CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The tiny and isolated southeast Wyoming town of Chugwater could finally get a gas station more than three years after the only one for miles around burned in a bizarre car wreck.
Those plans could become clear Friday, when town officials open bids to build a new gas station. After the owners of Horton's Corner decided not to rebuild, the town bought the vacant lot with a $400,000 federal grant.
The winning bidder will assume full ownership after five years in operation. Mayor LaDonna Sand counts herself among those looking forward to filling up locally again.
"We're really tired of storing gas in our garages," Sand said Tuesday.
Horton's Corner not only was the only place nearby to get gas and groceries, it was one of Chugwater's biggest employers. A dozen people worked there.
The saga began the night of Dec. 30, 2012, when a man drove off an Interstate 25 exit ramp and straight into Horton's Corner. Witnesses said he didn't appear to brake and when he got out, his face was covered in black stuff.
Local resident Jim Crawford said the man told him his face was smeared with shoe polish, for keeping him warm. The driver told a sheriff's deputy he crashed into the convenience store "because the hot dogs were cold, the chili was cold, the bathrooms were dirty and the girls needed to be warmed up," according to an affidavit.
But ever since, locals have had to buy gas in Wheatland, 25 miles north, or Cheyenne, 45 miles south. The 70-mile stretch of Interstate 25 without gas often causes even bigger problems for drivers whose phone apps show gas available.
"We probably have anywhere from one a day to three a day that stop for gas," Sand said. "We've had some people who have been on fumes. We've had some people who never even got into town. They've been stuck."
The crash was a significant budget blow to Chugwater, population 215 and named for the "chug" sound bison made when American Indians drove them over a cliff into a local creek.
The town lost at least $15,000 a year in gasoline and cigarette taxes. That's out of a town budget of $739,000 this year, according to Sand.
Only one building bid had been submitted as of Tuesday, but Sand expected more. The town will require the new business to be fully operational by November.
"They have to hustle and get going. We have to get fishing here," Sand said.
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