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THE LATEST REGIONAL NEWS

83-Year-Old Man Accused of Pulling Gun on Officers
HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - Police say an 83-year-old Hamilton man pointed a gun at officers who had been called to perform a welfare check on him.

The Ravalli Republic reports John Curtis Hjelter was arrested and charged with assault on a peace officer and assault with a weapon.

He appeared Monday before substitute Justice of the Peace Jennifer Ray.

Court documents say neighbors called police Saturday after seeing a flash of light inside Hjelter's home. They were concerned for his welfare when he didn't answer his phone.

The documents say Hjelter believed the responding deputies were trying to steal from him, and he made them duck for cover by waving and pointing a handgun.

Hjelter went back inside when a neighbor drove up. A warrant was issued and he was arrested Monday.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
County Endorses Rocky Mountain Front Legislation
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Federal legislation to expand protections along the Rocky Mountain Front has received another endorsement, this one from the county where more than half of the affected area lies.

The Independent Record reported Thursday the Lewis and Clark County Commission voted to back the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Its endorsement follows one earlier this month by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The bill would add more than 67,000 acres of new wilderness to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and grants less-restrictive protections to another 208,000 acres.

The bill is co-sponsored by Montana Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh.

County commission chairwoman Susan Good Geise says she plans to ask Republican Rep. Steve Daines to introduce a similar bill in the House that also would expand grazing rights.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Former Nurse Pleads Guilty to Witness Tampering
BUTTE, Mont. (AP) - A former correctional facility nurse convicted of having sex with an inmate has pleaded guilty to trying to threaten a witness.

The Montana Standard reports 45-year-old Tisha Ann Brunell changed her plea Wednesday in Anaconda court on the charge of solicitation to tamper with a witness.

A jury convicted Burnell last month on 48 criminal charges, including multiple counts of sexual intercourse without consent and transferring illegal items.

By law, inmates cannot consent to sex. Brunell had worked at the Sanction, Treatment, Assessment, Revocation and Transition Center in Butte.

Prosecutors say while Brunell called several people before her trial in attempts to intimidate a witness slated to testify.

A sentencing hearing will be held after a presentence investigation is completed for both the witness tampering and original charges.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Initial Decision on Court Candidate Due Next Week
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A district judge in Helena has until Wednesday to decide whether the Montana solicitor general is eligible to be a state Supreme Court candidate.

Judge Mike Menahan heard arguments on Lawrence VanDyke's candidacy, which is being challenged by five delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention.

The constitution requires VanDyke be admitted to practice law in Montana for five years before Election Day.

Lee Newspapers of Montana reports attorney Mike Meloy argued VanDyke was inactive from 2007 to 2012 and does not qualify.

VanDyke's attorneys say he was admitted to the bar more than five years ago, and argue his inactive status should not be a factor in determining eligibility.

The Supreme Court directed Menahan to issue a decision by Wednesday so the high court can expedite an appeal.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Montana Revenue Department Warns of Email Scam
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana officials warn that scammers are sending email messages to people in and out of the state claiming they owe money to the state Department of Revenue.

Revenue Director Mike Kadas said in a statement Thursday he considers the messages to be a threat to the public that could potentially harm computer systems and steal personal and financial information.

He says the email messages arrive with different subject lines, one of which claims the recipient owes money to the department.

The revenue department became aware of the scam Thursday after people began calling about the messages they received. Officials say its notifications are sent through the U.S. Postal Service on revenue department letterhead.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Plan to Log Dead Trees Near Roads Meets Objections
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - Two environmental groups are objecting to a U.S. Forest Service plan to log dead trees along roads and in campgrounds in the Little Belt Mountains.

The Great Falls Tribune reports most of the targeted trees along 575 miles of roads, in campgrounds and forest administrative sites are lodgepole pines killed by mountain pine beetles.

Lewis and Clark National Forest supervisor Bill Avey says the hazardous tree removal is a matter of public safety and won't have a significant environmental impact.

The Forest Service held a meeting in Great Falls Wednesday to hear objections to the plan.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council are objecting.

They argue logging the dead trees will harm wildlife habitat and worry that healthy trees also will be removed.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Teen Crashes After High-Speed Chase With Police
LAUREL, Mont. (AP) - Authorities say an 18-year-old girl led police on a high-speed chase through Laurel that ended when she crashed and was partially ejected from the vehicle.

Laurel Police Officer Fred Gregory tells The Billings Gazette officers received a call early Thursday that a 15-year-old girl with the driver had been run over at a gas station.

The caller said the vehicle also rammed several gas pumps.

