State news briefs
Court opens door to politician HELENA - A former state legislator and non-attorney has been granted a rare appearance before the Montana Supreme Court in a case being argued Thursday.
Speaker of the House Dan McGee, R-Laurel, and former Rep. Bruce Simon, R-Billings, filed a friend of the court brief in the case, which involves a new state law that eliminates cities' ability to enforce their building codes within 4.5 miles of their city limits. Simon, who is running for s state Senate seat in Billings, will be given five minutes to argue in favor of the law during oral arguments.
While it is not unusual for the court to grant time to attorneys not directly involved in a case, it is "very unusual" for the court to grant that privilege to a layman, said Ed Smith, clerk of the Montana Supreme Court.
"To have lay people argue, not attorneys, I've never seen it here in my 14 years," Smith said.
The case, Finke vs. State, will be heard at 2 p.m. in the Supreme Court chambers.Nebraska trucker dies in I-90 crash MISSOULA (AP) - A Nebraska man died early Wednesday when the semi tractor-trailer he was driving rolled on a curved section of Interstate 90 west of St. Regis.
Dennis Joseph Maas, of Humphrey, Neb., was driving too quickly for the curve when his load of bran muffin mix shifted, causing the rig to veer to the left and overturn, said Montana Highway Patrol officer Doug Sharkey. The semi's cab rolled down an embankment and Maas, 46, was ejected and died at the scene. The death raises the state highway fatality toll to 70, one less than on May 29, 2001.Body of drowned police officer found HAVRE - Divers found the body of a Rocky Boy police officer Wednesday who drowned trying to save two fisherman.
Officer Robert Taylor, 43, attempted the rescue Monday in Bonneau Reservoir on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Rocky Boy residents Ira Moreno, 28, and Junior Norquay had tipped their 12-foot rowboat in cold water about 75 yards from shore, Rocky Boy criminal investigator Stan Gardipee said.
When Taylor arrived Monday evening, one man had unsuccessfully attempted to rescue Moreno, who was clinging to the overturned boat, a witness said. Norquay swam to shore after the boat tipped over.
Taylor went under the water twice while swimming toward the boat, witnesses said, and was about 15 feet from the boat when he went down for the third and final time.
Moreno was rescued by his brother-in-law, 19-year-old Mike Morsette, who used two car tires tied to 100 feet of thin, nylon rope to bring Moreno back to shore.
Search and rescue teams from Chouteau and Hill County in boats dragged the bottom of the lake, which is about 20 feet deep where Taylor was last seen. The divers are expected to help in the search.
Moreno and Bruce Denny, who also tried a rescue attempt, were both treated for hypothermia.Lightning starts 150-acre wildfire near Birney BIRNEY - Lightning started a wildfire that has burned about 150 acres several miles from this southeast Montana town, officials said.
About 100 firefighters were battling the Bull Creek Fire, which was burning Wednesday in steep terrain of grass, sage, ponderosa pine and juniper between six and 10 miles southwest of Birney, said Dena Sprandel, fire mitigation and education specialist with the Bureau of Land Management in Miles City.
No buildings were threatened and the fire was considered 10 percent contained Wednesday afternoon.
Besides handcrews and engines, three single-engine air tankers, an air attack plane and a helicopter were aiding firefighting efforts, she said. The fire was burning on land managed by the BLM.
Sprandel said warm temperatures and low humidities caused some concerns for firefighters, with the fire torching some trees and even crowning. But she said fire officials were feeling confident of getting a handle on the blaze.
The fire was reported Tuesday.Bozeman schools cut 11 jobs BOZEMAN - Elementary and middle school students here will have fewer elective choices, some larger class sizes and fewer gifted classes because the Bozeman School Board decided to cut 11 teaching jobs.
The board said it intends to use the savings for teachers' pay raises.
A halftime librarian is being eliminated at Chief Joseph Middle School. Six nontenured teachers will be sent layoff notices, while others whose positions are reduced or eliminated will be reassigned to fill vacancies, said Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent.
The board was facing a June 1 deadline for telling nontenured teachers, those with less than three years of service, that they would not have jobs next fall.
Teachers are asking for a 12 percent hike in base salaries, which administrators say would cost the district 19 percent more next year.Study examines fate of Milk River HAVRE - A study is being launched to determine if too many demands are being placed on the Milk River as it winds through Montana, Canada and back into Montana.
"We know the Milk River is the lifeline of the Hi-Line," said Jim Thompson, project coordinator at Fort Peck. "The assessment is like a physical. We're trying to get her vital signs."
An aerial assessment of the valley, from Fresno Reservoir to its confluence with the Missouri River, will be used to determine what resources and what problems exist in the river valley.
The river is used for irrigation, drinking water and fishing.
The survey also is designed to provide information about problems like erosion or saline seep.Vandals caused train derailment LIVINGSTON - Vandalism was the cause of three Montana Rail Link cars derailing here after they detached from the rest of a parked train last weekend, officials said.
The wreck early Saturday caused more than $20,000 in damage to the empty vehicles, MRL investigators said.
"This wasn't a wind-related event, nor was there any evidence indicating there was a mechanical hand-brake failure," said railway spokeswoman Lynda Frost.
The derailed cars were part of an 18-car train parked in an MRL yard. The cars somehow became uncoupled and rolled east on the tracks.
Investigators said the runaway cars crossed a street and collided with a dirt berm built to stop uncontrolled rail cars, Frost said.Infested trees found HAMILTON - The 65 trees infested with bark beetles, found at the Robbins Gulch Timber Sale, have been marked for removal, Bitterroot National Forest officials said.
The trees will be included in the ongoing salvage timber sale.