Wednesday, May 29, 2013

More information surfaces about the Barry Beach case

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 12:22 PM

Barry Beach served nearly 29 years behind bars for a murder that he has maintained for decades that he didn’t commit. In 2011, a Montana district judge freed him after finding that new evidence discovered by his legal team could alter his original 1984 conviction.

After being released from prison in December 2011, Beach enjoyed 18 months of tenuous freedom. The Montana Supreme Court, however, ended that on May 14, when it reversed the lower court’s decision, reinstating Beach’s sentence. He was returned to prison to continue serving a life term.

Beach’s supporters, including the New Jersey-based Centurion Ministries, which works to clear the wrongly convicted, call the Supreme Court’s decision cruel. They say that it wholly discounts the reams of evidence his legal team has discovered proving that Beach isn’t responsible for the murder of Kim Nees in 1979 on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Barry Beach in Billings shortly before he was returned to prison.

Beach was convicted based on a confession that he provided to Louisiana detectives in 1983. He and his supporters have consistently maintained that the admission was coerced by heavy handed tactics waged by unscrupulous Louisiana detectives who subjected him to a seven-plus hour interrogation. After detectives threatened him with the electric chair, Beach says that he “broke weak” and confessed to murdering Nees.

Law enforcement maintains that its questioning was appropriate. But a recent article by the Great Falls Tribune’s John S. Adams cast additional doubt on that assertion. Adams reports that one of the detectives who interrogated Beach in 1983, John “Jay” Via, has solicited at least two false confessions beyond the contested admissions that Beach provided to him. The article also details a string of admonishments and suspensions doled out to Via throughout his three-decade-long career.

Adams’ story adds important context to Beach’s ongoing fight to clear himself of the crime. For those following the case, it’s definitely worthy of a read.

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Your future, a little early

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Back in the 1920s, the governor of Texas was determined to forbid the teaching of foreign languages in public schools. To bolster her case, she called on the Bible. "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ," she said, "it's good enough for us." She was dead serious. I suspect you may soon have to deal with that kind of garbled thinking, Aries. And it may be impossible to simply ignore it, since the people wielding it may have some influence on your life. So what's the best way to deal with it? Here's what I advise: Be amused. Quell your rage. Stay calm. And methodically gather the cool, clear evidence about what is really true.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Missoula swim coach mired in national sexual abuse case

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2013 at 11:15 AM

A dark chapter for USA Swimming appeared to come to an end May 23 when a Hall of Fame coach was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to child sexual abuse in a case that stretches back three decades. But the victim in that case, Kelley Davies Currin, who says Rick Curl first sexually abused her when she was 13 years old and continued doing so for five years during the 1980s, used last week’s sentencing to call for more changes at the national organization, including the resignation of three top officials who she says have known about Curl’s misconduct and failed to act.

“Now that justice has been levied against Rick Curl, it is time to hold accountable USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus and Vice President David Berkoff, as well as former USA Swimming National Team Director and Hall of Fame coach Mark Schubert, for their actions in helping create a culture that protects predator coaches and vilifies young victims who have the courage to come forward,” said Currin in a prepared statement.

Berkoff, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, is a Missoula lawyer and head coach of the Missoula Aquatic Club.

Currin says she was motivated to file a complaint with USA Swimming after hearing testimony from victims in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case that rocked Penn State University. She said in her statement that Berkoff knew in the early 1990s about sexual relationships between coaches and underage swimmers but did nothing about it. “Like all of the others, he ‘buried his head in the sand’ and looked out only for his own best interests. Mr. Berkoff is a disgrace in my eyes,” she said.

Berkoff expresses sympathy for Currin, but denies her charges against him and defends his actions with USA Swimming. He says he has no intention of resigning from the national board nor of stepping down from his position at MAC.

“The premise for them asking me to resign my position is that they claim I knew about Kelley Davies being molested by Rick Curl. I didn’t know. I heard rumors,” says Berkoff, who adds that he’s never met either person. “There’s a huge difference. You can’t accuse someone of a crime and call for an investigation based on fourth-hand and third-hand information.”

