Slideshow: May 2013 most read stories

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  • 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.

  • A West High teacher and coach was placed on administrative leave Wednesday after it was revealed to School District 2 officials that he is the subject of an FBI Internet and computer usage investigation. 

    Scott Nichols, a teacher and girls basketball coach at West and a track coach at Riverside Middle School, is a first-year teacher in the district. SD2 Superintendent Terry Bouck is recommending that the board not renew Nichols' contract when it expires May 31. 

    Until then, Nichols will be on paid administrative leave.

    The investigation is being led by the FBI and the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Investigators declined to comment on the case or the nature of the investigation, stating only that Nichols was being investigated for inappropriate use of computers and the Internet.

    "There's not much I can say," said Tim West, director of task force operations. 

    Bouck learned there was an issue late Tuesday afternoon when he received a call from Billings Police Chief Rich St. John requesting a meeting.

    St. John wouldn't say why he wanted to meet but asked to sit down with Bouck and the district's lawyer at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. 

    In the meeting, district officials then learned that Nichols was the target of a federal investigation.

    "We had no indication that there was a problem with this guy until today," said Jeff Weldon, attorney for SD2.

    Bouck said the district is cooperating with law enforcement and that student safety is his primary concern.

    "This is very serious," he said. 

    An email was sent to West High and Riverside parents Wednesday, and a letter will arrive at parents' homes by Friday.

    "If any parent, if any student has any concerns about this, let us know," Bouck said.

    District officials don't know if any students have been affected by the allegations or the investigation, so they're asking families to contact the school if they have any concerns or questions. 

    Nichols joined the district last year, coming from Livingston, and coached the Lady Bears to a third-place finish in the state basketball championship in March. He was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon. 

    Bouck said teachers and staff members at SD2 are hardworking and dedicated employees. So it's disappointing when something of like this comes to light, he said. 

  • 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.

  • WORDEN — Authorities have identified the victim of an apparent homicide in Worden early Friday morning as Erica Yurian, 22, and the man shot by a sheriff’s deputy as Thomas Hilger, 49.

    Both died of gunshot wounds, Sheriff Mike Linder said Saturday. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.

    It appears that two deputies made contact with Hilger but only one fired, Linder said. Both service weapons have been collected as evidence, and the lab will help determine which weapon fired the fatal round.

    Both deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure pending an inquest into the incident. The deputies are Tony Watson, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for more than eight years, and Martin Stuart, who has worked for the department just over a year. Both men are doing fine, Linder said.

    Hilger was owner of The 406 Bar on Main Street. Yurian was known for her athletic prowess, especially on the volleyball court while attending Huntley Project High School. The pair had been dating for about a year, although Yurian’s family members said she had recently ended the relationship.

    Hilger was shot in an early-morning confrontation with authorities and was taken to St. Vincent Healthcare, where he died. While investigating that shooting, authorities discovered Yurian’s body in a vehicle. Linder would not say where the vehicle was located.

    Mark Yurian, Erica’s father, said his daughter went to see Hilger on the night she died, at the man’s request.

    “She was in-cold-blood murdered,” he said. “She was coaxed into that environment.”

    Scott Steinbach, 49, of Fort Shaw, a friend of Hilger, said the bar owner was a great person “but something went really wrong that night.” The two cousins talked every week by phone. “He was outgoing. People loved him, loved being around him and were instantly attracted to him. He could walk into a room and talk to complete strangers like they were longtime friends.”

    The last time Hilger and Steinbach saw each other was last summer, when they took their Harleys on a road trip across central Montana. Yurian accompanied the cousins on that trip.

    “She was a neat girl,” Steinbach said. “She fit in great with Tom.”

    Yurian’s family saw the situation differently. Trisha Yurian, 27, Erica Yurian’s only sister, said that the couple had broken up multiple times since last fall, most recently just a few days before Erica Yurian’s death.

    “Erica was the one who broke up with him,” Trisha Yurian said, even though the two were still on speaking terms. “Tom was having a hard time letting go of Erica.”

    Mark Yurian went even further in his description of Hilger.

