A former Missoula teacher who pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault for giving a student a hickey is in the final stages of the hiring process for a teaching job at Capital High School in Helena.
Dan Kucera was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old student at Sentinel High School in 2005. According to the Missoulian, police said Kucera put the student in a head lock and sucked on his neck, causing severe bruising. More than 20 students witnessed the incident, the Missoulian reported. Kucera was suspended and ultimately resigned from Sentinel High School. He was given a 6-month suspended sentence after pleading no contest, which has the same effect as a guilty plea but means he did not admit or deny the charge.
According to the Office of Public Instruction, Kucera is not licensed to teach in Montana. His license expired in 2015 and has not yet been renewed.
Kucera was interviewed and selected for a position teaching business at Capital High School starting in fall 2018, and his selection was approved by the Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees. He has been assigned a Helena Public Schools phone number and email address and was listed in Capital High School's online staff directory as of Friday evening.
However, Kucera still has to provide proof that he has a teaching license and complete a background check before his hiring is official.
Helena Public Schools Superintendent Tyler Ream, who was not superintendent when the board signed off on hiring Kucera and a group of other personnel, said Friday he was personally looking into the matter.
While Ream said he is sincerely concerned about Kucera, he noted that the required background check would have notified the district of his criminal record.
Under the district's hiring process, candidates are interviewed by a committee and are asked if they have a criminal history. If a candidate lies, the school district won't know until a background check proves otherwise. Kucera has not yet completed his background check.
Ream said the hiring process of publicly recommending a candidate and then doing a background check is typical, but requires the interviewing committee to initially take a candidate at their word and in some cases rescind an offer.
Completing background checks ahead of the selection would delay the process and potentially cost more. Ream said it's more efficient for the district to do a background check on the selected candidates and risk reopening the search if they don't pass, instead of checking every applicant.
Ream did say he was concerned about part of the interview process that requires reference checks ahead of selecting a candidate. The superintendent said he was still working to understand how Kucera made it through that portion of the hiring process.
"That’s one of the areas we’ll look into for what our current practices are," Ream said.
If a criminal record comes up, the superintendent makes the final decision, according to board policy.
"If an applicant has any prior record of arrest or conviction by any local, state, tribal, or federal law enforcement agency for an offense other than a minor traffic violation, the facts must be reviewed by the Superintendent, who will decide whether the applicant will be declared eligible for appointment or employment," the policy says.
As for the licensure, Ream said that "is the candidate's responsibility."
"We typically do not know how that process is progressing until a candidate has been awarded licensure by the Montana Office of Public Instruction,” Ream said.
West Nile Virus has been detected in mosquitoes in Lewis and Clark County.
County health officials have confirmed no cases of illness in people or horses in Montana, but the virus has also been found in mosquitoes in Cascade County. Last year, there was a single human case of West Nile in Lewis and Clark County.
“We have an unusually high number of mosquitoes this year due to all the flooding and moisture,” Laurel Riek, environmental health specialist with Lewis and Clark Public Health, said in a statement. “Mosquito counts in the traps are around 4,000 this year, compared to about 100 last year.”
She also noted that the virus is showing up earlier than usual.
“These factors increase the risk of human exposure to the disease, which can be very serious,” Riek said. “So we urge people to take precautions to protect themselves. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. If you prevent the bite, you prevent the illness.”
The health department recommends the “four Ds” to reduce the chances of getting infected with West Nile Virus:
Dawn and dusk: When possible, avoid spending time outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
Dress: Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time or when mosquitoes are most active. Clothing should be light-colored and made of tightly woven materials to keep mosquitoes away from the skin.
Drain: Reduce the amount of standing water in or near your property by draining or removing it. Mosquitoes often lay eggs in areas with standing water.
DEET: Use an insect repellent that contains DEET, or picaridin. Other insect repellents seem to be less effective. Be sure to follow the product guidelines when using insect repellent.
