Top headlines for the week

View the most-read headlines from the week ending June 6.

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  • The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered suspension and public censure for District Judge G. Todd Baugh, of Billings, who during a sentencing said a 14-year-old rape victim appeared older than her chronological age.

    In a six-page ruling, the court said Baugh’s actions warranted suspension without pay for 31 days. Noting Baugh's term expires at the end of the year and that he did not seek re-election, the court said the suspension would begin on Dec. 1.

    The court also set July 1 as the date for a public censure.

    "There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them," the court said.

    Baugh earlier waived formal disciplinary proceedings and asked the Supreme Court to decide his punishment.

    The judge said in response to a complaint from a judicial oversight panel that his comments and actions in the case appeared improper and failed to promote public confidence in the courts.

    Baugh said Wednesday he is reviewing the opinion and has not made a decision on how he will respond.

    Baugh has been on the bench for 30 years, having been first elected in 1984. After the controversy erupted, Baugh announced he would not seek another six-year term.

    The Judicial Standards Commission, which filed the complaint against Baugh, had been investigating the judge's actions since last summer, when his comments about a rape victim who had committed suicide sparked public outrage and prompted calls for him to leave the bench.

    The case involved Stacy Dean Rambold, a former teacher who pleaded guilty last year to sexual intercourse without consent. In sentencing Rambold, Baugh drew national condemnation for suggesting the victim shared responsibility for her rape. Rambold was 47 years old at the time and the victim was a student in his class at Billings Senior High School. The girl committed suicide while a trial was pending. 

    The commission had recommended the Supreme Court accept Baugh's acknowledgement of violations, waiver of formal proceedings and consent to discipline. The commission further recommended the high court publicly censure Baugh.

    The Supreme Court's order, however, went further. In addition to public censure, the justices also concluded that Baugh should be suspended.

    The opinion was written by Chief Justice Mike McGrath and joined by Justices Mike Wheat, Beth Baker, Patricia Cotter and Jim Rice. Justice Laurie McKinnon dissented in a 24-page opinion.

    Baugh's comments in open court, McGrath said, disregarded "longstanding Montana law" that a person under the age of 16 is legally incapable of consenting to intercourse.

    Baugh's later attempt to retract his sentence and rationale was "inconsistent with Montana law," McGrath continued. "Finally, Baugh made additional inappropriate public statements attempting to justify his actions," he said.

    Baugh has "eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety, therefore violating the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct," McGrath said.

    "He has caused Montana citizens, as well as others, to question the fairness of our justice system and whether prejudice or bias affected the outcome of the Rambold case," McGrath said.

    Because Baugh had not consented to a suspension and because the commission did not recommend one, the Supreme Court's order gives him until June 19 to withdraw his consent to judicial discipline.

    If Baugh withdraws his consent to discipline, the matter will return to the commission for formal proceedings.

    If Baugh does not withdraw his consent, he is ordered to appear before the court at 9:30 a.m. on July 1 for public censure. And the suspension will begin on Dec. 1.

    In dissenting, McKinnon said she disagreed with the court's decision to impose a sanction more severe than the one recommended by the commission when "we have not articulated a single rule, standard or analysis justifying this decision."

    The court's decision may be viewed by some as "arbitrary and predicated solely upon the personal opinion of any particular Justice," McKinnon said. "As a result, we have ultimately exacerbated the breach in public confidence initially wrought by Judge Baugh," she added.

    "Without a doubt there has been a 'public outcry' against Judge Baugh and his statements at sentencing, and the easiest thing for this Court to do is to respond with an increased sanction demonstrating our intolerance for such stereotypical characterizations," McKinnon said.

    "However, the independent judgement of this Court will surely be threatened if we respond to the public outcry without applying identifiable rules of analysis," she added.

    Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Tuesday denied Rambold's request to reconsider a ruling that is likely to send him back to prison to serve more time in the rape case.

    Rambold's attorneys had asked the court for a new hearing to argue that the one month he already served in Montana State Prison was sufficient.

    After prosecutors from the state Department of Justice appealed, the high court unanimously ruled in April that Rambold's original sentence was illegal under a state law that says he should have served a minimum of two years.

