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Wednesday, July 1st 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Unenforceable gay marriage ban stays in state constitution

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — When the Supreme Court struck down gay marriage bans nationwide last week, it also sunk the provision of the Montana Constitution that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Gay rights advocates say removing that now-unenforceable provision and pushing for a statewide non-discrimination law are their next issues to address. But striking the language will be no easy task, and conservatives say they will fight any attempt.

After the Montana Supreme Court ruled a state law that criminalized gay sex was unconstitutional in 1997, it took 16 years for lawmakers to delete it from the state's code.

Organizing a voter referendum to change the Montana Constitution would be costly and time-consuming for an uncertain outcome. Voters in 2004 approved the gay marriage ban by a 2-to-1 margin.


Moody's: State financial report errors not a credit concern

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A credit rating agency official says the major problems found in a recent audit of Montana's 2014 finances are unlikely to affect the state's bond rating.

Legislative audit officials told lawmakers last week the problems had the potential to downgrade Montana's AA+ rating. A downgrade would make it more expensive to borrow money.

But Moody's Investors Service senior vice president Ken Kurtz said in a statement to The Associated Press Tuesday that although the weaknesses in the state's internal controls is a concern, there is no indication that Montana's financial condition has worsened.

The audit of last year's finances revealed 125 errors in the form of misstatements and omissions, including a $1 billion overstatement of how much infrastructure had depreciated.

Gov. Steve Bullock in a statement Tuesday called the problems revealed by the audit unacceptable.


Resort tax to jump by 1 percentage point in Whitefish

(Information in the following story is from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Visitors to a northern Montana ski destination are going to be paying a little more for lodging and other items Wednesday when its resort tax increases.

The Daily Inter Lake reports the city of Whitefish is taxing lodging, food, drinks and luxury items at 3 percent instead of 2 percent after voters approved the increase. Most of the revenue will fund $8 million of a $17 million conservation easement to preserve the city's water supply.

Property owners F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. are contributing $4 million toward the easement, with federal forest and wildlife agencies joining the city in funding the rest.

The tax increase is expected to generate $1 million annually and will be in place for the next decade.


5 charged in graffiti at Sluice Boxes State Park

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

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Two adults and three juveniles have been charged with spray-painting graffiti and committing other vandalism at Sluice Boxes State Park in the Little Belt Mountains.

State game warden Kqyn (kwinn) Kuka used the initials included in the graffiti to identify those responsible for the vandalism that was discovered in May.

The Great Falls Tribune reports 19-year-old Jared Hall of Great Falls was fined $500 for criminal mischief while 19-year-old Antonio Tigart faces a criminal mischief charge. Two juveniles face criminal mischief charges while a third faces a charge of damaging state property.

Kuka says others may face charges for the vandalism along Belt Creek.

Park Manager Colin Maas estimated it will cost about $3,000 to remove the graffiti, which was found on cliff walls, rocks and downed logs along about 4 miles of trails.


Man gets 60 years in prison for stomping death in Hamilton

(Information in the following story is from: Ravalli Republic, http://www.ravallirepublic.com)

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — A 26-year-old man who stomped a Hamilton man to death during an alcohol- and drug-fueled rage has been sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The Ravalli Republic reports Richard Sullivan was sentenced Tuesday for the January 2014 death of 25-year-old Robert Thaut. Sullivan pleaded guilty in April to deliberate homicide.

Prosecutors say Sullivan beat and stomped Thaut at his home, causing internal bleeding that killed him because Sullivan and his wife Candace failed to get medical help.

Richard Sullivan said he was under the influence of alcohol, an anti-anxiety medication and marijuana at the time, and he acknowledged getting into fights with Thaut often.

Candace Sullivan accepted a deal that required her to plead guilty to felony counts of obstructing justice and criminal possession of methamphetamine and to serve at least five years with the Department of Corrections.


Fire near Browning flares to 300 acres in an hour

SHELBY, Mont. (AP) — Authorities say firefighters expect to contain a grass fire that spread quickly outside of Browning.

Blackfeet Fire Management Officer Chris Trombley told KSEN-AM that the fire grew from 30 acres to more than 300 acres within an hour of it being called in Tuesday afternoon.

Trombley says the rapid spread was fueled by tall grass, low humidity and wind gusts. The wind later shifted and allowed firefighters to contain half of the blaze by midafternoon.