Most people who get West Nile Virus don’t develop any symptoms, but about 20 percent may experience fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most recover, but the fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.
About 1 in 150 people infected with West Nile develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).
Symptoms of severe illness include high fever, headache, stiff neck, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.
Severe illness can occur in people of any age, but people over 60 years old are at greater risk. People who have received organ transplants and people with certain medical conditions -- like cancer, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease -- are also at greater risk.
Editor's Note -- This story has been updated to reflect that the demolition permit has been requested but not yet approved.
A demolition permit has been requested for the Capital Hill Mall, Helena's interim City Manager Dennis Taylor announced Monday.
After the building is gone, the nearly 13-acre lot could be filled with a variety of businesses such as restaurants, housing, office space, a bank or a hotel.
The nearly vacant mall was purchased by developer Dave Kimball in 2016. Earlier this year, Dick Anderson personally invested in half of the property. D&M Development, a separate company made up of Anderson and Mark Esponda, a vice president at Dick Anderson Construction, will lead the effort to demolish and rebuild the site.
Esponda couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday to confirm when demolition would begin, but previously said the D&M Development hoped to start demolition in late 2018 and have the site ready to build on in 2019.
While Kimball had some difficulty attracting tenants to the mall space, Esponda said he hopes clearing the site will be appealing to possible tenants, including retailers, restaurants, banks, hotels and housing.
Lucky Lil’s Casino, the only remaining business in the mall, will close ahead of demolition and is interested in continuing to have a space on the property.
A suspected intoxicated driver and her passenger died in a rollover crash on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in a chase with Bureau of Indian Affairs officers.
The Montana Highway Patrol tells the Great Falls Tribune officers had received a report Monday afternoon that someone was driving under the influence. The 35-year-old woman driving a pickup fled from BIA officers before losing control on U.S. Highway 212 near Lame Deer.
The pickup went off the road and rolled several times. The driver and a 25-year-old man died at the scene. Their names have not been released.
Four other passengers — a 26-year-old woman, two 16-year-old boys and a 6-year-old child — were taken to Billings for treatment. One was taken by Life Flight.
Kaleb David Taylor pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing his parents in their home near Helena.
Taylor, appearing via video from Montana State Prison, pleaded guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide. He had all other charges related to the killing of his parents dropped, including tampering with evidence, burglary and misdemeanor theft.
As part of plea bargain arrangements involving a guilty plea, Judge Mike Menahan asked Taylor to explain why he was guilty of his crimes.
"I made a mistake and took two people's lives," Taylor responded.
County attorney Leo Gallagher said that the state would not be seeking the death penalty in the case, but noted that life in prison without parole was on the table. No sentencing recommendations were made in the plea deal.
According to court documents, Taylor confessed to killing David Muncie Taylor, 61, and Charla Rae Taylor, 64, in their home on Cayuse Road north of Helena in March. A family member found both victims dead in their home with blunt force and sharp object injuries.
Taylor, who was 21 at the time, was under the supervision of Helena Probation and Parole following a conviction for stealing thousands of dollars worth of items from a neighbor and his parents in 2015. He was supposed to be living with them at the time of the slayings.
Two other men are accused of involvement in the killings: Kyle Alexander Hamm, who was 21 at the time, and Journey Ryder John Wienke, who was 22. The three men were allegedly seen on a car wash security video washing off a long bar-shaped object and getting rid of a knife shortly after the homicides, according to charging documents. The two other men are also being charged with deliberate homicide.
Kaleb Tayor waived his Miranda rights in an interview with investigators at the Lewis and Clark County Law Enforcement Center after his arrest. He initially denied responsibility, but later admitted to killing his parents, court documents say.
Investigators found a jewelry box on the floor of the home with its contents scattered about. Taylor said he disturbed the jewelry box and stole a computer and other items to make it appear that someone else had killed his parents and robbed their home.
