2019 Year in review! January - June

By: 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, January 2, 2020
Laurel Volunteer Fire Department water rescue personnel approach a partly submerged vehicle off Allendale road.

Laurel Volunteer Fire Department water rescue personnel approach a partly submerged vehicle off Allendale road.

Laurel High graduate Casey Burrows is all smiles as she received her honor award recognizing her high GPA during the LHS commencement ceremony.

Laurel High graduate Casey Burrows is all smiles as she received her honor award recognizing her high GPA during the LHS commencement ceremony.

The Laurel Post Office after a juvenile set fire to the lobby causing more than $100,000 in damage. The 13–yearold Laurel resident was arrested on multiple charges of setting the post office fire and attempting to burn down Walmart.

The Laurel Post Office after a juvenile set fire to the lobby causing more than $100,000 in damage. The 13–yearold Laurel resident was arrested on multiple charges of setting the post office fire and attempting to burn down Walmart.

Laurel Police Chief Stan Langve (left) congratulates Travis Pitts who was promoted to LPD Captain at a City Council meeting.

Laurel Police Chief Stan Langve (left) congratulates Travis Pitts who was promoted to LPD Captain at a City Council meeting.

Four Laurel 8th graders made their way down Lazy M at Red Lodge Mountain Resort during the middle school’s annual ski trip.

Four Laurel 8th graders made their way down Lazy M at Red Lodge Mountain Resort during the middle school’s annual ski trip.

Members of the LHS State Champion Speech Drama and Debate team in the school library. The entire team won the Class A Drama Sweepstakes for the first time in 21 years and took third in the Class A Speech Sweepstakes.

Members of the LHS State Champion Speech Drama and Debate team in the school library. The entire team won the Class A Drama Sweepstakes for the first time in 21 years and took third in the Class A Speech Sweepstakes.

Get caught up on last year’s news by reading this synopsis of events from 2019. The news through June will be featured this week with the remainder of the year’s news running in the Jan. 9 edition of the Outlook.

January

• The Laurel American Legion Post #123 became the first veteran organization to make a donation in support of the USS Billings’ commissioning. At the Legion meeting, Sue Davidson and Billings City Councilman Mike Yakawich gave impassioned pleas for support of the ship, its two crews and the week–long events surrounding its commissioning later in the year in Florida. “By being its namesake, Billings is now responsible for the ship, basically in perpetuity,” Yakawich explained. “It’s an honor but it’s been difficult to generate a lot of interest since the ship won’t be here.” The Laurel Legion Post donated $150, using the ship’s number 15 as a guideline, after a unanimous vote.

• A teenage arsonist was arrested at his home after lighting a fire at the Laurel post office, causing in excess of $100,000 in damage. The teen had attempted to start a fire at Walmart at 2:28 a.m. then started the fire at the post office shortly after 4 a.m. Detective Joel Sauter of the Laurel PD said “We received tips from four or five different parents of local kids, including a school official,” before the arrest was made. The juvenile admitted to lighting the candle at Walmart and said he threw a match in the garbage can in the lobby of the post office. “He was nonchalant and didn’t show much emotion,” Sauter said. Due to student privacy restrictions, Laurel Schools was unable to respond to an inquiry of the student’s status in the district.

• Laurel High School Speech, Drama and Debate claimed their first State Drama title in 21 years in Belgrade, also taking 3rd place in Speech and Debate. Coach Liz Schwartz said the LHS squad competed against the best teams in the state and they were “the only school to place in the top three in both sweepstakes.”

Laurel also had 10 individual top–three performances, including two individual champions. Team co–captions Abigail Peterson and Jessamyn Reichert each took home a State title in pantomime and dramatic solo acting, respectively. Peterson said the team performed their pieces over the course of seven rounds, including the semi–finals and finals, which featured the top–eight from the preliminary rounds.

February

• The Laurel Rotary Club is partnering with LHS and the Laurel Montana Community Foundation to bring the Laurel Hall of Fame to life with a digital trophy case. The interactive touchscreen display will honor past athletes, teams and coaches and celebrate student and faculty success.

Activities Director Roger Heimbigner said the digital trophy case will solve an ongoing problem with the traditional trophy case at the high school which is a lack of room. “I have boxes and boxes of trophies and plaques we don’t have room to display,” he said, “which says a lot about the quality of athletic, music and drama programs at LHS.”

• Representatives from the Montana Schools Group Insurance Authority presented their findings at the school board meeting after spending three days in the district evaluating Laurel Schools safety and security.