  • A 10-year-old boy reported missing on Saturday was located safely on Sunday morning.

    Brayden DeMello was found at a residence on the 3900 block of Third Avenue South around 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

    He was reported missing Saturday after he was last seen at about 8:30 a.m. at a convenience store at State Avenue and Jackson.

    Sgt. Shawn Finnegan said that police received a tip from a member of a residence that DeMello was possibly in the area.

    When police showed up at the residence the tip provided, DeMello was inside.

    Finnegan said that DeMello was released to his father after he was located.

  • Have I ever told you the story about how I almost jumped my pickup truck on my motorcycle?

    It was one of those beautiful spring days when the sun beckons your winter-weary soul to come outside and play. But for some reason I was being hesitant, almost resistant to going outdoors. Maybe I knew at some subconscious level what the day had in store for me.

    Finally, my wife took the initiative and prodded me into action. We would travel to the Stillwater River for a day of whitewater rafting. Although I have an aged raft, more than 15 years old, we’ve negotiated a lot of the state’s waters in that well-patched blue tub. And it is a tub, with no self-draining mechanism it holds any water splashed inside until it’s bailed or tipped out. In whitewater, this no-drain feature can mean a lot of bailing.

    They do make self-bailing rafts, but I don’t own one. So my bailer, more often than not, is my wife. It is not a task she enjoys.

    The upper Stilli

    The spring is the only time that the water is high enough to navigate the upper stretches of the Stillwater River as it exits the Beartooth Mountains. We launched around 1 p.m. from the Moraine fishing access site and were traveling to Cliff Swallow FAS, about 8 miles downstream.

    With the flow at around 5,000 cubic feet per second or more (there’s no gauge on this upper stretch) we were in for a wild ride. The rocky riverbed provides some big roller waves, in addition to a lot of smaller choppy waves, none that are rated higher than Class III whitewater. (Rapids are rated one to six, with six being the most difficult except where waterfalls are present. Advanced and expert rafters can usually read and run Class III rapids, but less experienced boaters should scout rapids.) Every now and then there is a big drop on this section, or a large boulder that sneaks up on rafters out of the chaotic white spray. So the possibility of tipping is always present.

    The warm air that day had the tangy scent of fast-growing leaves and grass mixed with the rich humidity provided by the river’s spray of cloudy water. The sky was blue and the hillsides green, birds were singing and the roar of the river was all encompassing. It was a complete sensual overload, and I was loving it. I shouted a “thank you” to my wife for encouraging me to get motivated and get outside.

    Whoops

    Then, I screwed up. Trying to row forward, which is less powerful than rowing backward, I attempted to avoid a downstream log jam. But the current was too strong and swift. We drifted into the log and the raft stalled.

    The fear in this situation is that the water coming downstream will flow into the boat and pin it broadside on the logjam, flipping everyone out of the boat and into the logjam at the same time. To avoid that, we all climbed to the high side of the raft, close to the logjam, and worked to push the raft free.

    Unfortunately, during that scramble my upstream oar disappeared unnoticed over the side of the raft. Despite a frantic shoreline search and some probing of the logjam after we were free, I couldn’t find the oar. It probably sank to the bottom and was pinned in the woody debris.

    For just such an occasion, many rafters carry a spare oar or even tie their oars to the oarlocks. I had done neither. I have to chalk that oar loss up to an expensive lesson.

    Oar your boat

    Luckily, we were about two-thirds of the way through the float and past most of the more difficult whitewater. We had two paddles on board, so my wife and daughter supplied the momentum up front by paddling while I used the 8-foot long remaining oar in the back to awkwardly steer. Surprisingly, we made it downstream with no problems and pulled ashore at Cliff Swallow FAS wet, sore and happy that nothing worse had happened.

    What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with jumping a truck with a motorcycle? Well, often when we float alone I use my 125cc Suzuki motorcycle to shuttle from the takeout back to the truck. I bought it specifically for that purpose after struggling to hitch rides or ride my bicycle on backroads. We don’t always go where a shuttle service is available or convenient.

