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Strong winds pound Black Hills

Not much snow after all, but oh, that wind.

Residents in the Black Hills escaped the brunt of the heavy snowfall that all but shut down the central and eastern parts of South Dakota on Monday, including the closure of Interstate 90 from Murdo to Sioux Falls.

But even minus the heavy snow, winds regularly exceeded 50 and 60 mph, with gusts as high as 70 mph causing havoc in the area, especially for highway motorists.

One driver was uninjured when a wind gust sent a westbound semitrailer on its side at I-90 near Tilford at about 11:18 a.m. The overturned semi blocked one lane of traffic for about an hour before being moved to the side of the road so it wouldn't impede traffic, said South Dakota Department of Public Safety spokesman Tony Mangan.

“They won’t even try to pick it up until the wind goes down,” Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said.

Just to the west, four semi drivers parked their rigs on a westbound on-ramp at Exit 37, also waiting for the winds to subside.

Top wind gusts recorded as of 3 p.m. by the National Weather Service in Rapid City included 70 mph both near Scenic and northwest of Wasta.

A 67 mph gust rocked the Sturgis Municipal Airport, with a 63 mph blast clocked at Ellsworth Air Force Base and 61 mph recorded at the weather service office on East Signal Drive in Rapid City.

The high wind warning was to continue until late Monday, with winds gradually subsiding today.

Snow showers with the potential for whiteout conditions are also in the forecast, but with less than an inch of snow predicted.

Parts of the Dakotas were expected to get more than a foot of snow by the time the system moved east today, with Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa also getting significant amounts, according to the National Weather Service.

"We've been really telling people not to drive, not to travel," Mangan said.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard ordered state offices to close in 13 counties, though the Legislature was meeting as scheduled in Pierre. North Dakota's Human Services Department also shut down some outlying offices.

The storm system rolled in from the Pacific and is making its way to the East Coast. By Wednesday it could be causing more problems for the Northeast, which is cleaning up from a weekend nor'easter, said Frank Pereira, a meteorologist with the weather service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

The nor'easter knocked out power to more than 2 million homes and businesses, flooded coastal towns and forced a number of school districts to cancel classes. It was blamed for nine deaths from Virginia to Massachusetts.

Though it's too early to detail specific impacts of the storm that will move east out of the Midwest, "this looks to be a significant event for at least a portion of the Northeast," Pereira said. "A good swath of 6 to 12 inches of snow may fall across portions of the Northeast, and may include the Boston and New York areas."

House votes to pay legislators more

PIERRE | The South Dakota House of Representatives decided Monday to raise salaries for members of the Legislature for the first time since 1998.

Lawmakers currently receive $6,000. The new plan would pay one-fifth of the household median income in South Dakota, approximately $10,500.

SB 214 now returns to the Senate for a decision whether to agree. “We’ve exercised this right eight times,” said Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls.

Karr said he hasn’t heard any member of the public tell him no. “They told me, ‘You guys need to do this, and you need to do it yourselves,’” he said.

Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, said the plan would automatically provide a pay raise each year and a two-thirds majority would be necessary to stop it. “That seems a little bit strange to me,” said Latterell, who voted against it.

Republican Sen. Jeffrey Partridge says the measure aims to fairly compensate future lawmakers in order to encourage a wider range of qualified candidates to run for office.

The new amount would take effect Jan. 1. It would be $10,415.63. The amount would be adjusted annually.

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Woman gets 15 years for role in Pine Ridge murder
Prosecutor: Crime 'rocked the Pine Ridge community'

A woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday for assisting the people who shot a man to death at a Pine Ridge youth center over an alleged drug debt. She received almost double the maximum prison time she faced.

Tiffanee Garnier, 31, earlier pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the murder of Vincent Brewer III in the mid-afternoon of Oct. 16, 2016.

She admitted driving to the SuAnne Big Crow Youth Development Center with Brewer’s attackers, witnessing people in masks shoot the 29-year-old man and escaping to Denver with the suspects. There were at least seven people in Garnier’s group, and she drove one of the two getaway vehicles.

“This crime truly rocked the Pine Ridge community,” the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rich, said at the Rapid City federal courthouse Friday afternoon.

Brewer had been playing in a basketball tournament outside the youth center, surrounded by children and other adults, when two vehicles pulled up, Rich said. Several people tried to put Brewer inside one of the vehicles, but he escaped and was shot “well over a dozen times.”

Brewer, better known as Vinny, died on the spot.

The incident elicited extreme fear in the community, Rich said, especially since so much was initially unknown. At least three of Brewer’s relatives told the court they worried that the gunmen would come back and kill their family.

The police investigation that followed was apparently one of the most extensive in the District of South Dakota. Three men — Myles Tuttle, Francisco Villanueva and Adan Corona — have since been federally charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit assault in the attack against Brewer.

Their indictment states that the men and other unidentified people traveled from Colorado to South Dakota “with a plan to assault and kidnap Brewer in order to collect the alleged drug debt.”

Garnier was one of the group’s contacts in South Dakota — if not the main contact, Rich told District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken. The court earlier heard from defense lawyer Lorie Melone that since her early teens, Garnier had been involved with a physically abusive and domineering man who was part of an out-of-state drug gang.

She led “a life of surrender to that man,” Melone said.

Brewer's mother told the court that Garnier and her son, both from Pine Ridge, had been good friends. And Brewer, who had been a loving and funny guy, changed after he got caught up in meth.

Garnier, speaking between anguished sobs, apologized for her involvement in Brewer’s death.

“I just want the family to know that I’m truly sorry,” she said. “He didn’t deserve to die the way he did … I wish I’d stopped it.”

The judge acknowledged that Garnier suffered abuse in the hands of a drug gang member and had accepted responsibility for her offense. But, Viken said, she had developed a criminal mindset, which in Brewer’s case meant assisting the group carry out retribution to show it can’t be messed with and helping the murder suspects escape.

He described Brewer's killing as a gang-related homicide. Garnier was earlier charged with first-degree murder, which had been dismissed under her plea deal with prosecutors.

“I have to punish you, and I have to punish you severely,” Viken told Garnier before announcing a 15-year prison sentence followed by three years of supervised release. “I can do no less.”

Under the sentencing guideline range, Garnier had been facing a maximum of nine years in prison.

Courtesy photo