He says he expected to have the fire under control by Tuesday evening.

The fire is believed to be caused by workers cutting hay. It is on farmland about 5 miles north of Browning, and no buildings were threatened.

The Great Falls Tribune reports 77 firefighters and other personnel responded.


Missoula, Lake, Ravalli counties banning fireworks

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Missoula, Lake and Ravalli county officials are banning fireworks on public and private land ahead of the Fourth of July weekend due because recent hot, dry weather increased the fire danger.

KERR-AM reports emergency services coordinators for Lake County along with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the cities of Polson, Ronan and St. Ignatius met Tuesday and agreed to ban the use of fireworks immediately.

Missoula and Ravalli county officials voted Tuesday to enact Stage I fire restrictions effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday along with a fireworks ban.

Flathead, Sanders and Lincoln counties in western Montana also will be under Stage I restrictions Friday, meaning campfires aren't allowed and smoking is only allowed within an enclosed vehicle, building or developed recreation site. Those counties didn't immediately decide on fireworks bans.


Missoula police looking for burglary suspect

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Police in Missoula are searching for a man who reportedly entered a woman's residence early Tuesday with a knife and said he was looking for money and marijuana.

Sgt. Travis Welsh says the woman escaped from the house and called 911 at about 5:30 a.m.

The suspect is described as a white man in his 20s or 30s with strawberry-blond hair and a beard. He was wearing a blue or black shirt and plaid shorts.

The woman said she had been sleeping on the couch and awakened to see the man standing over her. She said he asked for money and "weed." Welsh says there was no indication the two had any prior connection. He did not try to assault her.

Officers are investigating the case as an aggravated burglary.


Federal officials reject wolf petition from advocates

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials have rejected a petition from advocates who sought to reclassify gray wolves as a threatened species in most of the U.S.

Gray wolves across most of the Lower 48 are classified as endangered, which is more protective than a threatened designation. Advocates hoped a change to threatened would pre-empt intervention from members of Congress who want to lift federal protections altogether.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a Tuesday notice that the petitioners didn't sufficiently back up their claims that wolves remain at risk due to disease and other factors.

The petition was filed in January by more than a dozen groups including The Center for Biological Diversity.

Wolves in Minnesota already are listed as threatened. The animals are not federally protected in the Northern Rockies.


Grizzly euthanized after killing sheep near Lincoln

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — State wildlife officials euthanized a 425-pound male grizzly bear after it killed domestic sheep near Lincoln for the second time in four years.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say the bear was killed on Sunday, three days after federal wildlife officials confirmed the rancher's report that a bear had killed some of his sheep.

The bear had an ear tag that identified it as one that had killed three sheep in the same location in 2012. It was relocated to the South Fork of the Flathead River after the 2012 depredation.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, June 30th 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Court upholds redistricting in Montana, 12 other states

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana is one of the 13 states with independent redistricting commissions that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld.

The commissions are used to limit political influence in shaping congressional districts every 10 years. The high court's decision on Monday knocked down a challenge that would have placed the job of drawing congressional districts into lawmakers' hands in those states.

Members of Montana's Districting and Apportionment Commission say whichever way the Supreme Court had ruled, it would not have immediately changed anything.

That's because Montana has only one congressional district that comprises the entire state. The Montana commission's job is focused on redrawing state legislative districts.

Commissioner Joe Lamson says the Supreme Court's case was specifically limited to federal races and not legislative races.


Fire near Glacier National Park up to 80 acres

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

COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A human-caused fire that began in northwestern Montana over the weekend has spread to 80 acres and has started eight spot fires in Glacier National Park.

Flathead National Forest spokeswoman Ema Braunberger says firefighters were being taken by boat across the North Fork of the Flathead River to work on the spot fires after efforts Sunday to hike down to the area failed because it was too hot and crews couldn't take enough water.

Ninety firefighters are working on the blaze, which started Saturday in a gravel pit north of Columbia Falls. It was 25 percent contained Monday morning.

Crews were preparing for the possibility of thunderstorms and gusty winds on Monday afternoon. Eight homeowners were warned they may have to evacuate.

The fire was human-caused, but Braunberger says officials don't know how it started.


