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Bond reduced to $150K for Prairie Rattlers member accused of manslaughter in May death

A judge reduced the bond for a 26-year-old man accused of manslaughter to $150,000, on Tuesday, June 11, but refused to lower it as much as a defense attorney requested.

Justin Crites was charged last week with manslaughter, a class B felony, in connection with the death of 57-year-old Jay LePage in early May following an altercation outside The Shop Bar in Williston. On Friday, a judge set Crites’ bond at $250,000.

On Tuesday, Jeff Nehring, who represented Crites at a bond hearing, asked Northwest District Judge Kirsten Sjue to lower the bond to $20,000 and order Crites to wear a GPS monitor. Nehring said the original bond was too high for multiple reasons.

For one, he said, Crites has been charged with manslaughter, not murder. That means police and prosecutors believe that LePage died because Crites acted recklessly, not with intent to kill him, Nehring said.

Police say Crites punched LePage in the face early on the morning of May 4 outside The Shop. LePage fell backwards and struck his head on the sidewalk and died several days later in a Minot hospital.

Nehring argued that the charge Crites is facing, along with the fact he has no criminal record, meant he isn’t a danger to the community. He also said that Crites wasn’t a flight risk because he stayed in contact with investigators before his arrest and had offered to turn himself in.

Instead, he was arrested last week in Scobey, Montana, and extradited back to Williston. Nehring said Crites had waived his right to contest the extradition.

“Obviously, he’s not a flight risk, or he would have fled,” Nehring said.

Nehring said a bond of $20,000 would still require Crites to put a substantial amount of money on the line and the GPS monitoring would offer an additional layer of security.

Marlyce Wilder, Williams County state’s attorney, told Sjue that she wasn’t at the bond hearing Friday, but that she believed the $250,000 bond was appropriate.

“There was a life lost,” Wilder said.

Sjue said she understood Crites is presumed innocent, but said she didn’t think $20,000 was enough for bond.

“I do still have to take into account the seriousness of the allegations,” she said.

She set bond at $150,000.

“I don’t feel comfortable reducing it any further at this point,” she said.

Police and prosecutors say Crites, who is a member of the Prairie Rattlers Motorcycle Club, stepped in during a dispute between Jennifer Young and Colleen LePage, Jay LePage’s wife, around closing time on May 3. Crites intervened because Young’s cousin, Glen Davis, was a fellow member of the club.

After that, Crites and Davis approached LePage, because Davis believed LePage had said something disparaging about his deceased father, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Northwest District Court. A witness told police that Crites punched LePage and LePage fell backward.

LePage struck his head on the sidewalk, and that led to his death, investigators wrote in charging documents.

Crites is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing July 3.

Williston Community Library kicks off Summer Reading with moon rocks and meteorites

“One small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind.”

Those words, spoken by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the surface of the moon nearly 50 years ago, have inspired a generation of astronomers, scientists, artists and writers.

With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing coming up on July 20, the Williston Community Library is hoping that giant leap for Mankind will inspire kids to pick up a book and keep their minds active during summer break.

The library’s Summer Reading Program kicked off at the beginning of the month and runs through the last week of July, but Library Director Andrea Placard said anyone who wishes to participate can sign up at any time. This year’s program theme is “Universe of Stories,” playing off the space theme to coincide with the moon landing’s anniversary.

As part of the Summer Reading celebration, on Monday, June 10 the library hosted BreAnne Meier, marketing specialist for the North Dakota State Library, who with the permission of NASA, showed off some genuine moon rocks and soil samples, obtained during Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17. Meier, who had to complete special certification in order to borrow the samples, is visiting 23 libraries across the state with the moon samples, as well as pieces of meteorites that are also on loan from NASA. Nearly 100 people showed up for the event, which included a moon-themed story time. To help encourage reading through the program, Placher gave the Williston Herald five things to know about the Summer Reading program.

1. How it works. During the months of June and July, kids can earn prizes simply by picking up a book and completing the weekly challenges. Bingo-style challenge sheets can be picked up weekly at the library, with prizes earned for the number of squares filled in. Teens and adults can also take part in the program, with different challenges geared towards their ages. Rather than weekly prizes, teens and adults can earn prizes based on every five challenges completed.

2. It’s free. Placher said there is no cost whatsoever with anything related to the program. In order to keep the program accessible to everyone, Placher said she feels it is important to keep it free and open to anyone interested.

3. A library card is not required to participate. While Placher encourages residents to obtain a card to take full advantage of all the library has to offer, one is not needed to take part in the program or any of its associated activities. One simply needs to stop in to the library and register.

4. There are activities nearly every day during the program, for readers of all ages. However, Placher added, one does not need to take part in the activities in order to be a part of the reading program.

The activities consist of crafts, music and more.

5. There will be a Summer Reading Party at the end of July, once the program ends. Placher said there will be “tons of prizes” given away to congratulate those who participated, as well as to celebrate reading in general.

A date has not been formally announced yet, but Placher said that will be announced soon.

For more information about the Summer Reading program, contact the Williston Community Library at 701-774-8805. The library is located at 1302 Davidson Drive.

College sports
Tetons athletic director Artamenko accepts new job in Kansas

Williston State College athletic director Dan Artamenko has accepted a new position at Seward County Community College.

Artamenko has taken the role of athletic director with SCCC. Located in Liberal, Kansas, SCCC is part of the National Junior College Athletic Association, in Region 6.

“I am very excited about this move because I will lead a very successful department in the most competitive conference in the country,” Artamenko stated. “SCCC competes at the NJCAA Division I level in all sports and had five teams qualify for the National Tournament last year.”

Artamenko will finish at Williston State College on June 28. He has served as WSC’s first full-time athletic director since 2014.

