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UPDATE: Man shot, killed after allegedly firing at deputies during pursuit

A man was shot and killed by a deputy early Friday afternoon after he reportedly fired at deputies during a pursuit that stretched from Rapid Valley to New Underwood, officials say. 

The chase ended around 12:15 p.m. when the suspect's vehicle rolled into a ditch on the east side of 161 Avenue just south of the eastbound Exit 78 of Interstate 90 near New Underwood. 

After the vehicle rolled and landed upside down, the suspect exited the vehicle with a weapon, Willy Whelchel, chief deputy at the Pennington County Sheriff's Office, said during a press conference at the scene. Law enforcement then shot the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Whelchel did not have the man's name or any other information about him, and he wasn't sure if the man fired his weapon when he was outside of the car. 

Deputies were near Spade Court in Rapid Valley on Friday looking for an individual and tried to make a traffic stop after finding his vehicle, the sheriff's office wrote on its Facebook page.

At one point, the man stopped his vehicle and ran into a house before getting back inside his car and continuing to flee from police, Whelchel said.

Deputies pursued the man through Rapid Valley and Box Elder and eventually onto I-90, the Facebook post says. 

During the chase, the man was shooting at officers, Whelchel said. A school or schools were placed on secure status — a soft lockdown when outside doors are locked but classes continue — officers on the police scanner said. 

The suspect eventually exited the interstate at New Underwood, where deputies initiated a "tactical vehicle intervention," the Facebook post says. The man then lost control and rolled into the ditch before running out of his car with a rifle. 

Police were directing traffic at the exit and blocked off southbound 161 Avenue, where police tape surrounded part of the road and ditch where the vehicle landed. An upright, unmarked police car was next to the suspect's car after the shooting. More than a dozen vehicles from the sheriff's office and South Dakota Highway Patrol were on scene. 

The suspect had no passengers in the car and no members of law enforcement were shot, Whelchel said. No bystanders were shot either, the Facebook post says. 

Police are collecting evidence at the crash site as well as at the house the man ran into and at the locations where he fired his weapon, Whelchel said. The incident and shooting will be investigated by the Division of Criminal Investigations at the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. 


READ MORE: See who has felony arrest warrants in Pennington County

Outstanding felony arrest warrants in Pennington County

Crime-and-courts
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GYROPLANE OFFERED to law enforcement
Custer man wants to find law enforcement home for his gyroplane

After Heath Lowry went through his safety checklist, put on his headphones and strapped on the seat belt on Thursday, he slowly drove his gyroplane — a small, helicopter-like aircraft — toward the end of the runway at Custer County Airport. 

After taxiing down the runway, he pulled the throttle and the gyroplane soon was flying high above Custer. 

"We're going to pretend for a minute that's where the bad guy is hiding," the 52-year-old Custer County sheriff's deputy said as he circled around a building. 

It would be easy to spot a suspect through the giant see-through doors or with the plane's camera that can track moving objects with infrared technology, Lowry said.  

Lowry is hoping to find a law enforcement agency, ideally in the Black Hills, to adopt his gyroplane so officers can use it to find suspects, locate missing people and assist with other public safety operations. 

He would provide a pilot and cover all costs for the plane through BLENDABLE, a nonprofit he started last year. He said all the agency would need to provide is someone to sit next to the pilot to serve as a spotter. 

Lowry, who's worked in law enforcement for 27 years, created the nonprofit in honor of his brother, Edward Lowry, a 56-year-old Journal employee who was stabbed to death in 2015 in Rapid City. 

"When it hit home with my own brother being murdered, it became real," Lowry said as he aligned the gyroplane with the runway in preparation for landing. 

Back inside the airport's building, Lowry explained that the nonprofit, made of letters from his brother's name, also provides grants to law enforcement. As its first grant, BLENDABLE recently gave Custer County Search and Rescue an old firetruck to use as an equipment vehicle. 

Lowry said any agency is welcome to use his gyroplane by request, but ideally one would adopt it full time because the plane is most useful when it can be launched immediately.

Alan Dubbelde, a friend of Lowry's and the vice president of BLENDABLE, said he joined the nonprofit because he's always been "very supportive" of law enforcement and he was intrigued by the gyroplane. 

Dubbelde, a 68-year-old retiree from Custer, said he was supposed to meet with Lowry on Sept. 17, 2015, but his friend never showed up. It was the day Edward was found stabbed to death. 

Lowry recently gave a presentation about the benefits of gyroplanes to the Custer County Commission and has reached out to the Pennington County Sheriff's Office. 

