April 23, 2009

Volunteers needed to remove sandbags

The Salvation Army called all volunteers to the neighboorhoods recently flooded by the Red River Thursday to help remove sandbags.

Residents of Fargo and Moorhead need help removing about a million sandbags, said the Star Tribune.

Annette Bauer, the charity's spokeswoman, told the Star Tribune that help is needed.

"The outlook for a swell of volunteers is bleak," she said.

Volunteers need to be available on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, be able to lift 25 pounds continually and be willing to get dirty. Volunteers should report to the old Wal-Mart in Dilworth, Minn.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is also asking volunteers to report to the area on April 25 and May 2, said the Pioneer Press.

Hamline vandalized by graffiti

Vandalism was discovered Wednesday morning on the campus of Hamline University in St. Paul.

The graffiti, which was found mainly Admissions House and the Theta Chi fraternity house, included spray-painted homophobic slurs and sexually graphic images, said the Star Tribune.

Although most of the graffiti has been cleaned up, the vandalism came at the end of Hamline's Rainbow Week, which celebrates the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, said the Pioneer Press.

President Linda Hanson notified the students, faculty and other associate with school in a letter that assured school officials and police would "pursue every avenue to discover the perpetrators of this vandalism."

In addition to the two buildings, shrubbery, trees and sidewalks on campus were also vandalized.

Kale Anderson, 20, a junior who lives in the Theta Chi fraternity, told the Star Tribune he believes the vandalism was not brought on by intolerance but because of "childishness."

"It must have been drunk people," he said, "or just people screwing around."

April 17, 2009

Coleman appeals Senate decision

After judges ruled unanimously Monday that Al Franken is the winner of the U.S. Senate seat, Norm Coleman is beginning his appeal.

Even though he knows many Minnesotans are tired of hearing about the election, he believes "the law is on our side," said the Star Tribune.

His argument centers around how absentee ballots were counted. He said that in some places, such as Minneapolis, ballots were counted even though there were flaws such as missing signatures or unregistered witnesses. In other places, such as Carver County, ballots with these mistakes were thrown out.

However, the three-judge panel ruled that Franken had won by 312 votes.

According to an opinion article by the
Pioneer Press
, the judges agreed with Coleman that there were variations in the treatment of absentee ballots. However, the judges also agreed with Franken by saying that these variations did not violate the voter's constitutional right to equal protection under law.

If Coleman appeals to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the question would be "what tolerance for error is acceptable."

Burnsville bartender breaks cocktail record

A Burnsville bartender broke the record for the most cocktails made in one hour Thursday at the Shout House, a dueling piano bar in downtown Minneapolis.

Chris Raph, 31, made 662 cocktails, easily breaking the current world record of 389 cocktails held by a bartender in Munich, Germany, said the Star Tribune.

A crowd of more than 300 people, which included an official judge from the Guinness World Records, gathered to watch the attempt, saidCity Pages.

The record-breaking 290th drink was auctioned for $225 and the 662nd drink was auctioned for $175. The proceeds went to charity.

According to the Guinness rules, each drink must be different otherwise the bartender may get away with just making several hundred screwdrivers.

But Raph said he kept it simple and had three bar-backs working to clear the drinks and clean the glasses.

Behind the bar, Raph had 110 bottles of vodka and tequilla, and gallons of fruit juice.

It took months for Raph to prepare for the event. After he learned about the record last summer, he contacted Guinness and then created a list of 784 drinks to work off of.

April 11, 2009

President of Liberia visits the U

President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spoke to a sold-out crowd at the University of Minnesota on Friday.

Sirleaf is Liberia's first female president. She visited Minnesota as a part of a national tour to promote her memoir, said the
Star Tribune

The "iron lady" also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for public service, said the Minnesota Daily.

During her lecture, she talked about permanent residency and the possibility of dual citizenship for Liberians living in the U.S.

Many of those living here were granted special immigration status in order to flee from the country's long civil war.

Minnesota has the largest Liberian population in the country with 20,000 to 30,000 Liberians living in mainly Brooklyn Park or Brooklyn Center.

The lecture was a part of the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

April 9, 2009

Father of missing St. Thomas student asks for help

The father of missing St. Thomas freshman Dan Zamlen asked for the public's help to find his son, who has been missing since early Sunday morning.

Dale Zamlen of Eveleth, Minn., spoke at a press conference Wednesday at University of St. Thomas.

More than 500 students have volunteered to search for Zamlen on Monday, who is believed to have gone missing on the bluffs areas of S. Mississippi River Blvd. and St. Clair Avenue.

