December 15, 2007

Rep. Phyllis Kahn Profile

Note: This story was written for the 3121 News Reporting and Writing class for the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It has been read by the class instructor.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn stood next to Rep. Ryan Winkler and spoke into the microphones of local media at the Twin Cities Red Cross Headquarters, where the Interstate-35W bridge disaster survivors gave a testimony before the Minnesota State Government Finance Division Committee.

Kahn has openly expressed her frustration with the slow moving action by the government after the I-35W bridge collapse.

"We spent a lot of time talking with survivors," Kahn said. "All this motion has gone to rebuilding the concrete and steel of the bridge but no one is worrying about the human cost."

Kahn, who holds a doctorate in biophysics, is currently serving as the finance division's Chairwoman in her 18th term as a member of the Minnesota Legislature.

Kahn's interest in politics started in 1970's when she got involved in a women's rights group at the University of Minnesota.

Since then, she has chief authored numerous bills, such as the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act to control smoking in public areas, along with a Genetic Privacy Protection Bill.

She is currently working with Winkler to create a compensation program for victims of disasters, such as the I-35W bridge collapse.

The program is modeled after the victims compensation program in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., with a slight Brooklyn accent, Kahn keeps her speech and answers short and to the point.

"Litigation is not the best way we can spend anybody's money," Kahn said, to a group of testifiers hoping for a plan that will create a program to decrease their medical debt and for some, restart a life after the loss of family members.

"She saves time and energy," said Brian Shekleton, the committee administrator for the finance division committee.

"She believes in and has tremendous passion for all issues important to her," Rep. John Ward said.

Winkler is known as the author of the I-35W victims’ compensation bill. But Kahn has been working behind the scenes to get the bill passed as quickly as possible.

"I'm very happy to be in the background and support him with what he wants to do," Kahn said. "Just making sure he has the support to do what he needs to do."

The idea for the victims’ compensation bill is not only to assist those who were victims of the I-35W bridge collapse, but also to create funds for emergencies in general.

"She is passionate about those people, but I think she's taking an even broader view of what happens in the future if this sort of thing happens again," Niedernhofer said. "She has been really frustrated with everyone moving slowly. It's like molasses and I know she's upset about that."

When the bridge collapsed, Kahn was in her backyard. When she turned on the television, she was in disbelief.

Although the bridge is in her district, Kahn decided that she was not going to make an appearance at the disaster site.

"I don't know if I'm supposed to be at those events, walking around looking sad, but I'm not going to go there because I'm not going to be polite if I go," Kahn said. "Because here they are all being nice to each other and all I'm going to say is something really nasty to Gov. Pawlenty. They don't need me around."

Kahn is now working to pass the victims compensation bill as quickly as she can with Rep. Winkler.

"You can't really replace people's lives with money," Kahn said. "You can't even help them in the healing process, but the point is that you don't have to make their lives worse by having them worry about things like money."

Kahn has led bills that have been controversial in the past, unlike the victims’ compensation bill.

"Phyllis does a lot of thing that people criticize her for," Niedernhofer said.

"She lives her life the way she wants it and if other people like that, that's fine," Shekleton said. "If they don't like it, she doesn't care, and I think that's how she operates as a legislator."

She has proposed a bill to give legal resident aliens the right to vote in local elections and also to lower the voting age to 12, which later on she increased to 16.

"She speaks her mind and you always know where she stand on issues," Rep. Ward said. "Sometimes, I think she's so busy thinking that she doesn’t hear others."

"She authors the bills that she thinks are important, that she doesn’t think other people won’t do," Shekleton said.

Even though some may view her as abrupt, Kahn has made relationships all across the different political parties.

"I believe she fosters a good working relationship with all legislators," said Ward. "She is honest and trustworthy."

"Phyllis is Phyllis, she's incredible," Shekleton said.

Kahn's good working relationships have led the 70-year-old legislator to organize hockey teams with other government officials during her free times.

"One thing good about being a legislator is that you do get a lot of free time," Kahn said.

With her family living all across the map, Kahn travels frequently. Staff members at her office joke that it's better to call Kahn and tell her that you're traveling than to call in sick.

Kahn plans on running for office again. "I like getting things done," Kahn said. "As long as you can accomplish things, it's satisfying."

