State briefs

UW student debt declines

LARAMIE (WNE) — The average debt University of Wyoming students are graduating with dipped by 11 percent in 2017, according to data published this month by Peterson’s Publishing and Research.

With an average debt of $22,524, Wyoming students graduated with the less debt than those in all but four states. UW students graduated with an average debt of $25,378 in 2016 and $22,683 in 2015.

Debra Hintz, UW director scholarships and financial aid, said she hasn’t seen a trend with UW student borrowing practices to explain Peterson’s figures.

“I’m not sure why it went down,” she said. “These kind of fluctuations are going to happen.”

Because their average debt is higher, out-of-state students likely account for a significant part of debt changes, Hintz said.

And though the average debt dropped by almost $3,000 in 2017, the data suggest the percentage of UW students graduating with debt is rising slightly.

In 2017, 47 percent of students graduated with debt, 2 percent more than 2016.

Meanwhile, national statistics trended in the opposite direction in 2017.

Nationally, students in 2017 graduated with an average of $28,288 in debt, just $313 higher than the 2016 average.

“We’re lucky in this state to have the Hathaway Scholarship,” Hintz said. “The good thing is that loan debt is not an obstacle for our students like it is in other places.”

Nationally, the percentage of graduating students with debt in 2017 dropped almost 2 percent to 58 percent in 2017.

The Peterson’s data relies on voluntary financial aid survey responses from 1,080 four-year institutions. Data for the class of 2018 will not be available until 2019.

Jackson council candidate arrested on pot charges

JACKSON (WNE) — Police searched Town Council candidate Zach Padilla’s Jackson condominium Saturday after they received a call the day before from one of his roommates that the 32-year-old Jackson Town Council candidate had drugs in his room and was selling them.

Jackson Police Department officers found misdemeanor amounts of marijuana, paraphernalia associated with its use and a felony amount of edibles, reports stated.

“The vendor out of Colorado was kind enough to put the amounts of THC on the wrappers,” Jackson police Lt. Roger Schultz said. “When you do the math, it’s a felony quantity.”

Padilla wasn’t home during the search, but two other people were cited and released for possession, Schultz said.

Padilla was arrested the next day when an officer saw him at Jackson Hole Live.

He faces charges of possession of a controlled substance, two misdemeanor counts and one felony count.

Padilla, who is running for a seat on the Jackson Town Council, appeared in Teton County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon.

“My client has a commitment to stay in this community,” attorney Dick Mulligan told the court when he was arguing bail. “In fact, he’s seeking election. He has resided here eight years, and he owns property.”

Padilla runs a pair of liquor distribution businesses, Bomb Sommelier and Bomb Beverage.

“He is not a flight risk,” Mulligan said. “He has no criminal history and exhibits no danger to the community.”

Mulligan waived a speedy preliminary hearing for his client, and Judge James Radda set a $5,000 signature bond, meaning Padilla doesn’t have to pay any cash but promises he’ll show up for his next court hearing.

Ranch manager accused of stealing $100,000 from elderly man

GILLETTE (WNE) — A 50-year-old man was arrested Sunday on 10 counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult after a months-long investigation by the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office.

Harvey Bruce Bethea was arrested on a warrant for taking at least $100,000 from 84-year-old Donny York, said Sheriff Scott Matheny. York had a trust set up to manage his ranch. An attorney for York reported that Bethea removed $100,000 with “the intent to deprive the trust,” Matheny said.

Bethea had a ranch management agreement with York, and eventually became York’s power of attorney for financial matters. Bethea took advantage of his relationship with York and used some of the funds for his own personal use, Matheny said.

The investigation started in July 2017, but it took a while to process all of the paperwork, Matheny said, adding that although the original charge was $100,000, York’s attorney estimated Bethea stole as much as $875,000.

Woman wounded in target shooting incident

RAWLINS (WNE) — Following a shooting incident in Riverside which left one female victim hospitalized late last month, two suspects, Scott David Drumm, 49, and John Henry Lee Stilley, 75, pleaded not guilty to a multitude of charges during a Monday hearing.

The charges for both suspects included attempted involuntary manslaughter, which holds a penalty of not more than 20 years in prison and a fine of not more than $10,000. Other counts included aggravated assault and battery – that holds up to not more than 10 years’ imprisonment and a no more than a $10,000 fine – as well as reckless endangerment, which holds a maximum penalty of no more than one year imprisonment.

A little after noon on July 30, authorities responded to a report of a Riverside residence being struck by gun fire. According to court records, a female resident had been making lunch in the kitchen for her toddler son when she was struck in the knee by a stray bullet.

Upon investigation the following day, it was discovered that the bullet which struck the victim had traveled a total of 632 yards – or, more than a quarter-mile – from its original discharge point.

According to court records, both Drumm and Stilley were firing at a target erected behind a house whose address is technically in Encampment, which rests north from where the victim was struck.

The target – which were wooden logs stacked into a pyramid – was about 61 yards away from the shooters.

The suspects were taken into custody the day of the shooting.

The victim later reported, after hearing gunfire striking the house and subsequently getting her dog inside, that she was immediately knocked to the floor once the bullet made contact with her knee.