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Friday, May 22nd 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Early snowmelt boosts spring planting, enhances drought

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A warm spring has nearly depleted what little snow Montana saw this year, draining the state of water necessary to prevent and fight worsening drought conditions.

State and federal officials who monitor water supplies said at a monthly meeting Thursday that reservoirs now at capacity could easily come up short for agricultural use and wildfire fighting this summer.

U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Wayne Berkas says Montana has seen average precipitation levels this year, but it came too late and in the fleeting form of rain.

However, the early melting and above-average stream flows in March and April allowed farmers to plant and move herds to summer fields ahead of schedule.

Director of Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation John Tubbs says the good agricultural news will likely be short-lived.


Senate panel OKs letting VA docs give advice on medical pot

WASHINGTON (AP) — A GOP-controlled Senate panel Wednesday approved a plan to permit veterans to receive information about medical marijuana from their government doctors.

The proposal by freshman Sen. Steve Daines would lift a rule blocking Department of Veterans Affairs doctors from discussing the pros or cons of medical pot with their patients. They would still not be able to prescribe it.

Daines said veterans should be able to "talk openly and freely with their doctor about all options available to them."

The Appropriations Committee approved the measure by an 18-12 vote as an amendment to a bill funding the Department of Veterans Affairs. Four Republicans joined with panel Democrats in support of the move.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia permit the use of medical marijuana, which advocates say helps with conditions like chronic pain, glaucoma, anxiety, and nausea from chemotherapy or drugs to combat HIV.

The measure narrowly failed the House last month by a 213-210 vote.

In addition to Daines and every panel Democrat, GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana voted for the amendment.


Commissioner: Lawmakers save 20 percent college tuition hike

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Montana's higher education commissioner says tuition hikes for in-state students would have totaled 20 percent over the next two years if state lawmakers had not increased the university system's funding.

The state Board of Regents will vote on another two-year tuition freeze Thursday in Kalispell. The regents have frozen the cost of in-state student tuition for the last four years at four-year institutions and for eight years at two-year institutions.

Commissioner Clayton Christian says the Montana Legislature funded Gov. Steve Bullock's budget request to help the university system cover spending increases.

A portion of the funding will be distributed based on how well individual colleges and universities improve their student retention and completion rates.

University system enrollment has decreased for three straight years, leading to budget shortfalls at some schools.


Regent questions plan to rename UM law school

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — A Montana Board of Regents member is questioning whether a proposal to rename the University of Montana School of Law for a $10 million donor received proper public vetting.

The university is asking the board to approve naming the school after Great Falls attorney Alexander Blewett III.

Regent Martha Sheehy said Thursday the public was not involved in the deliberations on whether to sell the school's name and for how much.

Rather, she says, the proposed contract came to the board as a finished product.

Sheehy says she's received comments from several attorneys who asked not to rename the law school.

University president Royce Engstrom says negotiations were conducted in confidence to protect Blewett's identity until it was finalized.

The regents plan to vote on the proposal during their two-day meeting Thursday and Friday.


Justice Department eyes voting reforms for American Indians

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice wants to improve access to voting for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Justice Department officials said Thursday the department would seek legislation requiring states with Native American reservations or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected by tribal governments.

The department sent a letter to Congress with a legislative proposal that also would require states to make voting machines, ballots, and other voting materials and equipment available at these tribally located polling places as they are at other polling places.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the changes are needed because "significant and unnecessary barriers" for American Indians and Alaska Natives who seek to cast ballots.


2nd suspect arrested in hitchhiker assault case

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

HAVRE, Mont. (AP) — Police in Havre have arrested the second suspect in an assault on two hitchhikers who were left in a remote area near Big Sandy.

KOJM-AM in Havre reports Matthew Saddler was arrested Wednesday afternoon. He was being held Thursday in the jail in Fort Benton.

Prosecutors allege Saddler picked up two hitchhikers north of Roundup on May 6 and drove them to a residence on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Court records say Saddler and co-defendant John Merrill forced the Michigan residents into a car trunk, drove them to a spot east of Big Sandy, beat them and left.

The man suffered bleeding in his brain, a broken rib and a broken nose.

Merrill made an initial court appearance Tuesday on charges of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor assault. Saddler faces the same charges.


Lake County man pleads guilty to killing wife

(Information in the following story is from: KERR-AM, http://www.750kerr.com/)

POLSON, Mont. (AP) — A Lake County man has pleaded guilty to shooting his wife and then trying to cover up the crime by saying she'd committed suicide.

KERR-AM in Polson reports 32-year-old Adrian McElderry pleaded guilty Thursday to mitigated deliberate homicide and obstructing justice for the November death of 29-year-old RaeLynn Charlo.

District Judge Kim Christopher is not bound by the plea agreement that recommends McElderry be sentenced to 60 years in prison when he is sentenced on July 2.

Court records say McElderry called 911 early on Nov. 18 and reported his wife had shot herself after getting upset over his drinking.

Authorities determined McElderry's statements did not match the evidence. An autopsy found Charlo had been shot between the eyes.