He disposed of his blood-stained clothes, the weapon and the stolen property in various places throughout Lewis and Clark County, court documents say.
Taylor took a detective to the locations where he had disposed of the evidence and investigators recovered some of it, including the weapon, according to court documents. He burned his blood-stained clothes after soaking them in lighter fluid.
After several downtown business owners sent the city a letter that said homeless people on Last Chance Gulch have left some workers feeling unsafe, Helena officials held a community meeting Monday night to listen to grievances and potential solutions.
A steering committee invited the community to the meeting at the Helena Civic Center in order to “address concerns regarding undesirable, unlawful behavior and disruptive conduct in the downtown area,” including interactions around God’s Love, a shelter located on Last Chance Gulch that provides services for people struggling with issues ranging from mental health to job security.
The city hired Julie Benson-Rosston, a Carroll College professor and independent communications consultant, to facilitate the meeting on what has become an emotional topic.
The letter to the city was written by Jeremy McFarlane, owner of Jmacs Pottery and president of Friends of the 400 Block, who pointed to “the increasing number of people living outside in the downtown area.”
“Some of us have needed to take steps to avoid incidents,” the letter states. “For instance, to take trash out or to get to their cars, women in stores near the corner of Placer and Last Chance Gulch need to use the buddy system to avoid being harassed or assaulted. ... Customers have requested someone escort them to their cars because of the people outside. Bottom line: our customers and employees feel unsafe.”
The letter refers to an incident earlier this year, when a woman caused thousands of dollars in damage to the General Mercantile’s bathroom and had to be pepper-sprayed to be arrested, closing the business for the day.
Those issues are part of why the city put together such a large event on Monday.
Mayor Wilmot Collins opened the meeting by encouraging "solutions oriented" discussion.
“We live in a community,” Collins said. “We organized this meeting not to blame, but to find a solution to whatever possible problems we have.”
Collins said the goal of the evening was to use the community to find different viewpoints.
“We don’t have all the ideas,” Collins said of the city commission. “We want the community to buy into the solution … solutions are more effective that way.”
Over 100 people came to the event, filling 10 tables in the Civic Center ballroom. The first 45 minutes of the evening were devoted to conversing in groups of 10 or more people at a table, leading into a discussion period where recorders told the group at large what they had come up with.
The brainstorming session named a laundry list of issues, ranging from the nameable, physical impacts like public urination, camping, screaming expletives in the early morning hours, needles on the street, broken glass, drinking, drug use, graffiti and “general disruptive behavior." The group also identified larger problems that exacerbate specific issues, such as lack of mental health care, no public transportation, alcoholism, drug addiction, lack of policing resources and community inclusiveness.
Helena Police Department Lt. Brett Petty, a member of the steering committee, said the police department had officers out of their cars and walking on the walking mall to “show more of a presence” in the downtown area during summer hours.
“Not a lot of folks come out and tell us their concerns,” Petty said. “Here we can discuss it more openly and freely,” which Petty thinks will help with the police response.
The final piece of the meeting began with a discussion of three prompts: “What we would like to see instead?”; “What are some proposed solutions?” and “Please identify resources to solve the identified problems.”
Responses again ranged widely. Safety, housing, cleanliness, a commitment to social justice and a better understanding of the root causes of poverty, along with a request for a better understanding of why people are using and requiring services downtown, were among the answers.
Proposed solutions involved adding bouncers, a community cleaning day, additional officers, a written expectation of behaviors for business owners, combining the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office with Butte-Silver Bow’s Sheriff’s Office, and having better criminal justice information available.
It was not clear if any homeless people were at the community meeting to give feedback on the responses.
Some next steps that the public suggested included volunteer work and community service, making a set of expectations for Helena and providing more community-oriented opportunities for people.
No future meetings on the issue have been scheduled yet, but city officials will take suggestions into account as they craft their response.
