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Year in Review: Sherry Arnold and Bakken Boom

North Dakota’s McDonald’s jobs start at $11 per hour

By Jackson Bolstad

In our last issue, “Boom: Reporting on natural resources in Montana,” we debunked the claim that a fast-food gig can earn you $17 per hour in the Bakken. Still, there’s more money to be made back east than in a Montana university town. Vern Brekhus, manager of the local McDonald’s in Williston, North Dakota, said he is always looking to hire more people to deal with increased traffic from the recent oil boom. Employees start at $11 an hour, but can quickly see raises of up to four dollars per hour.

“If they’re a good quality employee, we’ll move them up pretty fast,” Brekhus said.

In Williston, many people take jobs at fast food restaurants or retail stores while waiting for interviews with oil companies. Cindy Sanford of Williston Job Services said her office has helped people from all 50 states, every Canadian province, and at least six different countries. In February, Jobs Services saw an average of 93 people per day.

They might be spending faster than they’re making, however: Rent for a basic one-bedroom apartment in Williston can be as high as $2,300 a month, compared to an average of $787 in Bozeman and $653 in Missoula.

Sherry Arnold Case Still Awaiting Justice

By Amy Sisk

Two Colorado men sit in eastern Montana jail cells awaiting trial for the murder of Sherry Arnold. The Sidney High School math teacher disappeared in January 2012 after she left her home for a morning jog.

Early on the morning of January 7, 2012, Lester Walters and Michael Spell allegedly spotted Arnold running alongside a field that was slated to become the site of a new housing subdivision for oil workers. According to an affidavit filed in Richland County District Court, Spell knocked Arnold down, choked her out, and pulled her body into a Ford Explorer. Authorities discovered Arnold’s remains two months later, buried in a field across the North Dakota border.

The two men face charges of deliberate homicide and attempted kidnap- ping. Their trials are set for November 2013 and January 2014. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

Arnold’s death sent shockwaves through Sidney, a small town located at the epicenter of the Bakken oil boom in Montana. Weapons flew off the shelves at gun stores and a record number of women enrolled in self-defense classes.

More than a year has passed since the day Arnold left her home for a jog. The community is still healing, but they are joined by supporters across the world – even some as far away as Spain – who have organized annual runs to honor her memory.