If found, Zamlen, who is a Type I diabetes, would likely to be in a diabetic coma.

St. Paul Police have asked residents in the area to search their garages, sheds and homes in case the boy tried to seek shelter, said the
Star Tribune.

St. Thomas officials requested that amateur searches stay away from the river bluffs, said the Minnesota Daily.

Zamlen called friends around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday to ask for help before his phone cut out.

He is 6-feet-1 and 175 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a dark blue zip-up fleece, light blue T-shirt, blue jeans and brown Dr. Martens shoes. He was carrying a black iPhone and a blue hand-held insulin meter.

April 2, 2009

Husband and wife injured after robbery

A husband and wife were injured after being shot by a robber Thursday in their St. Paul home.

The robber knocked on the front door and forced his way in when the door was answered.

Police received a 911 call coming from the home in the 400 block of Blair Avenue, said the Pioneer Press.

Both victims were taken to Regions Hospital and are have noncritical conditions.

Police also said that the couple recognized the shooter, but there are no suspects in custody and the police have not released descriptions, said the Star Tribune.

The couple are in their 40s and have five children, who range in age from 2 to 15. None of them were home at the time of the shooting.

Body of St. Cloud professor found in Utah's Canyonlands

The National Park Service announced Thursday that the body of a St. Cloud State University biology professor was found March 19 in Utah's Canyonlands National Park.

Jerry Wolff, 65, was discovered by another hiker near a canyon in the park's Needle District, reported

After the body was found, it was sent to the Utah Medical Examiner's Office where Wolff was identified using dental records, said the Star Tribune.

Wolff had been missing for 10 months before his body was found.

Before he entered the park in mid-May, he sent a note to his family and friends saying, "I am gone in a remote wilderness where I can return my body and soul to nature. There is no reason for anyone to look for me, just leave me where I am."

It appears that Wolff died from a single gunshot to the head.

Wolff joined the St. Cloud university faculty in 2006 as an internationally known expert on animal behavior. He had also worked for the National Science Foundation.

Shawn Thomas, who had lived with Wolff before he left for Utah, said that he is glad to have closure.

March 28, 2009

Juror in Craigslist murder trial dismissed

A juror was dismissed Friday from the Craigslist murder case after the defense attorney pointed an inoperative gun at the jurors in a demonstration.

The juror was disturbed by the actions of the defense attorney, Alan Margoles, and asked Scott County District Judge Mary Theisen to be excused, said the Star Tribune.

Margoles represents Micheal Anderson, 20, the man prosecutors say murdered Katherine Ann Olson, 24, by luring her to his home with a false babysitting advertisement on Craigslist in October 2007.

When Margoles began to question the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension firearms expert Kurt Moline about a handgun that was similar to the one used by Anderson, Margoles pointed it in the general direction of the jury.

This action was meant to show jurors how easily the trigger could have been pulled and reinforce the belief that that Anderson killed Olson accidentally and only meant to bring Olson to his home for sexual reasons.

Moline said, however, that the handgun could not be fired unless the shooter cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger. The gun could accidentally fire only if it was already cocked, said the Pioneer Press.

Also on Friday, a former cellmate of Anderson's said that the defendant often bragged of his notoriety as the "Craigslist murderer" while in the Scott County Jail.

Two dead and 50 injured from Red River Flooding

The deaths of two people were reported to the North Dakota Health Department Saturday. The cause of death was cardiac-related due to flood prevention exertion.

The department also reported 50 other injuries related to the flooding of the Red River. They included small injuries such as wrist and ankle stress to serious car accidents, according to an article in the Pioneer Press.

The residents of Fargo and Moorhead received good news Saturday, however, when the National Weather Service said the Red River appears to be temporarily cresting at a lower level than predicted, said the Star Tribune.

The river's all-time high reached 40.82 feet after midnight Saturday but has decreased to 40.65 feet by 12:15 p.m.

Forecasters say that the reason for the decrease is the cold weather. The cold temperatures froze the water in the river, which has significantly slowed its rise. However, the worst may not be over with a winter storm predicted early next week to bring snow and wind gusts.

President Obama assured those affected by the flooding in his weekly radio and Internet address that he will keep watch on the Midwest floods.

"Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond — and respond urgently," the president said.

"I will continue to monitor the situation carefully," he pledged. "We will do what must be done to help."

Already the region has received help from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

March 10, 2009

Franken will wrap up case Wednesday

The end of the Senate election trial is in sight after Al Franken's lawyers announced that they plan to rest their case Wednesday.