Now that the Democrats are back in majority, she would like to leave on a high point when the state elects a Democratic governor.

"You just keep working," Kahn said. "You just keep working on it."

December 2, 2007

Missing refinery worker found on Sunday

The missing body of Nick Gunter, 29, refinery operator at the Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery in St. Paul Park has been found.

Gunter had been missing shortly after a fire that broke out in a tank on Saturday morning. Co-workers became worried when Gunter did not check in after the fire was contained.

The employees of Marathon, police, firefighters and other volunteers joined to search across the plant, looking for Gunter.

Gunter found was Sunday afternoon.

He has been working with Marathon since January of 2006.

The cause of Gunter's death is being investigated. The cause of the fire is also being investigated.

The story was covered by both the StarTribune and the Pioneer Press. The Pioneer Press gave a more in-depth coverage about the missing person case as well as the search efforts. The StarTribune covered the finding of Gunter.

Possible second man involved in biker's death

Donald Jackson, 23, was charged with second-degree murder for the September biker death of Mark Loesch.

Investigators were told by Jackson that while he and another man were selling drugs, they decided to rob Loesch who was riding his bike, according to the police.

The other man, 21, who was allegedly working with Jackson is already in Hennepin County jail on unrelated burglary charges.

The country attorney's office will review the case for possible charges against the inmate against alleged involvement in Loesch's death.

The inmate denied the accusations, according to the police.

The story was covered by both the StarTribune and the Pioneer Press. The Star Tribune gave a more detailed summary of the incident as well as a shortened story of Loesch's death in September. The Pioneer Press gave very little detail on the case.

November 18, 2007

Fire in North Mankato leaves two dead

An explosion was felt by neighbors of a mobile home in North Mankato, Minn., on Saturday.

At 1:25 a.m., neighbors rushed out of their homes to see a mobile home in flames.

The fire was put out when the firefighters and police arrived.

Two bodies were found but identification of the bodies will not come back until Monday according to a Ramsey County medical examiner’s office investigator.

The story was covered on Saturday by the Pioneer Press, which offered a very short summary of the incident. The StarTribune posted the story on Sunday with more details about who the possible victims might be, as well as stories from neighbors.

Kowalski's Fire

Firefighters put out a fire in Kowalski’s market in Woodbury on Sunday afternoon.

A water pipe burst and a fire started in the maintenance closet. The fire is still under investigation.

No one was hurt in the fire and officials have yet to determine the extend of the damage caused by the fire.

The store is temporarily closed and officials are hoping to reopen it by Tuesday.

The story was posted on the Pioneer Press but the StarTribune only included the incident as a possible connection to a power outage in Woodbury and parts of Afton.

November 11, 2007

Minneapolis Park Police officer dies

A Minneapolis Park Police officer who was injured more than a week ago when he was hit by a squad car, while chasing a suspect on foot, died on Friday.

Both the injured officer and the driving officer were chasing the same suspect.

Mark Bedard, 34, was the first Minneapolis park police officer to die while on duty since 1883.

On Nov. 1, police got a call about shots fired in a Minneapolis neighborhood near 27th Avenue North and Irving Avenue North.

When the officers arrived at the scene, they followed a car leaving the area.

When the officers just turned on their lights and sirens, the car being pursued crashed into a tree about four blocks away. The driver fled and ran between houses before crossing into an alley.

The suspect ran across the alley just before Bedard emerged from between two garages and was hit, according to the Pioneer Press article.

Bedard suffered from broken bones, a collapsed lung and torn aorta. During surgery his heart stopped twice, which led to a severe stroke.

The officer driving the squad car that hit Bedard was Patricia Grant. Grant is a 20-year member of the Minneapolis Police Department. She has taken an extended leave of absence, according to the Star Tribune.

The accident is under investigation.

Bedard joined the park police in 1997. His personnel file was full of recognition for his work in the department. He received a Medal of Commendation last year for securing a scene during a shootout in north Minneapolis.

Bedard helped solve a homicide in Mendota Heights as well as help reduce gang activity in Minneapolis parks.

He also talked a suicidal man off of the Franklin Avenue Bridge and a frequent speaker at schools.

Bedard leave his 2-year-old son Nic and wife Andi.

The story was covered in both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press. Each took a different approach in writing the article.

