Most read stories of 2013

December 24, 2013 12:00 am

Click through the most-read stories of the year.

1of 11
  • HELENA – The Montana House decisively voted Tuesday to repeal Montana’s law making gay sex a crime, putting the bill one step away from the governor’s desk.

    After a half-hour of emotional debate for and against the measure, the House voted 64-36 to endorse Senate Bill 107, one day after House members narrowly voted to remove it from the House Judiciary Committee, where it had been tabled on a party-line vote with Republicans in favor.

    “It’s not about encouraging a lifestyle,” said Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, one of the Legislature’s only openly gay members. “It’s simply about respecting privacy between two adults. … It’s just as simple as saying that all Montanans deserve dignity and respect.”

    Twenty-five Republicans joined all 39 House Democrats to support the bill, which removes gay sex from the definition of the crime of “deviate sexual relations,” a felony that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $50,000.

    SB107, sponsored by Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, faces a final vote in the House, probably Wednesday, before heading to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk for his signature into law.

    Passage of SB107 would culminate more than 20 years of attempts by gay and lesbian activists and their supporters to repeal the law, which lumps gay sex in with “sexual intercourse with an animal” as criminal deviate sexual conduct.

    A 1997 decision by the Montana Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional and Montana prosecutors have not enforced it – but repeated attempts to repeal the law, until Tuesday, have been blocked primarily by Republicans in the Legislature.

    On Tuesday, several Republicans stood up to oppose the bill, saying that repealing the law goes against their religious beliefs and would allow the “homosexual lifestyle” to be taught in schools.

    “If some second-grade teacher wants to take her lover and introduce her lover to the kids, I don’t think there is anything that the school board can do to stop that,” said Rep. Jerry O’Neil, R-Columbia Falls.

    Rep. Dave Hagstrom, R-Billings, said he was voting against the bill because gay sex can’t reproduce people, and therefore is deviant behavior.

    “To me, sex’s primary purpose is to produce people,” he said. “Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviant. That doesn’t mean it’s a problem. It just means it’s not doing its primary purpose.”

    But other GOP members spoke in favor, including Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, who said the law labeled his own daughter a criminal.

    “To say she is any less of a person or a criminal for her lifestyle … really upsets me,” he said. “I consider myself a good Christian … and I don’t think God thinks any less of my daughter than he does of any one of you in here. The law is an embarrassment on the people of Montana. It should go away.”

    Rep. Jonathan McNiven, R- Huntley, said voting for the bill doesn’t mean he endorses homosexuality.

    “I don’t support this type of lifestyle,” he said. “I think we need to keep our eye on the ball and start promoting marriage as a union between a man and a woman. …

    “But that’s not what this bill says. I am going to vote for this bill because we still love these people. We want to help these people. Every one of us is not perfect.”

  • A Billings chiropractor was pummeled early Saturday morning when he tried to detain several teens he thought were trying to break into a trailer and shed on his property.

    The incident happened around 2 a.m., said Dr. Jeff Meier, who lives with his wife, Kim, and children on Brentwood Lane in West Billings. The street is between Poly Drive and Colton Boulevard, not far from 21st Street West.

    Meier was watching TV in his garage when he heard a noise outside.

    "I looked out the garage window and a group of kids were out there monkeying around," he said on Saturday afternoon. "They knocked over our basketball hoop in the driveway."

    He saw them near the doors to his trailer and shed and he opened a door and yelled at them. He guessed there were seven or eight youth, at least one girl, and they took off running.

    Meier chased them to the next block to the east, Wingate Lane. He managed to catch one of the males, and two or three others returned.

    They attacked Meier on the lawn of a house on Wingate, hitting and kicking his face and head, and one of the perpetrators choked Meier to the point that he lost consciousness.

    "He must of felt me go limp because I came to and saw them running away," Meier said.

    He got up and called 911, then walked back to his house. He gave a report to a Billings police officer, but declined medical attention.

    Meier was left with a broken nose, a black eye, a lot of cuts and scrapes and a damaged front tooth.

    Kim Meier put the incident on Facebook with a dramatic photo of her husband, matted blood covering his face. She hoped to elicit the identity of the youth and to alert others to the vandalism.

