Winter Weather Affecting Gallatin County

GCEM Media Release

Media Release: 190226-01
Contact:  Emergency Management (406) 548-0111

Winter Weather Affecting Gallatin County

Bozeman, MT – Residents around Gallatin County are encouraged to utilize safe winter practices as this winter storm affects Montana.  The community is encouraged to drive safety and allow extra travel time as crews work to safety clear roadways.  It is common during extended cold stretches accompanied with heavy snow accumulation for waterways to become plugged with ice forcing the water onto roadways and into other areas.  Water is currently affecting several roads (primarily Madison Rd.) around Gallatin County and drivers are encouraged to closely watch roadways for roadway hazards.  Additionally, those living near waterways should monitor conditions around their homes for flooding as water spreading underneath snow can be hard to see.  Ice stuck against the Logan Bridge on the Gallatin River is currently causing flooding that is affecting one home in Logan.

As Patrick Lonergan, Chief of Emergency Management & Fire explains, “We are currently experiencing winter in Montana and with that comes increased hazards to be aware of as we go about our day.  Sometimes these hazards are challenging to recognize, so minimize your travel, move slowly, keep your eyes open, and allow extra time.”

Winter preparedness information is available from FEMA at:


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Big Sky Death

  On February 25, 2019, Big Sky Fire and Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of an unresponsive, cold to the touch, 32 year old female.

  Whitney Versteeg was deceased and a subsequent investigation indicated the death was from natural causes.


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Two Groups of Snowmobilers Retrieved near West Yellowstone

Sunday at 2:26 p.m. West Yellowstone Police Department dispatch received a call from a group of three snowmobilers from Minnesota who indicated they were having difficult locating the trail due to the extremely windy and snowy conditions. Dispatch advised them to hang up and call 911 to get a better location. The GPS coordinates indicated that they were located in the area of Horse Butte approximately 10 miles north of West Yellowstone. The snowmobilers indicated that they would remain at that location and wait for the weather to improve.

At approximately 6:27 p.m. the snowmobiler again called 911, reporting that they were still at the location and still unable to locate the trail system. The snowmobilers were uninjured but were getting cold and were concerned that they would get lost if they attempted to search for the trail. Due to the whiteout conditions and rapidly dropping temperatures, the decision was made to send a rescue crew to retrieve the snowmobilers. Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone and the Custer Gallatin National Forest Service responded to assist with the rescue.

As Rescuers made their way to the lost snowmobilers, they encountered a second group of snowmobilers who were stuck and having difficulty finding their way. Rescuers retrieved the first group of lost snowmobilers, assisted the second group in getting unstuck, and escorted both groups of snowmobilers safely back to West Yellowstone.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to remind snowmobilers that the weather plays a significant part in the outcome of your outdoor adventures. Wind accompanied by heavy snow can create ground blizzard conditions, making it nearly impossible to find your way and increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia exponentially. As always, having a reliable form of communication is paramount.

Photo courtesy of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office

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Massachusetts Youth Dies at Big Sky

(Big Sky, Mont.) On February 19th at 2:51, a 9-year-old boy from Carlisle, MA was reported missing by his father. The boy went missing near the junction of Middle Road and Lobo Ski Run at Big Sky Ski Resort. Shortly after the report, the boy was found deceased in a tree well. He died due to blunt force injuries caused by hitting a tree on a steep slope.

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New security screening process at Law and Justice Center starting next week

After three weeks of practicing, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office personnel will begin a new screening process at the Law and Justice Center starting Monday, Feb. 25.

To increase safety for everyone who uses the Law and Justice Center, there will now be one entrance for the public coming into the building, located at 615 S. 16th Ave., where people will be screened for weapons, which are not allowed in the facility.

The list of prohibited weapons includes:

  • Firearms – with or without a permit, and including ammunition or replica firearms
  • Sharp objects – knives, scissors, cutting tools or arrows
  • Tools – including all construction tools
  • Disabling chemicals – mace or pepper spray
  • Stun devices – Tasers or stun guns
  • Club-like items – Billy clubs, baseball bats or batons

That entrance will be on the southwest side of the building. There, people will be greeted at a window by security, staffed by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office. Bags will be put through a scanner, and people will walk through a metal detector.

Folks unable to use the stairs will be screened at the building’s north entrance.

The main entrance will be staffed Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. For anyone wishing to come to the Law and Justice Center after hours, on weekends or on holidays, they can push a button at the entrance and someone will come screen them.

Signs have been posted around the building to remind people of these new protocols.

