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Wyoming Highway Patrol data shows decline in alcohol-related crashes

Alcohol-related crashes appear to have dropped on Wyoming highways in 2017 compared to years prior, but by how much is not yet clear.

Preliminary data from the Wyoming Highway Patrol indicates that the number of alcohol-related crashes in the state dropped by 24 percent, from 712 in 2016 to 542 last year. That number is not final, however, as the department is still waiting for some toxicology screens to come back. The screenings can take as long as 7 weeks to complete, a highway patrol spokesman said.

Although the final number is likely to change, Sgt. Kyle McKay said it is likely that 2017 number will come in below 2016’s, which also dropped compared to the prior year.

Fatalities on Wyoming roads totaled 123 in 2017, up 11 from the year prior, but down 22 from 2015.

After a spate of highway deaths early in the year, the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Transportation Management Center launched an education campaign aimed at promoting safety on the roads.

The campaign used dynamic message boards across the state to display messages related to safety on the roads, instructing people to check their seat belts and speed and reminding them of the number of deaths on Wyoming roads.

Seat belt use among people involved in crashes has remained roughly constant since 2015, according to the preliminary data, at about 80 percent. That figure matches a 2016 WyDOT survey that indicated about 80 percent of Wyomingites use seat belts.

Victims of fatal crashes were only wearing a seat belt about 30 percent of the time, according to the preliminary data.

More definitive numbers should be available in February, McKay said.

After dust up with county, Casper leaders seek bigger share of infrastructure funds

A recent disagreement between Casper and Natrona County officials about how to divvy up a certain form of state funding has left some Council members calling for changes.

Consensus funding is intended to help communities with various infrastructure issues. In Natrona County, all municipalities must agree on how to disperse the money before it can be used.

But some city leaders want the money to be distributed based on the size of each municipality — meaning Casper would get a bigger piece of the pie than its smaller neighbors.

“I think that we have to base it on population and on tax payer participation [next time],” Councilman Dallas Laird said Friday.

Given that Casper pays more taxes than other municipalities in the county, Laird said its reasonable that the city should receive more of the funds. The councilman said he would also prefer that the state specify exactly how the money should be handed out to prevent disputes.

“I don’t want to be arguing with my neighbors,” he explained.

Casper would have received about $6.5 million of the most recently allotted consensus money if it were divided on a per capita basis, City Manager Carter Napier told the Council last week. Instead, the city received about $3.4 million.

Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay said Tuesday that she understood the argument for dispersing the funding based on population, but was concerned that Casper’s smaller neighbors would then never be able to afford needed infrastructure repairs.

“That’s a matter of public safety,” she said.

Vice Mayor Charlie Powell, who noted at the meeting that Casper citizens haven’t been getting their fair share, said Thursday that he would like the city’s size to be taken into consideration the next time local leaders are tasked with dispersing consensus funds.

Casper has about 75 percent of the county’s population, but only received about 35 percent of the most recent allotment, he explained. Although he understands that smaller towns need support, Powell said he felt the existing distribution was too disproportionate.

Deciding how to give out consensus funding is always a challenge, Napier said Thursday. Some counties in Wyoming do divide up the funding on a per capita basis, but that has never been the standard practice in Natrona County.

“Casper doesn’t want to alienate the smaller towns,” he said, adding that the city recognizes that it’s especially challenging for tiny municipalities to generate revenue.

Given the state’s current economic challenges, the city manager added that its unlikely the county will be receiving more consensus funding anytime soon.

If consensus funding is provided again, local leaders will need to discuss the possibility of factoring in the size of all the involved municipalities, Mayor Ray Pacheco said Monday.

“I would like to see Casper certainly have its fair share but at the same time we still have to work together [with other towns],” he said.

City and county leaders disagreed last month over how to divide up $1.8 million of consensus funding, which was leftover after previously being slated to build the Amoco Reuse Convention Center, which never panned out.

A potential new plan proposed by Napier last week appears to have appeased both sides.

City Council initially asked for $600,000 for new seats and metal detectors at the Casper Events Center, and $185,646 to replace the Casper Ice Arena ice plant, but the new plan nixes the request for the ice plant and also eliminates funding for Mills to repair park equipment. Instead, Natrona County will receive $200,000 to fix the drainage system in the stalls and stables at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds.

City staff is now drafting the formal new proposal, which will require official approval from council.