When Berkoff served as an athlete representative on the USA Swimming board in the early 1990s, he says he was instrumental in creating a subcommittee tasked with addressing abuse. He also takes pride in helping to shape USA Swimming’s “Safe Sport” program, which now includes enhanced background checks and lifetime bans for offenders.

“There are a lot of good people who are working hard to make the sport safer, and I count myself among that group,” Berkoff says.

Lisa Keyes, MAC’s board president, says Currin’s allegations will not affect Berkoff’s position “one bit.”

“We’re aware of the people who are against Dave, but I don’t understand why they have these feelings about him when he’s been a vital piece of getting the safety measures into the sport,” she says. “It’s unfortunate.”

Keyes says MAC's board, swimmers and parents “support Dave 100 percent.”

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Going off grid is easy!

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2013 at 9:04 AM

I’ve been immersed in reams of reports and data regarding the electrical grid for months (resulting story coming very soon), and let me tell you this: The grid is big, it’s important, it creeps into every aspect of our modern lives, and it’s fragile. If your science fiction story is in need of a modern-Frankenstein-like human-made monster that turns on us, you could do worse than the grid. It contains millions of miles of wires, and though we operate it from “control rooms,” we actually have very little control over it at all. It is considered the finest engineering achievement of the 20th century, yet it is prone to breaking down, due to: severe weather (both heat and cold, along with tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires); electromagnetic pulses detonated by evil terrorists; cyber-attacks; solar flares; birds burrowing into transformers; petty vandalism; and human error.

Not only that, but the grid evolved around a system that is mostly based on sending power from huge, centralized fossil-fueled power plants — along with a few big dams — across hundreds of miles of landscape to burgeoning cities. And in order to move away from this model, we’re told that we’d actually have to grow the grid — that is, add thousands upon thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines in order to integrate a bunch of renewables into our energy mix.

A full moon rises behind wind turbines and transmission towers in Arizona.
  • Jonathan Thompson
  • A full moon rises behind wind turbines and transmission towers in Arizona.

Given all of that, it makes sense that folks, from earth-loving hippies to patriot “preppers” to entire towns, would want to go off-grid.

If only it were that easy.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

How not to rob a drive-through (and more from In Other News)

Posted By on Mon, May 27, 2013 at 10:40 AM

Curses, Foiled Again
A 24-year-old Australian man tried to rob a chicken carryout in Rosebery, New South Wales, by smashing the cash register on the floor. An employee “responded with a bucket of chili flakes over his face,” according to police Inspector Paul Thornton, who reported that police treated the suspect for minor burns before charging him. (Sydney Morning Herald)

A man ordered coffee at a Dunkin’ Donut drive-through in West Haven, Conn., but when he pulled up to the window, he got out of his vehicle, announced a robbery and started to climb through the window. The employee stopped him by throwing his coffee at him. She then threw a whole pot of coffee. “That’s when he started running into his truck and then he left,” she said, “and I said, 'Go run with Dunkin.’” Police Sgt. David Tammaro said the man fled empty-handed. (West Hartford’s WVIT-TV)

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Hangriest Hour: Deep fryer genius at Double Front Cafe

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 3:30 PM

There is regular “comfort food” and then there is food of such sublime unctuousness that a different term is necessary: let’s just call it “fried.” Two offerings at Missoula’s Double Front Cafe fall into this elevated category, and they aren’t chicken.


Offering #1: Kids love macaroni and cheese. Grownups also love mac and cheese but pretend to love it less when their kids love it way too much (or the appropriate amount, depending). At Double Front, though, everyone is free to indulge in cheesy, starchy goodness, because at Double Front they know about the transformative magic of batter and hot oil. The mac and cheese wedges ($6.99) are bite-sized triangles of macaroni and cheese that in an inexplicable feat of culinary genius have been deep fried. Each bite is crispy, cheesy and satisfies in ways you forgot were possible. I recommend double dipping in ranch dressing.

Offering #2: After you’ve savored the wedges, it’s time to raise the bar. In an even more outrageous effort to nourish your inner child, Double Front also offers sweet corn nuggets (also $6.99). Take a thimble-sized globule of creamed corn, batter and fry. The result is a swingers’ party of tastes and textures: crunchy, creamy, savory and sweet. Dip them in ranch to add a layer of flavor. Or, what I really recommend, is dipping them in maple syrup. It’s absurd and delicious.