A 39-year-old North Dakota woman died and four other people were hospitalized — including two with life-threatening injuries — after a rollover crash that closed Interstate 90 for about an hour near Park City Sunday morning.
Three teenage children were ejected in the rollover, and the male driver had to be extricated from the vehicle, according to Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Keith Edgell.
The wreck was reported just after 10 a.m., about a mile west of Park City.
The family's Chevrolet SUV was traveling eastbound on I-90 when the 39-year-old driver apparently lost control of the vehicle, swerving off the right side of the road before over-correcting and causing it to roll, Edgell said. The vehicle came to a rest on its wheels in the median.
A commercial truck driver who had been following behind the SUV at the time estimated that the family's vehicle was traveling about 70 mph when the crash occurred, Edgell said.
"He said the minute it started rolling, people were flying out," Edgell said.
The three children who had been riding in the vehicle included three girls, aged 15, 16 and 11. None of the children had been wearing seat belts at the time, Trooper Brett Riesinger said Sunday afternoon. Both of the parents were wearing seat belts.
The driver remained in critical condition after suffering substantial brain injuries in the crash, Riesinger said.
One of the survivors lost an arm and had to be transported by a Life Flight medical helicopter to a hospital in Billings, Edgell said. The other three injured people were transported by Park City, Laurel and Columbus ambulances to Billings hospitals.
No other vehicles were involved in the crash.
Both eastbound and westbound traffic was shut down on the interstate for about an hour to allow the medical helicopter to land.
By 11:30 a.m., eastbound traffic was still backed up for at least a mile, while westbound traffic was backed up to the Park City interchange. Both westbound lanes and one of the eastbound lanes had reopened.
Personal belongings were scattered along the shoulders of the road, alongside shattered glass and car doors which had been cut from the vehicle by responding fire crews.
A metal animal cage sat alongside the road, containing a pair of house cats shaded by a blanket. They had also been traveling in the car, Edgell said, but appeared uninjured.
In addition to MHP and the multiple ambulance companies, the Park City Volunteer Fire Department, Columbus Fire Rescue and Stillwater County Sheriff's Office all responded to the incident.
— This story had been updated to correct initial reports from law enforcement regarding the youngest victim's age and gender.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said he’ll restore the reimbursement rate for Medicaid providers as part of a plan to backfill state budget cuts with $45 million in excess state revenue.
Bullock also said Wednesday he accepted a deal with private prison company CoreCivic to extend its contract for two more years to manage the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby. The deal will provide an additional $34 million and could help the state pay for this year’s fire season and backfill other cuts.
At the end of the fiscal year on June 30, revenues came in high enough to offset some of the cuts that were made during a special session last November to patch a $227 million hole in the state budget. The majority of the $45 million will go to the Department of Public Health and Human Services because the agency was most affected by the cuts, although other agencies could get some money back, too.
Bullock will restore the Medicaid provider rate reductions immediately. The 2.99 percent cut by the department in January lowered the average reimbursement rate to $181.57 per patient, per day.
Medical facilities previously said they were struggling to continue providing services, and in response, nursing homes and assisted living facilities filed a lawsuit against the state to block the cuts. The Montana Health Care Association and six other companies filed the lawsuit.
“We’re very happy that they recognized the importance of the provider rate,” Rose Hughes, executive director of the Montana Health Care Association, said.
Hughes said she hasn’t been contacted by the governor’s office or DPHHS, but said she believes the lawsuit will go forward despite the restored reimbursement rates. The lawsuit asks for facilities to be reimbursed for what they've lost due to reduced rates, which is at least $3 million just for nursing homes, Hughes said. The lawsuit also claims the state health department violated state law when it made the cuts and didn’t properly allow for public participation.
“Those are things we don’t want to see happen again,” Hughes said.
The state will also work to reinstate targeted case management programs to provide mental health services. Providers and Montanans will have a chance to voice their priorities to Budget Director Dan Villa and Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 1 at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena.