    Within two hours, the post had been shared 350 times, she said, and by 5 p.m. Saturday, it had been shared 2,000 times. She also learned, through replies to her note, that at least a couple of neighbors also had items in their yards disturbed late Friday or early Saturday.

    Meier was somewhat reluctant to talk about the incident, admitting that it probably wasn't wise to chase the youth when they ran off. But he hoped speaking out might help someone else.

    "It's a pretty nice neighborhood," he said. "I don't want them coming back. Maybe this is going to help people know about it and deter it."

    The attack is being investigated, said Sgt. Neil Lawrence of the Billings Police Department.

  • A Lockwood man who dealt methamphetamine out of his home and got shot in his driveway in a gunfight with his son over a drug debt will spend more than 12 years in federal prison.

    Senior U.S. District Judge Don Molloy on Monday sentenced Walter Jack White, 53, to nine years on a meth possession charge and to a consecutive three-and-a-half years for a firearms conviction.

    White is among a number of defendants convicted in a trafficking ring that brought the highly addictive drug to Billings and to the Bakken oil fields for distribution beginning last year.

    The judge held White responsible for about 32 pounds of meth. Molloy called the quantity of meth “extraordinary” and said White became consumed by his addiction.

    “He ended up getting shot by his son,” the judge said. “Thirty two-and-a-half pounds of methamphetamine coupled with guns and violence is about as serious as you can get,” he said.

    White apologized and said meth dealing wasn’t in his character but that he got addicted. When he tried to get out of it, suppliers threatened him, he said.

    White pleaded guilty to possession of meth for distribution and to possessing two firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking. The judge dismissed a third conspiracy count as part of a plea agreement.

    Last month, Molloy denied White’s request to withdraw his guilty pleas, saying White’s statements at the earlier hearing indicated his pleas were voluntary and that he understood what he was doing.

    White admitted he got meth from convicted dealer Tomas Alvarado, of Turlock, Calif., who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy.

    Officers arrested White in March after federal and state law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on his Lockwood home. They seized about four ounces of meth, valued at about $10,000, two handguns and more than $15,000 in cash.

    The search occurred after White was shot in January outside his house and business on Lockwood Road. Authorities said White was shot by his son, Brandon Jay Joseph White, over a disputed drug debt.

  • Health care facilities throughout Billings remained on alert Tuesday after it was confirmed that a woman had posed as a nurse at Billings Clinic.

    “We’re watching,” said Barbara Schneeman, director of communication and advocacy at RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County’s public-health agency. “We are definitely mindful of the situation. We are keeping eyes and ears open.”

    Schneeman said Billings Clinic notified Riverstone CEO John Felton at 9 a.m. last Thursday of the nurse impostor. A photo of the woman, identified by hospital officials as Angela Corson-Smith, of Billings, was distributed to Riverstone security officials and other staff members.

    Julie Burton, director of communications of Billings Clinic, said the Clinic reported the incident to the Billings Police Department. Burton said an individual had claimed to be a nurse practitioner student and that hospital officials are working closely with the Police Department and the Yellowstone County Attorney's office.

    "We are taking this matter very seriously and have our entire organization on alert pertaining to this situation," Burton said in a prepared statement.

    Contacted by The Gazette, Corson-Smith on Tuesday declined to comment and referred all questions to her attorney, Greg Johnson, of Billings. Johnson said he never met her before Tuesday afternoon and knows nothing about the issue.

    "I suspect in the full course of things, the truth will (come) out and she will be exonerated," Johnson said.

    Curtis Harper, regional director of Public Safety, Emergency Management and Forensic Investigation for St. Vincent Healthcare, was notified by Billings Clinic on Friday about the breach of security at the Clinic.

    Harper then sent an email to all St. Vincent employees advising them to be on the alert for the woman. She is described as a white female with blonde hair, 5 feet, 3 inches tall, weighing 130 pounds.

    Four photos of the woman were also distributed to all St. Vincent Healthcare employees Friday afternoon.

    Harper said the woman goes by three names: Angela Corson-Smith, Angela Hanson and Angela Smith.