One concern MSGIA had for the district was the lack of secure entries into every dis- trict building. Harry Cheff said, “The facilities have challenges. Push button intercom and camera systems are pretty standard throughout the state and we didn’t see that consistently in the Laurel School District.” Anette Satterly stressed having keyless entry into every building should be in place. ”You want to know who is in the building and what they are doing at all times. It gives a different set of eyes and controls access.”

MSGIA provides workers’ compensation coverage form 399 elementary and high school districts across Montana and have evaluated every school district in Montana.

March

• Laurel High School Senior Hannah Kopp was the first Lau- rel Speech, Drama and Debate student to ever qualify for Na- tionals after she took first place out of 50 competitors in Humorous Oral Interpretation in Billings.

Kopp’s winning performance was titled “Regina Flector wins the Science Fair” about four middle school students who compete for first place in their school’s Science Faire. “Their science projects topics were insane,” she said. “Can you eat glitter?” and “My mom’s facelift” were two of her characters’ projects. “It’s about the awkwardness of the kids trying to get through their presentation,” she said.

Kopp performed “Regina” eight times over two days in Billings during what she called “the hardest tournament I’ve been to.” By winning, she quali-

fied for the national tournament,

held in Dallas last summer.

• Repairs at the Laurel Post Office began after Alpha Omega

Disaster Restoration received approval from the United States Postal Service to proceed with

the project. The post office was

damaged after a juvenile male

started a garbage can on fire in

the lobby, which quickly spread through the building. The project was expected to take 8–10 weeks to complete but customers were able to access their P.O. boxes sooner. AODR owner/operator Willy Johnson said the project involved assessing and addressing the sheet rock damage, extensive dry wall work, replacing windows, installing a new ceil-

ing, repairing the HVAC system,

all new lighting and a new smoke alarm system. The original bid to restore the lobby to pre–fire con- ditions was around $94,000 but the final number was 30 percent less.

• Laurel’s Cole Whitmoyer was looking to the future as he prepared to open his new medical clinic, Flex Family Health, Direct Primary Care, while re- taining some of the best features of the traditional family doctor. The new clinic opened in April on Grand Ave. in Billings.

“Because we live in Laurel, I thought about opening the practice here,” he said. “But in order to serve more patients it made sense to be in Billings. I’ll be available from home every evening for Laurel patients, In fact, I’ll be available to any of my patients anytime.” What’s missing from the Direct Primary Care model is the middle man: There is no insurance or billing. It’s a model that’s catching on throughout the country, according to Whitmoyer.

“The membership model is happening all over the country. People want to have a relationship with their provider and because I don’t have to deal with insurance, that frees up my time to see patients and help people.”

The monthly fee for those 18 to 64 is just $59 a month, “less than the cost of cell phone service,” Whitmoyer said. “And you have someone on call who knows about your medical needs 24/7.” A membership covers as many office visits or calls as necessary. A home visit is $75 in Billings or Laurel.

• In a letter supplied to the Out- look and read to the city council, Mayor Nelson wrote, “The City CAO, Matthew Lurker, worked for the City of Laurel for nearly a year. During that time Mr. Lurker did his best to fulfill his respon- sibilities. It had come to a point where both the CAO and I had different expectations of each other which led to the hard decision for us to dissolve our professional relationship . […] Mr. Lurker is no longer an employee of the City of Laurel.”

It remained unclear what the “different expectations,” were that led to Lurker’s departure. Mayor Nelson cited personnel privacy issues for not explaining further when he spoke to the Outlook.

April

• The Laurel airport was awarded the “Outstanding Re- gional Airport” at the annual Federal Aviation Administration’s Northwest Mountain Airport Conference in Seattle. The coveted award is given to an airport in recognition of recent exemplary work.

Laurel was nominated within the FAA management without the airports’ knowledge. The written nomination acknowledged manager Dr. John Smith’s commitment to the airport since 1971 and his ability to act as a “spark plug” for airport development. The Laurel airport is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the state with just under 100–based aircraft. It is also the past host airport of Laurel Aviation & Technology Week with over 15,000 students participating in the program.

• Congressman Greg Gian- forte recognized Justin Downs of Molt with his Spirit of Montana commendation for his selfless service to his community and for coming to the aid of an injured rancher amid hostile winter conditions. Down escorted the man to safety with his own farm tractor when snow–drifted roads and fields prevented emergency ve- hicles form reaching him.

Gianforte’s Spirit of Montana is a weekly recognition of Montanans for their accomplishments, dedication or service. Gianforte highlights the recipi- ent in the U.S. House of Repre- sentatives and personally contacts the honorees.