    “This was a violent man from the beginning,” he said, adding that he was aware of domestic violence in the relationship. “This man was not pleasant.”

    Deputies were called to Worden at 2:30 a.m. Friday to investigate suspicious behavior in the alley behind The 406 Bar at 2430 Main St. When they arrived, the suspicious vehicle was gone from behind the bar, but they found it elsewhere in Worden. When they began talking with Hilger, who was driving the vehicle, he got out and displayed a gun. One of the deputies fired at him. The deputy who fired his service weapon has not been identified, but a coroner’s inquest will be conducted, Linder said.

    Dixie Miller, owner of the Dark Horse Saloon and Eatery on Main Street, said she did not know Hilger well but found him “neighborly.” Though both held liquor licenses, and he tried diligently not to step on Miller’s toes. When the town held street dances, he always stepped forward to help share the cost. His establishment catered to younger singles in the community; her clientele was primarily older couples.

    Trisha Yurian said her sister was definitely well-liked, very popular.

    “She was outgoing, optimistic, a free-spirit,” Trisha Yurian said.

    Desiree Talkington, 21, graduated from high school with Yurian, whom she considered one of her closest friends. They attended classes and senior parties together.

    “She was always happy, very spontaneous, fun and crazy,” Talkington said. “She was one of the happiest people I’ve ever known. She definitely did what made her happy and marched to her own drummer. She didn’t care what others thought.”

    Yurian was smart and athletic. In fact, she was so athletic that Talkington said she “could jump like a boy.” Her forte was volleyball. She was a standout hitter for the Huntley Project High School Red Devils.

    Iona Stookey has coached volleyball at Huntley Project High School for 23 years and had coached Yurian since she was in fourth grade. Yurian was both a role model and big sister to Stookey’s daughter, Keera, a freshman. Keera was so inspired by Yurian’s skills on the volleyball court that she wore a No. 4 jersey just as Yurian had as a player. When Keera’s team won the 2012 state volleyball tournament, Yurian sent Keera a text that read: “Way to wear my number proud.”

    “She wasn’t just a player,” Stookey said. “She was my daughter. As a coach, you just loved her. She worked hard, was carefree and absolutely gorgeous. She was one of my favorite kids I ever coached.”

    Gazette reporter Susan Olp contributed to this story.

  • Criminal charges filed more than two years ago against the promoter of a failed outdoor event in Carbon County have been resolved.

    Michael Allen Decker, whose trial on a felony bad check charge was scheduled to begin this week, has paid more than $34,000 through a deferred prosecution agreement.

    The agreement was approved April 12 by Carbon County District Judge Blair Jones.

    Decker created the Bull Pen Rally, which was promoted as a five-day outdoor camping and concert series on 140 acres of property near Roberts just off Highway 212.

    The inaugural event in July 2010 drew a sparse crowd, and Decker canceled the 2011 event two months before it was scheduled to be held.

    In December 2010, Decker was charged in Carbon County with one felony and one misdemeanor count of writing bad checks related to the event.

    Prosecutors said Decker wrote a bad check for $34,075 to a Billings-based audio and production services company, DiA Events. The misdemeanor charge alleged Decker wrote a bad check to a Roberts business, Metal Masters Inc., for $800.

    The misdemeanor charge was later dismissed when Decker paid the business.

    Decker's trial on the felony charge was scheduled to begin Tuesday, but the case was recently resolved through the deferred prosecution agreement.

    According to the agreement, Assistant Attorney General Catherine Truman, who prosecuted the case, agreed to defer prosecution for one year on the condition that Decker pay the full amount of the bad check written to DiA Events at the time he signed the agreement.

    A copy of a check for $34,075 made out to DiA Events is attached with Jones' order approving the agreement.

    The agreement also states that Decker admits there was sufficient evidence to file the felony charge, and he is to have no contact with any witnesses or victims. The agreement can be revoked and the felony charge revived if Decker commits any new criminal offenses during the one-year period, according to the agreement.

  • BALLANTINE — Erica Marie Yurian was born on Oct. 12, 1990, to Mark and Paulette Yurian. Erica spent her young years in Gold Creek, Mont., before returning home to Ballantine and excelling in school and sports at Huntley Project.

