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This Hour: Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment

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Georgia man pleads guilty in Mont. check scheme

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A Georgia man accused of recruiting Montana transients to participate in a check-cashing scheme has pleaded guilty to forgery charges.

Chaney Demond Sibley of Atlanta appeared Tuesday before District Judge Russell Fagg in Billings.

Prosecutors say the 27-year-old Sibley and three others forged payroll checks stolen from mailboxes using transients' personal information. They paid the transients to cash the checks.

Charging documents say they cashed about $24,500 in checks between Jan. 6 and 8.

A plea agreement to five felony counts recommends that Sibley be given a suspended 10-year prison sentence, pay a $500 fine and write apology letters to the victims.

Another man, Justin Phillips, also has pleaded guilty to forgery.

Two other men from Georgia are accused of a series of similar check-cashing sprees in October and November.


Attorney general to defend cap on court awards

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana's attorney general intends to defend the state's limit on the punitive damages that can be awarded to an individual by a judge or jury.

The attorney general's office filed notice with the Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday that Tim Fox will intervene in a constitutional challenge of the $10 million punitive-damage cap.

District Judge Kurt Krueger of Butte previously ruled the cap is not a large enough deterrent for a big company. The ruling came in a case in which a jury awarded a $52 million judgment against Comerica Inc. for reneging on a 2008 agreement with a Butte-based office supply company.

The company, Masters Group International Inc., is asking the Supreme Court to uphold Krueger's ruling that the state law setting the cap is unconstitutional.


Feds seek $211K in fines from Minn. company

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Federal safety regulators are proposing $211,000 in fines for a Minnesota agriculture company that authorities say repeatedly failed to make sure workers weren't exposed grain dust hazards in Montana.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday cited CHS Inc. for 19 violations following inspections at grain-handling facilities in Cut Bank, Glendive, Denton and Valier.

Three were repeat violations, including failing to test the air quality in work spaces for potentially explosive grain dust, hazardous gases or lack of oxygen.

Fourteen were classified as serious, meaning there was a substantial probability of a worker death or injury.

The company has the option to contest the fines.

A CHS worker was killed in Kansas in 2010 when he fell into what regulators said was an inadequately protected grain bin.


Kalispell police await shooting death lab results

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Kalispell police say they have completed their investigation and are awaiting lab results from evidence gathered in an apparent murder-suicide.

Police Chief Roger Nasset tells The Daily Inter Lake in a story published Wednesday ( ) the Montana Crime Lab is analyzing evidence from the scene of last month's shooting.

Authorities say Stacy and Dan Fleck, both 51, were found on the floor in one of the bedrooms of their house.

Police responded after dispatchers received a call from a man saying his father had just shot his mother and was going to commit suicide.


7 whooping cough cases confirmed around Helena

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Health officials say seven cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in and around Helena.

Karen Wandel of the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department tells the Independent Record ( ) that two or three more cases would have to be reported to consider it an outbreak.

Wandel says the cases began appearing this month and have affected children from preschool to high school ages. Four of the seven cases have been reported at Capital High School.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause severe coughing. The illness can be potentially deadly to infants or small children who are too young to be vaccinated.

Wandel advises parents to have their pre-teen children vaccinated and adults to make sure they have had pertussis booster shots.


3 hotels slated to open in Bozeman over 18 months

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Three new hotels are slated to open in Bozeman over the next 18 months.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports ( ) a 102-room, $22 million boutique hotel is being built on top of the historic National Guard Armory. The project, called the Etha, will be run by La Tour Hotels and Restaurants and is expected to open in the fall of 2015.

Farther west on Mendenhall Street, a 104-room hotel called The Element Bozeman is being built by HomeBase Montana. It will be operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and it is scheduled to open in May 2015.

The 38-room Lark Motel is scheduled to open downtown in December after being rebuilt at the site of the former Imperial Inn.


'Free the River' signs appear along Bitterroot

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - Signs have appeared along a closed portion of the Bitterroot River that say "Free the River."

Officials closed the river this month to floaters between the Woodside and Tucker fishing access sites near a diversion dam.

A 6-year-old girl drowned there last summer and officials say there have been a couple of close calls there this month.

Pat Saffel of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says the agency is looking for comments on what should be done about the dam.

The Ravalli Republic reports ( ) FWP is looking to do an assessment to see how safety can be improved.

Saffel says the closure will probably remain in place until the river's high flows stabilize in July, when additional warning signs should be in place.


Panel recommends site for MSU engineering school

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Montana State University's planning board is recommending a new $50 million engineering school be built where a parking lot, tennis courts and a lawn now stand.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports ( ) the board voted Tuesday for the site on Grant Street in Bozeman. The recommendation now goes to MSU President Waded Cruzado.

Facilities planning director says other site options were either too small, too far from other engineering classrooms or would cause delays in construction.

The new College of Engineering building is being constructed with a $50 million donation from a graduate. The building is to be about 125,000 square feet.

The board's vote was unanimous, though committee member Jim Thull says he is concerned about losing the only paid parking lot on campus.


Bozeman caretaker sentenced for elder abuse

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - A Bozeman woman has been sentenced to five years' probation for abusing the partially paralyzed 63-year-old man who hired her to care for him.

Elsie Evans McEntire previously pleaded no contest to felony elder abuse.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports ( ) District Judge Holly Brown sentenced the 53-year-old McEntire Tuesday.

Brown also ordered McEntire to participate in the Treatment Court program.

Prosecutors say the man told police on Sept. 3 McEntire hit him with a fan. She denied it, but said they had been arguing.

Police returned to the mobile home about 35 minutes later after the man said McEntire threatened to kill him with a kitchen knife.

Prosecutors say McEntire was in the back of the trailer, fought with officers and had to be carried to the patrol car.


Tribe's electronics company signs $1.8M contract

PABLO, Mont. (AP) - An electronics manufacturing company owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes has signed a $1.8 million contract to help produce a missile-detection system used by military helicopters.

S&K Electronics signed the contract with global military contractor BAE Systems in Pablo Tuesday.

The Missoulian reports ( ) BAE produces an infrared detection system called the Common Missile Warning system for the U.S. Department of Defense. S&K will manufacture hundreds of the system's third-generation Electronic Control Unit Connector Interface Panel Assembly each year.

S&K president and general manager Larry Hall says the system protects people in low- and slow-flying helicopters.

S&K had been manufacturing products for BAE before, but officials say the new contract is a significant increase in the partnership.


Rail safety effort marred by squabbling

WASHINGTON (AP) - A series of fiery train crashes spurred a push by government and industry to make safer tank cars used to ship crude oil and ethanol. But the effort is bogging down in squabbling and finger-pointing.

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute says the railroad industry won't share data behind their recommendations to make the cars safer. He says the oil industry wants a "comprehensive examination" of proposed changes.

But the Transportation Department says it's the oil industry that won't share its data on the dangers of the oil being shipped. The department is drafting regulations aimed at making the cars less likely to spill their contents in the event of a crash.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman says it's time for a referee to step in.

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