Artamenko’s duties included overseeing the entire athletic department, booster club, fundraising efforts, and serving on one of WSC’s governing bodies, Executive Cabinet.

Prior to joining WSC, he held various positions with Blinn College, the NJCAA, USA Wrestling, and the Denver Nuggets. Artamenko holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Management from Lubbock Christian University and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Colorado. Artamenko will be joined by his wife in Kansas.

Belle Fourche looking to raise the bar on gathering line leak detection in the Bakken

WATFORD CITY — The company responsible for one of the state’s largest spills affecting a water body is working on research and development that will substantially improve leak detection on gathering lines, company officials testified on Tuesday before the Public Service Commission in Watford City.

Ken Dockweiler, director of Land, Government and Compliance for Belle Fourche, mentioned the research during testimony for a pipeline conversion the company is seeking to permit, this time in McKenzie County.

The 20-mile, 8-inch diameter pipeline is to carry 43,000 barrels per day starting from the Wilson Station 6 miles south of Watford City and running 20 miles to the Bowline Junction Station, 19 miles southeast of Alexander.

It’s one of two conversions the company is seeking to permit as part of a reconfiguration of its system. Meanwhile, the company has eliminated the Bicentennial pipeline, which broke after a hillside slumped in 2016, releasing 12,615 barrels of crude into the Ash Coulee Creek, a tributary of the Little Missouri River. The creek has been cleaned, but oil is still seeping out of the hillside.

Both of the pipeline conversions the company seeks to permit are already operating, despite not yet having a permit. A hearing for the other conversion was held Monday in Dickinson.

Dockweiler, pressed for details on the research project by Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, at first said he could not share many details.

“How about a timeline?” Fedorchak suggested.

“We have gone through the proof of concept phase,” Dockweiler said. “And our partner and us believe we have a viable product.”

The new concept is running in parallel with the company’s existing leak detection system, to compare how well each is working, Dockweiler added. Leaks have been simulated using a hydraulic fracturing tank to catch drips and see how well the new concept is working, as well as new management practices the company has implemented.

“Preliminary indications are that it will do a very good job,” Dockweiler said. “But as with all things, the proof is in the pudding.”

Dockweiler said it takes six to nine months to write codes for a conventional leak detection system on gathering lines. Every change takes another six to nine months to write new code.

“What we are looking at is a product that will squeeze that timeline down to make it viable in an ever-changing world,” Dockweiler said. “And something that can detect a smaller leak faster than we can now, as well as get rid of false alarms.”

Untimely permitting

Public Service Commission Chairman Brian Kroshus, meanwhile, pressed the company on its failure to obtain permits before it began operating the converted McKenzie County line and the other converted line, which crosses under the Heart River on its way to a refinery.

Kroshus pointed out the McKenzie County line has been operating as a transmission line since January.

“This process cannot be taken for granted,” he said. “This is not just a formality, even if it’s a conversion. And even if it’s already operating, which technically, it shouldn’t be.”

Kroshus said commissioners have to look at conversion projects as if they are newly going into the ground.

“This is not just for you, but any company in the Bakken,” he added later, in concluding remarks. “This is a very important component to ensure we have safe systems operating, whether in the oil patch or energy sector in general for any type of production.”

Kroshus said commissioners would explore any mistaken impression the company might have gotten from PSC personnel that there was somehow no urgency to complete the permitting process for the existing conversions. The company first discussed the matter 20 months ago, in April 2017.

“That is just incredibly important,” Kroshus said. “We want to see a robust energy and oil and gas industry in this part of the state. It is important for North Dakota and the country. But we want to make sure we are doing it right.”

Permit changes?

Commissioner Randy Christmann said the PSC might make the permits contingent on executing any PHMSA recommendations in an audit of procedures the federal agency is conducting. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality recommended a third-party audit for both the Heart River line and the McKenzie County line.

If commissioners do that, the company might want to seek a third-party audit from a different source, Christmann suggested, particularly if the PHMSA audit will be delayed for too much longer due to recent deployment of some personnel overseas.

Division of Water Quality Director Karl Rockeman testified that there are private companies that can do such audits if necessary.

Rockeman also urged commissioners to consider North Dakota Geological Survey information, which shows the McKenzie County pipeline traverses areas of instability. And he recommended that all inputs to the gathering system be metered by Belle Fourche.

Company officials testified that the lines in the unstable areas were bored using horizontal drilling techniques, to put them well below areas of concern. They will receive special attention in routine aerial surveys and other monitoring activities.

Belle Fourche has metered five of the incoming lines for the McKenzie County gathering/transmission system.

It was attempting to use data for the other five from the well operators. But the data could not be input directly into the company’s system. Company officials agreed it would add its own data collection for those inputs soon, to remedy that.

Rockeman indicated that the approaches outlined by the company and the results of a PHMSA audit, if followed, would satisfy the concerns outlined by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Lawsuit over alleged racism, discrimination at work site settled

BISMARCK — A lawsuit accusing a California-based company of subjecting black employees to racism and discrimination while they worked in western North Dakota was settled earlier this year.

The federal lawsuit against KS Industries, an engineering, fabrication and construction company, was brought in early 2018. It alleged the workers were called racist names by white supervisors and coworkers and were required to perform more dangerous work instead of non-black employees, among other claims. The six plaintiffs were residents of other states but worked at a Tioga, N.D., construction site.

The company denied the allegations.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a determination in May 2017 that said there is “reasonable cause to believe the charging party” faced discrimination.

The two sides notified the court of a settlement in February and the case was dismissed in March. Public court documents don’t detail terms of the settlement.

Attorneys for the company and the workers didn’t immediately return a message Tuesday morning, June 11. A KSI official declined to comment.