    Erica was a free spirit, to say the least; she was also a fierce protector of those near and dear to her heart. Those of us who were lucky enough to be close to Erica were guarded over by her and held very close to her heart. One of a kind or one in a million does not do justice to the uniqueness of Erica’s presence. She filled a room with her smile and sparkle in her eye. She had a voracious thirst for knowledge of music and God. Her knowledge of the bible is only rivaled by her vast accounts of music knowledge. Her “street smart” crafty ways of getting things done was one of many admirable qualities this beautiful young woman possessed. Her athletic prowess on the volleyball court was truly something to see. She battled through injuries and other difficulties to rise to a top athlete. After graduating from Huntley Project in 2009, she attended MSUB for one year before taking a position as an administrator in the Denny Menholt body shop. Erica was finding her way in life and was one of those rare people who actually lived in the moment and enjoyed each and every day the good Lord gave her.

    Erica loved the Yellowstone Valley and, in particular, the Project. She was always quick to point out the joys of each season, like the smell of ditches burning and fresh grass and freshly tilled soil marked spring. The still-crisp clean air of fall that was pierced only by the referee’s whistle at a football game was one of her favorite times as well. She was one of those rare people who would sit and watch a sunset in its entirety with tears streaming down her cheeks at the sheer beauty of it all, or sit and look up at the stars on a clear night in total silence and peace for hours and hours. Erica was a liver of life, splashing in mud puddles, dancing in the rain, making snow angels or twirling in the wind; Erica never let a moment pass. To say she had a huge presence would be remiss, but with those sparkling eyes, gorgeous smile and snarky wit, she was a joy to be around. She always, always, saw the best in everyone and would make the most unlikely friends. She was loved far and wide by many and will be greatly missed.

    Whether you called her Squeaks, Duck, My Love, Buddy, Erita or Kitten, Erica always made those around her feel alive. We are all saddened by the sudden and abrupt exit from us. She leaves behind a legacy of appreciation of the moments in life that are so precious. She taught us all what it really means to be in the moment.

    She is survived by her mother, Paulette Yurian; father Mark (Becky) Yurian; brother Robert Quanbeck (Justine), their children Gavin and Addison Quanbeck; brother Jacob Yurian; sister Trisha Yurian; aunt and uncle Bobbi and Mike Lorash; their children, Mikeala and Alaini Lorash; grandmother Abbie Quanbeck; grandmother Barbara Yurian. Many, many cousins and extended family along with friends mourn the passing of Erica.

    Goodbye, Kitten.

    Contributions to Erica’s memorial fund can be made at Stockman Bank in Worden.

    Services will be at 1 p.m. Friday, May 31, at Harvest Church Heights Campus, 1235 Wicks Lane W.

    Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary is in charge of arrangements. Condolences may be made online at www.michelottisawyers.com.

  • HELENA — A suspected intruder was shot dead in a home on Canyon Ferry Road in the east Helena Valley on Wednesday afternoon.

    Patrol Capt. Jason Grimmis of the Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Office said dispatchers received a 911 call at about 2:40 p.m. from the homeowner at 4276 Canyon Ferry Road, near the intersection with Ranger Drive.

    The homeowner reported arriving home to find a suspicious car at the residence, and then entered the residence and encountered the intruder, Grimmis said.

    The homeowner shot his gun and the intruder was hit, Grimmis said. The intruder was able to exit the home through a window and enter his Ford Taurus, and then crashed it into a fence on the property.

    Grimmis said he anticipated a lengthy investigation of the scene. He said the homeowner was participating in the investigation.

    The name of the homeowner and the deceased man were not released.

    Grimmis said deputies were investigating whether the incident had any connection with at least two reported burglaries at other homes in the area Wednesday.

    Sheriff’s deputies, the Montana Highway Patrol and Tri-Lakes Fire Department responded, along with the county coroner.

    Under the state’s self-defense law, known as the “Castle Doctrine,” a person is allowed to use deadly force against an unlawful or uninvited intruder if the person believes the intruder might harm the resident. The homeowner does not have to retreat from the intruder. It’s unclear whether the Castle Doctrine may apply in this case.