    She has claimed to be a physician assistant student, a nurse practitioner student, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse and even the director of nursing, Harper wrote in the memo. She frequently dresses in blue scrubs and a white lab coat.

    “She is a talented liar and will invent all sorts of stories as to who she is and what she is doing,” Harper told employees. She accompanied physicians as they checked on patients on a number of occasions at Billings Clinic. She has some medical background, so she was able to speak like she belongs in a hospital, Harper said.

    “Our first obligation is to keep our patients safe,” said Jason Barker, president and CEO of St. Vincent Healthcare. “Billings isn’t Mayberry RFD anymore.”

    Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said Monday that he received a complaint about the woman last week and that a detective had been assigned to investigate.

    That investigation continued Tuesday, St. John said, and no arrest had been made. The police chief said he met during the day with detectives and prosecutors to discuss the case.

    St. John declined to confirm the identity of a possible suspect, noting that in most cases that step is not taken until an arrest is made. But St. John did acknowledge that in this case the woman's name has been widely disseminated.

    Detectives had not spoken with the woman as of Tuesday, St. John said.    

    Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Tuesday that he is aware of the investigation, which he described as a "very unusual set of allegations," and that law enforcement continues its probe.

    Twito said a review of state statutes indicates that a person who impersonates a health care worker could be charged with a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

    State law provides that a person "who by means of bribery, theft, or misrepresentation of identity ... examines or obtains ... health care information maintained by a health care provider" is guilty of a misdemeanor.

    Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Twito said, it is also possible that a person could face felony theft or fraud charges if there is a financial motive or gain.

    Twito said he hopes to meet soon with officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office to discuss whether any federal laws apply in the case.

  • District Judge G. Todd Baugh issued an apology Wednesday morning for remarks he made about a 14-year-old rape victim.

    "I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say," Baugh told The Billings Gazette. "It was just stupid and wrong."

    Also on Wednesday, Billings School District Superintendent Terry Bouck issued a statement saying he disagrees with the sentence imposed by Baugh.

    The judge's apology comes two days after a sentencing hearing for former Billings Senior High teacher Stacey Rambold, who admitted to raping 14-year-old student Cherice Moralez. The girl later committed suicide.

    At the hearing on Monday, Baugh ordered Rambold to serve 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended, for a single count of sexual intercourse without consent. Rambold received credit for one day already served.

    While explaining the sentence, Baugh said he had reviewed statements Moralez made to investigators before her death and determined that while she was a troubled youth, she also was "as much in control of the situation" as the teacher.

    Baugh also said Moralez was "older than her chronological age."

    Moralez's mother, Auliea Hanlon, was angered by the sentence and stormed out the courtroom, shouting "You people suck!" She testified at the hearing that the rapes of her daughter were a major reason for her suicide, and she asked the judge to send Rambold to prison.

    Hanlon issued a statement Tuesday saying she "looked on in disbelief" at the hearing.

    "I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14," Hanlon said in the statement. 

    The judge's statements were picked up by numerous national and international news organizations and sparked outrage among many people, including the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women.

    A petition seeking Baugh's resignation is being circulated, and a protest has been planned for Thursday.

    Bouck, who became the superintendent last year, said that the school district's involvement in the case "ended several years ago."

    In October 2012, a few months after Bouck was hired, the district paid $91,000 to settle a wrongful death claim filed by Moralez's family.

    "What Mr. Rambold did when he was teacher was repugnant and inexcusable," Bouck said. "While I respect our court system, I disagree with the sentence, and I believe Mr. Rambold deserves to spend more time in jail than 30 days."

    Baugh said Wednesday morning he regrets the statements he made during the court hearing. He also submitted a letter to the editor for publication in The Gazette, stating he is "not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct."

    "What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe and irrelevant to the sentencing," Baugh said in the letter. "My apologies to all my fellow citizens."

    Baugh said he plans to write an addendum to the court file this week explaining his reasons for the sentence he imposed more thoroughly.

    Baugh told a reporter he believes the 30-day jail sentence was appropriate given the nature of the case. He likened the hearing Monday to a probation violation in which a defendant is re-sentenced for violating terms of a suspended sentence.