McElderry was initially charged with deliberate homicide and tampering with or fabricating evidence.


Glendive woman identified as victim of pickup crash

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Officials in Dawson County have released the name of a 19-year-old woman who was killed in a rollover crash after her pickup struck a deer west of Glendive.

Assistant coroner Tyler Silha tells The Billings Gazette that Courtney Keller of Glendive was killed in the crash at about 5 a.m. Wednesday on Montana Highway 200.

The Montana Highway Patrol says Keller was the only one in the vehicle when it hit the deer, went off the road and rolled. Keller was ejected.

The patrol says the driver of another vehicle witnessed the crash.


All Montana, Montana State football games to be televised

The Montana and Montana State football programs have announced that all the games in their 2015 seasons will be televised.

Root Sports will carry five games for each team, including the Cat-Griz game on Nov. 21 in Bozeman, while Cowles Media Montana will pick up most of the rest.

Montana opens its season against four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State on Saturday, Aug. 29 in a game that will be televised on ESPN.

Montana's home games against Northern Arizona, North Dakota and Eastern Washington and its game at UC Davis will be carried on Root Sports. Root also will broadcast Montana State's games at Eastern Washington and Portland State and home games against Sacramento State and Southern Utah.

Cowles Media will televise six Montana State games, including games at Northern Arizona, North Dakota and Idaho State. Cowles will carry five Montana games including home games against Cal Poly and Weber State and its game at Idaho State.

Thursday, May 21st 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Resort founder petitions high court to spring him from jail

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — An attorney for the jailed founder of Montana's Yellowstone Club resort has filed a petition for his release with the U.S. Supreme Court.

One-time billionaire Tim Blixseth has spent 30 days in jail in Great Falls on a civil contempt order from U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon in Helena.

Haddon says Blixseth, of Medina, Washington, has not accounted for $13.8 million from a Mexico resort that was sold in defiance of a court order.

Blixseth attorney Michael Ferrigno wrote in Wednesday's petition to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that his client has tried to cooperate. Ferrigno says Haddon abused his authority by jailing Blixseth.

The Yellowstone Club went bankrupt and was sold after Blixseth gave it up during a divorce. Creditors from the bankruptcy have said Blixseth owes them $286 million.


DNRC to tighten belt for move to new Helena facility

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation officials say their planned moved to a new facility in Helena will come with some belt tightening after lawmakers denied additional money for rent in the state's main budget bill.

DNRC Director John Tubbs said Wednesday they'll be short about $425,000 for rent in fiscal year 2017, but he doesn't think it will mean cutting jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Matt Rosendale of Glendive made the motion to keep the rent for Helena DNRC offices at 2015 levels, saying the building project purposely circumvents a state law.

That law requires legislators to approve state leases involving more than 40,000-square-feet of space. The new DNRC building is estimated at 39,085 square feet.

Tubbs and a legislative attorney say because of its size, the project doesn't need legislative approval.


Medical board may reinstate physician's license

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A southwestern Montana doctor who lost his license for excessive prescription of pain medication has acknowledged some wrongdoing in order to begin practicing medicine again.

Dr. Chris A. Christensen would face restrictions, including being allowed to prescribe only a week's worth of narcotic pain medication to patients.

Based on information gathered during a law enforcement and board investigation, it was found that Christensen prescribed excessive doses of narcotics, demonstrated substandard decision-making and medical judgment and kept substandard and illegible patient charts.

The board agreed to give Christensen a probationary license that prevents him from treating chronic pain patients with opioids, allows him to issue medical marijuana certifications only to established patients and would require the supervision of a preceptor.


Great Falls attorney makes $10M donation to UM law school

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Great Falls personal injury attorney Alexander Blewett III has donated $10 million to the University of Montana school of law, and the university has proposed naming the school after him.

The UM Foundation said the donation by Alexander and Andrea Blewett raised the school's endowment to $21 million.

The Missoulian reports the state Board of Regents is scheduled to vote Thursday in Kalispell on a proposal to rename the law school the Alexander Blewett III School of Law.

The UM Foundation says the law school's faculty and dean along with UM's faculty senate, provost and president have approved the name change.

Last year, Blewett donated $800,000 for law school scholarships — which was then the largest donation to the school.

Blewett, his father and both of his sons graduated from UM's School of Law.


Woman dies in crash near Glendive

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A woman was killed in a rollover crash after her pickup struck a deer on Montana Highway 200 west of Glendive.

The Montana Highway Patrol says the woman was ejected from her pickup in the crash, which happened at about 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Patrol Sgt. James Hunter says the victim was in her late teens or early 20s. Her name hasn't been released.

Hunter tells The Billings Gazette that the driver of another vehicle witnessed the crash.


Second man caught of Wyoming avalanche dies

(Information in the following story is from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com)

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — A second Jackson Hole man has died of injuries suffered in an avalanche in northwest Wyoming.

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center spokesman Nathan Miller says 42-year-old Stephen Adamson Jr. died Tuesday night.