While the governor’s office has already identified the health department cuts that will be backfilled, officials have until Sept. 1 to finalize the dollar amount.
“The budget is back on track, and we’re in a much better position to take on the challenges of what this fire season could be,” Bullock said.
However, Bullock said he believes some areas of state government were irreparably damaged by making the cuts in the first place.
“All I can do is the best I can with the dollars we get,” he said. “This affords an opportunity going forward to mitigate some of the problems that we’ve had."
When announcing the plan to restore cuts, the governor attributed the state budget woes to a bad revenue estimate adopted by Republicans, the worst fire season in the state’s history and a refusal from Republicans to consider revenue from sources such as a tax hike on tobacco.
Republicans disagree on where the blame lies. Sen. Fred Thomas, the Republican majority leader from Stevensville, applauded the deal with CoreCivic, but said the delay is what hurt Montanans.
“This should have been done six to eight months ago and those monies should have been used to remove those budget cuts that have been harmful to low-income and disabled seniors,” he said. “The negotiations with CoreCivic should have been consummated months ago and would make most of these cuts he’s made needless.”
Thomas said Republicans laid out a deal during the special session to make cuts and transfers and accept revenue from a deal to extend the contract 10 years beyond its expiration in 2019 at a higher daily rate per inmate. In exchange, CoreCivic would pay the state $34 million. The $34 million is the amount Montana has paid into a fee account that could have been used if the state wanted to buy the prison. Democrats called the move an attempt to tie the governor’s hands, while Republicans said they were presenting options instead of raising taxes.
The money from CoreCivic wasn’t necessarily required to balance the budget, but Republicans put forward a bill that calls for the first $15 million from the deal to fight fires and the rest to be used at the governor’s discretion to backfill cuts.
“We laid out an easy track for him to fix these bad cuts that he did. He did not choose to do that,” Thomas said. “The good news is that his cuts will be removed as well as that revenues have rebounded in Montana, and we’ll be looking at a better beginning point for the next budget session.”
Bullock said the deal he agreed to, which was his final offer to CoreCivic, is better for Montanans. The contract is only extended for two years, with an eventual hope that criminal justice reforms will help the state avoid relying on the 540-bed private facility in Shelby. CoreCivic has also agreed to allow the state to provide human rights training to employees and inmates twice a year. The company will also fund three positions that will be filled by the state Department of Corrections to provide substance use treatment and vocational education.
The governor said he still doesn’t think it’s in the state’s interest to rely on a private prison in the long term. He said the deal also doesn’t bind future governors or legislatures.
The ACLU of Montana said the contract extension means Montanans will continue to pay into an industry that disregards constitutional rights.
“It is extremely disappointing that CoreCivic’s contract will be extended. It is even more disheartening that Gov. Bullock extended the contract just long enough to absolve himself of any responsibility to decide what will happen the next time the contract is about to expire," SK Rossi, ACLU of Montana's director of advocacy and policy, said in a statement. "CoreCivic has been sued for their abuse of prisoners. The ACLU of Montana continues to receive complaints about the facility on a weekly basis."
Rossi said providing human rights training is a good idea, but it won't address all of the dangerous conditions at the prison.
CoreCivic has been sued across the country, not just for human rights violations but for subjecting inmates to violence and creating a dangerous environment for staff and inmates due to understaffing, Rossi said.
“It’s essentially a Band-Aid on a bullet wound,” Rossi said.
When Bullock was asked whether CoreCivic was willing to sign a two-year contract in hopes of getting a Republican governor in 2020 who will extend it further with a possible rate increase, Bullock said he didn’t know what CoreCivic’s motivations were.
“I know we ensured at least that we get $34 million back that ought to be our money,” he said.
Bullock said he wants to wait to have a better idea of how Montana’s fire season will go before he spends any of the money from CoreCivic.
“We will pay our fire bills and just as happened last year, decisions weren’t made based on budget. It was made on protecting firefighters and protecting property,” he said.