AP source: Mueller conveys interest in questioning Trump (copy)

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller's team of investigators has expressed interest in speaking with President Donald Trump as part of a probe into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.

The prospect of an interview with the president has come up in recent discussions between Mueller's team and Trump lawyers, but no details have been worked out, including the scope of questions that the president would agree to answer if an interview were to actually take place, according to the person. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

When or even if an interview would occur was not immediately clear, nor were the terms for the interview or whether Trump's lawyers would seek to narrow the range of questions or topics that prosecutors would cover. Trump's lawyers have previously stated their determination to cooperate with Mueller's requests.

It's not surprising that investigators would ultimately seek to interview the president given his role in several episodes under scrutiny by Mueller. Any interview of Trump would be a likely indication that the investigation was in its final stages — investigators typically look to interview main subjects in their inquiries near the end of a probe.

Mueller for months has led a team of prosecutors and agents investigating whether Russia and Trump's Republican campaign coordinated to sway the 2016 election, and whether Trump has worked to obstruct an FBI investigation into his aides, including by firing the FBI director, James Comey.

Comey has said that several months before he was dismissed, Trump told him he hoped he would end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Mueller's team recently concluded a series of interviews with many current and former White House aides, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Four people have been charged so far, including Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted on charges tied to foreign lobbying work.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment, as did Trump lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow.

Trump did not rule out the possibility of being questioned by Mueller when asked about it at a news conference Saturday. He said there had been "no collusion" and "no crime."

"But we have been very open," Trump said. "We could have done it two ways. We could have been very closed and it would have taken years. But you know, it's sort of like, when you've done nothing wrong, let's be open and get it over with."

A White House spokesman pointed to a statement from White House lawyer Ty Cobb saying the White House doesn't publicly discuss its conversations with Mueller but was continuing to cooperate "in order to facilitate the earliest possible resolution."

File, Star-Tribune  

A student walks into the University of Wyoming Union building during winter break in Laramie.

'A lot more to give': Leslie Blythe remembered for her dedication to service

Leslie Blythe’s friends agree on many points: She was smart, driven, compassionate, giving.

But there’s one question they struggle to answer. How did she manage so many responsibilities? How did she do it all with such grace?

Blythe, 59, died Friday at the Wyoming Medical Center. For decades, she worked for Rocky Mountain Power while also serving as a staple in Wyoming journalism and public service.

Her resume, in part, includes leadership roles with the Petroleum Club, the Wyoming Press Association, the Wyoming Broadcasters’ Association, United Way, the Casper Chamber of Commerce, First Interstate Bank and the AAA Mountain West Regional Advisory Board, according to her online obituary. She also helped establish the Five Trails Rotary Club and was an integral member of Golden Retriever breeder organizations both regionally and nationally. She worked for Rocky Mountain Power for more than three decades until her death.

“How on Earth did she get it all done?” longtime friend Bill Sniffin said Monday. “I don’t know if I know anybody who is as busy and connected in so many ways as she was.”

Sniffin first met Blythe decades ago while he worked as the editor of the Lander Journal. He hired her as an intern and she became an immediate star among the newsroom staff.

“She was vivacious, really smart and really tough,” Sniffin said. “She thrived there.”

The two remained friends for decades and Sniffin recently recruited her to serve on the board of directors for the Mountain West AAA advisory board. The board canceled its monthly teleconference Friday after hearing the news of Blythe’s death. She was so well loved, Sniffin said, even by people who only met her a handful of times.

“It was a terrible loss,” Sniffin said. “I still can’t get my arms around it. Rarely do you get someone who was so full of life.”

Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, said Blythe brought infectious enthusiasm to every post she held.

“We’ve lost a little bit of heart since her death,” he said.

As far as Angell can tell, Blythe held the association’s record for longest continuous board appointment. Blythe served as the board member who represented non-journalism entities for more than 25 years, he said.

To find Blythe in a crowded room, all one had to do was follow the sound of laughter.

“Wherever Leslie was, that’s where the fun was,” he said.

Ron Franscell, a former Wyoming newspaperman and longtime friend, said everyone in Wyoming journalism knew Blythe and respected her professionalism. She understood the business of news. Her death has left him confounded.

“Death never comes at the right time, but Leslie’s death is especially premature,” Franscell wrote in an email. “She gave generously to (her husband) Mark, her family and friends, her dogs, and to Casper and Wyoming.”

“But she had a lot more to give, and that’s what breaks my heart.”