car after the dog, Jordy, alerted on it.


LeMond, Blixseth petition high court for rehearing

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Attorneys for cycling legend Greg LeMond and developer Tim Blixseth are asking the Montana Supreme Court to reconsider portions of a recent ruling in a long-running property dispute.

The high court ruled July 14 that LeMond holds a legitimate damages claim over the sale of Yellowstone Club property for which LeMond said he had a contract.

The ruling dismissed Blixseth's counterclaims, but left unresolved how much LeMond should receive in compensation.

Blixseth says LeMond's claim was based on a settlement connected to the Yellowstone Club's bankruptcy. Since Blixseth was not a party to that settlement, he says he shouldn't be bound to it.

LeMond's attorneys say they have no argument with the ruling's results, but want justices to clarify some details so a lower court can fairly determine compensation.

Thursday, July 31st 2014
Associated Press Montana News Summary


War College to make final decision on Sen. Walsh

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Army War College will have the final say over whether any punishment is warranted in a plagiarism investigation against Sen. John Walsh of Montana.

Spokeswoman Carol Kerr said Wednesday that the Department of Defense and U.S. Army inspectors general will be notified before the release of the findings, but the authority to take disciplinary action remains with the war college.

Provost Lance Betros previously said the Defense Department had asserted jurisdiction over the investigation because it involved a member of Congress, and the department would decide any sanctions.

The college asked for and received clarification about that jurisdiction after an Associated Press story reporting Betros' comments.

A New York Times story showed Walsh used others' work without attribution in a 2007 research paper.

The school's investigation begins Aug. 15.


Tribe: Remove 'halfbreed' from Montana place names

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Leaders of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians say the time has come to remove the words "halfbreed" and "breed" from the names of creeks, lakes and other places around the state.

Nicholas Vrooman, who works with the tribe, presented a bill draft to that effect during a recent meeting with the State-Tribal Relations Committee. He says the words are racist terms that demean American Indians.

The bill would require state and other agencies to identify places with the terms and remove them from maps and signs when age or vandalism calls for an update. It would also create an advisory group to determine replacement names.

Vrooman says 17 places in Montana have the word "halfbreed" or "breed" in the name, including the Halfbreed Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The bill comes as the Washington Redskins continue to face a barrage of criticism for having a name that is seen as offensive to Native Americans.


Judge grants access for oil pipeline operations

(Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A refining company will be able to continue operating three pipelines that transport crude oil from Canada after a federal judge granted access for the final parcel whose easement had expired.

Phillips 66 had negotiated access agreements with about 600 landowners on the Blackfeet Reservation and pursued a condemnation complaint against the holdout landowners of one parcel.

The Great Falls Tribune reported Wednesday that U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon ruled in favor of Phillips 66 and ordered the company to pay the landowners $1,450 in compensation.

Phillips 66 spokesman Michael Barnes says the easements for the three pipelines had expired, so the company had to re-negotiate access.

The easements were renewed for 47 years.

The company says the cost of relocating the pipelines would have been $2 million.


Yellowstone considers quarantine program for bison

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Yellowstone National Park is seeking public comment on a proposal to capture and quarantine wild bison before relocating disease-free animals to create new herds.

Wednesday's announcement comes after the Department of Interior last month identified public lands in 10 states that could be suitable for relocated Yellowstone bison.

Public meetings on the quarantine proposal are scheduled for Aug. 18 in Gardiner and Aug. 19 in Bozeman.

Yellowstone's roughly 4,600 bison are prized for their pure genetics. But many carry the disease brucellosis, which can cause pregnant livestock to prematurely abort their young.

A pilot quarantine program that began in 2005 has had mixed success. Efforts to relocate about 200 bison that were declared disease-free have been opposed by Montana ranchers worried the animals could compete with cattle for grazing space.


Alert issued for mother accused of taking 2 kids

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Department of Justice has issued a missing and endangered children alert for a 6-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl authorities say were taken from Missoula.

The alert says the children's 30-year-old mother, who does not have custody of the children, took Kyus and Ashlyn Swanson on Tuesday.

Authorities identified the mother as Fawn Phifer. She is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, weighs 140 pounds and has red hair and brown eyes.

Kyus has blonde hair and brown eyes and may be missing some front teeth. Ashyln has red hair and brown eyes.

Anybody with information on their whereabouts are asked to call the Missoula Police Department at 406-552-6291.


Butte police finding counterfeit $1 bills

(Information in the following story is from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com)

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Law enforcement officers in Butte are investigating an inefficient and poorly executed counterfeiting effort.

