A 24-year-old charged with manslaughter in the death of his roommate was sentenced to 10 years in prison with seven years suspended in court on Friday, April 9, along with credit for three days of time already served.
Cody Hartman had pleaded guilty last year to the Class B felony for the death of Benjamin Maxson, 40. According to court records, the two got into an argument and fought with each other last year in March.
Hartman told police Maxson had tried to punch him twice, but missed. Hartman, on the other hand, did not miss. According to charging documents, he hit Maxson in the head at least once, then hit him in the head again when Maxson tried to get up from the floor. Hartman then left the room and went to bed.
The next morning, he discovered Maxson’s body and called police, who arrested him on charges of manslaughter, as well as misdemeanor charges related to possession of drug paraphernalia.
State’s Attorney Nathan Madden had asked District Judge Benjamen Johnson for a 10-year sentence, as well as restitution.
“He had other options,” Madden said. “He could have closed the door, locked it.”
But, more than that, Madden said, Hartman has not been doing anything during the year since Maxson’s death to address the drug and alcohol addictions that contributed to the actions that night that led to his roommate and his friend’s death.
“We have documentation right here that he still has serious issues that more than a year after the fact have not been addressed,” Madden said. “There’s no indication that outside of incarceration, where treatment programs are available, where anger management programs are available that this will not happen again.”
The defense, meanwhile, had requested a deferred imposition of sentence for three years with three years of supervised probation, along with 24-7 alcohol monitoring, a chemical dependency evaluation, mental health evaluation and treatment, and restitution.
Philip Becher, the defense attorney of record for the case, said the fact his client had pleaded guilty, despite having legitimate defense options in the case, shows his client is willing to take responsibility for his actions and make changes to his life.
Hartman has contended Maxson started the conflict, Becher said, which means Hartman could have reasonably argued he was defending himself.
A pathology report submitted by the defense also shows that other factors may have played a role in Maxon’s death. These factors included an enlarged heart, as well as the fact Maxson had consumed alcohol and medication at the time.
“And so I think, when you look at it, you have these two distinct, both of them, from my perspective, pretty viable legal defenses to the issue,” Becher said. “I think that really speaks to the fact of Mr. Hartman sincerely wanting to take responsibility for this.”
Becher said Hartman is seeing what happened as a serious wake-up call, and that in the year since the incident he has complied with all court orders, with no mistakes or slip-ups.
Hartman tearfully apologized to Maxson’s family and friends for their loss, and said he will never forget his friend.
“It pains me to the core to think about the loss and how that has affected their lives,” he said. “This incident resulted in a horrific loss, and I’m here to step up to the plate and accept my consequences in this matter. That is why I simply pled guilty and appear before you today, to accept whatever the court’s decision may be, and to follow through, so that this never occurs again. I wouldn’t wish the pain and suffering this has caused on anyone.”
Johnson, in his sentencing statement, acknowledged that the fighting between the parties was mutual, and that, as such, it meets the legal qualifications of provocation. But, he added, it was not a strong enough provocation for what occurred.
He also agreed with Madden that there is a pattern with regard to not addressing addictions — despite previous incidents that should have already perhaps served as the wakeup call Hartman needed.
“It’s pretty clear to me that there was an issue that’s been present since 2015,” Johnson said.
This criminal history was not the largest factor, Johnson added, but it suggests that if Hartman would have addressed that sooner, the death of Maxson might have been prevented.
Those addictions, left unaddressed, could also reasonably put Hartman in situations in the future where another incident is likely, Johnson said. Although he doesn’t think Hartman has any particular criminal intent when it comes to hurting others.
“Ultimately, in and of itself, the actual offense to me is the most substantial factor in my consideration,” he said. “Manslaughter is a serious charge. Ultimately somebody lost their life in regards to this incident, so I do think that it does require a period of inrarceration.”
Students from American State Bank and Trust Company’s Innovation Academy stopped by Cooks On Main Wednesday for a crash-course in culinary creativity.
Lauren Stone’s 7th grade Global Arts and Culture class spends a lot of time in the kitchen, spending a week or more preparing meals based on the continent or country they are studying. On April 7, the class got to venture out, visiting the kitchen at Cooks On Main, where Chef Allyson Helde spent the morning helping them prepare a traditional ramen bowl step-by-step.
