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Toni Milano / TONI R. MILANO, Elko Daily Free Press 

Nikki Shelley listens to opening statements at her July 26 trial in Elko District Court.

Year in Review: Home-birth mom gets 3-year prison sentence

ELKO – A woman convicted of abuse and neglect of her newborn was the most widely read crime and court story of the year.

Readership was high for 10 stories that involved crimes committed this year or court cases from prior years.

Nikki Shelley, 23, was found guilty by a jury July 29 of willful abuse, neglect or endangerment of a child by placing the child in a situation wherein the child may suffer physical pain or mental suffering, a category B felony. The verdict came less than three months after Shelley gave birth to a baby girl alone in her Spring Creek home.

Jurors sat through three days of testimony in Elko District Court that revealed Shelley concealed her pregnancy from her family except her friend Whitney Ellingson. On May 18, after giving birth in her parent’s shower, she wrapped the baby in towels, placed her in a white kitchen trash bag and then put her in the trunk of a car.

Upon arriving at Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital, Shelley told nurses she had suffered a miscarriage and had “passed some gooey stuff.”

The baby was found almost an hour later and flown to Primary Children’s Hospital for treatment.

Defense attorney Ben Gaumond told jurors that Shelley believed the baby was dead. The argument was refuted by District Attorney Mark Mills, who questioned Shelley’s decision not to call 911 for medical assistance for the newborn.

On Nov.17, Shelley was sentenced by Judge Al Kacin to serve 38 months in prison with credit for 88 days served. She is eligible for probation after serving 15 months of her sentence. The charge carried a penalty of up to six years in prison.

During the sentencing hearing, the state recommended two years in prison for Shelley, and eligibility for parole after 19 months. The defense asked for probation. Shelley did not speak to the court.

Other top crime and court stories of 2017:

— Ristina Slack, 41, pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory sexual seduction involving a 13-year-old boy and received a suspended sentence of 10 years in prison and was ordered to serve 30 days in jail.

— “We got justice for Stephanie,” said Lidia Cortes after the sentencing of Eduardo Estrada-Puentes on Jan. 13, more than five years after the death of her daughter Stephanie Gonzalez. Estrada-Puentes received life in prison without the possibility of parole on the charge of first-degree murder for killing his wife in 2011.

— A man was arrested for allegedly committing bestiality on a dog in August. Thomas Copland, 32, was charged with torturing or injury to an animal, a Category D felony, and pleaded not guilty in district court on Oct. 30. A trial date has not been set.

— Deborah Urrizaga, 52, was ordered to serve a year in jail and given a suspended sentence of five years in prison for embezzling more than $34,000 from the Elko Motorcycle Jamboree. Arrested in February, the former treasurer of the Jamboree and Spring Creek Middle School teacher pleaded guilty in September in a plea agreement that reduced the charge from 20 counts down to one.

— Aaron Hughes was paroled after four years in prison. The former Elko Police Department captain resigned in 2008 after evidence came to light that led to his conviction of incest. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2013 and was denied parole two years later.

— A Spring Creek woman was charged with child neglect and endangerment after being arrested for allegedly leaving her 14-month-old in the car while she gambled at Dottie’s Casino in March. Jamie L. Benson, 28, pleaded guilty in Elko District Court Nov. 13 and will be sentenced in January.

— An elementary schoolteacher in Wells was arrested in June on charges of sexual relations with four male high school students. Tennille Whitaker, 40, waived her preliminary hearing in Elko Justice Court in November and has yet to enter a plea in district court.

— An 18-year-old Elko High School student was arrested Oct. 18 for allegedly possessing weapons on school property and being in possession of an alcoholic beverage. Sammual R. Munk, was discovered by a school resource officer, who said he saw smoke coming from Munk’s pickup truck and found alcohol and several weapons including guns and knives during a search of the vehicle. His preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 29.

— In West Wendover, a 21-year-old man was arrested Nov. 26 in connection with the shooting death of his 15-year-old brother. Ivan Lopez remains in custody at the Elko County Jail and his case is pending in Elko Justice Court.

Marianne Kobak McKown / MARIANNE KOBAK McKOWN, Elko Daily Free Press  

Lidia Cortes, center, cries after the sentencing of Eduardo Estrada-Puentes on Jan. 13. She holds her granddaughter, D’srey Gonzalez Cortes, left, and her niece, Michelle Quintero.

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Students invite veterans to 'Message of a Mask' event

ELKO — Everybody has a different story and there are many ways to tell it. That’s the idea that Elko County School District educators, partnered with Great Basin College and the Veterans Resource Center, are conveying to students and veterans alike this January.