  • A pregnant woman and her boyfriend were arrested Friday in the December murder of a Glendive man in what authorities describe as a drug-related revenge killing.

    Levi Douglas Stark, 22, and Jessica Ann Miller Grossman, 23, were arrested Friday morning on warrants issued in Dawson County District Court for the murder of Matthew Wiseman.

    Wiseman, 25, was found by his wife stabbed to death inside the couple's trailer home on the evening of Dec. 21.

    Stark was arrested on charges of deliberate homicide, arson and tampering.

    Grossman faces felony charges of conspiracy to commit deliberate homicide, arson by accountability, tampering by accountability, criminal mischief and obstructing, according to court records.

    The arson, tampering and criminal mischief charges allege that the couple broke into a secure storage lot used by the Dawson County Sheriff's Office and set fire to a vehicle that had been seized during the murder investigation. 

    Arrest warrants for each set bond at $1 million. A date for their initial court appearance had not been set as of Friday.

    Dawson County Attorney Olivia Rieger said in court records that arrangements had been made to hold Grossman at the Yellowstone County jail after her arrest because the woman is pregnant and has been seeing medical specialists in Billings.   

    According to charging documents filed Thursday, the murder investigation began when Wiseman's wife came home from work and found her husband dead.

    Kelsea Wiseman told investigators she was working while her husband was home with the couple's two children, including a 7-month-old child. She came home shortly after 11 p.m. and called police when she found her husband's body face down on the porch.

    Investigators learned that Wiseman had recently provided information to a drug task force regarding the distribution of methamphetamine in the region, court records state. He had also recently been charged with drug-related offenses.

    Kelsea Wiseman later admitted that she and her husband had been selling meth "in order to make ends meet and pay their bills," court record state. Kelsea Wiseman and her husband were on felony probation at the time of the murder.

    During that same time period, Grossman and Stark had also been arrested on drug-related felony charges, and Grossman told several people that she believed Wiseman was a "snitch" and a "rat."

    A female inmate at the county jail told investigators that Grossman was "very open with everyone regarding her anger" toward Wiseman, court records state.           

    During the ensuing months, investigators interviewed numerous people across Eastern Montana, and court records identify about 250 potential witnesses.

    One of those witnesses told investigators that Stark admitted two days after the murder that he killed Wiseman. The man said Stark had driven to Billings to pick him up at the airport. During the return trip to Glendive, the man said, Stark asked if he could share a secret and "take something to his grave."

    Stark told the man he killed Wiseman because he had been threatening him and Grossman, court records state. He described going to Wiseman's trailer armed with a knife and pistol, and that Wiseman had grabbed the pistol during a scuffle.

    Stark said he then stabbed Wiseman in the throat, court records state.

    An autopsy determined Wiseman died of multiple stab wounds to the neck. He also suffered stab wounds to the head, face and other parts of his body.

  • 11:30 a.m.: The mother of Kaleb Miller, the 11-year-old boy who was reported missing Friday night, called police at 10 a.m. Saturday to say that her son had returned home unharmed.

    Police visited the residence to confirm the boy was present and in good health, police Sgt. Mitch Hart said in a news release.


     

    INITIAL REPORT: The Billings Police Department is asking for help in locating Kaleb Miller, 11, who was last seen taking out the trash from his house at 2002 Cook Ave. around 6 p.m. on Friday.

    In a news release, police Sgt. Clyde Reid said the boy is 4 feet 8 inches tall and 125 pounds. He was last seen wearing jeans, a red T-shirt, a black Mountain Dew cap and sandals. He has dirty-blond hair and hazel eyes.

    Anyone with any information on Miller's whereabouts are asked to call police at 657-8200.

  • A Skyview High School teacher, who was seeking a permanent restraining order against a student, was talked into a less punitive move during a Yellowstone County Justice Court hearing Wednesday. 

    Lee Langlinais, who teaches math, had been granted a temporary restraining order against the student earlier in the year. He was in court Wednesday, appearing before Judge Larry Herman, seeking a permanent restraining order.