"You can see so much, so fast" from the sky, he said. 

Studies show that one aircraft is equivalent to 6.1 officers during normal patrolling, and 23 officers during an active search, he said. 

Right now, no police or sheriff department in the state owns aircraft, Lowry said. The South Dakota Highway Patrol has a helicopter and airplane in Pierre that can be used to assist other agencies. The National Guard can also deploy a helicopter, but that process takes about three hours, Lowry said. 

Police helicopters are "incredibly expensive" at a minimum of $3 million, Lowry said. Pilot training is about $75,000 and costs range between $1,500-$1,800 per flight. 

Lowry's gyroplane, plus its radios, cameras and other technology, cost less than $175,000, he said. Operation costs are $60 an hour. 

Gyroplanes can do 95 percent of what helicopters can at 5 percent the cost, he said. One thing they can't do is extractions since there is only room for two people. 

He said while gyroplanes are just starting to be used by law enforcement agencies in the U.S., they're common across Europe. 

Lowry called unmanned drones, which are increasingly being used by law enforcement, "another tool."

"They have their own place, and they have their own advantages" such as a low cost and no risk to a pilot, Lowry said. 

But he said drones can only fly about 400 feet into the air for 20 to 30 minutes, and no more than half a mile from the operator. He said drones can only look where the camera is pointing, but people in the sky can quickly scan a scene. 

Gyroplanes, he said, can travel up to 125 miles per hour and up to 12,000 feet for up to 3 1/2 hours. 

Lowry said he's anxious to find a partner agency for his plane so he can help prevent violent crime, like the fatal robbery and attack on his brother. 

"Maybe, just maybe, we can prevent this from happening to someone else" or collect evidence that makes the difference between an acquittal and conviction, he said. 

For more information about BLENDABLE, email Lowry at heath_lowry@yahoo.com. 


PHOTOS: See the central Black Hills from above

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Farmer's Almanac is interesting, but is it accurate?

It happens every year: The warm days of summer and fall end and a crispness makes its way into the air. Winter is here.

At the local grocery store, you might spot a familiar yellow book with big red letters, "Winter weather forecast," sparking your curiosity.

Legend has it in 1815, The Old Farmer’s Almanac's founding editor, Robert B. Thomas, was interrupted by a boy wondering what to include for the weather forecast for July 1816. A distracted Thomas answered, and the entry for July 1816 was supposedly “rain, sleet and snow.”

As wild as a prediction of July snow might sound, the forecast came true — albeit with a little help from the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia blocking the sun and sending temperatures plummeting throughout Europe and North America, killing crops and creating snow and frost through much of June, July and August. That wild weather helped secure the reputation of the almanac.

Fast forward to present day, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, now in its 277th edition, still includes a prediction for a dreaded season — winter — though how anyone comes up with long-term meteorological outlooks months in advance has changed quite a bit since that weird July 1816.

Early start

Forecasting for this winter began long ago in 2017. The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts the weather for 18 U.S. regions no less than 18 months in advance for each calendar year to be able to produce an edition of the book each fall.

In the Midwest, the almanac predicts above-average temperatures to rule over the winter, with precipitation being below-normal.

In layman’s terms, the winter season for the Midwest, which includes all or part of Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, will be slightly milder and drier than normal, with snowfall near to below-normal, according to the almanac.

But what is shaping the weather? The answer lies in the sun.

The almanac states its weather forecasts are derived from a secret formula devised by its founder, who believed that weather on Earth was influenced by magnetic storms on the surface of the sun known as sunspots. Using a combination of climatology, meteorology and solar science, The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts weather trends and events by comparing solar patterns and historical weather conditions with current solar activity.

Currently, the secret formula is locked away in a black tin box at the almanac offices in Dublin, N.H., and the almanac claims to be 80 percent accurate with its forecasting — even with the 18-month lead time. Meteorologists aren’t buying it.

'Fun reading'

In order to gain the most accurate information, meteorologists constantly monitor weather patterns and radars and interpret the data for their communities

John Wheeler, chief meteorologist for WDAY, says predicting weather for the end of a week is difficult to get 100 percent accurate because weather can change in an instant.

“The forecast itself is a continuum," Wheeler says. "It’s always changing. Because the weather is very complicated and our ability to forecast the weather using computers and other means is never perfect, we are always trying to refine the forecast and get as close as we can be.”

Daily weather forecasts are produced by a combination of computer modeling and humans that interpret the data. When it comes to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Wheeler says knowing your sources is important.