“The kids love the packages ramen of course, but they need to know what authentic ramen is,” Stone told the Williston Herald. “Chef Allyson was nice enough to help us so that they can get out of the packaged ramen and taste what real ramen should be.”
Stone said that throughout the class, students have been able to take the recipes they’ve learned and use them at home to cook for their families. Developing those life skills, she said, is important for preparing the students for life on their own.
“I didn’t grow up cooking, and I wish I did!” Stone said. “Everybody needs to eat and everybody is going to have to figure it out one way or another. Kids love food, and sharing food is a great way to bring the family together. It’s a great way to combine reading, math, social skills and teamwork all into one.”
Stone and her students have tackled cuisine from all over the world, including Italy, Russia and Asia. The students were separates into groups, with each group handling specific aspects of the recipe. Working together, the class created a ramen meal that would be surely be welcome in any high-end eatery.
A brush fire that started in Roosevelt County jumped the state line and made for a close call for some of the cattle in the area.
Williams County Emergency Manager Mike Smith told the Williston Herald 35 mph wind pushed the fire around rapidly, and caused erratic behavior.
The fire started around 6 p.m. in the Bainville Fire District, but it had spread rapidly from there to an area near Trenton by around 7 p.m. Thursday night.
Bainville Fire District Chief Lyle Lambert estimated there were at least 60 volunteer firefighters on scene with all the departments that were called out. On the Montana side, those included Culbertson and Froid, and on the North Dakota side it included Williston Rural Fire, Williston Fire, Trenton Fire, Epping Fire, as well as Williams County Emergency Management and Williams County Sheriff’s Department.
“Everything went about as well as it could have,” Lambert said. “Everybody worked well together. I’m really, really thankful for Williston Rural Fire. They really need to be commended. They came out and gave us their all.”
North Dakota Forestry was also on scene, and set up a contingency plan to protect Fort Union, in the event the fire could not be stopped in time. A North Dakota road grader was also on hand, along with commercial fresh water trucks.
“We were able to, with the help of a farmer in the area who disced a pretty big fire break, we were able to help stop it on the east, southeast side with the help of that firebreak and our trucks over there,” Williston Rural Fire Chief John Laqua told the Williston Herald.
Without the farmer’s firebreak, the fire would have made it into inaccessible areas, Laqua added.
“We would have lost it into the hills above Buford, and we would have had a disaster on our hands,” he said. “If it would have gotten into the hills north of Buford, it would have been impossible to fight until we could catch it at the highway. It’s too steep of terrain with how much smoke there was to safely fight it.”
Laqua said no structures were lost and no firefighters were injured. A rancher with livestock in the area was able to get most of his cattle out shortly before the fire arrived.
The fire was contained within about 5 miles of Fort Union, Laqua said.
There have already been several large blazes in the region, one north of Williston which consumed a brush fire truck, and another in the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt Park and Little Missouri National Grasslands. The latter fire is still going, and is now at 70 percent containment, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s North Dakota office.
With wind picking up and continued dry conditions, fire danger remains very high in northwestern North Dakota, a situation expected to last at least through Saturday.
Statewide, 52 of 53 counties have announced burn bans, Williams County among them. For a county by county map of burn bans, visit https://ndresponse.gov/burn-ban-restrictions-fire-danger-maps.
Large columns of smoke and fire are still rising in a 5,000-acre area that includes Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri National Grasslands, but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s been a turn for the worse.
Firefighters have been “back burning” in the area, to get rid of fuels ahead of a forecast that calls for higher wind this weekend. Among the areas was one along U.S. 85 which had a lot of potential fuel. Burning that fuel off under controlled conditions, while manpower was available, was simply a strategic decision, McKenzie District Ranger Lucas Graf told the Williston Herald.
“Those areas were going to burn,” he said. “But the question was whether we were going to light them on our own terms, or whether we would leave them and do nothing and then let them light on their terms in the next week or two when, you know, maybe the winds are not favorable and when we might not have as many resources on hands.”
At this point, there’s no more such burn plans, Graf said, but intermittent fire and smoke is likely to continue despite that. It is, after all, the Badlands. Rugged, rough terrain, with deep inaccessible ravines. The fire is still hot there. Meanwhile there are many patches along the sides of buttes that have unburnt trees.
“There will be flames for a little while and some smoke, but that’s all in the interior of the fire,” Graf said. “So we’re pretty comfortable where things are right now. We’ve been lucky with the weather, and have really been able to execute the plans as we’ve laid them out in the past couple of days.”