People are encouraged to get to the Law and Justice Center at least 10 minutes early to be screened. Around 8 a.m. is the busiest time at the building, so if possible, the public is also asked to try to find alternate times to visit the facility.

Sheriff Brian Gootkin said the new process is bound to include some growing pains and inconveniences at first.

But, the sheriff said, “Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”

Gootkin said the new security measures have been a team effort between the sheriff’s office, the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office and the Gallatin County Commission.

There have been serious security incidents in the building in the past, and this new screening process will hopefully keep similar or worse incidents from happening in the future, the sheriff said.

“We’re being preventative,” Gootkin said.

In addition to the new screening process, additional electronic surveillance has been added throughout the Law and Justice Center.

The Law and Justice Center is the only county courthouse in Montana with this level of security.


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Annual Gallatin County Spelling Bee to be held Feb. 23

The 2019 Gallatin County Spelling Bee will be held on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 9 a.m. in the Hager Auditorium of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

One of the oldest academic competitions in the area, the bee features the top spellers in grades 4 through 8 from all public and non-public schools in the county, representing a field of over 6,000 contestants.

Sixty spellers from over 40 public, private and home schools will compete for the top three places and a chance to represent Gallatin County at the Treasure State Spelling Bee to be held in March in Billings.

Local radio and newspaper columnist Chrysti “The Wordsmith” Smith will be pronouncing and numerous prizes will be awarded. Judges include Bozeman Daily Chronicle Arts and Culture Editor Rachel Hergett, Gallatin County Treasurer Jennifer Blossom, and Belgrade School District Trustee Mary Ellen Fitzgerald.

The Gallatin County Spelling Bee is sponsored by Bozeman Bowl, Bozeman Amateur Hockey Association, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Dairy Queen, Edible Arrangements, MacKenzie River Pizza, and U-Swirl. The public is invited to attend. For more information, contact Gallatin County Superintendent of Schools Matthew Henry at (406) 582-3090 or by email at

Photo courtesy Gallatin County Superintended of Schools:
Gallatin County Superintendent of Schools Matthew Henry, left, is joined by the top five finishers at the 2019 Gallatin County Selling Bee and Chrysti “The Wordsmith” Smith, far right.

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Snowmobiler Rescued from Cabin Creek

(Gallatin County, Mont.)

Tuesday at 2:02 p.m. West Yellowstone Police Department dispatch received a 911 call from a snowmobiler reporting that a member of his group had crashed and broken his femur. The injured snowmobiler, a 44 year old male from Minnesota, was in the Cabin Creek area 12 miles north of West Yellowstone.

Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, National Forest Service and a helicopter from Reach Air Medical Services responded.

Rescuers made their way to the patient who was located in a steep canyon with high avalanche danger. Despite the patient’s severe pain, rescuers were able to package him onto a narrow toboggan sled. Meanwhile, a helicopter from Reach Air Medical Services was able to find a suitable place to land. Rescuers transported the patient to the helicopter, which then transported him to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital for treatment.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to thank all the volunteers and others involved with our Search and Rescue missions in Gallatin County. The inclement weather combined with significant snow fall created substantial challenges to rescuers and rescued alike. Snowmobilers are reminded to ride within their abilities and give special attention to the terrain and avalanche danger when choosing riding areas.

Photos courtesy of Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office

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Gallatin County Commission to consider agreement settling Bear Canyon Road lawsuit

Next week, the Gallatin County Commission will consider an agreement that settles years-old litigation between the county and the state surrounding portions of Bear Canyon Road.

If the commission votes to approve the proposed settlement, a roughly 1.5-mile stretch of Bear Canyon Road can be formalized as a county road.

The settlement proposes that the county’s claims against the state be dismissed with prejudice, and that no monetary damages be paid by either party, and that each party pay their own attorney fees and court costs.

“This is a resolution that recognizes and legally formalizes the county’s interest in Bear Canyon Road,” said Chris Gray, the attorney representing Gallatin County in the case.

Commissioners will consider approving the proposed settlement agreement at their public meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 9 a.m. at the Gallatin County Courthouse.

The settlement would resolve a lawsuit Gallatin County filed against the Montana Department of Resource and Conservation in 2012 in Gallatin County District Court, in which the county sought recognition that a portion of Bear Canyon Road was a county road as well as damages for trespass.

The dispute began in 2007 when the county learned that the U.S. Forest Service and the state had obliterated Bear Canyon Road where it enters state land. In the effort to reroute the Forest Service trail in the area, the state and federal governments made portions of the road near Bear Creek impassible for some recreational users and claimed the county never had any interest or jurisdiction.  The county never gave up on its claims for the road from the mouth of Bear Canyon all the way to the intersection of the Park County line and eventually filed suit.