    As he did Monday in court, Baugh said Wednesday he believes the violations of the deferred prosecution agreement between Rambold and state prosecutors were not serious enough to warrant a lengthy prison term.

    After serving 30 days in jail, Rambold will be on probation and supervised by state authorities for 15 years, and he will be required to register as a sexual offender.

    Baugh said the outrage that followed reports of his statements during the hearing on Monday were "perfectly understandable."

    In 2008, Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent for an ongoing sexual relationship with Moralez, a Senior High student.

    Rambold had previously been placed on paid leave from his job as a business and technology teacher after school officials learned of the allegations. He later resigned and surrendered his teaching certificate.

    While the criminal case was pending, Moralez committed suicide, which became a complication for the prosecution of Rambold.

    As a result, Rambold and the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office entered into a deferred prosecution agreement.

    The agreement stated that prosecutors would hold the charges in abeyance on condition that Rambold complete a sex offender treatment program and abide by other conditions, including having no unsupervised contact with minors.

    In addition, Rambold provided a written statement admitting to a single rape charge.

    In December, prosecutors refiled the three felony charges against Rambold after learning he had been terminated from the sex offender treatment program.

    The case then resulted in a plea agreement in which Rambold pleaded guilty to one rape charge and prosecutors dismissed the two remaining charges.

    Rambold was sentenced Monday on the single rape charge.

    At the hearing, prosecutors recommended Rambold receive a sentence of 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

  • Yellowstone County Sheriff's deputies arrested two men Thursday night in connection with four bodies found in a mobile home in Lockwood on Thursday evening, where a fire had burned early that morning.

    Deputies picked up Zaccary John Kern, 21, and Robert Eric Bottenhagen, 21, both of Billings.

    "They were arrested and charged with four counts of negligent homicide," said Sheriff Mike Linder. 

    Kern was booked into the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, which shows an additional count of felony arson for Kern. Bottenhagen was booked in after midnight and also is listed as having a felony arson charge.  

    Autopsies are planned for Friday, and the victims' names will not be released until all families are notified, said Yellowstone County Sheriff's Capt. Bill Michaelis.

    A large group of family and friends stood in vigil all day at the scene of the fire.

    Before the bodies were removed from the mobile home, law enforcement officials met with family members to give official word of the deaths. The bodies were taken away in vans from the Cremation and Funeral Gallery.

    Deputies will continue to investigate at the home at 206 Hemlock Drive and the scene will be secured, Michaelis said.

    He said officials didn’t know yet what caused the fire or how the four people died.

    Lockwood Fire Chief Bill Rash said the fire was reported at 4:11 a.m. Thursday and two engines arrived seven minutes later. Smoke and flames were coming from the building's north side, which appears to be the kitchen area.

    Fire crews managed to get inside the home and had the flames under control within 10 minutes, Rash said.

    "They went in and were able to stage an interior offensive," he said. "The structure sustained extensive damage and there were no firefighter injuries.”

    Rash said the early investigation didn't reveal anything suspicious.

    By early afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had joined the investigation and the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office had secured a search warrant for the property.

    Friends and family of the victims gathered near the scene throughout the day, at times numbering two dozen. They stood outside the hazard-taped perimeter waiting for answers, many sipping from cans of Mountain Dew, smoking cigarettes and talking and laughing.

    At times, the parked cars of friends and relatives stretched more 50 yards south down normally quiet tree-lined Hemlock Drive.

    Shortly after 4:30 p.m., sheriff’s deputies met with a group of family and friends and confirmed the four deaths. The news spread through the group, as many cried and hugged each other.

    More than 12 hours earlier, before fire crews arrived, a pair of neighbors tried to get into the burning home to see if anybody was inside.

    Troy Donges lives across the street and said that a man, possibly in his early 30s, lived in the house and that he thought a woman and several children had moved out earlier in the month.

    Donges' son was up listening to music when he heard a loud bang and thought an animal had hit the side of their home. He looked out the window, saw flames coming from the mobile home and woke up his dad.

    "When I saw the flames, I ran outside," Donges said. "There used to be a family that lived there and that was my first thought."