Final witnesses were heard in court Tuesday, signaling an earlier than expected conclusion of the race for the U.S. Senate seat, reported the Star Tribune.

"We feel good about how our case went, feel good about how we came in leading, and we think we have put into evidence a strong case," lead lawyer Marc Elias told the Star Tribune Tuesday. "We're not there yet ... but we're ending what has been a very long postelection process."

Norm Coleman, who challenged the election recount after Franken was ahead by 225 votes, took more than five weeks to present his side to judges while Franken took seven days if the case wraps up Wednesday.

After Franken is done presenting his case, a small group of voters separate from Coleman or Franken's cases will have the opportunity to argue over the absentee ballots that were rejected. Once that is done, Coleman and Franken will have a chance for rebuttals before closing arguements.

In order to win the case, Coleman must find enough votes from a pool of 12,000 rejected absentee ballots to overturn the current vote count, reported the Pioneer Press.

Substitute teacher fired for being drunk during class

A St. Paul substitute teacher was escorted home from his 4th grade classroom after he apparently had been drinking from a flask of vodka.

Scott Tryggeseth, principal of Roosevelt Elementary West Side School of Excellence, called police around 1 p.m. after a teacher reported the substitute teacher acting suspiciously, reported the Star Tribune.

Police found a pint of Phillips vodka in the man's bag. He was escorted home after blowing a 0.18 on a Breathalyzer test, reported the Pioneer Press.

The man has not been identified but has worked sporadically for St. Paul Public Schools since September 2005.

Tryggeseth assured parents that the man would not work for the district ever again in a letter sent home with students Tuesday.

Sgt. Crum told the Pioneer Press he was unsure if any crime was committee and plans to review the situation with the city attorney's office.

He also said there were conflicting reports on how much students understood the situation. Crum said to the Pioneer Press that the students may have been talking about it but Sharon Freeman, executive director of elementary education for the district, said there was no evidence of this.

The district's policy prohibits the use and/or possession of alcohol on school grounds but does not specify disciplinary measures.

March 8, 2009

Teenager safe after being kidnapped

An Amber Alert that was issued around midnight Sunday for a 17-year-old teenager was canceled after the victim called police shortly after 1 a.m.

Amy Henning of Elbow Lake, Minn., was kidnapped at gunpoint by her stepfather, David Sabby, on Saturday at the West Ridge Mall in Fergus Falls, Minn., reported the Star Tribune.

Henning has a restraining order against Sabby, 46, of Elbow Lake, Minn.

Henning and her stepbrother, who is not biologically related to Sabby, were going to see a movie around 7:30 p.m. when Sabby approached them in the parking lot with a gun. Sabby bound the stepbrother with duct tape and put him in the car Henning drove to the theater. Sabby then fled with Henning outside of the city limits, said Fergus Falls police.

The stepbrother freed himself after 30 minutes and called police.

Sabby released Henning on Sunday and she fled in Sabby's truck to a gas station where she called police.

Sabby was arrested by police when he approached a home near Swan Lake in Otter Tail County looking for a phone.

He is currently being held in Otter Tail County Jail. Police are considering charging him with felony kidnapping, felony possession of a firearm and second-degree assault, reported the Pioneer Press.

Police still do not know the motive for the kidnapping. They also say that Henning was physically uninjured.

Body found in Ham Lake golf course

Groundskeepers at a Ham Lake golf course found a body frozen in a pond Friday afternoon.

Only the man's face could be seen above the ice on the 16th hole at Majestic Oaks Golf Course, reported the Star Tribune. The rest of his body was frozen beneath 2 feet of water.

Investigators worked overnight to remove the body, Fox News. They first cut a refrigerator-sized chunk of ice out of the pond and then used a steamer from the Anoka County Highway Department.

Anoka authorities have not identified the man yet, reported the Star Tribune in a follow-up article.

A wallet was found on the man, but authorities will not release the man's identity until the autopsy.

The man's body was preserved well but it will take up to two days for the body to thaw before an autopsy can be conducted.

Investigators believe foul play is involved and that the body was in the area before the November freeze.

February 28, 2009

First Bhutan Day celebrated in St. Paul

A celebration for Bhutanese refugees is planned for the first time on Saturday in St. Paul.

Bhutanese families will gather for the event in order to celebrate their culture and learn about available refugee programs in Minnesota, reported MPR.

Those interested will also be able to attend workshops on topics such as job hunting to how to survive a harsh Minnesota winter.

According to an Associated Press article in the Star Tribune, the first refugees arrived in Minnesota last spring.

