A woman's alertness while driving down the dusty county road, spawned a year-long project for her husband.
Although "dismayed" how the project mushroomed and what it led to, Elk Mountain Game Warden Brian Nesvik was up to the task.
Nesvik's wife, Penny, spotted a doe antelope carcass July 12, 2000, 8 miles south of Elk Mountain and told her husband. The result has been a poaching case that stretched over a year, involved 11 big game animals and resulted in three mine reclamation workers serving jail sentences, being collectively fined $10,000 and forfeiting equipment used in the crimes and hunting and fishing privileges.
Without good leads on who shot and abandoned the antelope, Warden Nesvik had southeast Wyoming radio and newspapers ask for information about the crime. A call came in with a description of a pick-up truck seen in the area during around the approximate time of the crime.
Nesvik located the vehicle at a Hanna apartment, and with the help of Carbon County Sheriff?s Deputy Norman Custis put three men living there under surveillance.
While following the suspects on Wyoming Highway 72 between Elk Mountain and Hanna the night of July 18, the officers observed the truck stop several times and heard two rifle shots. Examination of those sites discovered three mule deer does shot with a .22 rifle and with back straps removed.
Armed with that evidence, the officers obtained a search warrant and served it on the apartment the next afternoon while the suspects were at work. With the help of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, Hanna Police Department and other officers from the sheriff's department and G&F, the search revealed blood and big game hair samples, frozen and fresh loin meat, firearms and ammunition.
Later that day Phillip T. McGuire, Craig S. Wood and Warren L. Krause were interviewed, arrested and jailed. The men posted a cash bond and were released. The interviews led officers to an additional buck antelope the men killed the night before.
McGuire's 1998 Dodge truck was also impounded due to visible blood and hair in the bed and cab and towed to Laramie for analysis by G&F forensic specialists and the Department of Criminal Investigation on July 20.
"There was so much blood, meat scraps and hair in the apartment it took us three hours to collect all the samples," Nesvik said. "The G&F laboratory analyized over 100 blood and tissue samples in the case."
Through DNA analysis the samples identified 11 individual big game animals; six mule deer, three antelope, one elk and one moose. Included were evidence samples from the apartment or truck that matched the animals killed July 12 and 18.
The men hired attorneys and entered into prolonged plea negotiations with the Carbon County Attorney's Office.
"This is the type of poaching which adds up to having a perceivable impact on the resource," said Nesvik, citing the fact all three mule deer shot July 18 had dependent fawns that likely perished. "These acts showed a blatant disregard and disrespect for the law and our wildlife resource."
Crime scene investigations and interviews determined the men shot the five animals July 12 and 18 with a scoped, .22 semi-automatic rifle. Some of the animals were shot while in the truck's headlights. The pattern of blood spray on the men's clothing and at the crime scene strongly suggest some of the animals were cut on before they died.
"These wildlife crimes were particularly bad," said Carbon County Assistant Attorney Joe Cole, who prosecuted the case.
Each defendant was convicted of one count of wanton destruction of a big game animal, three counts of aiding and abetting the wanton destruction of a big game animal, one count of shooting from a vehicle and one count of taking wildlife with artificial light, plus some individual charges listed below.
McGuire, 32, who currently lives in Casper, was sentenced May 11. He also pleaded guilty to one count of intentionally taking a horned antelope out of season and three counts aiding and abetting in the wanton destruction of a big game animal. He was ordered to pay $3,870 in fines and restitution and sentenced to 60 days in jail. His hunting and fishing privileges were suspended for life, he was placed on three years supervised probation and ordered to forfeit knives and binoculars used in the crimes.
The investigation also revealed McGuire had a past conviction for a violent felony and was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He received an additional 30-day jail sentence was ordered to forfeit two .300 caliber rifles for that charge.
Wood, 22, of Riverton. was sentenced May 25. He also pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting in taking a horned animal. Wood was ordered to pay $3,240 in fines and restitution and given a 16-day jail term. His hunting and fishing privileges were suspended for 10 years, he was placed on three years supervised probation and ordered to forfeit knives and binoculars used in the crimes.
Krause, 26, of Crandon, Wis., was sentenced Aug. 1. He also pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting in the taking of a big game animal. Krause was ordered to pay $3,240 in fines and restitution and given a 14-day jail term. His hunting and fishing privileges were suspended for 10 years and he was ordered to forfeit the semi-automatic .22 used in the crimes, plus knives and binoculars.
The men were sentenced by Carbon County Court Judge Wade Waldrip.
Additional wildlife charges against another individual are pending as a result of this investigation.
"I don't know how to prevent crimes like this," Nesvik said, "except to tell anyone contemplating exploiting the wildlife resource that people are willing to come forward with information, officers from all jurisdictions are ready to thoroughly investigate and county attorneys will aggressively prosecute."
Anyone with information about a wildlife violation is urged to call the "Stop Poaching" hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.