The Star Tribune had three different sections: Family, accomplishments and incident.
The Pioneer Press focused on Bedards life and how people remember him.

Shooting in Maplewood

A woman went to a car, got a gun, and fired into a crowd in Maplewood, after her group she was associating with was accused of being disrespectful on Friday morning, police said. A bystander was struck by the shot.

Officers were called in to the parking lot of a bar & night club on Rice Street around 2 a.m. Friday on a report about a shooting.

The shot fired into the crowd shot a woman in the leg. She victim was taken to a hospital. The injury is not life-threatening, Maplewood police Lt. Mike Shortreed said.

The shooter was arrested at the scene.

The story was covered on the Pioneer Press but not on the StarTribune.

November 4, 2007

Priest in custody for alleged sexual abuse

A prominent Jesuit priest was taken into custody on Friday by Federal agents on possible charges that the priest may have had sex with a minor seven years ago.

The priest was first taken into custody by Wisconsin authorities on Thursday. Officials said that the priest failed to keep his sex-offender registry updated and then later turned over to immigrations and customs agents for other possible charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie B. Ruder told U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys that the priest was a flight risk and a danger to the community. Judge Keys then ordered the priest to be held in federal custody.

There are a number of lawsuits that are pending that are charging the priest of having sexually abused boys for years.

The story was covered in the Pioneer Press but not the Star Tribune.

Two days after a double homocide

Minneapolis police are investigating another fatal shooting, two days after a double homicide in North Minneapolis.

Police responded to a phone call about shots fired around 5 p.m. on Friday. When they arrived at the scene, they found a man, later identified as Andrew Nakao, dead with a gunshot wound to his chest.

After the police found the body, another man arrived at North Memorial Medical Center with a gunshot would.

Police say the wounded man is connected to the death of Nakao, but have not said how.

The story was covered similarly in both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.

October 28, 2007

The possibility of a trip to the Arctic by Governor Pawlenty

Governor Tim Pawlenty may go on a mission to the Arctic to see the melting ice caps.

Will Steger, an explorer, will be off to the northernmost tip of the Canadian Arctic this coming spring.

If all goes well, Gov. Pawlenty and Steger are close to finalizing the plan for the two to rendezvous for a few days in May.

With Gov. Pawlenty as the head of the National Governors Association, his involvement with the energy and environmental issues could help influence other political leaders to join the fight against global warming.

The story was covered in the Star Tribune but not the Pioneer Press. This is an interesting story because as the Star Tribune mentions in its story, Gov. Pawlenty is, “an oft-mentioned vice presidential candidate,? and, “such a trip could further boost his national standing.?

Death of a woman in Savage may be linked to online job ad

A 24-year-old woman was found dead in the trunk of her car after she went to answer a job posting that she found on craigslist.org.

Katherine Ann Olson was a graduate of Park High School in Cottage Grove in 2002 and St. Olaf College in 2006.

Police have a 19-year-old man in custody and believe that he may be connected to Olson’s death. Charges have not yet been filed.

Olson had left her home at 8 a.m. on Thursday to answer an ad found on craigslist.org. A resident told a Savage Public Works employee about a purse found in a garbage can at Pacer Park.

The police called Olson’s home and left a message. The call was answered when Olson’s roommate returned the call and told officials that Olson had been missing since the previous day.

The case went from a missing property to missing person and brought forth an extensive search of the park area where the purse was found.

Olson’s car was spotted in the parking lot of Rudy Kraemer Nature Preserve by a pilot of a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter.

The police, after identifying the car as Olson’s searched it and found her body in the trunk.

The story was covered in both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune. The Star Tribune separated the story into two parts; investigation and case was organized into one section and craigslist.org and the Olson’s previous job experiences as another section.

October 21, 2007

Suicidal 15-year-old fires about 100 shots

A ninth-grade boy fired about 100 shots Saturday morning inside his home in an upscale Hudson, Wis., neighborhood. Both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press covered the story. The Star Tribune posted a short summary of the incident while the Pioneer Press included quotes from officers and summary comments from neighbors.

The 15-year-old called his friends and talked to them about how he was tired of life after his parents left to see a movie.

The boy’s friends called the police when they heard shots in the background.