    But during the hearing, which was attended by Langlinais and his attorney, and the student and her family, Herman suggested another course, which Langlinais ultimately agreed to. 

    Asking them not to air their "dirty laundry" in his courtroom, Herman suggested Langlinais and his attorney serve the student with a "notice of stalking" rather than a permanent restraining order. 

    The 14-year-old student could be charged with a felony were she to violate the terms of a permanent restraining order, Herman told the group. However, a notice of stalking, when violated, is a misdemeanor. 

    Witnesses were lined up to testify, including Skyview High Principal Deb Black. 

    By dismissing the option of seeking a permanent restraining order, the court would have no need for the hearing or testimony from witnesses, Herman said. 

    The student's mother responded, telling the judge she wanted the dirty laundry aired. Herman told her not in his courtroom. 

    Instead, Herman gave Langlinais a few minutes to consider his options. Langlinais chose to seek the notice of stalking, which Herman approved. 

    Under the agreement, the student will be required to stay away from Langlinais' classroom and home, and will be barred from contacting him either personally or electronically. 

    "Obviously, the situation is very serious," said Jeana Lervick, SD2's executive director of human resources. "We are aware of the matter and at this point cannot comment except to say we are sensitive to protecting everyone involved."

  • "I'll never forget, Heaven is where I belong." Ivy Raye Barnes left this world much too early on May 14, 2013, tragically at her family home in Billings. She left behind many friends and family who miss her terribly and will always love her. Ivy had a smile that brought joy and courage to her friends at Central Heights Elementary, Orchard Elementary and Riverside Middle School, where she was on the Honor Roll. Her interests included snowboarding at Red Lodge Mountain, singing in her middle school choir, reading in the backyard, and searching for various "good deals" on Craigslist. Ivy could also be found rummaging through a thrift store in search of old cameras with her Dad or at Hastings scouring the racks for new music, books or selling back the previous week's purchases.

    Ivy was born in Billings on July 20, 2000, the second child to Clay and Jamie Barnes. She instantly became the sweet and beautiful “Ivy Bug” who stole the hearts of everyone around here. Ivy's interests included music, lacrosse (a sport where she could bump people over and hit them with a stick and get away with it), as well as basketball and softball. Ivy had a tender heart for animals of all sorts which led her to volunteer at Help for Homeless Pets. Ivy was an accomplished world traveler with a passport that has more stamps than just about anybody her age. But her most admirable trait was her uncanny ability to notice people and animals who were hurting and step up to defend and befriend them.

    Ivy is survived by her parents, Clay and Jamie Barnes; her brother, Coleman Barnes; her grandmother Shirley Kline of Great Falls; grandfather Doug Forbes of Great Falls; her aunt and uncle Raymond and Tonya Dalton; cousins Ronnie Clyde and Rhiannon Dalton of Kalispell; great-aunt and uncle Doug and Judy Barnes; her cousins Brooks Barnes, Britt Barnes and Cassidy Barnes Brophy. Ivy also left behind her extended family that she loved so much: John and Garth Ferro of Billings; Kelsey Ferro of Helena; Paige, Ashley and Nathan Ferro of Missoula; and Lara Wagner of Billings.

    Ivy was preceded in death by her great-grandmothers, Vera Barnes (Billings) and Barbara Kline (Great Falls); her great aunt Marge Pulse and great-uncle Homer Pulse from Glendive; as well as in her father's parents and her mother's father.

    Dear Daughter,

    When you look in the mirror, see what we see ... our girl.

    When we look at you we will always see the beautiful baby that brought us so much joy from the moment we first held you. The same baby that grew into a beautiful, kind and loving young lady right before our eyes. Although you are gone, we will always remember the growing years and the memories that are imprinted forever in our hearts. You were filled with so much love, hope, energy and promise. We will forever carry you in our hearts and hope that you know how very much we love you and how very proud we are of you our beautiful little Ivy Bug ...

    Always and forever, Mom and Dad

    We would also like to extend our deepest thanks to all the wonderful people who loved her and gave her their support and love. Your encouragement and love made a positive impact on her each and every day.