Butte-Silver Bow Undersheriff George Skuletich says someone used seven fake $1 bills to make a purchase at Hastings over the weekend. Employees discovered the fake cash when they were counting the money.

The Montana Standard reports an inmate at the Butte Pre-Release Center also tried to use a fake $1 bill to buy a pop from a vending machine on Tuesday.

Authorities more typically deal with fraudulent $20, $50 and $100 bills.

Skuletich says the fake cash is softer than real money and while the counterfeiters put different serial numbers on the bills, they aren't cut evenly.

He adds that counterfeiting $1 bills "just doesn't make a whole lot of sense."


Man dies in 2-vehicle crash near Marion

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — A 55-year-old man from Kila was killed in a two-vehicle crash about 15 miles west of Kalispell.

Flathead County officials say Fredrick Clinton Ellis was fatally injured in the crash on U.S. Highway 2 at about 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The Montana Highway Patrol says Ellis was starting to turn left off the highway when his vehicle was struck by a pickup truck traveling in the same direction in a no-passing zone.

The driver of the second vehicle and two passengers had minor injuries.


Livestock board creates panel to address budget

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Board of Livestock has created a panel to address the state agency's budget problems.

Chairwoman Jan French says the subcommittee will be made up of four board members and will encourage industry groups to help solve the Department of Livestock's funding shortfalls.

Wednesday's announcement comes two weeks after an interim legislative committee confronted French about a May audit that found the department had used illicit practices to balance its books.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that among the audit's findings, the agency withdrew $197,000 from the state treasury using a prepaid expense account that was not documented for months.

Livestock department spokesman Steve Merritt said Wednesday the decision to create the budget panel was based on several factors, not only the July 14 legislative hearing and the May audit.


Bozeman woman sentenced for selling fake diamonds

(Information in the following story is from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com)

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A 48-year-old Bozeman woman has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay more than $111,000 in restitution for selling fake diamonds online.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports District Judge Holly Brown also gave Georgia Cold a five-year suspended sentence with the Department of Corrections

Cold pleaded no contest to felony theft in May in a plea agreement that recommended a three-year deferred sentence, but Brown said Tuesday that Cold wasn't taking responsibility for her actions.

Court records say Cold placed a Craigslist ad saying she was liquidating an inherited gemstone business. Between May and August of 2012, the man said he bought 70 items from Cold for nearly $90,000. He paid another $22,000 in September for 17 gemstones Cold said were diamonds, but were actually synthetic diamond substitutes.


Man leaves $38M estate to Billings hospitals

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Laurel-area farmer who was an astute investor with a passion for poker has left his entire $38 million estate to the two hospitals in Billings.

Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare announced their $19 million donations from Paul Metzger on Wednesday. Metzger died on May 6 at the age of 97.

The Billings Gazette reports both hospitals will put the money into endowments and are free to use it however they see fit. It is the largest gift the two hospitals have ever received.

Metzger's obituary said he learned farming and "playing in the stock market" from his father and he was an astute investor, despite only having an eighth-grade education. He also enjoyed playing blackjack and poker.

Wednesday, July 30th 2014
Associated Press Montana News Summary


APNewsBreak: Defense Department to oversee probe of plagiarism claims against US senator

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. Army War College official says the Department of Defense has taken the unusual step of overseeing a plagiarism investigation against Sen. John Walsh of Montana.

The Carlisle, Pennsylvania, college began the investigation after a New York Times story showed Walsh used others' work without attribution in a 2007 research paper required for a master's degree.

Provost Lance Betros said Tuesday Defense Department officials told the college the department will decide whether any discipline is warranted based on the school's review.

Betros says that decision is normally reserved for the school's deputy commandant.

He says the Defense Department intervention is very unusual and was done because Walsh is a member of Congress who is a military veteran.

Neither the inspector general's office nor Walsh's campaign immediately returned messages


Billings man pleads guilty to bank robbery

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Billings man who said he was behind on his car payments has pleaded guilty to robbing an American Federal Savings Bank branch in March.

The Billings Gazette reports 43-year-old Robert Bruce Scollard entered his plea Tuesday during a hearing before District Judge Russell C. Fagg.

Under a plea agreement, prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 15 years in prison with five suspended. Scollard's attorney will be able to argue for less time when Scollard is sentenced on Sept. 30.

Police stopped Scollard near the bank. Charging documents say he acknowledged robbing the bank because he was behind on his car payments.

Prosecutors say Scollard's criminal record includes convictions for arson, forgery, theft in 2001 and the attempted robbery of a Billings casino in 2012.

Scollard remains jailed with his bail set at $50,000.


