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

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

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


Texas Man Injured in Snowmobile Crash

(Gallatin County, Mont.)  On Wednesday February 6, 2019 at 8:58 am, West Yellowstone Police Department Dispatch received a 911 call reporting a snowmobile crash on the Two Top Trail approximately 2 miles west of West Yellowstone. The injured party, a 40-year-old man from Texas, had sustained a broken leg when the snowmobile he was riding on left the trail and crashed into a tree.

Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone, Hebgen Basin Fire Department, and Forest Service Law Enforcement met the injured party at the scene of the crash forty minutes after the initial call for help.  The man was conscious but had a broken leg. He was placed in a specialized rescue sled and transported to a nearby location to meet an ambulance crew.  The ambulance then transported the patient to the Big Sky Medical Center.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to remind snowmobilers to be careful when riding in the backcountry, even when on a groomed trail.  Changing terrain and trail conditions can sometimes bring unexpected adventure to a fun day of snowmobiling.  Always remember to ride with a partner and carry a reliable means of communication in case of an emergency.

Rescuers Battle Conditions to Save Father and Son

(Gallatin County, Mont.) Tuesday evening at 6:30 a Sheriff’s Deputy at Big Sky received a report from a wife in Utah reporting that her husband and 12-year-old son were overdue from a hiking trip in the Spanish Peaks area. It was snowing hard and temperatures were below zero when the Deputy was able to plow his way through snowdrifts and reach the end of the road where he thought their vehicle would be. At 8:00 he found the vehicle abandoned 5 miles from highway 191 and dispatched Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Units from the Valley and Big Sky. Twenty snowmobilers and skiers responded promptly, knowing that conditions made it critical to find the pair quickly. At 10:00 the first search teams located the boy between the main road and the Spanish Creek Cabin. He was hypothermic and confused. Rescuers took him back to the highway where an ambulance was waiting while others continued the search for the father.

At the hospital a Sheriff’s SAR Deputy interviewed the boy as he warned up and became more coherent. Using landmarks and estimated times, the Deputy was able to narrow down an area where searchers could might find the father. The boy described being able to walk on top of the snow while his father was sinking past his knees. As the boy got further ahead of his dad he eventually lost contact and became disoriented but headed in the general direction of their car. Meanwhile SAR members at headquarters in the valley were using cell phone forensic techniques and GIS data to narrow down likely search areas.

At 15 after midnight Wednesday morning rescuers on skies located the father near the Pioneer Falls Trail, a few miles from the Spanish Cr. Cabin. He was conscious but hypothermic. They transported him using a rescue toboggan to the cabin, then by snowmobile rescue sled to an ambulance. Father and son were both flown to University of Utah Burn Center for frost bite injuries.

Sheriff Gootkin wants to thank the world-class volunteers and Deputy Sheriffs who made this incident have a mostly positive outcome. Our community values its Sheriff’s Office and SAR volunteers and incidents like this remind us why. This is a busy time of year, with January seeing 16 SAR incidents, but the members of the Sheriff’s Office family are here and ready to keep this community a safe and healthy place to live.

Photos courtesy of the Sheriff’s Office.



Sheriff Gootkin will be available for interviews after 1:00 Wednesday at the Law and Justice Center.

Note: While responding to this call, one of the search and rescue volunteers was struck by a white Chevy pickup that ran a stop sign and then left the scene of the crash, leaving its grill behind. Anyone with information is asked to contact Bozeman Police.

Cold Night on 16 Mile Road

(Gallatin County, Mont.) On February 5 at 11:14 Gallatin County 911 received a report from Meager County Dispatch of a possible stuck motorist in the northern part of Gallatin County. A male subject had called 911 and the call was routed to Meager County. The subject reported that he had become stuck on Sixteen Mile Road the previous night. He had fuel and was warm and had no medical needs but he could not get his vehicle unstuck. The call was disconnected and they were unable re-establish phone contact with the subject. Prior to the call being disconnected the man said that he was between Maudlow and Ringling past the “steep cliffs”.

Members from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue responded to the area by truck and snowmobile. The subject was located in his stuck vehicle approximately 2.5 miles south of the Meager/Gallatin County line. He was in good health and uninjured. The man, a 36-year-old Bozeman resident, was brought out of the area by SAR personnel. His vehicle was left on scene to be recovered at a later date when road conditions improve.

Sheriff Gootkin would like to remind everyone that there are many roads in the county that are not passible when wet or snow covered. Sixteen Mile Road is not maintained and becomes impassible very quickly during snowstorms or when the wind blows snow into impassible drifts. Most of the worst roads have signs indicating that they are impassible; take note of these signs and use caution if you choose to proceed.

Conditions are Hard on Snowmobiles this Year

(Big Sky, Mont.)

Saturday at 3:04 pm, the Gallatin County Dispatch Center received a 911 call reporting an injured snowmobiler 1.5 miles up Buck Ridge south of Big Sky, MT.

The 36 year old Bozeman man had launched off a trail and sustained a back injury.  Two Canyon Adventure snowmobile guides were in the area and located him.  They were able to relay information to Search and Rescue members on the patient’s exact location and condition.

Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue at Big Sky responded and used an ambulance sled pulled by a Bearcat Arctic Cat snowmobile to transport the him to a waiting Big Sky Fire Dept.  ambulance.  SAR members arrived at the ambulance at 4:13 pm.  He was taken to Big Sky Medical Center.

Sheriff Gootkin says, “Conditions so far this year have been challenging even for experienced riders with quality machines.  Country that would normally be ridden has turned into a terrain trap and avalanche conditions are considerable.  Evaluate the terrain and your skill level with fresh eyes this season.  Search and Rescue is ready if you have a bad day, but it is always best to not have to meet us in the first place.”

Two Rescues for West Yellowstone

(Gallatin County, Mont.) Gallatin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone was busy today, with a pair of rescues two hours apart.

At 9:35 am, West Yellowstone Police Department Dispatch received a 911 call reporting a snowmobile accident on the Two Top Trail near junction 15, approximately 8 miles southwest of West Yellowstone. The injured party, a 28-year-old man from Massachusetts, had been traveling on a groomed snowmobile trail when he crossed a rough patch on the trail, causing him to fall off his snowmobile and catch his foot in the front foot well of the running board, injuring his ankle. Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone and Hebgen Basin Rural Fire District met the man at the scene of the accident half an hour after the initial call for help.

At 11:07 am, West Yellowstone Police Department Dispatch received a 911 call reporting another snowmobile accident on the Two Top Trail, near junction 17. The injured party, a 72-year-old woman from Alabama, had sustained a broken arm when the snowmobile she was riding as a passenger hit a rut in the groomed trail and launched her off of the sled. Rescuers met the woman at the scene of the crash half an hour after the initial call for help.

Both patients were transported in a specialized rescue sled to waiting ambulances, which took them to Big Sky Medical Center for further evaluation and treatment.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to remind snowmobilers to be careful in the backcountry, even on a groomed trail.  Changing terrain and trail conditions can sometimes bring unexpected adventure to a fun day of snowmobiling.  Always remember to ride with a partner and carry a reliable means of communication in case of an emergency.

Photos courtesy of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office