    We would like to thank Bo Smith, the Faculty and Staff at Riverside Middle School, and the Emergency Responders for their efforts. ALL of her dear and wonderful friends who have meant so much to her ... Thank you and may you find peace in knowing that we all did everything we could and now she watches over us from heaven above.

    Visitations may be made from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday at Smith downtown Chapel, 925 S. 27th St. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, at the Lincoln Center Auditorium, 415 N. 30th St.

  • In honor of Mother’s Day today, photographer Casey Page captured these moms with their families. They shared their thoughts on motherhood and on their own mothers.

    Besides being mothers, these women have another important job in common: They all help other women become mothers through their jobs in Labor and Delivery at St. Vincent Healthcare and the Family Birth Center at Billings Clinic.

  • Six people were injured and taken to Billings hospitals early Friday after the car they were riding in rolled on Bench Boulevard in the Heights.

    According to Billings police Sgt. Shawn Mayo, four men and two women were in the car, which was northbound on Bench Boulevard around 2 a.m. The driver attemped a right turn onto Kale Drive and the car rolled onto its top, coming to rest in the front yard of a house at 2119 Bench Boulevard.

    The male driver and four other occupants were able to get out of the car. The Billings Fire Department had to extricate one female passenger who was trapped in the vehicle.

    Four people went to St. Vincent Healthcare while two went to Billings Clinic for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, Mayo said.

    Alcohol was involved in the accident, Mayo said in a news release. An investigation is continuing.

     

  • A 28-year-old Billings man who admitted to having sex with a 14-year-old baby sitter was sentenced Wednesday in District Court.

    Kenneth James Smith was ordered to serve 20 years in state custody, with 16 years suspended, for felony sexual intercourse without consent.

    Smith was designated a Level I sex offender, which is considered a low risk to commit a future sexual offense. 

    Judge G. Todd Baugh imposed the sentence after hearing an apology from Smith and an emotional letter written by the victim.

    "I still have nightmares and scream," the girl said in the letter.

    Billings Fire Chief Paul Dextras, who said the victim is a close family friend, also testified at the sentencing hearing.

    Smith was charged in April 2012 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. The charges were filed after the girl's mother called police and said Smith's girlfriend had found naked photos of the girl in Smith's email account. 

    The girl later told investigators that she sometimes worked as a baby sitter for Smith and his girlfriend, and that Smith texted her nude pictures of himself and asked her to do the same for him.

    The girl said she and Smith had sexual intercourse three times in July or August of 2011.

    In a plea agreement, Smith admitted to one of the charges in exchange for the dismissal of the other two counts. Prosecutors recommended the sentence imposed by Baugh. 

    Smith's public defender asked the judge for a lesser sentence of 12 years in state custody, with eight years suspended.

    Smith lacks any prior criminal convictions, has taken steps to improve his life and is the father of three children, the defense lawyer said. 

    Smith had been free on a $30,000 bond. He was taken into custody Wednesday to begin his sentence.     

  • A father and son accused of drawing knives during a fracas at a Lockwood strip club were charged Monday with felonies.

    Jose Angel Lopez Sr., 49, and Jose Angel Lopez Jr., 24, both of Corpus Christi, Texas, appeared in Yellowstone County Justice court by video from the county jail on two counts each of felony assault with a weapon. The younger Lopez was also charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief.

    Judge Larry Herman set bond for the elder Lopez at $75,000 because of a lengthy criminal record, and at $50,000 for the younger Lopez. They are to enter pleas in District Court on May 17.

    According to charging documents, a bouncer at Planet Lockwood said the younger Lopez tried to re-enter the club after closing time early Monday morning, wanting to get a dancer's phone number.

    When the bouncer attempted to make Lopez leave the club, Lopez pulled a knife and challenged the bouncer to a fight, the documents said. The bouncer said he managed to get Lopez out the door by pushing him with a chair, but when he tried to lock the door, Lopez broke a glass panel on the door with his knife and slashed at the bouncer through the opening.

    A bartender came to the assistance of the bouncer, punching Lopez three or four times. When Lopez fell, court records said, the elder Lopez ran up, pulled a knife and began slashing at the bartender. The bouncer said the bartender would have been cut if he hadn't pulled him away.

