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Associated Press Montana News

Friday, August 23rd 2019

VIDEO STORE SLAYING-COLD CASE

Man faces life for murder after initial confessions doubted

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A man whose confessions to the 1998 murder of a Montana video store clerk were initially met with skepticism from authorities is now facing life in prison.

Zachary David O'Neill was due to appear Friday in state district court in the murder of 18-year-old Miranda Fenner and the rape and attempted murder of a second woman.

The 39-year-old pleaded guilty last month under a deal between prosecutors and the defense that calls for him to receive a life sentence.

O'Neill confessed to Fenner's slaying as early as 2016 while at a psychiatric hospital in Spokane, Washington.

Authorities said he also made false claims that undermined his credibility.

Court documents show investigators continued to pursue other potential suspects until O'Neill again confessed in 2017 with details that corroborated his guilt.

DEATH PENALTY-DA

Wyoming DA seeks death penalty in Montana woman's killing

(Information from: KTWO-AM, http://www.k2radio.com/)

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming prosecutor plans to seek the death penalty for the rape and killing of a Montana woman more than 30 years ago.

KTWO-AM reported Tuesday that Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen will seek capital punishment for 74-year-old Dale Wayne Eaton.

Eaton was convicted in 2004 for the 1988 killing of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana.

Kimmell disappeared while driving across Wyoming and her body was found in the North Platte River.

Eaton was connected to the case through DNA evidence and spent a decade on death row before a federal judge overturned his death sentence in 2014.

A federal appeals court ruled in July that Eaton can still be subject to the death penalty.

Eaton's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

___

MONTANA SKI AREA-CHAIRLIFTS

Montana ski area plans construction of 2 more chairlifts

(Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana ski area plans to build two additional chairlifts in the next few years.

The Independent Record reported Wednesday that Great Divide Ski Area has announced plans to start work next summer on the Summit Shuttle chairlift.

Owner Kevin Taylor says the new lift will mostly run parallel to a current chairlift.

He says the lift aims to increase capacity on the slopes and allow trips to the summit to continue if the other lift has mechanical problems.

Taylor says they also plan to open the Tall Timbers Chairlift in 2022, providing access to expert slopes on the area's southeastern edge.

Great Divide Ski Area is about 22 miles (35 kilometers) northwest of Helena.

___

WYOMING COAL MINING-THE LATEST

The Latest: US fossil fuel official tours Wyoming coal sites

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The U.S. government official who oversees research involving fossil fuels says it's not too late for new technology to help the coal industry.

Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg said Thursday in Cheyenne that some technologies to make products from carbon dioxide emissions could be marketable within a couple years.

Winberg is touring Wyoming at a crucial time for the coal-producing state. Financial troubles have shut down two huge open-pit mines in the Powder River Basin.

Winberg's trip focuses on fossil fuel technologies, including ways to keep greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants. Winberg visited a carbon-capture test facility at a coal-fired power plant and toured a coal mine in the Gillette area.

He plans to visit a University of Wyoming research center Friday.

AP-US-KEYSTONE-PIPELINE-NEBRASKA

Nebraska court to rule on state's approval of pipeline path

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Supreme Court is expected to rule on a lawsuit challenging state regulators' decision to approve a route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state.

The decision on Friday could clear yet another major roadblock for the project or force pipeline developer TC Energy to reapply for state approval of a new route, a setback for the company that would lead to more months of delay.

Environmental groups, Native American leaders and some landowners are seeking to overturn the Nebraska Public Service Commission's 2017 vote to green-light the pipeline. Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a route, but not the one the company would have preferred.

Opponents say the alternative route that was approved didn't get the same level of public scrutiny and input as the preferred route.

BISON CHARGE CARS

Charging bison damages rental car in Yellowstone

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — A video shows employees at a rental car agency all they need to know about how a car got damaged in Yellowstone National Park.

The footage shows one of dozens of bison stampeding through the park as it rams the rental and cracks the windshield. No injuries were reported.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that a family member caught the scene on video on Aug. 13 after the animals brought traffic to a standstill.

Bison weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) and run up to 30 mph (48 kilometers per hour).

A video shot earlier this summer showed a man petting a bison's head in Yellowstone. Nobody was hurt, but park officials warned visitors to keep their distance.

In July, a bison threw a 9-year-old girl into the air in Yellowstone. She wasn't seriously hurt.