    He wasn't sure how hot it was inside and started banging on the side of the trailer, both to test the heat and to wake up anybody who might be inside.

    "I was hitting the trailer as hard as I could with my hand," Donges said. "There was so much smoke in there, I don't know how anybody could've survived. People told me every time I hit it, it sounded like a gunshot and it woke them up."

    Dale Holthues lives next to the mobile home that caught fire and said he was in bed when a motion light in the driveway went off, catching his and his wife's attention.

    He said that once they saw the flames, he ran to the home to try to get occupants out while his wife called 911.

    Holthues tried to kick in two different doors, while Donges banged on the house's sides, but couldn't get them open and received no response from inside.

    "We could not get any results," he said. "I don't if they were sleeping or what."

    Sheriff's deputies searched vehicles parked in front of the home. Yellow crime scene tape was placed around the driveway to the home and part of Hemlock Drive was closed to traffic.

    Lockwood fire responded with 17 firefighters, two engines, a ladder truck, an ambulance and a command vehicle. NorthWestern Energy also responded.

    Gazette reporter Tom Lutey contributed to this story.

  • The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for stealing 559 pounds of explosives last month near Red Lodge.

    The theft happened sometime in April when thieves broke into a U.S. Forest Service storage bunker about two miles south of Red Lodge, said Brad Beyersdorf, an ATF spokesman.

    Items stolen included emulsion-type explosives, explosive cast boosters and detonating cord.

    “The theft of explosives is a top investigative priority for ATF,” said Ken Bray, the agency’s resident agent in charge in Montana. “We are asking for the public’s help in our effort to apprehend and convict those responsible. We are confident that someone can help identify a suspect and we encourage them to call us.”

    The Forest Services uses explosives to help with clearing rock slides, trail construction and restoration, culvert removal and carcass disposal when public safety could conflict with bear activity, said Mariah Leuschen, a spokeswoman for the Custer and Gallatin national forests.

    Stealing explosives and possession of stolen explosives is a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

    Anyone with information is asked to call the ATF hotline at 1-888-ATF-BOMB (1-888-283-2662) or locally in Billings at 406-657-9700. People also can call the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office at 406-446-1234.

  • Underneath the sagebrush and droves of cattle near Newcastle, Wyo., paleontologists have potentially unearthed one of the most complete skeletons of a triceratops ever found.

    The scientists from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research and Naturalis Biodiversity Center began work on the dig in early May.

    Despite the three-horned triceratops being one of the most well-known dinosaurs, a complete skeleton is a rare treasure, said Pete Larson, president of the Black Hills Institute.

    The dig also unearthed two younger triceratops, which Larson said is also a rare occurrence. He said the three skeletons were most likely a family unit.

    “The dig indicates that there was some sort of parental pair and nowhere in the literature has that ever been noted before, and that’s unprecedented,” he said.

    The triceratops is an herbivore that lived in massive herds throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It lived during the late Cretaceous period, which ended approximately 65 million years ago. In the past few years, only a few partially complete triceratops skeletons have been found in the world.

    “This triceratops could easily be one of the most complete in the world,” Larson said. “It only has to be 50 percent complete to be one of the top four most complete in the world.”

    Larson said the find should greatly advance the study of triceratops. “We have the opportunity to really rewrite the book on triceratops,” he said.

    The area where the dinosaurs were found was most likely a subtropical flatland during the Cretaceous period, a perfect environment for the triceratops, Larson said. Over time, erosion has exposed the bones to where they could be discovered.

    “This site, like many of the ones we dig, was found by the rancher who owned the land,” Larson said. “He alerted us to the find this fall.”

    The institute, which is a paleontological and earth science supply house in Hill City, S.D., began the dig May 9 alongside Netherlands-based company Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Larson said the site was most likely a Tyrannosaurus rex feeding ground, with which the institute is very familiar. The institute has participated in eight digs for T. rex skeletons.

    Naturalis — an education, research, collection and exhibit company — partnered with the Black Hills Institute in hopes of finding a nearly complete T. rex for display in its Dinosaur Gallery in the Netherlands, set to open in 2017. The dig only produced part of a left foot and leg of a T. rex, Anne Schulp, a paleontologist with Naturalis, said in a statement.

