State Briefs

Child’s flu death a reminder of serious nature of illness

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A recently reported flu-related death of a Fremont County child should serve as a sad reminder that influenza can be a serious disease and should not be overlooked as a threat, according to a Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) official.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said, “We continue to see widespread influenza across the state with indications of high activity levels. We do not know if we have yet reached this season’s peak or for how much longer flu will spread in the state.”

“Unfortunately, the death of a Fremont County child has been reported to us this week. We know we have had likely at least 10 other deaths among adults in Wyoming this flu season,” Harrist said. An official count of flu-related deaths will not be available until after the season ends.

Harrist said what is happening with flu in Wyoming is consistent with other areas of the country. “While H3N2, an ‘A’ virus, has been dominant so far this season, we are now seeing a shift in Wyoming to some ‘B’ viruses,” she said. “Historically, seasons with high levels of H3N2 have been associated with more severe influenza illnesses with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.”

Influenza is a contagious, respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.

Common-sense measures can help slow or prevent influenza’s spread.

“Staying home from work, school, day care and errands when you are ill is important. Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve or a tissue when you sneeze and cough and frequently washing your hands are also effective,” Harrist said.

Campbell County declines to pay into fire account

GILLETTE (WNE) — The Campbell County Commission has declined to participate in the state’s Emergency Fire Suppression Account.

Twenty-one of Wyoming’s 23 counties pay into the account, and they can use the money in case of a catastrophic fire. Historically, Campbell County has not participated.

“When you put (money) into that fund and you don’t use it, it just goes into the pool to be used by the rest of the state forever,” Commissioner Rusty Bell said.

While it might make sense for counties with lots of forestry and potential for wildfire to participate, Campbell County doesn’t experience many catastrophic fires.

“We have one tree, so …” joked Commissioner Matt Avery, a volunteer firefighter.

Commission Chairman Mark Christensen said the county budgets for catastrophic fires, and “in the last decade or so, there’s only been a couple of times we’ve even used the amount we’d budgeted.”

The commissioners also did not like how the account is set up. The amount a participating county pays has nothing to do with how many trees or fires it has or how much federal land is in the county. Instead, it’s based on assessed valuation.

Campbell and Sweetwater are the only Wyoming counties that don’t participate in the program. They also had the highest assessed valuations in 2017, at $4.18 billion and $2.15 billion, respectively. They also don’t have many trees or forests to protect.

Christensen compared the program to an insurance company calculating rates based on its customers’ incomes rather than the value of their property.

To participate, Campbell County would have to pay $93,681 for fiscal year 2019. And because it’s not part of the program already, state law would require it to pay three times that amount, or $281,042.

Outfitter on trial for animal cruelty in Teton County

JACKSON (WNE) — A Wilson outfitter is on trial for animal cruelty in Teton County Circuit Court.

The trial, state of Wyoming vs. Forest Stearns, started Monday morning with about 20 people in attendance.

“The horse endured undue suffering, which led to its injury and death,” Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Becket Hinckley said in his opening statement.

The state’s argument is that Stearns caused the horse’s death. Dick Mulligan, Stearns’ defense counsel, claims that his client was trying to shoe the horse and that his methods were legal.

Mulligan said Stearns’ ferrier, Jason Clapp, had put three shoes on the horse before it kicked him.

“That left one remaining shoe, the right rear, to be put on by Mr. Stearns,” Mulligan said. “The horse was to go to a trainer the next morning, and certainly it could not go if a shoe was missing.”

Mulligan believes there’s been an overreaction to a video, taken by neighbor Mary Wendell Lampton, that showed Stearns in August 2017 with the horse tied down and bleeding.

“The video, standing alone, does not portray the entire story of what happened,” Mulligan said.

The state’s first witness, Lampton, testified for over an hour Monday.

She took the video of Stearns on Aug. 8. In it, she can be heard confronting him about being abusive to his animals.

She said the horse was in distress and injured in several places.

Investigators believe Stearns left the animal tied to the ground for more than three hours, which led Teton County sheriff’s Deputy Doug Raffelson to cite Stearns with animal cruelty several weeks after the horse died.

Witnesses testified Monday that the longest they would leave a horse tied down is 30 minutes.