Gallatin County remains in litigation with the United States government, which it also sued in 2012 over another section of Bear Canyon Road. That federal case has been stayed on the condition that the state case is resolved. Negotiations in the federal case will continue.

Maps courtesy: Gallatin County GIS

To see the entire proposed settlement agreement, click here: Proposed Bear Canyon Road lawsuit settlement

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Stand off with Armed Suspect in Belgrade

On February 11, 2019 at approximately 2:45 p.m. a report of a Domestic Disturbance occurred in the City of Belgrade in the area of 90 North Kennedy between an adult female and an adult male.

The victim female was assaulted inside the business property at 90 North Kennedy and managed to escape outside and was assisted by citizens in the area who observed her seeking help. The suspect male followed the victim from the building. The suspect observed the citizens assisting the victim and returned to 90 North Kennedy. Officers were called at this point.

Officers responded and requested medical treatment for the victim. The victim advised the officers that she had been strangled and threatened with a firearm and advised them of the location. The victim was then  transported to the hospital in Bozeman.

Officers responded to 90 North Hoffman in an attempt to located the suspect.  Upon arrival officers observed the suspect through a window and attempted to make contact. The suspect would not respond to any orders by the officers. A perimeter was established by the Belgrade Police Department, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department and the Montana Highway Patrol. The Gallatin County Sheriff/Bozeman Police Department SRT team was requested to assist with containment, negotiations and entry to the building.

Assisting at the scene were the Bozeman Fire Department SRT Medics and Ambulance,  Gallatin County Emergency Management as well as additional Bozeman Police Officers and Gallatin County Sheriff’s Deputies  and the crew of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Command vehicle and the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Chaplain.

After several hours and numerous failed attempts to communicate with the suspect, SRT took advantage of an opportunity and deployed less than lethal options on the suspect. The suspect was taken into custody without injury to the suspect or officers at approximately 10:30 p.m.

The suspect was transported to the Gallatin County Detention Center. The suspect will be held on charges of Strangulation and Assault with a Weapon.

The suspect has been identified as David Harold Hixson 56 y.o.a.

The assistance by helpful citizens certainly prevented the continued assault on the victim and we certainly Thank them for their efforts.  The ongoing cooperation by multiple agencies allowed for the safe resolution to this incident.

Chief E. J. Clark Jr – Belgrade Police Department

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Commissioners support effort to add fourth District Court judge to serve Gallatin County

On Feb. 1, Bozeman Senator JP Pomnichowski introduced a bill requesting the Montana State Legislature create a position for a fourth District Court Judge in the 18th Judicial District, which serves Gallatin County.

Senate Bill 203 is co-sponsored by a majority of the Gallatin County state legislators. If approved by the Legislature, the new judge would be elected during the general election in November 2020 and begin a six-year term starting January 1, 2021.

The Gallatin County Commissioners voted unanimously to support SB 203 at a public meeting on Feb. 6. The commissioners noted Gallatin County is the fastest growing area in the state, and a fourth District Court judge is necessary to address and serve the public’s needs. The three current District Court judges were in attendance, and stated their appreciation for the Commission’s support.

SB 203 is scheduled for its first hearing on Thursday, Feb. 14 before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Capitol in Helena at 9 a.m.

Approval of the position would include state funding for the judge and three support staff positions. The county would be responsible for housing the judge, which would be done by sharing space in the current Law and Justice Center and in any future facility.

District Court judges handle a wide range of cases, including felony criminal cases, involuntary commitments, child abuse and neglect cases, probates, family law matters, appeals from the courts of limited jurisdiction, and an array of civil matters.

In the last decade, the overall caseload in the 18th Judicial District has increased 40 percent. According to the Montana Judicial Branch’s workload review, Gallatin County is in need of 2.36 additional judges to handle the increasing number of cases.

“My concern is truly for the citizens of the County and to make sure they’re served,” said Commissioner Don Seifert at the Feb. 6 meeting.

Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said another judge would be extremely beneficial to the public, observing that the backlog of cases causes a cumulative stress to a community that depends on judges’ decisions.

Commission Chair Joe Skinner said in a growing area like Gallatin County, services have to expand to meet the community’s needs. “This is just something we have to do,” Skinner said.

The legislation is also supported by Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert and Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin.

(Photos courtesy: Gallatin County)

Media contact:
Whitney Bermes, Gallatin County communications coordinator
Office: 406-582-3008
Cell: 406-595-8963


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