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HELENA -- The Montana State Prison has a shortfall of correctional officers -- 65 vacancies, out of a desired staffing level of about 354 - and the situation is straining prison resources and forcing prison officials to find temporary fixes to ensure safety for inmates, staff, and visitors.
"Montana State Prison is at a critical juncture," MSP Warden Leroy Kirkegard wrote in a July 18 memo to staff at the prison. "We are trying to operate a maximum security prison with a minimum amount of staff."
The prison is using mandatory overtime like never before and making other temporary fixes, the memo says, but the prison also needs to find "bigger picture" solutions.
"Corrections Officers are tired and need a well-deserved break," Kirkegard wrote.
Kirkegard wrote that he has directed his management team to evaluate their operations and identify staff that could be used in other areas.
"We're also trying to provide relief for those officers who have been working mandatory overtime for a number of months right now," Department of Corrections director Mike Batista told MTN News on Wednesday. "And that's a little bit challenging so we're sort of analyzing our staffing at Montana State Prison, relying on other resources and the Department of Corrections to try and help out the situation at Deer Lodge."
Batista said the prison has had staffing issues before, particularly during the summers, but the current shortfall is worse than usual.
The high wages of summer construction jobs and the Bakken oil fields may be luring some officers away from the cell blocks.
He said the department is stepping up with its recruiting, focusing more on high schools, rural areas and Indian Reservations and using social media to get the message out.
The prison is also revamping its recruiting efforts, planning more outreach to high schools and rural areas. But the prison is competing against construction season and good-paying oil jobs in the Bakken.
In Kirkegard's memo (with "Rumor Control" in the subject line), the warden expressed his thanks that there have been no safety or security incidents since staffing reached a critical level.
"Obviously the biggest challenge and the most important thing that we do at Montana State Prison is the safety and security of our staff, the inmates and the public in general," Batista said. "I think our staff has done a really good job of ... maintaining a safe environment at Montana State Prison despite some staffing challenges."
Some changes ahead could require the consent of the correctional officers union, which is under the umbrella of MEA-MFT. Corrections officers union contracts generally address safety issues and workplace conditions in general. Batista said ongoing talks have been positive.
"And we've had real good results working with the union as we sort of work though some of these staffing concerns," he said. "They're priority is the same as ours, and that's the safety and security of everyone at the facility."
MEA-MFT president Eric Feaver declined comment, citing the ongoing negotiations with the department.
Starting wages for corrections officers is $13.15 an hour -- with good benefits.
"It's challenging work and it certainly is not for everybody," Batista said. "But there are a lot of good benefits. It can be very enjoyable work for the right kind of individual."
HELENA -- The four-engine Lockheed EC-121 "Warning Star" that sits on the north end of the Helena Regional Airport has caught the attention of a California air museum.
Jeff Wadekamper, director of the Helena Regional Airport, said, "In 1981 the U.S. Air Force donated this aircraft to the Helena College; they have an airframe and power-plant program."
The college returned the aircraft to the federal government a few years ago. After another museum failed to pick up the plane, a California museum obtained the aircraft.
At the end of the month a recovery crew from the Castle Air Museum will assess the former Cold Warrior to see if it can be made air-worthy.
"Best case, they'll get this thing into flying condition so they can physically fly it out of here," says Wadekamper.
Lockheed built 232 of the Warning Stars; they were operated by the Air Force and the U.S. Navy until 1978.
The Helena Warning Star was delivered to the Air Force in 1954, and was assigned to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida.
The Warning Star was built on the frame of the Lockheed Super Constellation, the pinnacle of piston-powered aircraft engine design, right before the advent of the jet age.
The Warning Stars' radar and detection equipment is still on board; Wadekamper noted, "All the radar screens are still there. The crew quarters. All the items that were still there back in the day, are still in this aircraft. So it's totally complete, which is really unique."
The intact interior includes work-stations for radar operators and the equipment they used, even down to the coffee pots in the galley.
"It really is good that somebody will give it a good home and preserve that history and refurbish it and so at the same time it'll be nice to see it go to a good home," says Wadekamper.
A great deal of work lies ahead before the plane can fly again; it needs new engines and new tires, and its control surfaces need to be checked and possibly repaired.
If need be, the museum can truck the aircraft to California.
GREAT FALLS -- Cody Yearout was sentenced on Wednesday to 10 years with the Montana Department of Corrections, with seven of those years suspended, on one count of felony criminal endangerment.
Yearout was sentenced for leading officers on a high-speed chase through a Great Falls neighborhood in October 2013.
Judge Greg Pinski also ordered Yearout to pay a fine of $50,000, the maximum fine for a criminal endangerment charge.
Before sentencing Pinski said, "It was fortunate that Mr. Yearout did not kill himself, a police officer, or a member of the community that night"
The chase went through residential neighborhoods at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
Yearout is scheduled to be back in court on Wednesday to be arraigned on another high speed chase that happened in June 2014.
