Natrona County Rep. Walters Charged With Interference During Major Fire
A Natrona County state representative pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of interfering with emergency vehicles during a major wildfire in Carbon County in August, according to court records.
Rancher and Republican Rep. Thomas Walters, House District 38, was charged with not yielding the right of way to three U.S. Bureau of Land Management vehicles during the Pedro Mountain Fire, according to the affidavit of probable cause by a Carbon County Sheriff's deputy.
Walters will have a scheduling conference on Tuesday.
Friday, he said he is not guilty and will not resign from the Legislature. Walters, a rancher, has been in the Legislature since 2013 and his district includes western and southern Natrona County.
"I was not interfering and it is working its way through the courts, and I'm very confident that I will be found not guilty," Walters said. "The BLM is not a friend of Wyoming."
The lightning-caused fire east of Pathfinder Reservoir was first reported on Aug. 24 at 500 acres, grew to about 12,000 acres at the time of the incident with Walters on Aug. 28, and reached more than 21,000 acres.
More than 430 personnel, five helicopters and 34 engines fought the fire that cost $5 million as of Sept. 1.
Officials ordered evacuations for nearby ranches and neighborhoods, and closed Natrona County Road 407/Carbon County 291, also known as Kortes Road, from the intersection of Natrona County 408 south to Leo/Sage Creek
That's near where the alleged incident with Walters happened, according to the probable cause affidavit.
About 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, the deputy was manning a road-closed gate about two miles north of Leo on County Road 291 when he received a call from a BLM ranger who said she and another BLM officer were attempting to stop a large tractor traveling south on the closed road.
The BLM units had activated running lights and sirens, but the tractor refused to stop, according to the affidavit.
The deputy drove to the scene and saw a large green John Deere tractor that was stopped in the middle of the road with two BLM ranger trucks and BLM SUV stopped near it.
A ranger told the deputy that Walters was in the back of a patrol truck, adding she said Walters had been told about 12:30 p.m. that the road was closed because of the fire.
Walters responded, "'we'll see,'" and drove around the road closed gate onto County Road 291, according to the affidavit.
The rangers in their patrol trucks attempted to stop Walters, but he refused to yield for about two miles when he stopped about 10 miles north of Leo.
However, a jurisdictional issue arose.
A ranger said that to arrest Walters she would need to call an assistant U.S. Attorney and request permission.
A sheriff's deputy, however, was able to arrest Walters on a state charge of failure to yield, and took him to the Carbon County jail, according to the affidavit.
Meanwhile, the Wyoming U.S. Attorney's Office filed a federal citation against Walters on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the office filed a motion to dismiss the case without prejudice.
U.S. Attorney spokesman Mark Trimble said the federal government would turn over the case for state prosecution because the offense is a misdemeanor.