Officers pursued the driver south on Highway 212 at speeds of about 85 miles per hour before she lost control near Beartooth Way.

Gregory says the vehicle went off the road and rolled several times. The driver was not wearing a seatbelt and was airlifted to a Billings hospital.

The 15-year-old girl suffered minor injuries and is to be released from a hospital Thursday.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
3 Hotels Slated to Open in Bozeman Over 18 Months
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Three new hotels are slated to open in Bozeman over the next 18 months.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports a 102-room, $22 million boutique hotel is being built on top of the historic National Guard Armory. The project, called the Etha, will be run by La Tour Hotels and Restaurants and is expected to open in the fall of 2015.

Farther west on Mendenhall Street, a 104-room hotel called The Element Bozeman is being built by HomeBase Montana. It will be operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and it is scheduled to open in May 2015.

The 38-room Lark Motel is scheduled to open downtown in December after being rebuilt at the site of the former Imperial Inn.
7 Whooping Cough Cases Confirmed Around Helena
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Health officials say seven cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in and around Helena.

Karen Wandel of the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department tells the Independent Record that two or three more cases would have to be reported to consider it an outbreak.

Wandel says the cases began appearing this month and have affected children from preschool to high school ages. Four of the seven cases have been reported at Capital High School.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause severe coughing. The illness can be potentially deadly to infants or small children who are too young to be vaccinated.

Wandel advises parents to have their pre-teen children vaccinated and adults to make sure they have had pertussis booster shots.
Attorney General to Defend Cap on Court Awards
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana's attorney general intends to defend the state's limit on the punitive damages that can be awarded to an individual by a judge or jury.

The attorney general's office filed notice with the Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday that Tim Fox will intervene in a constitutional challenge of the $10 million punitive-damage cap.

District Judge Kurt Krueger of Butte previously ruled the cap is not a large enough deterrent for a big company. The ruling came in a case in which a jury awarded a $52 million judgment against Comerica Inc. for reneging on a 2008 agreement with a Butte-based office supply company.

The company, Masters Group International Inc., is asking the Supreme Court to uphold Krueger's ruling that the state law setting the cap is unconstitutional.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Attorney General Turns Over Frack Letter Records
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has given a conservation group the records it wanted about Fox's decision to join other states in protesting plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land.

The Great Falls Tribune reports Fox's office turned over the documents to the Montana Environmental Information Center on Wednesday, one day before a judge was to hear arguments in an open-records lawsuit.

The contents of the documents weren't immediately known.

The center first asked for the records in August. Fox released some of the documents in November and January but withheld others, in part citing litigation or expected litigation.

The center filed suit in January.

Fox spokesman John Barnes said Wednesday the Attorney General's Office was no longer concerned that releasing the documents would compromise any litigation.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Bozeman Caretaker Sentenced for Elder Abuse
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - A Bozeman woman has been sentenced to five years' probation for abusing the partially paralyzed 63-year-old man who hired her to care for him.

Elsie Evans McEntire previously pleaded no contest to felony elder abuse.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports District Judge Holly Brown sentenced the 53-year-old McEntire Tuesday.

Brown also ordered McEntire to participate in the Treatment Court program.

Prosecutors say the man told police on Sept. 3 McEntire hit him with a fan. She denied it, but said they had been arguing.

Police returned to the mobile home about 35 minutes later after the man said McEntire threatened to kill him with a kitchen knife.

Prosecutors say McEntire was in the back of the trailer, fought with officers and had to be carried to the patrol car.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
'Free the River' Signs Appear Along Bitterroot
HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - Signs have appeared along a closed portion of the Bitterroot River that say "Free the River."

Officials closed the river this month to floaters between the Woodside and Tucker fishing access sites near a diversion dam.

A 6-year-old girl drowned there last summer and officials say there have been a couple of close calls there this month.

Pat Saffel of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says the agency is looking for comments on what should be done about the dam.

The Ravalli Republic reports FWP is looking to do an assessment to see how safety can be improved.

Saffel says the closure will probably remain in place until the river's high flows stabilize in July, when additional warning signs should be in place.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Georgia Man Pleads Guilty in Mont. Check Scheme
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A Georgia man accused of recruiting Montana transients to participate in a check-cashing scheme has pleaded guilty to forgery charges.

Chaney Demond Sibley of Atlanta appeared Tuesday before District Judge Russell Fagg in Billings.

Prosecutors say the 27-year-old Sibley and three others forged payroll checks stolen from mailboxes using transients' personal information. They paid the transients to cash the checks.

Charging documents say they cashed about $24,500 in checks between Jan. 6 and 8.