(November 5, 2013) Cody Yearout is facing several charges in connection with a high-speed chase in Great Falls on October 27th, 2013.
Yearout had been charged with rape just several days before, and was out on $200,000 bail.
Early on Sunday, October 27th, a Great Falls police officer saw Yearout's car in the parking lot at Walmart.
Court documents state that Yearout's car is "very unique," as it is a customized Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra model, and known by the GFPD as belonging to Yearout.
The police officer knew that Yearout's driver's license had been revoked due to his status as a habitual offender.
At about 4:30 a.m. officers saw two males and one female approach the Mustang and put items in the trunk; the person getting into the driver's seat, according to police, appeared to be Yearout.
Officer tried to initiate a traffic stop, but Yearout drove away, resulting in a brief chase that reached "high speeds" in residential areas.
Police then called off the chase due to safety concerns.
Several minutes later, an officer saw the Mustang turn on to Riverview Drive East, and the chase resumed.
The chase wound through several areas, including 8th Street Northeast, Skyline Drive, 34st Avenue Northeast, and 4th Street Northeast.
One officer noted that Yearout was at times exceeding 100 miles per hour.
A few minutes later, an officer saw the Mustang on Riverview Boulevard going about 15 miles per hour and with its lights off. Police again began chasing Yearout, who accelerated quickly, and the chase continued until the police again called off the pursuit due to safety concerns.
A short time later, a police officer saw a man walking along the 1000 block of 36th Avenue Northeast; the man was identified as one of the two passengers in the Mustang earlier.
The man told officers that when the car chase began, Yearout tried to get him to drive the car, and when he refused, Yearout began speeding away.
He also told officers that they had been drinking at Yearout's house before the incident began, and that he believed Yearout had topped 140 miles per hour during the chase. He also said that he had been afraid for his life was afraid he may die if the Mustang had lost control during the chase.
Yearout reportedly dropped the man off at the intersection of Bootlegger Trail and 36th Avenue NE before driving away with the female passenger.
Yearout is facing the following charges in connection with the chase: felony criminal endangerment; misdemeanor fleeing from or eluding a peace officer; misdemeanor driving while license suspended or revoked; misdemeanor habitual traffic offender; fictitious plates.
GREAT FALLS -- Emergency crews have been dispatched to a one-car rollover in Great Falls.
The rollover was reported at about 6:25 p.m. on Wednesday, and happened along the 4400 block of Fox Farm Road.
Initial reports indicate that at least two people were in the car when it rolled.
Emergency personnel are temporarily blocking through-traffic at the scene.
(UPDATE, 7:20 pm) The Montana Highway Patrol tells us that one person has died, and another has been taken to Benefis hospital.
The area is still blocked to through-traffic as emergency crews continue working.
There is no word yet on the cause of the crash, although the MHP says that the north-bound car did go "airborne" and rolled several times.
The nature and extent of the injuries sustained by the person taken to the hospital.
Authorities have not yet released the name of the person who died.
We have a reporter at the scene and will update you as we get more information.
GREAT FALLS -- KRTV has received reports from several people of a power outage on the northwest side of Great Falls.
People living along Skyline Drive and in Countryside Village tell us that they have been without power since a little bit after 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
We are trying to contact NorthWestern Energy to get details.
If you are without power, let us know in the comments and tell us what area you are in.
HELENA -- U.S. Senator John Walsh (D-MT) is facing allegations that he plagiarized major portions of a research paper during his military career.
The New York Times reports that Walsh plagiarized major portions of his final paper at the U.S. Army War College in 2007 while working toward a graduate degree.
In an interactive report, the New York Times claims that Walsh borrowed nearly a quarter of the 14-page paper on Middle East policy from other writers without attribution.
The author of the article, David Martin, says that "Mr. Walsh copies an entire page nearly word-for-word from a Harvard paper, and each of his six conclusions is copied from a document from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace without attribution"
A Walsh campaign spokeswoman called the errors a mistake but "completely unintentional" and said that Walsh had a stellar 33-year record in the military.
An official at the Army War College told Martin that the War College would begin an investigation into the matter.
Dr. David Parker, a political
science professor at Montana State University, says the allegation
of plagiarism combined with an earlier report that Walsh used his
influence inappropriately while in uniform could damage one of his
greatest strengths among voters.
Parker said, "I think they're going to be concerned about his trustworthiness, and that's the last thing the Walsh campaign needs because I think that's an asset that he has had going into this. I think a lot of people meet John Walsh, they like him, they think he's a good guy, and you have these allegations and it suggests that he's not totally above-board."
We will update you as we get more information.