13 states sue over rule giving feds authority on state water

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — More than a dozen states are challenging a new rule that gives federal authorities jurisdiction over some state waters.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (STEHN'-juhm) says the "Waters of the U.S." rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers is "unnecessary" and "unlawful." He says it does nothing to increase water quality in North Dakota and other states.

Federal officials say the new rule aims to clarify which wetlands, streams and other waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Stenehjem says a lawsuit seeking to have the rule thrown out was filed Monday in federal court in North Dakota.

The other states joining the lawsuit are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.


Judge rules Havre boy to be tried as adult for stabbings

(Information in the following story is from: KOJM-AM, http://www.kojm.com)

HAVRE, Mont. (AP) — A state judge has ruled a 17-year-old Havre boy should be tried as an adult in a knife attack on three Montana State University-Northern students in an apartment in Havre.

KOJM-AM reports District Judge Dan Boucher made his decision after a transfer hearing Monday.

Justice Brown appeared via video from the Cascade County Juvenile Detention Center. His trial was set for Nov. 16, one day after he turns 18.

Brown has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted deliberate homicide and one count of aggravated burglary for the May 2 stabbings that critically injured Sam Mix and Taylor Woolman and injured Alicia Schneid, who was able to escape and call for help.

Mix was stabbed more than three dozen times, Woolman more than 20 times, including one that pierced her brain. Schneid was stabbed seven times.


Man sentenced for slashing throat of senior living resident

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

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A 73-year-old Butte man has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a fellow resident at a senior living facility by slashing the man's throat with a butcher knife.

The Montana Standard reports John Edward Grubbs Sr. was sentenced Monday. He pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in April.

Grubbs was charged with killing 72-year-old Jerry Diltz in March 2014 during a drunken argument over money.

An employee at Continental Gardens witnessed the fight and called police.


2 bighorn rams killed after mixing with domestic sheep

GLASGOW, Mont. (AP) — State wildlife officials killed two young bighorn rams after they were spotted near domestic sheep south of Malta, more than 20 miles from two nearby bighorn herds.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Scott Thompson removed the sheep on June 24 over concerns that the domestic sheep could have been exposed to pneumonia that can decimate a bighorn herd.

In the Tendoy Mountains near Lima, the state plans to remove an entire herd, and later restock the area with healthy bighorns. Other recent bighorn sheep die offs resulted in the closure of hunting districts until the herds recover.

FWP says the meat was donated to local families and the horns will be used for educational purposes.


Man pleads no contest to burning daughter with lighter

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 44-year-old Billings man has pleaded no contest to charges that he held down his 6-year-old daughter and burned her with a lighter.

The Billings Gazette reports Blaine Startin entered his plea Friday before District Judge Gregory Todd. He also pleaded no contest to drug possession.

Startin was charged with assaulting a minor after the mother of the girl noticed markings on her neck and burns on her arms after the child, who has Down syndrome, spent time with Startin and his girlfriend.

Doctors told the mother the burns looked like they had been inflicted by a lighter and the marks on the girl's neck were in the shape of a hand.

The plea agreement recommends Startin be sentenced to 10 years with the Department of Corrections. A sentencing date has not been set.


Items belonging to missing hunter found in Crazy Mountains

BIG TIMBER, Mont. (AP) — A man doing some fencing work in the Crazy Mountains found items belonging to a 38-year-old Bozeman man who went missing during an elk hunt in September 2014.

The Big Timber Pioneer reports Roger Beslanowitch of Powell, Wyoming, was working at a ranch on June 19 when he saw something orange in the brush. He found a bow, backpack, field gear and a hunting license with Aaron Hedges' name on it.

Beslanowitch and his son-in-law called the Sweet Grass County sheriff's office.

Search and Rescue Coordinator Alan Ronneberg says a search of the area turned up no more clues. Officials say no more searches are planned unless they get more leads.

In the fall of 2014, search teams found a pair of boots and other items believed to belong to Hedges near Sweet Grass Creek.


Bozeman man dies in kayaking accident

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A man has died after a kayaking accident in the East Gallatin Recreation Area in Bozeman.

