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Proposed Sturgis gun range under fire

STURGIS | Owners of a proposed indoor and outdoor gun range on the southeast edge of Sturgis say their facility, even with final construction plans yet to be completed, will be safe for firearm enthusiasts as well as surrounding businesses and residents.

A social media post announcing a move by Sturgis Guns, currently at 2324 Junction Ave., to a proposed complex of buildings on privately owned land south of Interstate 90 and just outside the city limits, prompted concerns raised during a public comment portion of a Meade County Commission meeting on April 25.

At that meeting, Sturgis City Councilor Mike Bachand said he had received calls about the gun range from residents, and Commissioner Doreen Creed also said she had fielded concerns about the proposed gun range based on Sturgis Guns’ social media post.

Bachand said the areas as far away as the Blucksberg Addition, Black Hills National Cemetery to the east, the Centennial Trail and Interstate 90, could be in the field of fire for an outdoor range.

No action was taken at that meeting, but Sturgis Guns co-owner Tammy Bohn said misinformation about the proposed indoor and outdoor shooting ranges had “slandered” her business.

“It’s troubling to know that he (Bachand) was given a public forum to smear our business and to scare the public,” Bohn said in a May 1 email to commission assistant and human resources manager Jerry Derr.

Creed said the first thing constituents saw was the advertisement of Sturgis Guns impending move including the opening of an outdoor shooting range as early as later this month.

“I got calls from constituents and the area businesses out there,” Creed said.

Meade County Commission Chairman Galen Niederwerder said the purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to allow Bohn and landowner Katherine Martel to present their plans for the new gun shop and the proposed ranges.

Bohn said initial plans were to move the business this month to temporary structures at the site, southeast of the intersection of Pine View Drive and Vanocker Canyon Road.

That move, she said, had been delayed because of the safety concerns raised at the April commission meeting.

“We have every intention of trying to get the building up as soon as possible because we’re losing money every day it’s not activated,” she said.

Preliminary plans for permanent structures include three buildings, one a 9,000-square-foot building for four shooting lanes and a showroom. The second building will include four 100-yard shooting ranges, while the third building — tentatively 18,000 square feet — will offer classrooms, retail space and an indoor archery range for youth.

Bohn said the buildings will be done in a log cabin hunting lodge motif, to compliment the area.

Two consultants hired to help Sturgis Guns design its proposed gun ranges said the site, facing rolling hills at the mouth of Vanocker Canyon, lends itself to a safe gun range.

Jeff Swanson of NexGen Range Consulting said he has worked with gun range clients in 37 states and is founder of a 40,000-square-foot shooting range in Oklahoma. He said focusing on training and education for both staff and clients will lead to a safe, well-operated range.

“Our goal is to make this as safe as any other range in the country, both indoor and outdoor, and to be a great draw to the area and the standard for training for youth and all the way through,” Swanson said.

Stephen Powell of Patriot Outdoor of Clovis, N.M., said the use of earthen side berms narrowed to focus the field of fire, overhead baffles and other limiters along with target positioning is effective in keeping keep gunshots contained in the range.

“I’ve never been on a range that I’ve been in charge of that had a negligent discharge of a firearm that resulted in bodily injury,” Powell said.

Meade County Commission Chairman Galen Niederwerder apologized to Bohn and landowner Katherine Martel for allowing a public comment period at the April 25 meeting without both sides of the issue present.

“That was inappropriate on my part to allow any comments like that before we had a chance to hear from the owners of the business and the land owner,” Niederwerder said. “A lot of disparaging remarks were made and this body was used as a forum for that purpose.”

But Bachand defended his remarks at that meeting, made, he said, as a private citizen and not as a representative of the city council. “I’ve never been against Sturgis Guns,” Bachand said. “I didn’t come here of my own volition. Residents of citizens of Sturgis asked me to come here. That was my mission and that mission was met."

William Cudmore, who lives just west of the proposed site, wants guarantees of no noise issues with the proposed range. He also had concerns with the financial effect on the neighborhood.

“What it going to happen to our property values in that area with a gun range?” he asked.

Niederwerder said since Meade County has no zoning laws in place to regulate property usage, there would be little the county to do other than to enforce building codes once construction begins.

