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Compiled by Gazette Staff

Montana in brief

Hantavirus less of health concernHELENA – State health officials do not rush to alert citizens of hantavirus cases because they no longer consider the rare respiratory disease to be the public health threat it once was, a state official said Tuesday.

Jim Murphy, health specialist with the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said experts have learned more about the disease and understand it does not result on widespread outbreaks. All the Montana cases have been isolated incidents, he noted.

Doctors also are more aware of the virus and able to diagnose it more quickly when the symptoms are present, he said.

“The fact that we have only three deaths is proof that health care providers are more diligent in testing for it,” Murphy said. “Concern has been notched back a bit.”

The most recent Montana cases of the disease, a life-threatening disease carried by wild rodents, occurred in April and June. Health officials did not disclose the incidents until last week.

Murphy said public notice was not issued earlier because the two cases – one in Teton County and another in Gallatin County – were not unusual or unexpected. “We’re not trying to hide anything or anything like that,” he said.

Principal paid to quitMONTANA CITY – School trustees met in a closed session here and agreed to pay an elementary principal $22,500 to resign.

The announcement Monday followed a two-hour closed meeting in this wealthy suburban district south of Helena in northern Jefferson County.

The board cited “litigation strategy” as the reason to close the session to discuss the settlement with Dianne Delaney.

A joint statement by both sides said the settlement was entered into solely to avoid the cost and uncertain outcome of a lawsuit.

Delaney said it was not her choice to leave the district, where she has been principal for 11 years.

Before the trustees met privately, Jefferson County Courier Editor Jan Anderson submitted a statement to them, questioning whether the meeting was legal because of insufficient notice to the public.

Notice of the meeting was posted late Friday at the school and a local convenience store, Superintendent John McGee said.

Anderson’s letter also questioned the reason for the closed session, noting that no lawsuit had been filed prior to Delaney’s resignation.

Montana School Boards Association attorney Lance Melton said that was “an argument that one day may prevail.”

But he advised the board there was “nothing in the statute that says a case has to be filed before you can hold a closed session.”

Montana Education Association President Melanie Williams said the teachers’ union was not informed that the payment to Delaney would be discussed and had not been given the opportunity to comment.

Guilty plea entered in traffic deathBOZEMAN – A Belgrade man pleaded guilty Monday to negligent homicide for the drunken driving death of an Amsterdam woman.

Aaron Holsinger’s plea agreement calls for a 20-year prison sentence, with all but six months suspended. He is to serve his time in the Gallatin County Detention Center, then pay restitution and complete 500 hours of community service, talking to others about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Gina Erickson, 22, died early on April 19, when Holsinger’s sport utility vehicle went off Bridger Canyon Road, rolled down a 50 foot embankment and landed in a creek. Montana Highway Patrol officers said Erickson was thrown part way out of the vehicle and pinned beneath it in a creek.

Holsinger, 20, said the two were returning from a party where he had consumed two or three beers when he lost control of the vehicle while trying to change a CD.

A preliminary report showed that Holsinger had a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 nearly three hours after the crash. State law considers a 0.10 blood-alcohol level to be legally drunk.

District Judge Mike Salvagni scheduled Holsinger’s sentencing for Aug. 22.

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