Associated Press Montana News

Thursday, August 22nd 2019

DEATH PENALTY-DA

Wyoming DA seeks death penalty in Montana woman's killing

(Information from: KTWO-AM, http://www.k2radio.com/)

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming prosecutor plans to seek the death penalty for the rape and killing of a Montana woman more than 30 years ago.

KTWO-AM reported Tuesday that Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen will seek capital punishment for 74-year-old Dale Wayne Eaton.

Eaton was convicted in 2004 for the 1988 killing of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana.

Kimmell disappeared while driving across Wyoming and her body was found in the North Platte River.

Eaton was connected to the case through DNA evidence and spent a decade on death row before a federal judge overturned his death sentence in 2014.

A federal appeals court ruled in July that Eaton can still be subject to the death penalty.

Eaton's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

___

COLD CASE-CONVICTION REVERSED

Montana Supreme Court reverses conviction in 1999 homicide

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A split Montana Supreme Court has reversed a man's conviction for the July 1999 drowning of his wife in southeastern Montana.

Former Colorado attorney and fly-fishing guide Brian David Laird appealed his 2016 conviction for killing Kathryn Laird, for which he received a 100-year sentence.

Four of the seven justices agreed Tuesday that the trial judge wrongly allowed an FBI agent to testify that a medical examiner said marks on Kathryn Laird's neck were "troubling." The medical examiner died before the trial.

Two of those four justices agreed with Laird that the judge should have dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence.

Three justices said they would have upheld the conviction.

The case was referred back to District Court in Bighorn County. Laird's attorney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

FATAL SHOOTING-HIT-AND-RUN

2 arrested in Montana deaths enter pleas to state charges

(Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Two juveniles arrested in a shooting death and a fatal hit-and-run in northwest Montana have entered pleas to lesser state charges.

The Great Falls Tribune reports the two 17 year olds entered pleas to felony evidence tampering charges recently. One also entered an Alford plea to misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon.

One has yet to be sentenced while the other is currently incarcerated at a youth correctional facility.

The two were arrested in Great Falls for the 2018 deaths of 28-year-old Amy Whitegrass and 38-year-old Lindsay Whiteman.

Any charges for the deaths would be handled in federal court because the incident occurred on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Clair Howard declined to comment, saying generally juvenile cases in the federal system are sealed and aren't public information.

___

UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA-RETENTION

University of Montana targets higher retention rate

(Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The University of Montana has set new goals of keeping more first-year students on campus and increasing graduation rates.

The Missoulian reports university President Seth Bodnar announced Tuesday the goals of bringing the first-year retention rate above 80% and the six-year graduation rate to 60%.

Data from the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education shows the university's retention rate was 72% and its graduation rate was 46% as of 2017.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average freshman retention rate was 81% nationwide and the graduation rate was 60% in 2017.

Bodnar says reaching these goals will take time, but the university is working to align its investments to reach them.

He did not say when the university aims to hit the target rates.

___

MONTANA DEMOCRATS-PEREZ

DNC Chairman Tom Perez to speak to Montana Democrats

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana party officials say Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez will speak at the Lewis and Clark County Democrats' annual dinner in Helena this fall.

Lewis and Clark County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Sandi Luckey said Tuesday in a statement that Perez will be the keynote speaker at the Oct. 1 dinner.

She says DNC Vice Chairwoman Rep. Grace Meng of New York also will speak.

Perez was Labor Secretary under President Barack Obama before he became head of the organization to elect Democrats nationwide.

He also worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he led the 2012 investigation into how the University of Montana and Missoula police and prosecutors handled rape reports.

A settlement resulted in the school and police changing their policies in responding to rape accusations.

GLACIER PARK BEARS

Glacier National Park reopens trails after bear disruptions

(Information from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Montana's Glacier National Park has reopened three trails days after they were closed due to grizzly bear activity.

The Flathead Beacon reports that officials have reopened the Highline, Loop and Swiftcurrent Pass trails in the Granite Park area.

Officials say the Granite Park Campground area remains closed.

Park staff received several reports from visitors of encounters with a bear or bears Sunday.

The park says the behavior was consistent with bears being disturbed and frustrated by humans.

Officials at the park say visitors should remain aware and watch for signs indicating bear activity and take precautions including carrying bear spray.

A social media post by the park says, "Glacier is bear country and hikers should be prepared to encounter bears on trail at any time."