    On my way back to the truck on the cycle, the engine died, meaning I was low on gas. I pulled over and moved the petcock valve up to reserve, allowing me a short distance of riding before I would run completely out of gas. I hoped that the tiny reserve was enough, hurrying to make it as far as possible before draining the tank.

    Happily, I made it to the truck without running out of gas and was feeling pretty lucky, foolish me.

    Load ’er up

    By myself, I can’t push the motorcycle up into the back of the pickup. The bike is too heavy — about 250 pounds. So years ago I built a wooden ramp that I prop on the tailgate and ride up into the back of the truck.

    Mistakenly on this trip, I was going a little too fast when I reached the truck and didn’t realize until the final second that the ramp seemed angled a little more steeply than usual. As the front wheel of the motorcycle cleared the ramp I noticed that it was at a height that seemed about right to sail over the top of the cab, which is probably about 3 feet higher than the bed. I hit the front and rear brakes, as I always do, to slow down and the front wheel dropped, punching a bowling ball-sized hole through the truck’s rear window.

    The force of the impact sent me toppling over to the right side where my elbow skinned along the rim of the truck bed for a short distance before my right tricep and ribs hit the rim with a solid thwack. I heard a crack, which judging by the pain I figured had to be the sound of my upper arm breaking. On my way down, for good measure, my helmeted head also bounced off the rim of the truck bed.

    With my right leg pinned under the cycle, my head resting on the truck bed’s rim and my arm screaming in pain, it took me a while to notice that my leg was in contact with the cycle’s exhaust pipe. I repositioned my leg and laid there for a while, taking stock of my pains. Scrunched between the tipped over cycle and the truck bed’s wall, it was an awkward push up and lift up to get out from under the cycle.

    Next time

    After lifting the bike and anchoring it down, I softly probed my bruised arm and ribs and figured out that nothing was broken, although some purple blossoms were already forming.

    Dang, my fun day of floating had sure turned out to be expensive. Yet with that image of the top of the truck’s cab rapidly approaching my front cycle tire seared into my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the tire had cleared the top.

    I’d like to think I would have flown over the truck, smoothly landed and had a good, adrenaline-fueled laugh, wishing the feat had been captured on video for posterity. More likely I would have caught the back wheel on the cab and catapulted headfirst like a human arrow, pile driving my head into the dirt and breaking my fool neck. Then I would have lain around for an hour or more moaning in pain before someone happened by or my family figured out that something bad had happened and organized a search.

    Understandably, my wife says no more using the motorcycle for a shuttle. I’m thinking I just need to slow down. At the worst, maybe I could rig up some kind of pulley system to help me push and pull the motorcycle up the ramp rather than risk punching out another rear truck window.

  • The piles of logs and branches in the old photos don’t appear to be built by humans, but according to a National Register of Historic Places nomination filed in 1974, they were once shelters constructed by American Indians.

    “They don’t look like much unless you know what you’re looking for,” said Carolyn Sherve-Bybee, a Bureau of Land Management archaeologist in Billings.

    Now, the shelters described in the 1970s seem to have all disappeared.

    The structures were once found at the 3,750-acre Acton Recreation Area, located about 20 miles northwest of Billings and managed by the BLM. The site has garnered recent attention after the BLM proposed the area for mountain-biking use. In an environmental assessment, the BLM details the wooden structures and noted that bikers shouldn’t pose any threat to any cultural resources at the site provided that they stay on designated trails.

    Since she joined the Billings BLM office, Sherve-Bybee has made trips to the Acton Recreation Area to try and locate the structures, but during her daylong forays she hasn’t found any sign of them. Some, she assumes, were probably used by campers for firewood. Although she previously thought the BLM had opened the area to firewood gathering, her manager told her the Acton area was excluded from that order. The logs could also have ended up as fence posts.

    “Hopefully there are some off the road that are still intact,” she said.

    But for now, that's unknown.

    “One of the goals for the cultural program in this office is to have a survey of the Acton area so managers can make a decision on all of the resources out there,” Sherve-Bybee said. “But doing a 3,000-plus acre inventory is time consuming.”

    One of the people to describe the wooden structures for the nomination was former Billings lawyer Stuart Conner, an amateur archaeologist and former board member and president of the Montana Historical Society.