Gianforte encourages anyone to nominate Montanans for the Spirit of Montana award by con- tacting his office at 202–225– 3211 or by email at https://gianforte.house.gov/contact/email.

• Two Laurel residents were arrested near a Bozeman–area hot springs and charged with indecent exposure for reportedly having sex within 10 feet of children. A Gallatin County deputy responded to a report of a sexual crime at the hot springs on Gallatin Road but Dawn Danielle Klein, 33, and Aaron Hayes Miller, 37, had left the hot springs. They were stopped by law enforcement shortly afterwards and booked into the Gallatin County Detention Center. Video surveillance confirmed the complaint according to a report by the responding deputy.

May

• The U.S. Department of La- bor cited Nelcon Inc.–a highway contractor based in Kalispell–for exposing workers to burns and falls at a mobile asphalt–mixing plant in Laurel. The company faced $261,418 in penalties for 23 serious violations. The company also operates a gravel pit south of Laurel. In August of 2017, an excavator rolled or slid down an embankment at Laurel State Pit, a Nelcon, Inc. operation.

In the recent accident, three workers suffered burns when ambient oil was poured into a larger hot oil tank. One of the workers was hospitalized after falling approximately 15 feet during the incident. OSHA inspectors determined that Nelcon Inc. failed to use fall protec- tion systems; guard machinery; provide adequate personal protective equipment; control hazardous energy and report a work–related incident leading to inpatient hospitalization within 24 hours, as required by law.

• According to Laurel Mayor Tom Nelson, city government doesn’t move very fast because planning and prioritizing proj- ects are the most important steps in getting things done right, especially when funding is limited. “We don’t want to look back in a few years and realize we made a mistake” he said. “We need to try to retire some of the debt we have from past projects and cre- ate a growth plan that’s reasonable considering our budget.”

On the list of projects Laurel will have to consider over the next 10 years or so are street repairs and replacement, a new water tank north of town and the eventual replacement of the underpass. Other, more pressing issues, including ensuring the ambulance is staffed and updating the city’s phone systems will be remedied sooner.

• Laurel School District vot- ers passed the Building Reserve levies in the school election. The Elementary District will receive $400,000 and the High School District $200,000 per year over the next five years which equals the $3 million voters approved. Superintendent Linda Filpula said immediate priorities include control access (keyless entry), video security and bells, paging and intercom systems, as well as searching for land to purchase for a new elementary school. The upgrades take more than a year to implement because the money is spread out over several years.

• Senator Tester delivered the Memorial Day keynote address at the Yellowstone National Cemetery, recognizing those who “have given the ultimate sacrifice for the peace and free- dom we should never take for granted.” The Senator noted that visiting the national veterans cemetery, as he has for Memorial Day and other events for many years, is always a privilege.

“We are here at Yellowstone National Cemetery to recognize the contributions that so many Montanans have made to our state and nation. Montanans are no strangers to service and sacri- fice, especially folks here in Yel- lowstone County and southeast Montana,” he said.

June

• Laurel PD arrested a man on a motorcycle who brandished a handgun in Billings and Park City. Billings officers had re- ceived a report of a male who had pulled a handgun on a fe- male driver and then fired a shot into the air. Several hours later the same male pulled the gun on a female driver with two children in the vehicle in Park City and threatened them before flee- ing the scene. LPD located the motorcycle in Laurel City limits and were able to determine the registered owner. Officers located and arrested Ryan Allan Good, 23, and transported him to the Yellowstone County Detention Facility where he faced four felony charges of assault with a weapon.

• Nine cases of criminal mis- chief were reported throughout the north and east sides of Laurel and involved vehicle windows either being shot out or smashed. LPD hasn’t established a link between the burglary of the Laurel Schools Admin building that occurred in the same time frame. In that incident, the suspect or suspects broke into the building, set off a fire extinguisher in a class- room and smashed a window to gain entry into the administra- tive offices.

• Laurel Community Edu- cation made changes to their childcare program in order to focus more on providing kids with a safe learning environment that promotes enrichment through academic activities according to the community education coordinator and director. Community Education Director Allyson Robertus said, “We are really trying to focus on an opportunity to help kids with their homework, provide some tutoring opportunities and enhance the STEM technologies to grow them. The change for the program will affect both the current summer program as well as the upcoming after–school program starting in the upcoming school year. One of the major changes in place includes a series of summer enrichment camps which have different themes each which will expose kids to differ- ent areas of potential interest.

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