    When a sheriff's deputy arrived at about 1:35 a.m., he said he saw the younger Lopez sitting in a Jeep, bleeding from a cut on his scalp. As he approached the Jeep, the deputy said, Lopez got out and moved toward him.

    When the deputy drew a sidearm, Lopez threw a knife at his feet, according to charging documents.

    After Planet Lockwood employees told the deputy the elder Lopez still had a knife, the deputy found a folding knife in the Jeep. The vehicle belonged to a third man who denied owning the weapon.

    At the jail, the elder Lopez denied pulling a knife and said he didn't see his son with one. He said the bouncer broke the door and that he and the bartender attacked his son.

    Court documents said the younger Lopez was passed out in a holding cell at the jail.

    A deputy woke him and asked if he wanted to give a statement. The document said Lopez "stated he could not remember anything and went back to sleep."

    The assault charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The criminal mischief charge against the younger Lopez, filed because of the broken door, carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

     

  • A Billings woman who complained that she should be able to ride her horse through a South Side neighborhood without getting stopped by police was arrested a short time later for driving a pickup truck under the influence of alcohol.

    Dawnalee Ellis-Peterson, 43, appeared Wednesday in Justice Court by video from the county jail on a felony charge of DUI and misdemeanor counts of driving without a valid license and driving without insurance.

    Judge Pro Tem Lance Lundvall set bond at $7,500.

    According to court records, Ellis-Peterson came to the attention of officers Monday morning while riding a horse on South 34th Street.

    Ellis-Peterson was extremely intoxicated, court records state, but was allowed to return to her home on Jefferson Street.

    When she arrived at her house, Ellis-Peterson called dispatch and complained that she "should be able to ride her horse without getting pulled over," court records state.   

    A short time later, at about 9:40 a.m., an officer was sent to check on Ellis-Peterson at her residence. She refused to answer the door and yelled, "I'm just drunk, leave me alone," court records state.

    As the officer left, a naked Ellis-Peterson stepped into her doorway and yelled something toward the officer.

    A neighbor called police about 30 minutes later to report that Ellis-Peterson had driven away from her house in a pickup truck. Officers soon found the truck and arrested the woman.

    In 2004, Ellis-Peterson was arrested for disorderly conduct while riding a horse in the same area partially clothed and drinking from a can of malt liquor.

    Prosecutors said Ellis-Peterson has prior DUI convictions in 1993, 1997 and 2007.     

  • A 69-year-old Billings woman has been charged with beating a 6-year-old boy with a kitchen spoon.

    Janet Carol Fossceco appeared Monday in Yellowstone County Justice Court by video from the county jail on felony charges of assault on a minor and tampering with evidence.

    Judge Larry Herman agreed to release Fossceco without bond while her case is pending. The judge ordered the woman to have no contact with the victim and his family, and to have no contact with children outside her own family.  

    According to court records, in late February the boy's parents reported that their 6-year-old son had come home from Fossceco's house with severe bruises on his legs. The parents said Fossceco was a longtime family friend who provided them with child care.

    The boy said Fossceco had beaten him with a black spoon after he answered "no" when she asked him what he had for lunch at school and if he had washed his hands, court records state.

    The case was investigated by a Billings police detective, who spoke with Fossceco in early March. She initially denied knowing how the boy suffered the  bruising, and said she had watched the child since he was 5 months old and considered herself like a grandmother to the boy.

    During a second police interview about a week later, Fossceco allegedly admitted that she "just lost it" when the boy would not answer her questions. She said she hit the the boy on the legs with a spoon seven or eight times, court records state, and later threw the spoon away.

  • Two Billings teens escaped from their vehicle Tuesday afternoon after it plunged down the cliff overlooking Two Moon Park and went into the Yellowstone River.

    Yellowstone County Sheriff's Deputy Nick Reyna responded to the report of a car in the river at 4:50 p.m. Billings firefighters also were called to the scene.