    “He and his group were the original recorders on a lot of these sites,” Sherve-Bybee said.

    When Conner helped to compile the paperwork for the nomination to the National Register, the site was called the Hoskins Basin Archaeological District. Also called Canyon Village, the site contained two conical shelters and three cribbed log structures — stacked similar to the walls of a low log cabin — that were no more than 2 feet high. One four-sided structure had sides of all different lengths and was not constructed with any deference to compass directions. Tepees, on the other hand, are erected with compass directions guiding the setup. They also don’t appear to be sweat lodges, which are generally smaller.

    “It doesn’t give a good idea of other types of use of the area or a drawing of the structures,” Sherve-Bybee said of the nomination form. “Since then, we have to provide a lot more information than was provided in the 1970s.”

    The nomination form does note that the shelters were deteriorating even back then. Both types of dwellings were becoming increasingly rare due to weathering, theft and accident by 1974, so the Archaeological District was created for the "protection and preservation of the site in Hoskins Basin," the BLM's environmental assessment says.

    The Acton area is one of the few places where both types of structures were found. The stacked logs are more common in south-central Montana and northern Wyoming, while the cribbed logs are found throughout the West, including as far south as Nevada and Utah, Sherve-Bybee said.

    The supposition in the nominating form is that the structures were built in the 1800s.

    "The conical timber lodges were used by war parties and for overnight protection by any traveling groups," said Conner, who is now 89 years old. "And cribbed log structures may have been used as winter domiciles. They may have had fragile roofs."

    One book that describes conical log structures noted that they were often built near the necessities for life: food, water and fuel for fires. Conner said the wooden shelters varied widely based on who was building them and what materials were available. Many of the ones he had found in the region disappeared after range fires in 1984 and 1988, Conner added.

    "The structures were build by prehistoric Indians, historic Indians and some whites," Conner said.

    Since cribbed and conical log structures are made of biodegradable materials that decay and disappear, it's difficult to say how far back they date. The simple structures were modified to suit the season and needs of the inhabitants. In the southwest, low log lodges surrounded a pit dug into the earth. Brush, branches and sometimes dirt, hides or mud would be piled over the logs to keep out the snow and rain or to provide shade.

    William Mulloy, a University of Wyoming anthropology professor, describes what he called an Indian village of six log lodges near Pompeys Pillar Creek in a 1969 paper. He noted they resembled those he described in 1965 along the North Platte River in eastern Wyoming.

    Mulloy was recognized as one of the preeminent scholars of his time about such sites. His doctoral thesis, “A Preliminary Historical Outline for the Northwest Plains,” was long considered a standard for field work.

    Sherve-Bybee said the Acton Recreation Area would have been traditional Crow tribal land, but the nearby Yellowstone River was a travel and resource-rich route used by many different tribes, including the Shoshone, Blackfeet and Sioux. Most of the recreation area sits below bluffs that are located just north of Alkali Creek, a long-used route for humans and game animals through the Rimrocks, as well as close to a shallow river crossing.

    “There is evidence of other uses out there, too,” Sherve-Bybee said. “There is a vision quest site, lithic artifacts, there’s plenty of evidence of human use of that area.”

    There were also two pioneer homesteads that once occupied the region. Those homesteaders likely picked up or disturbed historical sites, evidenced by the nomination report that noted one hearth littered with lithic flakes that had been dug up.

    “There’s evidence of people living in that location for more than a day or two,” she said, including rock tepee rings and some rock art.

  • CASPER, Wyo. — A contractor died at North Antelope Rochelle Mine in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming this morning, Peabody Energy officials said Wednesday.

    A Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson said the contractor was inside a crusher around 6 a.m. when the machine started up and killed the man.

    The victim was air-lifted to a nearby medical facility where he was declared dead, said Amy Louviere, an MSHA spokesperson.

    The name of the contractor and further details about the circumstances of the accident were not released. Peabody representatives and MSHA officials said the case is under investigation.

    "Our prayers and thoughts are with family and friends," said Charlene Murdock, a Peabody spokesperson. "The safety and well-being of all our employees and contractors is our primary concern and we are deeply saddened by this incident."