“Even if this body had the inclination to do something to regulate this business, according to our attorney we don’t have the authority to do that,” he said. “Now if this business comes to fruition and there are problems, then I think we do (have authority). We’ll address that at the time."

Outdoor Campus West expanding archery opportunities with $1.5M project

Outdoor Campus West is expanding to allow for new opportunities in the growing sport of archery.

The state-run facility is undertaking a $1.5 million project that will add an indoor shooting building, a 14-station outdoor straight lane archery range and a 14-station walking archery course. Construction crews started moving dirt two weeks ago, and the project is expected to be completed by the beginning of September.

Scott Simpson, administrative resources section chief for the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department, said the project will help the campus grow as the sport of archery continues to get more popular. 

"I hope this will be an example for other cities in the state, where we can develop safe opportunities for this growing sport," Simpson said. 

Seventy-five percent of the project is being funded with federal grant money, with the remaining 25 percent coming from state hunting and fishing license money and private partnerships. 

The new 6,000-square-foot steel-sided hunter education building will have access off of Sturgis Road, and Simpson said it will provide a wide open space for a variety of activities. In winter, archery and BB gun shooting classes can be held there. The overhead door allows a boat to be pulled in for boating safety classes. The room can even hold deer skinning demonstrations.

"Right now, we are teaching young kids how to shoot bows and BB guns in our classrooms, and they aren't designed for that," Simpson said. "Because of the popularity of those classes, we needed a place to be able to hold them even during the winter, and this building will allow for that." 

The 14-lane straight archery range will feature targets from 20 to 80 yards with a covered shelter over the shooting area for archers to get out of the summer sun.

"We are really going to use the heck out of this thing," Simpson said. "It will be used fairly year-round."

On the west side of the Outdoor Campus West land, a new 14-station walking archery range will be added. Simpson said because the Outdoor Campus West is in a local neighborhood, safety was a top priority when developing the new course.

Bruce Call, president of the National Field Archery Association, helped GF&P officials make sure the course is safe and accessible for archers of varying abilities. 

The walking and stationary archery ranges are free for anyone to use and feature targets ranging from 14 to 80 yards. They will be open from dawn to dusk.

For the walking range, a path will start behind the main Outdoor Campus West building and lead archers to the stations where targets will be positioned at different shooting angles, multiple lines of site and varying distances. Simpson said 3D targets could be added to the course during some special events, but for everyday use bale targets will be posted at the different stations. 

As an added bonus, the walking course meets National Field Archery Association standards so competitions could be held there in the future. But Simpson said the majority of the use would be "recreational folks" who just want to get out and shoot. 

Man charged with involuntary manslaughter in fatal crash on Pine Ridge
Wreck killed family of three, including pregnant mom

A Porcupine man has been charged with involuntary manslaughter half a year after authorities said he was involved in a crash that killed a family of three on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

On Monday, the FBI filed a criminal complaint against Tyler Makes Him First, charging the 28-year-old with involuntary manslaughter in the death of 42-year-old Waylon Red Elk Sr. The bureau requested a warrant for his arrest.

Makes Him First’s pickup allegedly collided head-on with a car being driven by Red Elk Sr. near Porcupine in the evening of Nov. 4. The court document states Makes Him First killed the Wanblee man “without malice” while operating “a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.”

The wreck happened along Bureau of Indian Affairs Highway 27, about a mile north of the Evergreen Housing complex in Porcupine. Red Elk Sr.’s two passengers were also killed: his wife, Jaylene Pretends Eagle, 34, and their son, Waylon Red Elk Jr., 1. Pretends Eagle had been seven months pregnant.

A sworn statement that accompanied the complaint, prepared by FBI Special Agent Robert Bennett, states previously undisclosed details about the incident:

An accident reconstruction conducted by Trooper Kevin Rascher, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety, found that Makes Him First had been heading north on BIA 27 while Red Elk Sr. had been traveling south.

“Trooper Rascher concluded that Tyler Makes Him First crossed the centerline,” the statement reads. “The point of impact occurred in the Southbound lane, with the impact being passenger headlight to passenger headlight.”