Currently, there are only 150 refugees living in the Twin Cities, with 7,000 to 8,000 scattered around the rest of the U.S., reported MPR in another article.

There are expected to be a total of 60,000 Bhutanese refugees in the U.S. in the next five years.

Bhutan is a small country between China and India with about 700,000 residents. The refugees are ethnic Napalese who have been persecuted by the Bhutanese government.

February 27, 2009

Downtown Austin fire set deliberately

Investigators announced Friday that the fire that destroyed several businesses in downtown Austin was intentionally set.

Austin Fire Chief Dan Wilson offered a $2,500 reward for anyone with information about who started the Jan. 15 fire, according to an Associated Press article in the Star Tribune

The fire began in the Mi Tierra Clothing Store on the 400 block of Main Street. It eventually damaged six businesses, reported KAAL News.

The damage is estimated at more than one million dollars. It took firefighters more than five hours in order to put out the fire.

Police told KAAL News that the owner of Mi Tiena Clothing smelled smoke inside of the store. Two of the owner's family members were also inside the store when the fire started.

Nearby, a new business, Steve's Pizza, opened on Main Street. Its owner, Steve Davis, installed a new sprinkler system in the building in order to prevent fire damage.

"When you look out the front window you see the building in ruins over there you wouldn't want anything like that to happen,” he told KAAL News.

February 19, 2009

Rep. Ellison visits Gaza Strip

Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Brian Baird of Washington traveled to the Gaza Strip Thursday to view the damage caused by the three weeks of fighting in the area.

His visit is the one of the first made by a high-level U.S. official for more than three years, according to a Star Tribune article.

Ellison met with Gaza civilians and relief workers Thursday in towns destroyed by recent Hamas' rocket attacks.

Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, the spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate said the lawmakers would also meet with U.N. officials, reported the
Pioneer Press.

No plans have been made to meet with Hamas officials.

Ellison told CNN International that the destruction from Israel's recent military operation in Gaza was beyond description.

""I've always believed we need to resolve this thing by diplomacy," said Ellison to the Star Tribune. "I'm even more convinced of that now."

The U.S. State Department warned the lawmakers before they left about the danger in the area and the Obama administration did not give them an official sanction.

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, has recently made several trips to the Middle East.

St. Thomas approves biggest construction project in school history

The University of St. Thomas approved constructions plans Thursday for a $52 million athletic and recreation complex and a $66 million student center.

The two new buildings on the university's St. Paul campus is the largest construction project in the school's history, according to a
Pioneer Press

The athletic complex will be built east of the football stadium on Summit and Cretin avenues. The athletic arena, field house and theater occupy the space currently but will be demolished when construction begins in May.

The student center will be connected to the athletic complex and will be located south of the football field. A parking lot and swimming pool occupy the space currently but will also be demolished.

The athletic complex is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010 and the student center is scheduled to open in 2012.

Mark Dienhart, the university's executive vice president and chief operating officer, told the Star Tribune that the current athletic facility was built in 1939 and the current student center was built for a student body of 2,000.

There are now nearly 7,500 students on the St. Paul campus.

"These type of facilities, which are very important to students, just didn't match up to the type of schools they were considering when they were looking at St. Thomas," Dienhart said to the Star Tribune. "So we lost some students. We're trying to ensure the viability of the institution."

February 15, 2009

St. Louis Park man died from smoke inhalation

A St. Louis Park man died Friday after being found by firefighters inside of his burning house.

The Hennepin County medical examiner identified the man as Thomas Costello Holden, 56, according to an Associate Press article printed in the Pioneer Press.

The medical examiner said that Holden died from smoke inhalation but the manner of death is still unknown.

Fire officials received a call from a neighbor around 1 p.m., who reported smoke and flames coming from the structure, said said St. Louis Park spokesman Jamie Zwilling to the Star Tribune.

Holden was found in the first-floor bedroom of his house on the 4100 block of Alabama Avenue, reported the Star Tribune.

Holden was pronounced dead on the scene.

Fire officials believe the fire started in the back of the house near the kitchen but the official cause is still unknown.

The house did not appear to have working smoke detectors.

Rise in college tuition sparks protests

College students from Winona State University and Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical protested Friday against cuts to higher education funding.

Students gathered in an outside common area at WSU around a smashed car, according to an article from the Winona Daily News.

The car represented the shape of the economy and its negative effects on students. The protesters also led students and staff in chants of "Stop the crash!" and other phrases.

Caitlin Stene, acting president of the WSU Student Senate told the Winona Daily News that she was afraid what her children will have to pay for higher education.