  • For four years, Bill Jensen owned a food cart in Portland, Ore., where he was one of 600 or so such operators. The Rose City is known in part for the varied lunchtime fare those carts deliver to workers and tourists alike.

    “Being a food person and being trained in the culinary arts, I am confident in that part of the business,” he said. “But when it comes to city hall, property lines, access and retaining walls, all that stuff scares me to death. … It is all about taking on city hall.”

    So far, city hall is winning, but Jensen, 54, gets to make his case before the Billings City Council on June 9. He has asked for a variance and a temporary permit to operate the business where customers were used to eating over the last two years — parked near the alley behind Grand Avenue between North Sixth Street West and North Seventh Street West. 

    Together with his fiancée, Cathy Pike, Jensen, who until recently was the chef and instructor at the Billings Food Bank, purchased the food cart — actually, it’s more of a food trailer — from Tatiana Heckles. Heckles operated the business in the alley behind Grand Avenue, with customer access provided off the alley only.

    That’s the rub, according to Candi Millar, the city’s Planning and Community Development director. Jensen was denied a city business license to operate on the location because he doesn’t have street access at the previous location, behind 628 Grand Ave. Access is impossible at that location because of a retaining wall constructed along that portion of Grand Avenue.

    During the two years that Heckles operated her business known as Smör, which means butter in Norwegian, she believed she was in compliance with city ordinances, Millar said, but she wasn’t. During that time, Millar said, the city had no commercial code enforcement officer. 

    “I had no impression it was illegal,” Heckles said. “People really liked (the business). It’s kind of underground, and we advertised by word of mouth. It was a few hipster high school kids, but mostly young families. One day we had almost all grandmas.”

    Heckles featured pizza and other fare, topping the pizzas with fresh produce from her garden. She said Jensen’s “buoyant personality” will help his business, which features wood-fired pizza, to succeed.

    But first Jensen must take care of business by acquiring the variance and the temporary permit. He said his food cart and others “are just the tip of the iceberg” for what’s to come in Billings.

    “Mobile food vending is kind of a new thing for Billings,” Millar said. “I was just in Kauai (a Hawaiian Island), and there’s quite a culture of food carts there. What a wonderful way to experience the local cuisine.”

    “We don’t want to inhibit his ability to operate,” she added, “just not at that location.”

    Jensen said in the meantime he’s been operating his food cart, which he calls La Carrello — Italian for “The Cart” — at various community events, including a horse show last weekend. He plans to have the cart out at the Renaissance Festival at ZooMontana June 7-8 and at Strawberry Festival downtown on June 14, he said.

    “It took Tatiana two years to build a fan base. She had a solid product, and she has a wall full of awards for her food,” he said. “When she went to sell her business, I jumped on it, because I wanted to operate it just like she did. We shook hands on it, and her fan base was instantly excited about the new guy. She told people I packed a woodburning oven on wheels, and a lot of excitement began to build.”

    Jensen said he’s been “kind of unnerved” during the struggle to operate his business at Heckles’ former spot. “I’ve dumped a bunch of money into the cart, and I’m sitting here with the city making my future decisions for me,” he said. “We are kind of frustrated, but we’ve done all the right things. I do know about cart culture and having a mobile trailer, and using Facebook to operate and be part of walk-up food.”

    Jensen acknowledged that “carts don’t have the overhead that restaurants do.” In Portland and other places, he said, “in places where carts are operating, (restaurant owners) don’t want them to drop anchor, sell food and take customers from them. That’s understandable.”

    He said he doesn’t blame city officials for wanting to enforce city code and to make sure rules are being met.

    “I hope eventually we can show this is a very unique site, not one that’s next to a bunch of restaurants,” Jensen said.

  • A 66-year-old registered sex offender appeared in court Monday and pleaded guilty to his eighth count of indecent exposure for an incident earlier this year in the 1900 block of Mullowney Lane.

    Michael Patrick McClure admitted that he exposed himself for his own sexual gratification in front of several underage girls on the night of Jan. 18.

    The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office responded to the incident and spoke with the girls’ grandmother when she contacted law enforcement on Jan. 19, according to charging documents.

    She said her granddaughters had been by a window when a man from across the street had come outside and looked at them while exposing himself.