Bonus: You will find the wedges and nuggets on the Double Front menu with the other appetizers. This means, technically, you should still have room for a main event. Which is a good thing, because Double Front fries chicken too.

Where to find 'em: Double Front Cafe is located at 112 W. Alder Street in Missoula, and features two dining rooms: a street level family friendly space and a bar in the basement.

Hangriest Hour serves up fresh details on western Montana eats. To recommend a restaurant, dish or chef for Hangriest Hour, email

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Highway Technologies run off the road; estimated 80 jobs lost

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 9:05 AM

On May 20, Steve Zetterberg leaned back in a chair and propped his boots on what used to be the receptionist’s desk at Highway Technologies’ Missoula branch office. Nearby, the office manager paced as he talked on a cellphone, while another group of employees stood idly in a group, speaking quietly. Most of them had found out over the weekend that this was their last day of work. All of them were blindsided by the news.

“There was no talk of this coming,” says Zetterberg, who is a field supervisor with the company. “It’s like getting kicked in the stomach.”

Highway Technologies is a Houston-based subcontractor that provides traffic control, concrete work and guardrail installation for highway construction projects around the country. The company has 33 branch offices in 13 states and employs more than 1,500 people, including as many as 180 in Montana during the summer months. At around 9:30 p.m., on Friday, May 17, the Montana office’s manager, Gary Pfister, received a call from a company executive informing him that all of the company’s projects—including roughly 15 in Montana—would be terminated, left to be picked up by other subcontractors. According to Zetterberg, more than 80 Montanans would be losing their jobs immediately.

While he says he knew the company had been struggling nationally, Zetterberg believed the Montana office was profitable.

“We thought naively that we were in great shape because we were one of the few offices making money,” he says. “But nationwide I guess they couldn’t secure the financing to do the work.”

As of May 21, Highway Technologies’ corporate office had not returned phone calls requesting comment, and its website had been changed to a password-protected page. The only official statement came via the company’s Twitter account on May 17: “We are sorry that as of this morning, Highway Technologies doors have been closed.”

Though details are sparse as to what made the business so suddenly close shop, the subcontractor has for years been facing problems with safety violations. Since 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has inspected the company on 10 different occasions. In February, it was fined $480,000 and placed on OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program following a 2012 incident where a Wisconsin construction worker was killed after coming into contact with power lines. According to a public affairs representative from OSHA, the company was in the process of contesting those penalties when it announced its closure.

Your future, a little early

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.

ARIES (March 21-April 19): "I'm still learning," said Michelangelo when he was 87 years old. For now, he's your patron saint. With his unflagging curiosity as your inspiration, maybe your hunger for new teachings will bloom. You will register the fact that you don't already know everything there is to know … you have not yet acquired all the skills you were born to master … you're still in the early stages of exploring whole swaths of experience that will be important to you as you become the person you want to be. Even if you're not enrolled in a formal school, it's time to take your education to the next level.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

How to make your nut with Tide (and more from In Other News)

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Curses, Foiled Again
Authorities charged Carolyn James, 55, with assaulting her 96-year-old mother in Dickson City, Pa., after a neighbor recorded James slapping the invalid woman on the back and neck, screaming obscenities and threatening to break her arm. Mark Gruss told investigators he was testing webcams when he picked up a live feed from a webcam in James’s living room. James had installed the webcam herself so she could keep an eye on her mother. (Scranton’s The Times-Tribune)

New Orleans police said surveillance video recorded an armed robbery that began when a man pointed a shotgun in the victim’s face and demanded money. The victim grabbed the shotgun from the robber and chased him off. Moments later, two men drove up, and the driver said, “Give me my gun back, and I’ll give you your phone that you dropped.” The victim declined and used the shotgun to knock out the rear windshield, sending the two suspects fleeing. (New Orleans’ WWL-Radio)

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Rockies Today on break until June 3

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 9:25 AM


The Rockies Today, a project of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at The University of Montana that provides daily links to top news stories, will be on hiatus until Monday, June 3.

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Saturdays, 8 a.m. Continues through Oct. 28

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