    The two young women apparently were in the vehicle in the park's upper parking lot when it appears that it broke through a metal cable, went over the cliff and into the river, where it sank. Reyna was not yet clear on what caused the accident.

    Both teens, who were not identified, were able to extricate themselves from the vehicle. They were taken to Billings hospitals with injuries that Reyna said did not appear to be life-threatening.

  • A bright, shining star graced us for 21 wonder-filled years. Megan Marie Shoal was born March 23, 1992, in Missoula, to Mark and Heather Shoal. She was taken from us on May 16, 2013, in a vehicle accident in Minot, N.D. Pastor Mark Taylor will officiate at Memorial services at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 21, at Plentywood Lutheran Church; private interment of cremated remains is planned for a later date.

    Meg was a real character right from the start. She was precocious, independent, full of life and absolutely adorable. She was the funniest 4-year-old! She said so many funny things that her family began coining them "Meganisms." That was also the year she livened up the local Junior Miss pageant with her own special twist on the "Elephant Dance." A "Daddy's Girl" through and through, Megan was a big fan of Westerns starting at an early age, with John Wayne being her favorite actor. Even in college, she often called her Dad to let him know when a John Wayne movie was on TV. As a preschooler, she dressed up as Rooster Cogburn for Halloween, whiskey jug and all! One of her favorite all-time movies was "Young Guns."

    In grade school, Megan was quite the entrepreneur. She out-sold her mother at craft shows with her various handmade goods — just funny little "doo dads" that people seemed to want to buy from her. After she sold an item, she might even ask with a smile, "Do you want your change?" Often her customer did not. When someone came over to the house, she would get out her foot massage supplies and work for tips. However, if you were missing a toe, you were out of luck! Later Megan enjoyed buying gifts for the people she loved with the money she made. She was extremely creative and artistic; Meg was good at so many things.

    Megan really kept her parents busy all through school as she was involved in just about everything possible. She was one of the first girls in wrestling and was known as a scrapper in all of the sports she played. She put her heart into everything she did. Meg was one tough cookie! She strived to be unique, never following the crowd, and was well-known for her fashion statements. Meg was also an excellent student and her family was very proud of all of her accomplishments. Always an animal lover, for a time she was a vegetarian until she met the love of her life, Colton Hellegaard, and became a mighty huntress! Megan's last four years were spent almost entirely with Colton. Together they hunted, fished, took care of their dogs, and spent much of their time on his family's farm. She was so looking forward to finishing school, getting married and moving to the Hellegaard farm with Colton. Her heart will always be there.

    Megan graduated from Plentywood High School in 2010. She had just turned 21 in March, and in early May, had completed her third year at Minot State University majoring in laboratory science. She worked as a phlebotomist at Trinity Hospital in Minot. She was a very reliable and valued employee there and was proud of her job. She was planning on staying in Minot to work this summer, but was just on her way out of town to come home for a long weekend.

    Megan was preceded in death by her Grandpa Don Shoal, with whom she was very close. He surely holds her in his arms now. Also preceding her were her great-grandparents Norma and Earl Holje, Mary and Carl Westergard, John and Tilda Shoal, and Russell and Margaret Hobbs.

    She is survived by her parents, Mark and Heather Shoal, and her brother, Jon. Megan and her brother had become very close the past few years, and she was very protective of him. She is also survived by her grandparents Mike and Patty Westergard and Evelyn Shoal; her aunts and uncles, Carley and Cory Pettersen, Donelda and Dan Buckalew, and Darcy and Rick Neser; cousins Kayla Buckalew, Dustan Buckalew (Chelsey Friedrich), Cheyann Pettersen, Jaxon Pettersen, and Noa Neser; as well as a large and very special extended family. Megan is also survived by her soulmate, Colton Hellegaard, and his parents, Deanna and Clyde, and all of the Hellegaards and Solbergs who became her second family. Megan leaves behind many friends including her "besties," Kirsten Tryan and Shelby Vogel.

    Megan's light touched so many people's lives. She was a gift. Though we dearly wish we could have had her longer, we thank God for the time we had with her. She made our lives "sparkle."

    Fulkerson Funeral Home of Plentywood was in charge of arrangements.

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