Associated Press Montana News

Wednesday, August 21st 2019

MONTANA DEMOCRATS-PEREZ

DNC Chairman Tom Perez to speak to Montana Democrats

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana party officials say Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez will speak at the Lewis and Clark County Democrats' annual dinner in Helena this fall.

Lewis and Clark County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Sandi Luckey said Tuesday in a statement that Perez will be the keynote speaker at the Oct. 1 dinner.

She says DNC Vice Chairwoman Rep. Grace Meng of New York also will speak.

Perez was Labor Secretary under President Barack Obama before he became head of the organization to elect Democrats nationwide.

He also worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he led the 2012 investigation into how the University of Montana and Missoula police and prosecutors handled rape reports.

A settlement resulted in the school and police changing their policies in responding to rape accusations.

GLACIER PARK BEARS

Glacier National Park reopens trails after bear disruptions

(Information from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Montana's Glacier National Park has reopened three trails days after they were closed due to grizzly bear activity.

The Flathead Beacon reports that officials have reopened the Highline, Loop and Swiftcurrent Pass trails in the Granite Park area.

Officials say the Granite Park Campground area remains closed.

Park staff received several reports from visitors of encounters with a bear or bears Sunday.

The park says the behavior was consistent with bears being disturbed and frustrated by humans.

Officials at the park say visitors should remain aware and watch for signs indicating bear activity and take precautions including carrying bear spray.

A social media post by the park says, "Glacier is bear country and hikers should be prepared to encounter bears on trail at any time."

___

DEMOLITION DERBY-CRASH

Funeral home identifies victim of demolition derby crash

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Officials have released the name of a Montana woman who was killed when she was hit by a car that left the arena during a county fair demolition derby.

Longfellow Finnegan Riddle Funeral Home says 36-year-old DaryLynne Day of Anaconda died Sunday night in Deer Lodge. Funeral services are pending.

Witnesses said a driver competing in the derby lost control of his car, which drove over a chain-link fence. At least seven other people were taken to the hospital.

Day was an emergency medical technician in Powell County.

WESTERN MONTANA FATALS

3 men die in highway accidents in western Montana

(Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Three men have died in highway accidents in western Montana.

The Montana Highway Patrol says a 77-year-old Hot Springs man died at 11:45 a.m. Monday when his all-terrain vehicle was hit by a minivan. The patrol says the ATV driver slowed down and made a left turn without signaling and was struck by the minivan as it tried to pass him.

The Great Falls Tribune reports a 56-year-old Frenchtown man died just after 7:30 p.m. when his motorcycle went off U.S. Highway 93 near Frenchtown. He was thrown from the bike and was not wearing a helmet.

A 74-year-old Arkansas man died at about 11:30 p.m. Monday when he apparently became disoriented and opened the side door of a motorhome traveling through a construction zone near St. Regis and fell onto the road.

___

UNIVERSITY SUMMER ENROLLMENT

More students in summer courses at the University of Montana

(Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Summer enrollment at a Montana university has increased for the second straight year, reaching its highest number of students since 2014.

The Missoulian reported Monday that the University of Montana announced that 3,025 students paid for summer courses this year, 3% more than last summer's 2,945 students.

University officials say they expect a higher figure once each student pays and a final count is released at the end of the month.

Students say summer classes offer smaller class sizes and more course assistance from professors, and help students reach target graduation dates.

Officials say despite a summer enrollment increase, academic-year enrollment remains a priority after dropping by 33.5% since 2011.

Officials say overall fall enrollment is expected to drop again this year, but the freshmen class will be bigger.

___

MISSOULA OSPREY-FIELD UNPLAYABLE

Rain, concert make Missoula baseball stadium unplayable

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Torrential rain prior to a Mumford & Sons concert held at Ogren-Allegiance Park in Missoula combined to make the minor league baseball stadium unplayable for a week.

The Missoula Osprey of the Pioneer League were unable to host a six-game home stand from Aug. 16-21 and will be making up the missed games on the road.

Osprey vice president Mat Ellis said Tuesday the centerfield area that was under the stage for the Aug. 11 concert is too soft. About 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain fell that day and the outfield does not meet Major League Baseball safety standards.

The Osprey played a double-header in Great Falls on Monday to make up two games. They'll play what should be homes games in Idaho Falls on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then they're back to Great Falls for a single game on Thursday, a double-header on Friday and another game on Saturday.