    A deputy reported confronting McClure, who said he had been masturbating in his doorway because it was hot inside. When the deputy observed it was strange that it would be hot inside on a January night, McClure didn’t respond.

    Judge G. Todd Baugh and Regional Deputy Public Defender David Duke noted that McClure seems to have limited intellectual abilities.

    But Duke said that McClure, who has seven prior indecent exposure convictions, understands what he did and the legal proceedings in this case.

    McClure is scheduled to be sentenced July 25. Felony indecent exposure comes with a sentence of between five and 100 years at Montana State Prison.

  • A fire in a three-story brick apartment building at 23 Yellowstone Ave., early Monday sent flames shooting from the attic and smoke billowing from the roof, causing an estimated $1 million in damage.

    Billings police officers in the neighborhood reported the fire then went inside the building to alert residents. All of the tenants got out or were not home, officials said. No one was injured.

    Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff McCullough said Monday afternoon the cause is under investigation. The fire was reported at 5:36 a.m.

    McCullough estimated property and content loss at $1 million. The property was insured but it was unknown if the contents were insured as well, he said. Nine of the 11 apartments had tenants, he said. Some residents may have had rental insurance, he said.

    Billings Police Officer James Ward saw smoke coming from the building and reported the fire. Ward and two other officers were investigating another incident in the area.

    Ward, along with officers Jeremy Dennler and Gerold McComb, ran inside and knocked on doors. In apartments where there was no response, they kicked in the doors.

    “It was smoky inside. It was very fortunate we were in the area,” Ward said.

    While McCullough said some tenants may have heard smoke detectors, he credited the police officers for their quick response.

    “I believe that really helped get people out before the smoke built up. They deserve an ‘atta boy.’ That could have been really ugly. Everybody is out and safe. I’m real glad about that,” McCullough said.

    An investigation into the fire is continuing. McCullough said he wants to talk to all of the tenants and that the police department is helping to track down people.

    “At this time, we’ve ruled out nothing,” he said.

    A battalion chief reported that the fire seemed to start in the attic area, McCullough said. “We’re still following up on some other leads,” he added.

    Fire crews left the scene at about 1:30 p.m. after mopping up. There was extensive water damage throughout the building along with fire and smoke damage.

    McCullough said some of the apartments didn’t look too bad, while some are a complete loss.

    Joel Johnston, a property manager with Tamarack Property Management, which manages the building, said there are 11 units at 23 Yellowstone Ave.

    “We’re trying to make sure everybody is OK and to make sure everybody is accounted for,” Johnston said at the scene. Everyone got out as “far as we can tell,” he said.

    Billings Fire Chief Paul Dextras said at the scene that firefighters did an initial search of the building and made a secondary search to ensure no one was inside.

    Crews made an “aggressive interior attack,” but fire spread to the attic and firefighters were forced out when conditions became unsafe, he said.

    Firefighters then attacked from the outside, using large-flow nozzles and a large amount of water, the chief said. Water ran down the sides of the building.

    By about 7:40 a.m. the flames appeared to be extinguished, and firefighters concentrated on hot spots in the attic. Flames flared up again on the east side of the roof shortly after 8 a.m.

    One of the tenants, Eli Perea, watched the activity from across the street. Perea, a baker at Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery, had already left his apartment for his 4 a.m. job. “Everything was fine,” he said, when he went to work. Perea got a call about the fire.

    Sirens and smoke woke up Stacye Zamora and Pete Goolsby, who live in the next-door apartment building to the east.

    Goolsby said about 20 minutes later he could see flames coming from the attic.

    Firefighting efforts flooded their basement apartment with about three inches of water and damaged clothes and furniture, Zamora said.

  • Married going on three years now and in a relationship for a decade longer than that, Billings residents Katie Hendrickson and Jill Lippard say they feel a little more comfortable every time they tell their story — even to their local newspaper.

    Hendrickson is more likely to share that story, even to a stranger. When she recently ordered a foot-long sandwich made differently at either end, the sandwich maker told her, “Oh, that must be for your husband.” No, Hendrickson said, it’s actually for my wife — a statement from which, she said, nice conversation can ensue.