“Pay attention to what you are reading,” he says. “The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been around for hundreds of years, but there is so much information today. They go by a formula that was made up over 200 years ago. Something that has been around for 200 years, that may look good if you’re just reading it, but why should one believe it?”

The almanac and its competitors keep weather predictions just vague enough to apply to any area of the country, much like a horoscope that can be applied in any situation, he says.

“It’s fun reading,” Wheeler says. “There’s a lot of cultural nature in that magazine and games and fun articles… But it’s not a serious forecast. That’s how they sell a magazine by saying, 'Here’s your winter forecast.'”

Best guess

Seasons in the weather world do not follow the traditional calendar beginnings and ends and instead are broken up into three-month segments, with fall running September through November, winter from December through February, spring from March through May and summer taking place June through August.

Mark Ewens, a retired meteorologist formally trained through the military and National Weather Service, says while forecasting for winter can be done, it isn’t entirely exact.

“What weather forecasters and meteorologists and climate forecasters do is take all the computer models generated and take an average,” he says. “Basically when you see an extended forecast from the National Weather Service that says this winter and has a big red blob over the country, that is essentially the best guess. It’s a scientific guess, but it’s a statistical guess.”

Climatologists break their predictions down into three categories based on the average gained by computer models: above-average, below-average and neutral.

“The computer model bends the forecast in one direction or another — colder, warmer or normal,” Ewens says. “That’s how most professional weather agencies do their forecasting: computer models and a little human interaction.”

Trends also play a role in determining future forecasts. Ewens says the general trend across our region during the winter has been warmer, with a little less snow and a few more days with rain or freezing rain events. Significant weather phenomena — like El Nino, La Nina or polar vortexes — also impact what the weather will hold because oceanic temperatures can create weather patterns even far inland.

“At this stage of the game, my personal take is a normal overall winter pattern with a lot of variations,” Ewens said in the fall before winter started here.

Whether the weather predictions come from a 200-year-old tabloid sold in the checkout line or from scientific evidence and cutting-edge computer modeling, one thing is certain, according to Wheeler.

“If anybody really knows what the weather is going to be three to six months from now, they could sell that information to the energy companies and retire,” he says. “A forecast like that would be worth that much money.”


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Congress votes to allow distilleries on reservations

An 1834 law banning distilleries in Indian Country has been repealed by Congress and now awaits the signature of President Trump. However, it's not immediately clear if any distillery will open anytime soon on any reservation in South Dakota.

"I think any tribe will have to do a lot of soul-searching before doing that," said Remi Bald Eagle, director of intergovernmental affairs for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

The bipartisan legislation, HR 5317, titled "the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act," passed the Senate on Tuesday on a voice-vote after similarly passing in the House in September. The bill was presented to President Trump on Thursday. 

In a floor speech in September, bill-sponsor Washington State Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in southwestern Washington state approached her to repeal a law that passed when, in her words, "the federal government took a more paternalistic stance with Indian tribes."

"While many provisions of the larger statute have been repealed," Beutler went onto say, "somehow the distillery prohibition has remained."

While a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., said police officers with the agency had no records of enforcing this prohibition on manufacturing of ardent spirits on Indian lands, Beutler said the tribes from the Chehalis reservation had been told by federal law enforcement agents that they could not sell craft spirits distilled on the reservation at a restaurant in their Lucky Eagle casino.

Sponsors of the 19th century law, which was signed by President Andrew Jackson, claimed a desire to prevent bootleggers setting up on reservations and manufacturing whiskey or malt beverages free of taxing jurisdictions. Some others saw a paternalistic motivation in wanting to prevent the spread of alcoholism among indigenous populations. 

But Bald Eagle sees economic suppression.

"It was economic," he said. "They wanted to prevent tribal residents from setting up and profiting off alcohol and instead preferred them to purchase off-reservation products." 

The South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations said that liquor is legal to sell and manufacture on eight of the tribal nations in South Dakota. However, any distillery may face taxing regulations and rules from the South Dakota Department of Revenue.

Liquor is illegal to possess or sell on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Last year, the Nebraska Liquor Commission denied applications for liquor licenses to beer sellers in Whiteclay, Neb., just across the state line from Pine Ridge. The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council also has never passed regulations enabling the sale of liquor following a reservation-wide vote in 2013 to legalize alcohol.  

The decision for each tribe is different, Bald Eagle said.

"We made it legal because we kept seeing our relatives who suffer from addiction going to bars in border towns and facing prejudice and discrimination," he said. "We thought, if they're going to drink, we'd rather have our relatives closer to home."