Walsh told MTN News on Wednesday evening that that the
plagiarism was unintentional, and that he accepts full
Walsh said, "I had an academic
advisor that reviewed the paper, we looked at it, thought that it
met the requirements, and that everything was done
properly. This was an unintentional mistake on my behalf;
I accept full responsibility...and I'm going to move on."
Walsh said that the work on his
thesis at the War College coincided with severe challenges he faced
after returning from his deployment in Iraq, including nightmares,
anxiety, and the suicide of a soldier under his command.
Walsh said that while he's not making excuses, it was a difficult time in his life.
HELENA -- The Lewis & Clark Library recently received a grant for its "Graphically Yours" project, which will be aimed at developing the library's collection of resources for fans of graphic novels, and offering insight into their development and popularity.
At the American Library Association conference in Las Vegas recently, the ALA and the Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation presented the "2014 Will Eisner Graphic Novel Innovation Grant" to Lewis & Clark Library teen services librarian Heather Dickerson and information desk assistant Eric Walliman, who worked together on the grant application.
In a press release, Walliman said, "Our collection is relatively small but experiences major use; receiving this grant will allow us to expand our collection and offer an even broader selection of graphic novels to our patrons."
Walliman noted that while the genre is popular with young adults, it has widespread appeal to different audiences. He also observed, "It isn't a coincidence that the most popular movies are based off of comic books; it's a format that appeals to all readers and all learners."
According to Dickerson, the goal of "Graphically Yours" is to celebrate the genre of graphic novels, comics, and manga, and to encourage a "complex form" of reading.
The grant will allow Dickerson and Walliman to expand the Lewis & Clark Library's collection to address the growing demand.
"Our graphic novel collection is very popular. One of the special things about this grant is that it includes the whole Will Eisner catalog and this year's nominees for the Eisner Awards, which identify the best work in the format," explained Dickerson. "We're really excited to add more breadth and depth to the collection."
Dickerson and Walliman are also working on special programs designed to illustrate why graphic novels are so popular and educational.
She said, "Tweens and teens who read graphic novels, comics, and manga generally read at least one grade level higher. They also navigate the complex relationship between images and print that is fundamental to the development of digital literacy skills."
Dickerson says that they are planning a month of programming related to graphic novels, tentatively scheduled for January 2015, with activities to engage readers of all ages.
Among the offerings planned are several "Series to Screen" book discussion groups, pairing movies with their original comics, and a "Heroes versus Villains" tournament to let people determine the ultimate hero and/or villain.
Also in the works is a Skype visit with graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, and a cartooning workshop for all ages.
The Lewis & Clark Library was just one of two grant recipients out of more than 75 applications received by the ALA.
Each of the grants awards the winning libraries with a $2,000 voucher to buy graphic novels from distributor-partner Brodart; and $1,000 to host a graphic novel-themed event.
GREAT FALLS -- The Montana State Fair continues to take shape for Friday night's opening, and on Wednesday, work began on setting up rides on the Midway, some of which are new this year.
The Mighty Thomas Carnival, which has provided the fair with carnival rides for more than 20 years, says that the classics are back.
For the thrill-seekers, the Zipper, spinning Thunderbolt, and ever-popular SuperShot will be featured.
For people who enjoy the views, the 70-foot Century Wheel will give you the best view possible for the Fair.
With dozens of rides and games, the carnival aims to provide attractions for parents and children to enjoy together.
John Hanschen of Mighty Thomas Carnival said, "One's like the Monster Trucks, where children and adults ride that together. They just love the sound effects and the Monster Truck atmosphere. And it's over in the shaded 'Kid Land area.' Then we've got the most popular ride will more than likely be the Century Wheel because families ride that together and they just love that as a family affair."
The gates open at 5 p.m. on Friday with a ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony.
FRENCHTOWN -- Emergency crews are fighting a wildfire that's broken out between Missoula and Frenchtown.
The fire is burning in the Deep Creek Area, across from the Old Smurfit Stone Mill, according to the Frenchtown Rural Fire District.
A pair of fire engines and one helicopter are responding to the fire; it's burning about five miles south of Frenchtown on private timber land.
Boyd Hartwig with the Lolo National Forest adds that the fire is located roughly between Bear Gulch and Cyr Gulch, north of Deep Creek Road, and within the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation protection area.
Hartwig says the fire is producing smoke visible from Missoula and the surrounding area, but says there is no immediate threat to structures at this time.
GREAT FALLS -- Emergency crews have been dispatched to a reported two-vehicle crash in Great Falls.
It happened near the intersection of 1st Avenue North and 15th Street and was reported at 2:40 p.m. on Wednesday.
UPDATE: The vehicles involved were a pickup truck and a minivan.
We do not yet know if anyone was seriously injured.
Police blocked off 1st Avenue in order to clear the scene.
We do not yet know if either driver will be cited for the crash.