    “In paleontology, you never know exactly what you are going to find under the ground,” Schulp said. “We are now in possession of a fabulous T. rex foot and several pieces of leg. These are normally the parts that would first disappear, become lost or gnawed away.”

    The center will continue to extract T. rex bones for its exhibit from another excavation site, where it has already secured part of the skull, a lower jaw, several teeth, vertebrae and ribs.

    After killing a triceratops, a T. rex would normally eat the skin and bones, carrying it off, devouring it and leaving only the skull behind, Larson said. Most of the skeleton remains at the site, despite it being a T. rex feeding ground, he said.

    “Apparently, the triceratops was quite tasty and one of the favorite meals of the T. rex,” he said.

    The excavation of the older triceratops skeleton alongside the two younger skeletons could tell scientists a lot about the development and behavior of triceratops, Larson said.

    “We should get a glimpse into these animals, especially since there was parental guidance,” Larson said. “Really there are very few triceratops skeletons that have been discovered, only three really good skeletons and many skeleton heads.”

    The recent rain has hampered the excavation teams’ efforts to secure the bones from the dig site. Larson said that because it is such a unique find, the team is keeping a tight lid on the dig’s whereabouts for security purposes. He said that if the weather cooperates, the dig should be finished in about a month.

  • 12:45 p.m.: A heavy storm that battered Billings with 1.31 inches of rain in just 45 minutes and wind gusts topping out at 73 mph on Saturday also cut power to thousands of people across town, some of whom remained in the dark on Sunday.

    Claudia Rapkoch, NorthWestern Energy spokeswoman, said the storm caused power outages for more than 5,000 customers in the area, from the West End to the Heights to Lockwood.

    On Sunday morning, crews were still working to restore power to about 1,000 customers who were affected by the smaller outages.

    "We got the bigger outages repaired overnight but now they’re working through those smaller ones," Rapkoch said. "Largest single we're working on now was in Lockwood where some poles went down. They're without power and our crews are out there but they're fighting with mud (from the storm)."

    Rapkoch said NorthWestern has called in crews to help from the surrounding area, including contract crews.

    "We've got everybody on it," she said.


    A severe thunderstorm struck Billings just before 9 p.m. packing hail, frequent thunder and lightning and wind gusts of up to 73 mph.

    Aaron Gilstad, a meteorologist with the Billings office of the National Weather Service said no tornadic activity had been spotted, although the high winds may have led people to think otherwise.

    At 9:10 p.m., the National Weather Service also issued a flash flood warning for the Billings area because of the torrential rains that accompanied the storm. Low-lying areas of the city were flooded by the storm, according to Duane Winslow, director of Disaster and Emergency Services for Yellowstone County.

    Rain totaled 1.28 inches at the airport, Gilstad said. Half-dollar-sized hail was reported off to the west of the city, he said.

    "We'd been watching the storm for several hours and had a significant weather advisory on it," Gilstad said. "It really just took off here just west of town."

    A large rock blocked Zimmerman Trail, and officers closed the road at the top and the bottom. Highway 3, west of Zimmerman Trail, had drifts of hail alongside the road.

    The rain that washed off the Rimrocks pushed debris, including mud and rocks, onto North 27th Street near Montana State University Billings. Police were on scene and most of the road was closed to traffic.

    High water at the corner of First Avenue North and Main Street caused multiple cars to stall on the road. At one point, a tree and a boat reportedly blocked Fourth Avenue North at its intersection with Main Street. 

    Firefighters were dispatched to power lines that were downed during the storm both in Billings and Lockwood. Tree limbs also were strewn around town.

    Power outages were reported throughout Billings, said Claudia Rapkoch, spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy.

    "We have multiple outages in multiple locations all over town," Rapkoch said. "It's widespread."

    Crews were sent to those spots, she said.

    All of the underpasses in the downtown area were closed due to flooding, according to the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office. 

    The Billings Mustangs were playing against the Missoula Osprey at Dehler Park on Saturday night. Just minutes before the storm hit, the game's announcer advised everyone to leave the baseball field and head for their vehicles.