When the police arrived, they evacuated neighboring homes and took shelter. The standoff lasted for more than three hours while the police reached the boy through his friends.

The police never returned fire. “It became fairly apparent that what he was doing was not directing fire at officers,? said St. Croix County Sheriff Dennis Hillstead.

After the police persuaded him to surrender around noon, paramedics rushed him to Hudson Hospital. He was later transferred to the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wis., for a 72-hour emergency hold for mental evaluation.

Neighbors described the boy as a “good kid,? and said the incident is shocking and uncharacteristic.

No one was hurt during the incident other that cuts on the boy’s hands and feet. The interior of the home and surrounding houses were damaged.

Fighting for their grandson

The Pioneer Press reported yesterday of two grandparents’ fight to gain custody of their grandson.

Steve and Donna LaDuke lost their daughter, Felicia LaDuke, two years ago when Jeffrey White strangled, then repeatedly ran over her body with a rented car.

Felicia LaDuke and Jeffrey White were both enlisted in the U.S. Army and met while stationed in Hawaii. The two dated in 2003 but split up a few months later.

Felicia shortly after the breakup gave birth to Elijah who was found after a paternity test to be the child of Jeffrey White.

Felicia was deployed to Iraq for seven months in 2004 and after returning from the war, she filed court documents requesting child support from White.

A month after White was court-ordered to pay child support, he asked Felicia to go for a ride. During the ride, White attacked and killed Felicia.

After White was sentenced to life in prison, he filed an appeal. The appeal filed slowed down Steve and Donna LaDuke’s efforts to adopt their grandson Elijah, who is in the foster care system.

Donna LaDuke has been working on changing policies in domestic violence. The LaDukes believe the court systems make it hard for families of victims of domestic violence to practice their rights.

The story was not founded on the Star Tribune website.

October 14, 2007

13-year-old testifies

A 13-year-old girl testifies in a car crash case that killed her father brother.

Jassmine Adams was hurt badly in a crash that happened June 2006. She was in the car with her father, brother, grandfather, and cousin.

Jassmine was sleeping in her family’s Oldsmobile Ciera when a car going 80 to 90 mph hit the rear of the car.

The driver of the Toyota Camry that hit Adam’s family car is on trial for criminal vehicular homicide and injury in the deaths of Jassmine’s father and brother.

Speaking through an interpreter, the driver of the Toyota said that he tried to brake when he was taking the off-ramp from I-94 to Snelling Avenue.

An accident reconstruction expert estimated that the Toyota was going about 80 to 90 mph when it hit Adams’ car.

Police mechanics testified that the Camry’s brakes worked fine during the inspection after the crash.

The driver of the Toyota said that he was sorry about the crash.

The accident reconstruction expert theorized that the driver of the Toyota might have thought he was hitting the brake pedal when he was pressing the accelerator.

The story was posted on the Pioneer Press website on Oct. 9, 2007. Coverage of the story was not found on the Star Tribune website.

Lakeville mother charged with two counts of manslaughter

A Lakeville mother is charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter in Dakota Country District Court. The story was covered in both the Pioneer Press and twice in the Star Tribune.

The Lakeville mother, Katherine Bodem was charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter according to charges filed against her on Tuesday.

One count is for negligence and another for causing the death of a child through neglect or endangerment.

On Aug. 25, police responded to a 911 call at Bodem’s home. When the police arrived, two women were trying to revive Cecilia, Bodem’s11-month-old daughter.

Bodem told police that she had been online while her 3-year-old son and the 11-month-old daughter were in the bathtub filled with water.

After police used a search warrant to examine her computer, they found out that Bodem had been online for 19 minutes.

Bodem’s 10-year-old daughter told police that her 3-year-old brother had come downstairs after she heard Cecilia cry, saying “Mom… Cece,? according to police report.

Bodem has been released from jail Tuesday on a $20,000 conditional bail.

The Pioneer Press article posted Oct. 10, gave an overview of the incident and the charges. It also included detailed information from the police report and statements from Bodem’s mother.

The first Star Tribune article posted on Oct. 10, gave a detailed description of the incident as well as information about similar cases that occurred the latest manslaughter charges against parents. The second Star Tribune article posted on the same day, a few hours later, has quotes and stories from Bodem’s mother, neighbors, and friends.