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GERING - For the seventh year, local volunteers will take calls on the SAFE Ride OTD hotline to offer sober rides home during Friday and Saturday night of Oregon Trail Days.  The pool of volunteer drivers and dispatchers will be headquartered this year at Monument Inn & Suites.  Anyone needing a ride can walk to the hotel or call the hotline (308) 633-6397 and a driver will take them home.  Volunteers provide their own cars, gas and insurance to offer this service. It's an incredible gift to the community to get people home safely during this busy weekend with so many activities that offer alcohol.  The service is offered both Friday and Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. - 1:30 a.m.  Drivers will take riders anywhere in the valley, but longer trips may need to be negotiated with the driver.

"We've had a lot of positive feedback from riders, who are often out of town and used to paying for such a service," said Lisa Betz-Marquez, who started the program and continues to organize it with the assistance of co-chair Kevin Fordyce.  "We've had a few laughs over the years about some of the requests, but mostly, people just appreciate the service, especially out of town visitors who may not be familiar with our community and want an easy way to get home," said Betz-Marquez.

Volunteers will have the SAFE Ride OTD sign on the inside window of their car, so people can identify them as part of the project.  Volunteers also wear black shirts with lime colored lettering that have the SAFE Ride OTD name and official Oregon Trail Days logo on them.  Betz-Marquez encourages anyone needing a ride to call the hotline, and to be careful throughout the weekend.  "Drunk drivers kill people when they get into the driver's seat.  There is no need for tragedy this weekend.  The SAFE Ride OTD project hopes everyone will have a lot of fun and be responsible.  To call the hotline, dial (308) 633-6397.  

We encourage everyone to take a moment and put the number in their phone for later use," she said.

SAFE Ride OTD is sponsored by Dietrich Distributing, Pizza Hut, Monument Inn and Suites, Scottsbluff Screen Printing, and Prairie Arts Yoga Studio.


JULY 11, 2018 (SCOTTSBLUFF, NEB.)  — Troopers with the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) Troop E have completed a three-month special enforcement operation focused on alcohol-related crashes.

The enforcement, which ran from April 1 through June 30, included sobriety checkpoints throughout Scotts Bluff County. Scotts Bluff County has been identified as a priority county by the Nebraska Department of Transportation – Highway Safety Office (NDOT-HSO) for the high rate of alcohol involvement in crashes.

During the effort, NSP worked with the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office to target drunk driving. The operation resulted in four arrests by NSP for driving under the influence, four arrests for driving under the influence of drugs, as well as two arrests by the Sheriff’s Office for driving under the influence of drugs and one arrest for driving under the influence.

The combined effort also resulted in 17 arrests for drug possession and citations issued for: driving under suspension (7), no proof of insurance (2), minor in possession (6), open container (10), improper child restraint (6). The team also performed three motorist assists.

“Our goal is to keep Nebraska roads safe and free from drunk driving,” said Captain Kurt Von Minden, Commander of Troop E. “This operation was successful thanks to the teamwork of our troopers and the deputies of the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office.”

The special enforcement was made possible thanks in part to the grant for $12,000 from NDOT-HSO.


OSHKOSH, Neb. (AP) — A western Nebraska judge has acquitted a school superintendent accused of assaulting an 8-year-old student.

Judge Randin Roland filed a verdict of not guilty last week for Garden County Schools Superintendent Paula Sissel, who'd been charged with misdemeanor assault in Garden County. He'd considered testimony and evidence from a nonjury trial last month in Oshkosh.

A video of the Nov. 13 incident shows Sissel pulling the girl down a hallway before the girl's placed in what was referred to as a "chill out room." It's alleged the girl suffered a rug burn.

Sissel acknowledged pulling the girl, in part to protect a physical therapist who was trying to deal with the girl's outburst. The girl's mother says the girl is possibly autistic and functions at the level of a 3- or 4-year-old.


JUNE 27, 2018 (SCOTTSBLUFF, NEB.)  — One person has been arrested following an operation of the Panhandle Region Team of the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force.

The operation occurred on Tuesday, June 26, in Sidney. The Task Force was assisted by the WING (Western Nebraska Intelligence and Narcotics Group) Task Force, the Sidney Police Department, Cheyenne County Sheriff’s Office, Gering Police Department, Scottsbluff Police Department, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, the Nebraska State Patrol, and several other entities.