A plea agreement to five felony counts recommends that Sibley be given a suspended 10-year prison sentence, pay a $500 fine and write apology letters to the victims.

Another man, Justin Phillips, also has pleaded guilty to forgery.

Two other men from Georgia are accused of a series of similar check-cashing sprees in October and November.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Governor Weighs in on Beach's Clemency Application
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock is asking the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole to consider whether Barry Beach has served enough time in prison.

Bullock sent the board a letter Wednesday, less than a week before the board reviews Beach's application for clemency in the 1979 killing of Kim Nees of Poplar.

The governor says the reasons for maintaining Beach's 100-year sentence at taxpayer expense diminish every year.

It is rare for a governor to weigh in on a parole board case.

The board will consider whether Beach's circumstances have changed enough to merit an investigation. If so, the board will hold a hearing and decide whether to recommend clemency.

Beach was released in 2011 to await a new trial, but sent back to prison in 2013 to finish his sentence.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Group Sues To Reclassify Montana Bear Population
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A conservation group is suing the federal government for failing to reclassify a small population of grizzly bears as endangered.

The estimated 42 Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears in northwestern Montana are considered a threatened species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year issued a decision that said changing the bears' status from threatened to endangered was warranted but precluded by higher-priority species.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies says in its lawsuit filed Tuesday the population needs to be at least 100 to be considered viable.

The group says an endangered species classification would require federal officials to designate critical habitat for the bears to aid with their recovery.

The lawsuit argues the "endangered-but-precluded" designation is a loophole that allows federal officials to delay their obligations.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Montana Man Will Head Iowa Schools for Deaf, Blind
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Board of Regents has named a Montana man as superintendent of the state's schools for the deaf and sight impaired.

The regents announced Wednesday the board had selected Steven J. Gettel to head the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton.

Gettel is currently superintendent of the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind. He's been in that position since 2001.

He will replace Patrick Clancy, who announced his resignation last December.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Montanan Sentenced In Washington Cold Case Killing
HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - A 60-year-old Montana man has been sentenced to less than 3 years in prison for the 1996 death of a Kirkland, Wash., woman.

Clifford Reed of Victor was sentenced to 41 months in the slaying of 28-year-old Sandi Johnson, whose remains were found in Pierce County eight years after she disappeared.

Reed was arrested in 2012. He pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in March and was sentenced in King County Superior Court on April 11.

The Ravalli Republic reports Reed had already spent 494 days in jail and should be free by 2016.

King County Prosecutor's Office chief of staff Ian Goodhew says the 41-month sentence was at the top of the range for manslaughter in 1996.

Since then, Washington state has increased the manslaughter sentencing range.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Panel Recommends Site for MSU Engineering School
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Montana State University's planning board is recommending a new $50 million engineering school be built where a parking lot, tennis courts and a lawn now stand.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports the board voted Tuesday for the site on Grant Street in Bozeman. The recommendation now goes to MSU President Waded Cruzado.

Facilities planning director says other site options were either too small, too far from other engineering classrooms or would cause delays in construction.

The new College of Engineering building is being constructed with a $50 million donation from a graduate. The building is to be about 125,000 square feet.

The board's vote was unanimous, though committee member Jim Thull says he is concerned about losing the only paid parking lot on campus.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Scaled-Back Montana Bison Plan Considered
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Montana's top wildlife official is scaling back expectations for a statewide bison conservation plan following a backlash from ranchers opposed to restoring the animals to parts of their historical habitat.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Jeff Hagener told The Associated Press Wednesday that a pilot project to restore a small herd of 50 to 100 bison is a potential first step.

That compares with an earlier proposal that would have established a new herd of roughly 1,000 bison as a way to help preserve the animals' genetics.

Hagener says he hopes to compile a range of new alternatives before the Legislature meets in January. Timing on a final decision is uncertain.

State officials last week cancelled a bison meeting in Lewistown after ranchers pledged to protest the event.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Tribe's Electronics Company Signs $1.8M Contract
PABLO, Mont. (AP) - An electronics manufacturing company owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes has signed a $1.8 million contract to help produce a missile-detection system used by military helicopters.

SandK Electronics signed the contract with global military contractor BAE Systems in Pablo Tuesday.

The Missoulian reports BAE produces an infrared detection system called the Common Missile Warning system for the U.S. Department of Defense. SandK will manufacture hundreds of the system's third-generation Electronic Control Unit Connector Interface Panel Assembly each year.

SandK president and general manager Larry Hall says the system protects people in low- and slow-flying helicopters.

SandK had been manufacturing products for BAE before, but officials say the new contract is a significant increase in the partnership.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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