    “Getting married didn’t change the way we lived,” Lippard said, “but I think it meant a lot for us to get married.” At the last minute on their wedding day — Sept. 13, 2011 — her father decided to attend the ceremony, held at city hall in Ames, Iowa, one of 19 states to recognize same-sex marriages. Montana does not.

    “Our marriage demonstrated our level of commitment to our families,” Lippard said. “It really changed the way they viewed our relationship.”

    Hendrickson cites this example: After their marriage, her parents finally allowed the couple to sleep in the same bed when they came for an overnight visit. But not before.

    Hendrickson, 33, is a chemist at the Billings water treatment plant. Lippard, who’s 16 days older than her spouse, cleans cars part-time while pursuing a career as a photographer. She's trained in biology and as a veterinary technician.

    Both are strong supporters of the nondiscrimination ordinance that the Billings City Council voted 6-5 early Tuesday to derail. Both are also grateful that the city began this year to provide health and life insurance to same-sex partners of city employees. “That allowed Jill to quit her full-time job and pursue photography,” Hendrickson said, seated alongside Lippard in the couple’s West End home.

    “A majority of people will make good decisions” about offering fair housing and employment for gay residents even without the NDO in place, Hendrickson said. “They won’t fire you for being lesbian or gay, but a small number of people will.”

    Reading the dozens of emails lobbying city council members on the then-proposed NDO, “you can see the passion people have in a negative way on this issue,” Hendrickson said. “The NDO gives us a tool in our belt that we never had before. Everybody else has that tool, and we want the same tools they have.”

    College sweethearts

    The couple met and fell in love while students together at a traditionally Christian institution, Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. But for almost a decade into their relationship, they kept their orientation a secret — even from family members.

    “When I finally came out, I lost a ton of weight,” Hendrickson said. She said she put on the weight in the first place as a result of “the burden of having to control conversations and friendships. I held onto that weight gain. It’s absolutely amazing how you don’t realize the things you are doing to yourself to be in the closet.”

    Both women say they’ve felt the support of their faith community, Grace United Methodist Church, after years of what Lippard called “the struggle to reconcile faith with our relationship.”

    “I remember discussing being gay with God many times a day,” Hendrickson said. “I’d pray, ‘Take this away from me,’ because the demonization of being gay had been ingrained in us. By the time I decided to come out of the closet, I remember having this conversation with God: If being gay is a sin, by my choosing to be honest with family and others around me, (God) would reveal if it was a sin to me.”

    Instead, “My relationship with God rose to a different level that I didn’t know could exist, and our relationship blossomed,” she said, gesturing toward her wife. “We shared an intimacy we didn’t have before, because our relationship depended on how we were with God. That was an answer to our prayers.”

    “For seven years, we didn’t tell our family or anybody,” Lippard said of their relationship. “I decided I was sick of walking that line and living half a life. My life was full with Katie, but in the rest of our life we were shutting people out.”

    Sooner or later

    Both women said they believe that Billings will one day adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance.

    “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a question of when,” Hendrickson said. “I’m not naturally a patient person, so I’ve learned I have to wait for things. Right now we’re waiting for Montana to recognize our marriage, like our home states do (Hendrickson is from Minnesota; Lippard from Iowa). But here is a sense of urgency and a weariness of waiting.

    “I know there’s a process for these things, and that’s fine. But I get angry when people step in to divert the process. That’s why I wrote to Mayor Hanel. He had a choice, and he is going to make me wait longer. I am sick of waiting.”

  • Kathleen Brown, 23, of Billings, has been identified by the Yellowstone County Coroner's office as the woman who died in a rollover early Saturday. 

    The crash happened on Rimrock Road, just east of 62nd Street West.

    Brown died when her Chevy Nova left the road and rolled into the ditch.

    Lt. Kevin Iffland said that the Billings Police Department is still investigating the incident. It was initially thought that the woman may have drifted north on the road and overcorrected, causing the car to roll at least once.

    The woman was not wearing a seat belt and was found dead in the car.

    A call to Billings Police came at 4:21 a.m. Saturday  when a caller saw the car in the ditch. It is not known how long the car was there.

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