    One spectator said he got to his car just as the torrential rains started falling.

    Gilstad called the weather pattern that spawned the storm unusual for this time of year. 

    "The amount of moisture is very unseasonable, as well," he said. "When you get that much water in the air for the storm to work with, it really intensifies quickly."

    Normally, average high temperatures for this time of year are in the upper 70s, Gilstand said. That's compared with several recent days near or above 90 degrees. Nighttime temperatures also have been warmer than normal, in the 60s or 70s compared with the usual low 50s.

    "Tonight will be a different story because we cooled off quickly with the storm," Gilstad said.

    Billings and the surrounding area could see additional showers and thunderstorms on Sunday, with the possibility of stronger storms in the afternoon.

  • A Yellowstone County district judge Monday ordered a former Senior High teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old female student who later committed suicide to spend 30 days in jail.

    Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended, for sexual intercourse without consent.

    Rambold, 54, will be given credit for one day already served. He was handcuffed and led to jail at the close of the hearing.

    The judge's sentence was not received well by the girl's mother, who repeatedly screamed "You people suck!" and stormed out of the courtroom.

    Auliea Hanlon testified earlier at the hearing that her daughter's relationship with Rambold was a "major factor" in her suicide, and she begged the judge to order Rambold to prison.

    "Please put him behind bars," the woman said. 

    Chief Deputy County Attorney Rod Souza had asked the judge to order Rambold to serve 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

    Souza said Rambold targeted a troubled young girl and violated his position of trust as a teacher by engaging in a sexual relationship with a student. 

    Rambold pleaded guilty to the single felony charge in April in a case that began in 2008, when school officials and police first learned of the sexual relationship between Rambold and the girl, Cherice Morales.

    Rambold was placed on paid leave in April of that year and resigned from his teaching job three months later. He also surrendered his teaching certificate.

    In October 2008, prosecutors charged Rambold with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent, alleging that the then-49-year-old man had an ongoing sexual relationship with Morales, who was 14 at the time.

    While the case was pending, and a few weeks before her 17th birthday, Morales took her own life.

    The girl's death caused problems for the prosecution, and in July 2010 Rambold entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office.

    The agreement called for prosecutors to put the case on hold for three years. The charges would be dismissed, the agreement stated, if Rambold completed a sex offender treatment program and complied with other conditions.

    Rambold also admitted to one of the rape charges, and he agreed that his admission could be used against him.

    The case was revived last December, when prosecutors learned that Rambold had been terminated from the sex offender treatment program.

    On Monday, the treatment provider, Michael Sullivan, testified that Rambold was terminated from the program last November after completing two of the three treatment phases.

    Problems arose last August, Sullivan said, when Rambold began missing meetings. After meeting with Rambold, Sullivan said, the man appeared to be back on track with his treatment.

    But he was terminated from the program in November, when it was learned that he had been having unsupervised visits with minors and had not informed his counselors that he had been having sexual relations with a woman.

    The violations were serious enough when taken together to kick Rambold out of the program, although it was learned that the minors Rambold was visiting were family members.

    Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, argued Monday for the suspended sentence. He said Rambold lost his career, his marriage and his home and has suffered a "scarlet letter of the Internet" as a result of publicity about the case.

    Rambold has since continued his treatment with a different program, Lansing said, and an evaluation found that he is a low risk to re-offend and could be treated in the community.

    Rambold's criminal history includes only a traffic violation, but now he will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, the attorney said.

    Lansing asked the judge to "consider how he's been punished to this point."

    Baugh said he was not convinced that the reasons for Rambold's termination from treatment were serious enough to warrant the lengthy prison term suggested by the prosecution.

    Baugh said he listened to recorded statements given by Morales before her death and believes that while she was a troubled youth, she was "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold.

    The judge also said Morales was "older than her chronological age." 

    The case also resulted in a $91,000 wrongful-death settlement between School District 2 and Morales' family, who filed a civil lawsuit against the district.

    Rambold had been warned by school officials in 2004 to avoid touching or being alone with female students.

1of 11

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Featured Businesses