Clean air rules assailed as too much, too little

DENVER (AP) — Hundreds of people across the country are telling the Environmental Protection Agency its new rules for power-plant pollution either go too far or not far enough.

The agency is holding hearings starting Tuesday in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington on President Barack Obama's plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

Denver's hearing got underway with Moffat County, Colorado, Commissioner John Kinkaid saying the rules would devastate the economy in his county, home to a major power plant.

Retired coal miner Stanley Sturgill of Harlan County, Kentucky, traveled to Denver to tell the EPA that coal-fired plants are crippling public health. He urged the agency to do more.

The EPA expects 1,600 people to speak in the four cities. The agency also has received more than 300,000 written comments.


Missing firefighter recovering at hospital

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — A Bitterroot National Forest firefighter who was missing for about 24 hours is recovering at a Hamilton hospital while forest officials try to determine how he went missing.

Forest spokesman Tod McKay says 30-year-old Justin Wall was found walking along a remote Forest Service road on Monday afternoon, a day after he failed to keep up with seven other members of a crew hiking in to mop up one-acre, lightning-caused fire. He had helped fight the fire on Saturday.

Wall was found on Monday several miles from the site of the fire in very rugged, steep terrain.

McKay says Wall told searchers that he was really hungry.


CT man forms 'Draft Brian Schweitzer' group

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Connecticut man who says he was impressed with former Gov. Brian Schweitzer's speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission for a group called "Draft Brian Schweitzer PAC."

Andrew Fredericksen of Wolcott, Connecticut, tells Lee Newspapers of Montana that he hasn't met or spoken with Schweitzer but said he and a friend thought he would make a great president.

Fredericksen, a 24-year-old special education tutor, lists himself as the treasurer of the group that seeks to raise and make independent expenditures on behalf of Schweitzer.

Schweitzer has hinted at making a presidential run but recently apologized for comments made to a National Journal reporter.

Schweitzer did not return phone calls or an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.


Officials ID man killed in motorcycle crash

(Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Officials in Lewis and Clark County have identified the Great Falls man who died in a weekend motorcycle crash near Wolf Creek.

Coroner Mickey Nelson tells the Great Falls Tribune that 52-year-old Jeffery Brown died at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Montana Highway Patrol says Brown failed to negotiate a sharp turn on Interstate 15, went into the ditch and struck a tree. He was not wearing a helmet and died at the scene.


Lodge Grass man dies in weekend rollover

(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 27-year-old Lodge Grass man died of injuries suffered in a weekend crash after apparently falling asleep while driving home from work.

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Winburn tells The Billings Gazette that Thomas Plentyhawk was southbound on Secondary Highway 451 between Hardin and Lodge Grass when he drifted off the road just after 3 a.m. Sunday. The car rolled.

Plentyhawk was taken by helicopter to a Billings hospital, where he died. His brother was taken to Indian Health Service in Crow Agency and then transferred to a Billings hospital. He has since been released.

Winburn says Plentyhawk had just finished a shift at a fast-food restaurant in Hardin and had been prescribed some medication that may have played a role in the crash. It remains under investigation.


Ohio man dies in Montana bicycle crash

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Officials in northwestern Montana say an Ohio man died after being thrown from a bicycle on Big Mountain Road north of Whitefish.

The Flathead County coroner's office says the victim of Sunday's accident was 69-year-old Daniel Schoedinger of Columbus, Ohio. He was a part-time resident of Whitefish.

Witnesses have said Schoedinger was riding down the Big Mountain Road when he had to brake unexpectedly because a vehicle turned into a driveway in front of him. He was thrown from the bike, struck his head on the pavement and died of a skull fracture.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Schoedinger was a 40-year corporate attorney who served two terms on the Columbus City Council in the 1970s.


Jockey injured at Great Falls horse race

(Information in the following story is from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A jockey is hospitalized in serious condition with head injuries after a weekend horse racing accident in Great falls that injured the horse so badly it had to be euthanized.

The Great Falls Tribune reports jockey Bill Christiansen fell during the fifth race Sunday at the State Fair Race Meet at Montana ExpoPark.

Meet director Kelly Manzer says he believes two horses clipped heels. Christiansen's mount, an 8-year-old named Vader Grade, suffered a serious shoulder injury and had to be put down.

Christiansen is in his 50s and is originally from Yakima, Washington, but works out of New Mexico. Spokeswoman Karen Ogden at Benefis Health System said Christian was in serious condition Monday afternoon.

The Great Falls Turf Club, which operated the meet, had insurance that will help cover the jockey's medical bills.

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