The Jackson Hole News and Guide reports that the avalanche on Sunday also claimed the life of 39-year-old Luke Lynch, of Jackson. A third man suffered leg and chest injuries and the fourth escaped injury by taking a single step out of the path of the snow.

A stream of snow hit the group at an elevation of about 9,900 feet as they made their way up Mount Moran's Sickle Couloir in Grand Teton National Park.

The unhurt skier says all four were experienced and that the avalanche involved snow only a few inches deep.


Yellowstone trail closed due to rock and mud slide

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — Heavy rain and snow over the weekend has caused a rock and mud slide across a popular Yellowstone National Park trail, forcing its closure until further notice.

The National Park Service says one rock that crashed down on the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail is nearly 7 feet tall and 8 feet long, effectively blocking the trail in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Canyon District Ranger Tim Townsend says no work can be done to clear the trail until the unstable slope above it dries out.

Visitors may still hike the nearby North Rim Trail.

As the busy holiday weekend approaches, rangers say many trails and other areas in Yellowstone are saturated. Current trail condition reports are available at Yellowstone visitor's centers or backcountry offices.

Wednesday, May 20th 2015
Associated Press Montana News Summary
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Police investigate after teen shoots friend through window

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Authorities are considering whether criminal charges are warranted against a Montana 17-year-old who fired a bullet through his bedroom window, killing his friend in a case that an investigator called an accident.

The unidentified suspect apparently had been startled when 15-year-old Mackeon Schulte and another friend knocked on his window early Sunday.

The alarmed teen grabbed a gun described as a family heirloom and shot through the glass, killing Schulte.

The victim and suspect had been together just hours earlier.

Both attended Billings Senior High School, just a block from the home.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito says prosecutors are reviewing the circumstances and didn't expect a decision soon.


Government releases fire plan to protect struggling bird

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has released a plan to protect the habitat of a struggling bird species from being destroyed by wildfire.

The new firefighting strategy comes as Western states work to avoid the sage grouse's classification as a threatened or endangered species. Experts say the restrictions that come with protecting the wide-ranging birds could damage the economies of the 11 states where they are found.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide Endangered Species Act protections this fall.

The 82-page plan released Tuesday is mainly focused on how to prevent and respond to wildfires that could consume the birds' habitat. Widespread destruction could factor into the wildlife service's decision.

The plan centers on the rangeland and sagebrush landscapes in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.


Havre man gets 40 years in prison in brother's death

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

HAVRE, Mont. (AP) — A 46-year-old Havre man has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for shooting his younger brother to death in the basement of their parents' house during a drunken argument.

KOJM-AM reports District Judge Dan Boucher (BOO'-shay) on Monday sentenced Shane Johnson to 50 years in prison with 10 suspended. Johnson was convicted of negligent homicide for the November 2013 shooting death of Travis Johnson. Jurors could not reach a verdict on a deliberate homicide charge.

Prosecutors alleged Shane Johnson shot his brother after Travis Johnson punched him in the nose during a fight. Shane Johnson argued his brother had grabbed the gun and the two were struggling over it when it went off. A bullet went through Travis Johnson's cheek and into his brain.


1 man arrested, another sought in hitchhiker assault

FORT BENTON, Mont. (AP) — One man has been arrested and another is being sought for assaulting two hitchhikers who were left in a remote area near Big Sandy.

Chouteau County Attorney Stephen Gannon said John Michael Merrill was arrested Friday on suspicion of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor assault.

Officers are searching for Matthew Joseph Saddler.

Prosecutors allege Saddler picked up the couple north of Roundup on May 6 and drove them to a residence on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Court records say Saddler and Merrill forced the Michigan residents into a car trunk and drove them to an area east of Big Sandy where they were beaten and abandoned.

The man suffered bleeding in his brain, a broken rib and a broken nose.

Saddler is a Native American in his early 30s. He is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 190 pounds.


Biologists blame fungus for low fish numbers in Clark Fork

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

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Fish biologists are blaming the saprolegnia fungus for low brown trout numbers in the Clark Fork River downstream of Warm Springs Ponds.

The Montana Standard reports that biologists found 600 brown trout, which is far below the average number of fish, in a two-mile section below the ponds. Last year, they found four times that amount in the same stretch.

Fisheries biologist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Jason Lindstrom, says the fungus impact is likely due to the high number of fish last year, which would have put more stress on the fish by increasing competition for spawning and habitat.

He says warmer weather could have also added stress to the fish, but usually a fish can fight it off.


Wisconsin hunter fined for killing grizzly bear

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Wisconsin man has been ordered to pay more than $2,300 for mistakenly shooting and killing a grizzly bear in northwestern Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said Monday that Richard Kutcher of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, thought the animal he shot May 16 was a black bear, not a grizzly.

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species and are illegal to hunt.

FWP officials say Kutcher reported the shooting to wildlife officials immediately and cooperated with the investigation.

Kutcher pleaded guilty in Flathead County Justice Court to killing a grizzly bear in a closed season. He was fined $235 and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.

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