During the operation, James Raymond Hill, 52, of Mitchell, Nebraska was arrested for solicitation of prostitution.

In addition to enforcement against those who solicit sex acts, the operation also focused on recovering victims of human trafficking.

The Task Force would like to thank CAPstone, the Salvation Army, and DOVES for their assistance.


ALLIANCE, Neb. (AP) — An August sentencing hearing has been scheduled for a 29-year-old man accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend's dog in northwest Nebraska.

Box Butte County District Court records say Adam Swanson pleaded no contest to animal neglect that resulted in death. Prosecutors dropped a weapons charge in return for Swanson's plea. His sentencing is set for Aug. 27.

Sheriff's deputies say Swanson was intoxicated on Jan. 20 when he intentionally shot and killed the dog in its kennel. Swanson and his girlfriend had been arguing at their home about 5 miles (8 kilometers) northeast of Hemingford.


OGALLALA, Neb. (AP) — At least one person was injured when a powerful thunderstorm rolled through Keith County in western Nebraska.

The National Weather Service says one person was injured Sunday at Lake McConaughy, where camping vehicles were tossed or rolled by howling winds. A gust of 83 mph (134 kph) was reported.

Heavy rain and hail also were reported in the area.


A woman has been given one to three years in prison for her role in a pasture rental scam in the northern Nebraska Panhandle.

Sioux County District Court records say 52-year-old Kelley Heller, of Crawford, was sentenced June 12.

Heller and her daughter, Calinda Barthel Vantine, were arrested in February 2017. Prosecutors say the scheme was orchestrated by Vantine and resulted in more than $44,000 in losses to the five victims. The two didn't own the pasture they'd rented to the five people from Nov. 1, 2015 through Feb. 15, 2017.

The 28-year-old Vantine was sentenced to prison last October. She also is known as Calinda Barthel.


OSHKOSH, Neb. (AP) — A judge is considering a verdict after the trial of a western Nebraska school superintendent accused of assaulting a student.

On Wednesday Judge Randin Roland heard testimony regarding the misdemeanor assault charge against Garden County Schools Superintendent Paula Sissel.

A prosecutor said Wednesday that Sissel had put her hands on the 8-year-old girl. A video of the Nov. 13 incident shows Sissel pulling the girl down a hallway before the girl's placed in what was referred to as a "chill out room." It's alleged the girl suffered a rug burn on a shoulder.

Sissel acknowledged pulling the girl, in part to protect a physical therapist who was trying to deal with the girl's outburst. The girl's mother says the girl is possibly autistic and functions at the level of a 3- or 4-year-old child.

A ruling is expected within two weeks.


KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) — Police say they aren't giving up on a 10-year-old central Nebraska homicide case and are still actively pursuing leads despite having no suspects.

Kearney Police Department Captain Mike Kirkwood tells the Kearney Hub that officers work on the Kelcey Fike murder investigation on almost a daily basis. He says police remain confident they'll find Fike's killer, particularly once technology advances to test and decipher the DNA found on the victim's body.

Kirkwood has shared more details about Fike's death at her trailer in Kearney in June 2008. He says police believe there's a high probability the killer knew Fike and that an attempted sexual assault may have occurred.

An autopsy found that Fike died of a ligature strangulation and blunt force trauma to the torso and head.


NORTH PLATTE,Neb. (June 11, 2018) — As part of an international movement, the American Red Cross is launching the Missing Types campaign today to recruit new blood donors – and those who have not given recently – to ensure lifesaving blood is available for patients.

During the Missing Types campaign, the letters A, B and O – the main blood groups – will disappear from brands, social media pages, signs and websites to illustrate the critical role every blood donor plays. When the letters A, B and O vanish from everyday life, the gaps are striking. And when A, B and O blood types are missing from hospital shelves, patient care could be impacted.

“Unfortunately, blood shortages still happen and the number of new Red Cross blood donors is shrinking each year,” said Cliff Numark, senior vice president, Red Cross Blood Services. “That’s why the Red Cross is asking those who have never donated blood and those who haven’t given in a while to make a lifesaving donation. You are the missing type patients need.”

Don’t wait until the letters A, B and O go missing from hospital shelves. Join the #MissingType movement today – make an appointment to give blood by visiting, using the Red Cross Blood Donor Appor calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).