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Associated Press Montana News Summary
Thursday, November 26th 2015 
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

Number of people in latest E. coli outbreak expected to grow

SEATTLE (AP) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of people affected by an E. coli outbreak linked to Costco chicken salad will likely grow over the next few weeks, even though the product has been removed from store shelves.

The agency said Wednesday the spread of foodborne illness takes time to track, especially when it's happening in multiple states.

Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC commended state health officials for quickly discovering the outbreak and helping find the links across seven states.

Tauxe says the CDC has already identified a DNA fingerprint of the E. coli strain that connects all 19 ill people.

Five of those people have been hospitalized, including two with kidney failure. Tauxe says they have all been told they are getting better.

Six people have fallen ill in Montana, five in Utah, four in Colorado, and one each in California, Missouri, Virginia and Washington state.

Costco has not returned calls seeking comment.


Coal railroad plans on hold due to mine permitting delays

HELENA, Mont. (AP) Plans to build a $400 million railroad to haul coal from a proposed mine on the Montana-Wyoming border have been put on hold.

The Tongue River Railroad Co. requested Wednesday that the Surface Transportation Board suspend the permitting process for the 42-mile line from the Powder River Basin to Colstrip.

The line would transport coal from the proposed Otter Creek Mine to U.S. markets and to West Coast ports for export.

Railroad officials say delays in the Otter Creek Mine permitting process led to the decision to suspend the Tongue River line.

The company is owned by BNSF Railway and Arch Coal, the proposed mine's owner.

BNSF spokesman Matt Jones says the partners will not move ahead until the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued a mine permit and any subsequent lawsuits are resolved.


Feds deny requests to re-open Montana dam transfer

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

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) Federal energy regulators have denied requests for a new hearing on the transfer of a western Montana dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The Montana Public Service Commission, the Montana Land and Water Alliance and two current and former state senators had separately requested a new hearing to voice their concerns.

The Daily Inter Lake reports the Federal Energy regulatory Commission denied those requests last Thursday.

The federal commission said the tribal company that operates the dam, Energy Keepers Inc., had demonstrated it was qualified to hold the license and operate the facility.

The tribes took over full ownership of the dam in September after paying NorthWestern Energy $18 million. Its name was changed from Kerr Dam to Selis, Ksanka and Qlispe (SEH-leesh, k-SAHN-kah and qw-leese-PEH) Dam.


Judge denies motion to move trial in child death

(Information in the following story is from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) A Flathead County judge has denied a motion to move the trial in the case of a man charged with killing his girlfriend's 2-year-old son.

Attorneys for Brandon Newberry sought a change of venue in October, arguing Newberry couldn't receive a fair trial because of the misinformation, rumors and inflammatory news articles circulating in the county.

Prosecutors opposed the motion. The Flathead Beacon reports District Judge Heidi Ulbricht denied the motion on Nov. 19. She noted the county had held numerous high profile trials in the past.

Newberry has pleaded not guilty to deliberate homicide in the February death of Forrest Groshelle. His trial is scheduled for March 14.


Man admits to drinking, smoking pot before fatal crash

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) A driver who fled the scene after striking and killing a pedestrian on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

The Billings Gazette reports that 44-year-old Marlin Dell Whitedirt entered his plea in federal court Tuesday in the victim's November 2013 death. His plea deal calls for prosecutors to recommend a two-year sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sullivan says the victim had been walking near the fog line along Highway 212 when he was struck by Whitedirt's Chevrolet Suburban and died. Whitedirt fled the scene.

In court Tuesday, Whitedirt admitted he had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana before the crash.

His sentencing has been set for March 10.


Woman dies in I-90 rollover east of Drummond

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

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) Authorities say a woman has died after losing control of her pickup truck on the icy roads of Interstate 90 near Drummond.

The Missoulian reports that the unidentified woman from Laurel died at the scene Tuesday.

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Thomas Gill says the woman had been heading west when she slid off the highway, across a borrow pit and through a fence. The vehicle rolled over and landed on its roof.

Gill says snow had started falling about 30 minutes before the crash.

Associated Press Montana News Summary
Wednesday, November 25th 2015 
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

55 GOP state lawmakers urge Bullock to block Syrian refugees

HELENA, Mont. (AP) Just over one-third of Montana's legislators are asking Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to use all legal means to block or resist the placement of Syrian refugees in Montana.

The 55 Republicans say they are sympathetic to those impacted by the conflict in Syria, but they want to see federal refugee admission guidelines and policies strengthened.

A letter from lawmakers notes that more than 30 governors have taken steps to protect their states and they ask Bullock to direct state agencies to resist efforts to place Syrian refugees in Montana until Congressional efforts to improve the refugee admission process are complete.