Associated Press Montana News

Tuesday, August 20th 2019

DEMOLITION DERBY-CRASH

Demolition derby crash kills 1, sends at least 8 to hospital

(Information from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com)

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A woman has died after a car flew through a fence into spectators at a demolition derby in Montana

The Montana Standard reports at least eight people were sent to the hospital Sunday after a driver lost control of the car.

Authorities say a woman in her 40s died at the hospital after being transported from Powell County Fairgrounds in Deer Lodge about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Missoula. Authorities did not release her name.

Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles says at least one was flown by helicopter to the hospital and others were transported by ambulance or law enforcement.

Roselles says he believes others sustained major injuries, including a 1-year-old child.

Officials say it was the final demolition derby event at the Tri-County Fair.

___

RESCUED HIKER

Utah man recalls harrowing week in Montana-Idaho wilderness

(Information from: KUTV-TV, http://www.kutv.com/)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah man who went missing for nearly a week in the wilderness along the Idaho-Montana border says he sustained himself on berries and bugs.

Kaden Laga told Salt Lake City's KUTV in an interview Sunday that he told himself he was going to survive no matter what.

Authorities say the 25-year-old Orem man was on a horseback outing in the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness on Aug. 11 when his horse went lame.

Laga was supposed to meet his family at a trailhead but never showed.

Search and rescue personnel conducted ground and air searches.

Laga says he became lost that first day and his cellphone did not work. He told KECI-TV that he ate grasshoppers and even an ant to survive.

He was found after Friday wandering into a search camp.

___

WYOMING COAL BANKRUPTCY

Judge approves Wyoming, Montana coal mine bankruptcy sale

(Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com)

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — A judge has approved the sale of three mines in Wyoming and Montana owned by a bankrupt coal company.

Farmington, New Mexico-based Navajo Transitional Energy Co. will pay Gillette-based Cloud Peak Energy Corp. $15.7 million under the deal approved Monday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross in Delaware.

The Gillette News-Record reports the company owned by the Navajo Nation also will assume Cloud Peak debts.

Cloud Peak owns the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in northeast Wyoming and the Spring Creek mine in southeast Montana. The sale also includes Cloud Peak's Sequatchie Valley reclamation project in Tennessee.

Cloud Peak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy May 10.

Campbell County Commissioner Mark Christensen says the sale is encouraging because the county might be able to collect $8.3 million in unpaid taxes.

___

PUBLIC LANDS ACCESS

Report: 6 million acres of state lands in West inaccessible

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Public land advocates say more than 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares) of state property scattered across 11 Western states are landlocked by private property and largely inaccessible to recreational users.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX, a Montana-based land data company, released a report Monday that details the extent of state-owned parcels lacking permanent public access.

Montana, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming each have more than 1 million acres (0.4 million hectares) of state lands surrounded by private property. Nevada has the least amount with less than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) landlocked.

Surrounding landowners sometimes offer access to landlocked parcels through cooperative programs with state wildlife agencies. But Joel Webster with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership says there's no guarantee those programs will continue.

GLACIER PARK BEARS

Grizzly bear activity closes access to area in Glacier Park

WEST GLACIER, Mont. (AP) — Glacier National Park has temporarily closed access to the Granite Park area due to grizzly bear activity.

The Highline, Loop and Swiftcurrent Trail from Swiftcurrent Pass to Granite Park Chalet were closed as of Sunday evening. The Granite Park backcountry campground was closed to campers arriving Monday.

Park staff planned to check on the bears Monday and conduct hazing activities if needed.

Park staff who live in the Granite Park area have been monitoring grizzly bears frequenting the area and on Sunday received several reports from visitors of encounters with a bear or bears along the trail within the general area of the campground and the chalet.

The park says the bear or bears exhibited behavior consistent with being disturbed and frustrated by human presence.

STATE FLAG PROPOSITION

Montana art historian proposes state flag design changes

(Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A University of Montana art historian has called for a new state flag after receiving a top research award.

The Missoulian reported Sunday that Hipolito Rafael Chacon announced the idea Thursday to redesign Montana's identity with a new state flag.

Officials say his research received an award last month from the International Congress of Vexillology, a worldwide association of flag researchers.

Officials say the design originated from just the seal because Montana troops needed a banner to carry in the Spanish-American War.

Officials say the state legislature added the name of the state in 1981.

Chacon says a public design competition could be the best way to select a new design.

Experts say former historians tried to change the design decades ago, but state officials laughed at the idea.

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