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Court: Crime victims can be repaid by insurance and defendant

If it ever was a better deal to steal an insured car in Park County versus an uninsured one, that’s no longer the case.

The Park County Attorney’s office previously asked for convicted defendants to repay only the losses suffered directly by the victim. For example, in the case of a destroyed vehicle with insurance, prosecutors sought just the deductible paid by the owner and not losses covered by the insurance company.

However, Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric has now shifted the office’s approach to ask for the full amount of damages, regardless of insurance.

“I don’t think insurance companies, victims, anybody should be having to pay for the criminal conduct of a defendant,” Skoric said in a Friday interview.

State law prohibits judges from ordering restitution to insurers, requiring them to collect in civil court. However, the Wyoming Supreme Court has effectively allowed a work-around that Skoric has chosen to use: instead of ordering payments directly to an insurance company, the money is directed to the victim, who is then supposed to forward it to the insurer.

In a ruling last month, District Court Judge Steven Cranfill agreed the approach is legal.

The issue came up during an October restitution hearing for Justin Simms, who wrecked a Powell resident’s truck that had been stolen by another man, Kyle Henke (see related story).

Simms’ court-appointed attorney, Nick Beduhn of Cody, argued against having Simms pay the insurance company’s losses to the victim. Beduhn said it “makes no sense” to make a victim forward a defendant’s $50 or $100 payments to their insurer each month.

In the case of violent crimes where a victim’s medical treatments were covered by health insurance, Beduhn suggested victims would have to relive the crime with each monthly check.

“It’s going to be a consistent and continual reminder (of the crime),” he said.

Beduhn also took issue with the Wyoming Supreme Court’s 2005 decision that approved the procedure.

In that ruling, the high court OK’d a decision requiring a defendant to pay $93,966.02 to the citizen whose home he’d burned. The order came despite the fact the homeowner had already been paid that sum by State Farm.

“Whether such restitution might result in a double recovery or windfall to the homeowner victim at the expense of the insurer is of no consequence,” wrote Justice James Burke.

“That (double recovery issue) should concern our Wyoming Supreme Court,” Beduhn argued to Cranfill.

He said the court effectively said it was of no consequence to them if a victim commits larceny by bailee by pocketing the insurance company’s money.

“They (the court) didn’t look past that case and those facts,” Beduhn said.

Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt acknowledged the potential for double-recovery, but said “that’s for the insurance company and the victim to work out, as indicated by the Supreme Court.”

He also framed it as an issue of fairness, arguing defendants should have to pay for the full damage they cause and not just a deductible.

Blatt noted property owners likely face a hike in their insurance premiums after a claim while the defendant could catch a financial break.

“Quite frankly, it makes absolutely no sense that the defendant would get to hide behind my insurance carrier for his criminal acts,” Blatt said.

Cranfill said he was inclined to agree with the state at the Oct. 3 hearing and did so in a three-sentence order on Jan. 4.

Cranfill reaffirmed his position on the issue on Monday in ordering defendant Heidi Hatcher to pay back $18,861 to the Park County Animal Shelter in Cody for her misuse of the shelter’s credit card. The shelter had already been paid that sum by their insurer, so presumably, they’ll need to forward the payments along whenever Hatcher is able to begin making them.

In his order to Hatcher, Cranfill said his decision was based on prevailing case law.

Beduhn said he plans to appeal Cranfill’s decision in Simms’ case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Jail time served, probation ordered for truck theft and crash

A man who stole a Powell resident’s truck and another man who later totaled the vehicle in a ditch back in 2011 have each been sentenced to probation for their roles in the crime.

Prosecutors said 25-year-old Powell resident Kyle K. Henke stole the new Chevy Silverado from a Lane 7 residence while severely intoxicated.

Eight days later, Justin Simms, 29, reportedly took the vehicle for a joy ride west of Powell and crashed it into a canal off U.S. 14-A near Road 11.

Henke served about three days in jail and is now serving five years of supervised probation for a theft totaling $1,000 or more, a felony. Under a deferred prosecution agreement offered by the Park County Attorney’s Office and approved by District Court Judge Steven Cranfill, the case will be dismissed if Henke successfully completes the probation. The conditions include staying away from alcohol and bars and being subject to random drug testing.

Cranfill sentenced Simms to 30 days in jail and five years of supervised probation that began with intensive supervision. That was for receiving stolen property valued at $1,000 or more, a felony, and failing to report a crash, a misdemeanor. The Park County Attorney’s office had argued for prison time.

In addition to court fees and costs, Henke and Simms each are responsible for paying $16,346.58 back to the Silverado’s owner for the vehicle. The sentences were finalized last month.

Court records say the Park County Sheriff’s Office caught its break in the case on Aug. 30, 2011 — the day after the crash.

That’s when a citizen noticed two men looking into the canal and throwing rocks where the truck had crashed. The citizen reported the men’s plate number, leading the sheriff’s office to Simms.

When questioned, Simms initially denied knowing anything about the vehicle, according to an affidavit from Sheriff’s Deputy Andy MaGill. Simms reportedly told MaGill he and a companion were bored and just stopped to throw rocks, because “that’s what people do in Wyoming.”

However, a friend later implicated Simms in the crash — telling MaGill they’d seen Simms soaking wet that night and learned he’d crashed the vehicle while struggling with mental health problems.

Simms ultimately admitted taking the truck for a joy ride that night, but said Henke had originally stolen it, MaGill wrote.

Approached later, Henke initially denied a role in the incident, but reportedly confessed after being arrested.

Wrote MaGill of the conversation: “(Henke) said, ‘Like I said, I was (messed) up that night. All I remember is that I woke up in a field somewhere, started to work my way back ... well, I don’t remember where the (expletive) I was.

“‘Came across this pickup, keys were in it ... I took it,’” MaGill recalled Henke saying.

The Powell resident who owned the Silverado says he lost about $15,000 that wasn’t covered by insurance or the restitution. In a January ruling, Cranfill said the man can pursue his additional claims in civil court.

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