Bullock has said he would deny refugees requesting settlement if there were any safety concerns, but that terrorists wouldn't intimidate the state into abandoning its values.

No Syrian refugees have asked to be settled in Montana.


19 people in 7 states ill in E. coli outbreak tied to Costco

SEATTLE (AP) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 19 people in seven states have contracted E. coli in an outbreak linked to Costco chicken salad.

The strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can be life-threatening. No deaths have been reported, but the CDC says five people have been hospitalized and two have developed a type of kidney failure.

The CDC and state health officials are investigating. They don't know what ingredient in the rotisserie chicken salad made and sold in Costco Wholesale stores is the likely source of the outbreak.

Health officials advise those who bought chicken salad at any U.S. Costco store on or before Friday to throw it away, even if no one has gotten sick.

People have fallen ill in California, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Utah, Virginia and Washington.


Deadline set for death penalty decision in Montana killings

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) A federal judge has given prosecutors until July 1 to decide if they will seek the death penalty for an 18-year-old Wyoming man charged with a double murder on Montana's Crow Indian Reservation.

Tuesday's ruling came after defense attorneys said they needed more time to gather evidence for why the death penalty should not be sought.

Jesus Deniz Mendoza is charged with fatally shooting Jason and Tana Shane and wounding their daughter. The family had stopped to help Mendoza along a rural roadway near Pryor in July.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters gave the defense team until early May to make any arguments against the death penalty to prosecutors.

Federal Defender David Merchant says interviews need to be conducted with family members of Mendoza who live in Mexico.


Bail hearing set for inmate whose conviction was overturned

(Information in the following story is from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) A bail hearing is scheduled next month for a Montana State Prison inmate whose conviction and life sentence for deliberate homicide were overturned after a judge ruled evidence withheld from the defense could have led to a different outcome.

District Judge James Wheelis ordered a new trial for Richard Raugust in the July 1997 shooting death of his best friend Joe Tash in northwestern Montana.

The Flathead Beacon reports Wheelis has scheduled a Dec. 4 hearing to decide of Raugust can be released from prison on bond pending a new trial.

After hearing arguments on the case, Wheelis found that prosecutors withheld from Raugust's defense attorneys information that supported his alibi that he had stayed in Trout Creek on the night of the killing and was not at the camper trailer where Tash was shot.


Political Practices adopts new campaign finance rules

HELENA, Mont. (AP) The Commissioner of Political Practices has adopted new campaign finance rules that he says will improve the transparency and reporting of money spent to influence elections in Montana.

Commissioner Jonathan Motl filed the rules with the Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday. He says they will be in effect during the 2016 campaign season.

The new rules require candidates and political committees to file their reports electronically, which will make them immediately available online in a searchable form. The rules require candidates to file campaign finance reports at both 35 days and 12 days before elections. The 35-day reporting requirement is new.

The rules also require third party groups to report spending if their communication mentions a candidate or uses an image of them within 90 days of an election.


Judge puts stop to roll-your-own cigarettes at Billings shop

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) A judge has ordered a Billings tobacco shop to stop operating its machines that allow customers to roll their own cigarettes.

The Billings Gazette reports the state's request for a preliminary injunction against B&B Smokes, which operates Smokes 4 Less, was approved Thursday.

The 8-month-old shop is prohibited from letting customers use its four machines to make their own cigarettes.

Some shops that allow customers to roll their own cigarettes at a fraction of the cost they would pay for name-brand cigarettes do so to avoid federal manufacturing taxes.

Smokes 4 Less co-owner Casey Brock says the business shouldn't qualify as a manufacturer because customers operate the machines themselves.

Under Montana law, a manufacturer is "any person who fabricates tobacco products from raw materials for the purpose of resale."


Woman convicted of deliberate homicide out on parole

(Information in the following story is from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) An Evergreen woman convicted of deliberate homicide in a 2009 crash that killed a pregnant woman and the woman's teenage son has been released on parole.

The Flathead Beacon reports that state records show 22-year-old Justine Winter was released Nov. 20 after completing a pre-release program in Billings.

Winter, who was 16 at the time, had been driving on U.S. Highway 93 near Kalispell when she crashed head-on into 35-year-old Erin Thompson and her son, 13-year-old Caden Odell. Investigators say Winter struck the pregnant woman's vehicle at 85 mph after texting her boyfriend that she planned to kill herself.

Winter was found guilty of deliberate homicide in 2011. She was sentenced to two concurrent 30-year sentences with 30 years suspended.

The state approved Winter's request for parole in September.


Fishtail man pleads guilty in meth conspiracy

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

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) A 61-year-old south-central Montana man has pleaded guilty to federal charges after prosecutors say he distributed about 178 pounds of methamphetamine.