Bozeman Police Patrol Capt. Cory Klumb said Monday that 55-year-old Kevin R. Franklin of Bozeman died at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital Sunday night.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports the man was pulled out of the water at 5:45 p.m. Saturday after bystanders spotted his flipped kayak at the Bozeman Beach area. Emergency responders arrived within minutes.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, June 29th 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Some Montana schools missing vaccine benchmark, data shows

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — New state data shows that vaccination rates at one in eight elementary schools in Montana are too low to ensure immunity from outbreaks of measles or whooping cough.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services released immunization and exemption rates of 347 elementary schools for the first time in response to a records request by The Billings Gazette.

The agency declined to release grade-level rates, citing patient privacy concerns in rural areas.

Though information for small schools and non-reporting schools isn't available, the data lends new detail about vaccination trends in Montana, a state with historically poor immunization rates

Many schools have high immunization rates; one in six schools had 100 percent. Among the state's large school districts, no single elementary school had immunization rates below 93 percent.


Montana autopsies to be outsourced to other states in July

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Montana autopsies will have to be done in other states in the coming weeks because the state's only two forensic medical examiners qualified to assist county coroners are leaving.

As of July 2, there'll be no forensic medical examiner in the state qualified to assist coroners with autopsies.

The bodies of those who die under suspicious circumstances in the western part of the state will be driven by a coroner to Seattle. Bodies in the eastern part of the state will be transported to Rapid City, South Dakota, for autopsy.

But Mike Milburn, of the Montana Attorney General's Office, says the situation is a minor inconvenience and autopsies won't be delayed.

Milburn tells the Missoulian that the state has hired a new medical examiner, who will start in mid-August.


Wildfire burning in northern Montana

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Firefighters are working to suppress a 30-acre wildfire in northern Montana.

Officials say the fire started Saturday in the Flathead National Forest near Glacier National Park at a gravel pit west of the North Fork of the Flathead River.

The fire is about 12 miles north of Columbia Falls and is burning in an area scorched in 2003.

Firefighters were aggressively attacking any spot fires starting in the national park.

Elsewhere in Montana, crews on Sunday responded to a small fire that reportedly started northeast of Livingston.


Judge rejects environmentalists' open-meetings lawsuit

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A Helena judge has rejected environmental groups' claims that Gov. Steve Bullock violated open-meetings laws before nominating 5.1 million acres of forest land for priority management.

District Judge Kathy Seeley agreed with Bullock's argument in her June 15 ruling that he had the sole discretion in responding to the U.S. Forest Service's request.

The lawsuit by WildWest Institute and other groups objected to the committee that advised the governor on which lands to nominate. They say no notice was given of the committee's meetings and no minutes were recorded.

WildWest Institute director Matthew Koehler told the Missoulian that the judge's ruling allows government officials to make secret decisions.

A Bullock spokesman says the governor makes it a priority to hear from constituents and stakeholders on the decisions he makes.


Helena man loses lawsuit against Forest Service for tasing

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge has sided with the federal government in a lawsuit filed by a Helena man who said a U.S. Forest Service employee caused him brain damage in using a Taser on him in 2010.

The Missoulian reports that U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula handed down his verdict Friday following a lengthy bench trial.

Christensen ruled there was no evidence the deployment of the Taser caused Thomas Bisom, then 17, any brain injury after a confrontation on May 1, 2010, at a trailhead in the Helena National Forest.

Bisom's lawsuit charged that the Forest Service law enforcement officer was negligent and that his constitutional rights were violated.

He sought $3 million in damages.


ID of Butte man who dies after falling from balcony released

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

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Authorities have released the name of a 27-year-old man who was found dead in an alley after falling 40 feet from a third-floor apartment balcony in Butte.

Butte-Silver Bow County coroner Lee LaBreche says no foul play is suspected in the death of Keegan Shea, whose body was found Friday morning.

The Montana Standard reports that the death was due to blunt force trauma to the head.

Police say they believe Shea was alone on the balcony when he fell while a roommate was asleep inside the apartment.


Butte man killed in house fire identified

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

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — The 64-year-old man who died in a fire at his Butte residence has been identified as Harold Lobb.

Butte-Silver Bow County coroner Lee LaBreche says he believes Lobb died from smoke inhalation as the result of a cigarette that burned in a chair.

The Montana Standard reports that firefighters found a recliner that was smoldering at Lobb's home at about 8 a.m. Friday.

LaBreche says the smoke was likely toxic from the smoldering chair. He also said Lobb had health issues.

Firefighters contained the fire to the basement bedroom. Firefighters also found a pack of cigarettes near the chair.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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