Rascher found also normal conditions with Makes Him First’s tire tread and the road surface, including the absence of snow or standing water.

A crash witness told the trooper he had been traveling in front of Makes Him First when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the headlights of the vehicle behind him disappear.

Law enforcement officers who responded to the crash “observed beer cans and beer bottles around the location” of Makes Him First’s pickup.

A breathalyzer test on Makes Him First registered a blood alcohol content of 0.129 percent; a later blood test showed a BAC of 0.284. (The threshold for drunken driving is 0.08 percent.)

In a conversation Rascher had with Makes Him First two days after the accident, Makes Him First said “he was driving when he either lost traction or was passing a vehicle prior to the collision.”

The same day, Makes Him First called the trooper to say doctors and medics had told him not to make assumptions or statements “because he possibly had a concussion.”

Rascher told the Journal in an interview about a week after the crash that Makes Him First was treated at the Pine Ridge hospital for injuries to the collarbone and chest area.

He said also that Makes Him First had been charged in tribal court with driving under the influence. The status or outcome of the case could not immediately be obtained.

Investigators comb through rubble of Box Elder ammo plant

A day after a fire destroyed a Box Elder ammunition plant, black-shirted investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives counted rifles lined up on the concrete lot behind police tape.

Steel panels constituting the former walls of the ballistics manufacturer slumped in twisted ruins. And employees of Ultramax Ammunition stood in stunned silence on a parking lot littered with golden, dented discharged bullets.

"You got to take the Hollywood factor out of it," Pennington County Fire Administration Jerome Harvey said at the scene Wednesday. "The ammo performed as supposed to."

"It's a tragedy, but everyone is safe, and that's the most important thing."

Tuesday's fire at the ammunition plant — and ensuing patter of exploding projectiles — not only chased workers out of the building, but forced a lockdown of nearby schools and the nearby Flying J truck stop. Employees kitty-corner at the Black Hills Visitor Center were also evacuated, and truck drivers to the nearby alcohol distributor had to take different routes to make deliveries.

A dozen agencies responded in fighting the blaze. As an ATF-licensed facility, the federal agency now will coordinate the response.

Calling the risk to the public from projectiles "low," Rapid City Fire Department Lt. Jim Bussell said the risk came from the containers of powder inside the facility.

"The smoke was absolutely one of the main risks associated with the fire yesterday," Bussell said in an email.

A spokeswoman with Rapid City Area Schools also confirmed the lockdown of Rapid Valley Elementary, Valley View Elementary and East Middle School, where school resource officers were concerned about the potential for hazardous, drifting fumes.

"At no time did we feel there was a risk to the schools related to objects flying," Bussell said. 

Fires at ammo factories are not unprecedented. An explosion in 2017 at a sprawling Kansas City army munitions plant killed one employee. In 2014, one employee at a Tennessee ammo factory was killed in an explosion. 

Harvey wanted to dispel online chatter he'd seen about the Ultramax fire, guessing at conspiracy theories.

"There's nothing goofy going on," Harvey said. "The (ATF) has statutory responsibility of this investigation."

Ultramax Ammunition has been in business since 1986. Employees, including one man in a Winchester Rifle T-shirt, declined to comment but stood on site on Wednesday observing the first steps of a fire investigation. Soon, the long cleanup will begin. The cause of the fire is yet unknown.

"They have insurance and are a good community business," Harvey said, adding that he believes the business will do what it can to stay open, albeit in a different, likely temporary structure.

It is still too early for a damage estimate. A volunteer from the Rapid Valley Fire Department was the first on scene yesterday, as he happened to be in the area when dispatch got the call. 

All that remained standing in the rubble was a blackened Conex shed, pimpled with discharge dents, and a sturdy, tan mailbox. 

"If I manufactured those boxes, I'd think you could make some money," Harvey said. As he spoke, wind blew a charred steel scrap off the pile in the direction of the ATF officials, in blue gloves and masks over mouths, who continued to work with the owners to tally up the fire's damage. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Ultramax website simply read, "Our company has experienced a fire. We plan on rising out of the ashes. We will have phone service restored by the Monday the 14th."