Flare-ups were visible Thursday, as large pockets of unburned fuel within the perimeter have caught fir and the wind has picked up and shifted direction, posing challenges for firefighters to keep the fire within established wirelines. There was no new fire growth however.
Wendy Ross, superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt Park, told the Williston Herald things are going well with containment efforts. The fire is 70 percent contained and structures in the park that had been at risk have so far been successfully protected. These include the Juniper campground, the CCC-era pavilions, the picnic facility, the bison-handling facility and others.
It could be a while before the park or grasslands can re-open areas that have been closed to the public, however.
“It could be several days. It could be longer than that,” Ross said. “We will not open (the park) to visitor use until we are sure that our higher, active fire operations are completed.”
This includes the need for sudden, emergency use of the road by firefighters, as well as ensuring visitors can’t get trapped in areas where they could be exposed to active fire.
The Park and the Grasslands, meanwhile, do have separate closure orders, and it is possible one could open on a different timeline than the other. Detailed maps of closed areas are being updated regularly online at their websites and Facebook pages.
Ross and Graf both urged the public to continue to be very cautious of their own activities in the area. There’s still more than a million or so unburnt acres between both the park and the Little Missouri National Grasslands, and not much has changed when it comes to fire risk.
“We’re just as dry as we were a week ago,” Graf said. “We haven’t gotten any precipitation and so we’re still in severe, severe weather conditions here, severe burn conditions, you know, so just be vigilant.”
Fire restrictions will continue to be in place as long as the extreme drought and other conditions warrant it at both locations.
“(That) means no open flames within campgrounds or any other public use areas,” Ross said. “And we want people to be aware of their surroundings and what might cause fire on the landscape.”
Several closures remain in place for areas impacted by the Horse Pasture Fire. The North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park remains closed. The McKenzie Ranger District of the Little Missouri National Grasslands closed the CCC Campground, the northernmost portion of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, the Long X and Sunset Trail, Summit Campground, and the Summit Overlook and Viewpoint Trails. Closure orders are posted on the Horse Pasture Fire Inciweb page, online at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7372/.
Williston State College is a step closer to finding its new president, with five candidates now narrowed down to four.
The Williston State College Presidential Search Committee held a special meeting on Friday, April 9 to discuss the candidates, who had been visiting the campus for the last week, holding community forums and getting to know the college. After opening the meeting, the committee moved into Executive Session to finalize the candidate choices. The executive session was comprised of members of the search committee, AGB Consultants, NDUS office staff, and NDUS legal counsel.
After the executive session ended, the committee reconvened to confirm the final candidates, who will now interview with the State Board of Higher Education on April 29.
“I’d like to thank the committee for all their work. It has been a long process; very, very productive and very professional,” said Kathy Neset, committee co-chair. “I really want to thank everyone for their participation. We’ve had a great pool of candidates, and we’ve come to a very good resolution.”
The final candidates are:
Dr. Joshua Baker
Dr. Clark Harris
Dr. Bernell Hirning
Effective Thursday, April 8, 2021, Williams County will be removing Frost Restrictions on all County and Township roads south of 64th St NW and going back to non-Frost Law Restrictions.
Effective Monday, 4/12, Williams County will lift Frost Restrictions from all County and Township roads and return to non-frost law road restrictions. For a map of these restrictions, please visit https://www.williamsnd.com/departments/highway/.
Temporary shooting restrictions are in effect at the Williston Shooting Site and Schnell Recreation areas. The Bureau of Land Management’s North Dakota Field Office in Dickinson issued the fire prevention order in light of extremely dry conditions in the region.
The Williston Shooting Site is a 40-acre tract of land about 5 miles south of Williston, while the Schnell Recreation area is about 2 miles east of Richardton.
There are certain exemptions to the order, including those with a written permit that specifically authorizes them to shoot, as well as any federal, state, or local officer or employee who is performing official duties. The order also does not apply to people with valid North Dakota hunting licenses in pursuit of wild game.
These exemptions, however, do not absolve anyone from liability or responsibility for any fires started by the exempted activity.
Penalties for violating the order include fines up to $1,000, and up to 12 months of imprisonment.
Questions about the order may be directed to the BLM office in Dickinson at 701-227-7700.
The fire prevention order will remain in effect until further notice.