The Veterans and Students: Message of a Mask event will be held Jan. 3 and 17 at Carlin Combined Schools. The collaborative event invites veterans to participate in creating a clay mask with students as part of an effort to promote reflection, healing, patriotism and learning.

The idea began a few years ago when Adobe Middle School English teacher Joy Young came across an article in National Geographic entitled “The Art of Recovery.” The article addressed how U.S. veterans with invisible wounds, such as PTSD or brain injuries, were participating in a type of art geared toward promoting expression and healing.

The article discussed how veterans were constructing masks and readers were invited to “read our soldiers’ masks and the stories they tell.”

After viewing these masks, Young decided to incorporate this into her classroom by studying the Art of Recovery and was joined by other Adobe staff, including art teacher Pam Wells.

“We decided to study the Art of Recovery. We interpret soldiers’ masks, then create masks ourself to celebrate who we are as seventh-graders,” said Young.

This year Young and Wells collaborated to make a YouTube video teaching seventh-grade students how soldiers use art therapy, specifically masks, to work through some of their invisible injuries. Students interpret soldiers masks, blog about them and then learn to create their own paper masks. Young inspires her students by asking them, “Do you have a story to tell?”

The video helped bring the project to more classrooms this year and has now found its way to Carlin Combined Schools.

Christopher Noren, ceramic artist and art teacher in Carlin, decided to have his students study the Art of Recovery and is inviting veterans to join them in creating clay masks at the school. Veterans are invited to visit from 9:30 to 12:30 both days. Transportation will be available at the Great Basin College Veterans Resource Center, leaving at 9 a.m. and returning at 1 p.m.

Coordinators hope the event will foster patriotism in the younger community and be a learning experience for everyone involved.

Adobe Middle School teacher James Brawley is also a veteran. Brawley knows veterans with PTSD and the impact it can have on their lives. He feels the event is a positive way for veterans to tell their story and an opportunity for students to learn from them.

“I think they want to be helpful to other people,” said Brawley. “I thought this program was pretty awesome because it just gives them an outlet to talk about the feelings that they’re bottling up so that they’re not keeping them in.”

The Great Basin College Library will host an exhibit in February displaying masks for the entire month. Any participating veteran or student is invited to display their artwork in the exhibit.

The exhibit is being curated by Elko County School District Librarian Hadley Noren and will have an open house Febr. 13 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The event will be interactive, with speakers and students available to answer questions.

Veterans interested in transportation to the event in Carlin may contact GBC Veterans Resource Center at 753-2310. For more information on the event, contact Christopher Noren at Carlin Combined Schools, 754-6317.

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Gold prices end year on high note

Gold prices in 2017 gained the best annual advance in seven years, starting below $1,170 per ounce and closing Dec. 29 at $1,302.50 per ounce, Kitco reported Friday.

In 2010, prices were up 30.6 percent while the increase this year represents an advance of 12.67 percent.

Yet gold did not have steady growth in 2017. A rocky ride took levels up to about $1,300 several times over the year, including in April, June, August and September, when it hit its highest price at $1,357.

In December, prices dropped to $1,236 before climbing again to end on a high note. The monthly advance totaled 1.6 percent.

Experts cite geopolitical tensions and a weak U.S. dollar for supporting gold prices.

Staying at about $1,300 per ounce might be the goal of some for 2018, but critics say the high level will be difficult to maintain in the new year.

Newmont Mining Corp.’s stock price closed Friday at $37.52, after ranging from $31.42 to $39.63 throughout the year. Barrick Gold Corp. closed at $14.47, after ranging from $13.28 to $20.78.

Kinross Gold Corp. ended at $4.32 after a low of $3.10 and a high of $4.91.

McEwen Mining Inc. landed at $2.28 after trading from $1.82 to $4.43 in 2017.

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Elko leads state in percentage gain of online job postings

ELKO – Elko County continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Nevada, and currently is the top county in the state when it comes to the increase in online job postings since the beginning of 2017.

“Elko has seen the largest increase in ad volume over last year, with 680 more ads, totaling 5,800 ads year-to-date,” stated a report from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

Elko is in the middle of the pack, however, when it comes to job growth. Western Nevada’s tech-related construction and manufacturing growth put Storey County way ahead of other counties at 67 percent, generating 4,200 new jobs since Jan. 1.

Elko County’s unemployment rate of 3.5 percent in November was surpassed only by Eureka County at 2.9 percent.

Elko County is also near the statewide mark when it comes to average weekly wages of just over $900. Other counties range from $710 in Lincoln to a high of $1,810 in Eureka.