Archives for March 2018

Dead Fish Expected, Billings Film Fest this Fall

Montana biologists are reporting dead fish in the water by Riverfront Park in south Billings, and they expect more to come as the winter ice melts. Winter fish kills occur when plants in the bottom of ponds freeze, then get covered by snow, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The plants die and are consumed by bacteria, which suck all the oxygen out of the water. Biologists say fish floating on the surface died of anoxia, a reaction to the lack of oxygen in the water.

and; The Gazette reports that the first-ever International film festival is coming to Billings this Fall. 32-year-old filmmaker Brian Murnion is teaming with Art House Cinema & Pub founder and executive director Matt Blakeslee and others to present the inaugural Montana International Film Festival, or MINT, scheduled for this September 13th through 17th.

DOT Celebrates a Month Without Crash Fatalities

It’s an ignominious landmark, but certainly positive and noteworthy. Q2 reports that, for the first time in a decade, the state of Montana has gone 30 days without a fatal crash– not since Feb. 26– according to a Thursday press release. Montana Department of Transportation Director Mike Tooley said [quote] “Four weeks without anyone dying in a crash is certainly encouraging, and we hope all Montanans are onboard to keep the momentum going,” [end quote] Tooley urged drivers not to be complacent and to continue working toward the agency’s Vision Zero, an initiative launched in 2014 with the goal of zero deaths and zero serious injuries on Montana roadways. The average number of fatal crashes in Montana was down 8 percent from the period between 2012 and 2016 from the previous five years, according to the press release.

One Big Sky Takes Another Turn

Q2 reports the ongoing saga of the One Big Sky Center project has taken another turn. What was once a plan for a $165 million dollar center with a tower has been toned down. The project, now called One Big Sky District Development, drew some excitement at the First Interstate Bank Operations Center meeting among the partners on Wednesday afternoon. Some of those involved in the project talked about raising and investing $675,000. Big Sky Economic Development would serve as the contracting agent with the Hammes Company. The strategy partners also include the city, the Billings Chamber, Visit Billings and Downtown Billings. Some of the $675,000 still needs to be raised, and the Billings City Council will soon vote on whether to contribute $100,000. Officials with the Hammes Company have pledged to invest about $1.2 million toward the project.

Self-Defense in 2015 Shooting Death

The Gazette reports that prosecutors have declined to press charges in the shooting death of a Billings man in 2015, saying a jury would likely find the suspect’s self-defense claim credible. The decision not to file charges was outlined in a letter from Senior Deputy County Attorney Julie Patten and Deputy Chief County Attorney Ed Zink to Captain Jeremy House of the Billings Police Department. The letter, sent in October, was first obtained by KTVQ through an information request. Nicholas Frandsen shot Shawn Allread multiple times in the head and torso in the early morning hours of Oct. 29, 2015, in an apartment on the 600 block of North 24th Street, near North Park. Patten and Zink laid out a series of factors in their decision not to charge Frandsen with deliberate homicide, primarily citing the evidence of self-defense.

Home Stabbing Tuesday, Billings Super Finalists Selected

Two men were hospitalized on Tuesday morning after an as-yet unidentified assailant climbed through the back window of their home and stabbed both of them. The suspect, a 19-year-old man who is known to the victims, remains at large, according to Billings Police Sgt. Shane Winden.

The Gazette reports that School District 2 Trustees picked their top three candidates for Billings Public Schools superintendent on Tuesday night. Greg Upham, who is Helena’s assistant superintendent, education consultant Rebecca Salato and Ross Kasun, a superintendent of schools in New Jersey, will interview as finalists for the position in April. Superintendent Terry Bouck is retiring, choosing to seek elective office as a Democratic candidate for Montana House District 49. Two other semi-finalists, Greybull, Wyoming superintendent Barry Bryant and New Mexico superintendent George Bickert, were not selected. They both interviewed earlier on Tuesday.

WaPo Names Bullock as Presidential Contender

Following his reelection in 2016 over now-Congressman Greg Gianforte– in a year which saw Donald Trump winning over Montana voters by a wide margin over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton– Gov. Steve Bullock is being discussed as a possible candidate for President in 2020. The Washington Post recently named Montana’s governor as a top 15 pick to lead the Democratic ticket. Bullock is making moves that point to a possible presidential run, such as campaigning next week for his friend and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is seeking re-election. So far, the moderate, two-term governor has deflected questions of running for president, but he has not denied he’s entertaining the idea. Bullock said [quote] “I have a job that I love, that is all consuming.” [end quote]– which is what many aspiring candidates say– like then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Zinke Reportedly Won’t Focus on Diversity

CNN is reporting employees at the Interior Department claim that former Montana Congressman and current Secretary Ryan Zinke said repeatedly that he won’t focus on diversity, an apparent talking point that has upset many people within the agency. Three high-ranking Interior officials from three different divisions said that Zinke has made comments with a similar theme, saying either “diversity isn’t important,” “I don’t care about diversity,” or “I don’t really think that’s important.” According to sources, Zinke then claimed “what’s important is having the right person for the right job,” Last year, the Interior Department unexpectedly reassigned 33 senior executive staffers, of whom 15 were minorities. Some of those who were reassigned have filed complaints with the US Merit Systems Board. reports the accusations against Zinke accompany the investigation regarding employee reassignment and taxpayer spending on politically-related travel.

Billings Woman Embezzles Nearly $400K

Q2 reports that a woman admitted Monday she stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from her Billings employer. Jennifer Thaw pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to four counts of wire fraud. There is no plea agreement in the case. Thaw was the comptroller and office manager for J & S Recovery in July of 2017. Her responsibilities included managing accounts receivable and payable, bill payment and reconciliation of bank statements. Thaw had online access to her employer’s accounts, which allowed her to transfer money from one account to another. Thaw used the online service to transfer money from her employer to her own account located outside of Montana. Thaw defrauded her employer of nearly four hundred thousand dollars. To conceal the theft, she didn’t record the transfers. Thaw is out on bond pending sentencing not yet scheduled.

Man Died of Natural Causes, Billings Housing Market Up

A man found unresponsive last week outside a downtown business Billings died of natural causes, according to Yellowstone County Coroner Cliff Mahoney. 62-year-old Kenneth Looks Behind Sr. appeared to be dead in his wheelchair when medical responders arrived at Second Avenue North and North Broadway last Thursday shortly after 2 p.m.

The Gazette reports Billings is moving into spring with a strong real estate market. Home sales are reportedly up over last year, and inventory is down. Adding to the trend, homes that do go on the market now are selling faster than they were a year ago. Sellers aren’t sure what’s causing the uptick, but they’re encouraged by what they’re seeing. In early 2017, 390 homes in Billings sold for over $236,000. The average time for a house from listed for sale to sold was 84 days.

Rallies, Protests Across the U.S. Saturday

Q2 reports that the Billings “March for Our Lives” rally drew an estimated four to five hundred people on Saturday at 10 a.m., signs in hand, to voice their frustration with current gun laws and school safety measures, in front of the Yellowstone County Courthouse, complete with a live band. The Billings Police Department said extra duty officers were scheduled to oversee the activity, providing armed security and traffic control.

Meanwhile, advocates for gun rights marched simultaneously with protesters in the nation’s capitol, while more than 800 “March for Our Lives” rallies were hapening across the country. In Boston, counterprotesters also gathered for the previously scheduled event, according to WBZ-TV. During the march, counterprotesters and marchers shouted at each other and police had to step in. Protesters and counterprotesters were also separated at a public demonstration in Bentonville, Arkansas.