The Billings Gazette reports Merrill Clark Gardner of Fishtail pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to possess meth for distribution. Gardner faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and he consented to the forfeiture of his residence and more than $100,000 in cash and gold and silver coins.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters denied Gardner's request that he be released pending his March 3 sentencing.

Court records say co-defendant Brett Wade Clouse of Absarokee told investigators he made seven trips to Tucson, Arizona between January 2013 and June 2015 and brought back about 178 pounds of the drug to Gardner. He has pleaded not guilty to four felony counts.

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

Associated Press Montana News Summary
Tuesday, November 24th 2015 
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

US to cancel lease on land sacred to Blackfoot Indian tribes

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) Federal officials say they will cancel a long-suspended oil and gas drilling lease near Glacier National Park that's on land considered sacred to the Blackfoot tribes of the U.S. and Canada.

U.S. Department of Interior attorneys disclosed the agency's plans in court documents filed Monday.

The attorneys say the lease was improperly issued, in part because a 1981 environmental study did not consider the effects of drilling on the tribes' religious values.

The lease is in northwestern Montana's Badger Two-Medicine area, which is the site of the creation story for the tribes.

Lease owner Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had sued the government in 2013 to force a decision after the dispute dragged on for decades.

It could be canceled as early as next month.


Winter storm forecast for Montana, Wyoming

HELENA, Mont. (AP) A storm moving into Montana and Wyoming is expected to bring snow and strong winds, creating hazardous travel conditions in the days before Thanksgiving.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning from 11 a.m. Tuesday through 11 p.m. Wednesday for western Montana and into the central part of the state.

Meteorologist Jonathan Suk of Great Falls says 3 to 6 inches of snow will fall at lower elevations. Gusty winds will reduce visibility to less than a mile and create hazardous wind chill temperatures.

The service says the storm's peak will hit central Wyoming between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Gusting wind and snow could create treacherous driving along Interstate 80.

The weather service recommends emergency travel only in the areas most affected by the storm.


Media groups say Montana case could have national influence

HELENA, Mont. (AP) Four media organizations say a public-records lawsuit pending before the Montana Supreme Court could have national consequences.

The high court on Friday allowed the Student Press Law Center, Montana Newspaper Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Society of Professional Journalists to file a friend-of-the-court brief.

They will file their argument in an appeal of a judge's order for the state to release records to author Jon Krakauer about a University of Montana quarterback who was accused of raping another student in 2012.

State attorneys say federal law prevents Montana from releasing the records, and the state could lose education funding.

The organizations argue that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 ruling against compelling states to expand Medicaid requires a re-examination of laws that threaten to cut funding if federal standards aren't upheld.


Montana State football coach Rob Ash fired

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) Montana State football coach Rob Ash has been fired after the team went 5-6 this season, including just 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference.

Athletic director Peter Fields said Monday that the team didn't meet expectations.

The Bobcats shared league titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and advanced to the FCS playoffs in those three years and in 2014. However, the team has struggled late during the past three seasons.

Ash was 70-38 over nine seasons at Montana State, but only 2-7 against rival Montana, including a 54-35 loss Saturday.

Ash came to Montana State from Drake in June 2007. He was charged with improving the team's academic and off-the-field reputation.

Fields said the school will begin a national search for a new coach immediately.


Woman saved from modular home fire in Mineral County

ALBERTON, Mont. (AP) An Alberton woman was saved from a modular home fire when a passing driver saw the blaze, jumped a fence and brought her outside.

Frenchtown Rural Fire spokesman Mel Holtz says the fire was reported Sunday after a motorist on the Interstate saw the flames and called 911 before going inside to find the victim.

The victim is described as a woman in her 40s or 50s. She was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Holtz says the fire appeared to be suspicious, prompting an investigation by the Mineral County Sheriff's Office.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.


Montana hosts South Dakota State in FCS playoffs

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) The Montana football team, which struggled to a 3-3 record in mid-October, finished its regular season with a three-game winning streak and earned a spot in the FCS playoffs.

The 16th-ranked Grizzlies (7-4) will play host to No. 10 South Dakota State (8-3) Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner will play at four-time defending champion and second-ranked North Dakota State (9-2) on Dec. 5.

Quarterback Brady Gustafson missed six games with an injury, but returned to help Montana beat Eastern Washington 57-16 and Montana State 54-35.

South Dakota State opened the season with a 41-38 win over Kansas, beat Big Sky Conference champion Southern Utah 55-10 and lost 28-7 to North Dakota State a team Montana beat 38-35 in the season opener.

Montana has a 7-0 record against South Dakota State, including a 61-48 win in the 2009 playoffs. Montana had trailed 48-21 with 5:40 left in the third quarter before running off 40 straight points.

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