Tuition at WSU has increased 85 percent since 2001, from $3,110 to $5,768 per year, reported MPR.

After graduation, the average debt of a Minnesota college student is $24,000, according to the Project on Student Debt.

Governor Tim Pawlenty has proposed a $146 million cut to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which includes 32 higher education institutions within the state of Minnesota.

WSU President Judith Ramaley supported the students protests and criticized the state cuts.

The student groups that organize the rally and others in the state plan to lobby lawmakers Wednesday in St. Paul.

February 7, 2009

Pioneer Press newsroom faces consequences of economy

Union workers at the St. Paul Pioneer Press accepted a week-long unpaid furlough Friday.

The request was made by the newspaper's Denver-based owner MediaNews Group because of debt problems caused by the advertising meltdown, according to a MinnPost article.

The Newspaper Guild workers voted on a provision that would require 307 employees to take five unpaid days off between Feb. 9 and April 30. Those affected include newsroom, advertising, circulation, business and maintenance workers.

MediaNews Group hopes this measure will prolong the need for lay-offs, but Minnesota Public Radio reports that the paper's management has not promised the furlough will eliminate that possibility.

Management is concerned that the furlough will affect the quality of news at the paper since the staff will be so short-handed. Freelancers are not allowed to replace staffers and 70 percent of the furloughs must happen by March 31, according to MinnPost.

In addition to the furlough, the newspaper laid off four newsroom employees Friday, according to another MinnPost article.

Thom Fladung, an editor, sent a memo in response to the layoffs. He announced the merging of the news and sports copy desks and gave advice to his fellow journalists.

"What can we all be doing, right here and right now, to help? Journalism. Break exclusive news online and in print. Tell stories that can't be found anywhere else. Find photos that jump off the page and videos that must be watched. Design dynamic illustrations and pages. Write headlines that demand to be read," he said.

February 5, 2009

Groping suspect admits charges are true

A Minneapolis man confessed Thursday to sexually assaulting 10 University of Minnesota female students.

Police charged Phillip W. Acosta, 41, with two counts of fifth-degree criminal sexual assault after being arrested Tuesday in connection to two earlier incidents.

According to the Minnesota Daily, two University Police Officers arrested Costa near 19th Avenue South and First Street.

The officers found Acosta fleeing on foot after assaulting a woman near McNamara Alumni Center around 8:30 p.m. After arresting Acosta, another woman reported an assault that occurred earlier in the evening near Moos Towers.

University Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner announced Wednesday in a press conference that both women identified Acosta as the man who had groped them.

Acosta will remain in the Hennepin County jail until all charges are reported, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

According to the Star Tribune, all of the assaults occurred on or near the university's Minneapolis campus and were first reported on Dec. 9.

University and Minneapolis police believe Acosta assaulted all of the women by coming up to them from behind, either by bicycle or on foot, and grabbing their genital area.

February 2, 2009

Target cuts jobs at its Twin Cities headquarters

Target Corp. cut 600 employees and 400 open positions from its downtown work force Tuesday in order to remain afloat during the economic recession. According to the Downtown Journal, these cuts represent 9 percent of the company's corporate Twin Cities employees.

The decision came after Target's sales in December were less than expected for the sixth straight month, reported the Pioneer Press.

Those affected by the lay-off will receive pay and benefits through April 1. After this date, packages, which will include 12 months of health care, will be sent based on years employed.

As companies continue to make cuts, more Minnesotans realize jobs here are no safer than anywhere else. In 2008 the state's unemployment rate rose to 6.9 percent - a 25-year high - which is comparable to the nation's unemployment rate of 7.2, according to the United States Department of Labor.

Mayor R.T. Rybak offered his condolences to the laid-off workers and offered the Minnesota Dislocated Worker Program as a career counseling resource, reported the Downtown Journal.

"Members of the talented Target team make contributions to the city everyday, and now is the time for the rest of the community to give these workers the support they need in their career transitions. We will work with our local employers to do all we can to keep these talented workers in this community."

Target also closed a distribution center in Little Rock, Ark. that employed 500 people.

Bald eagle population prospering in southern Minnesota

The bald eagle population is exponentially increasing in southern Minnesota, according to an Associated Press article published in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the species from the endangered species list in 2007 after being listed for almost 40 years under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. Their near extinction was caused by DDT and lead poisoning, illegal shooting and loss of habitat.

The state's Department of Natural Resources now reports 872 bald eagle nests, which is a 670 percent increase from the number of nests recorded in 1973. Residents of the Fairmont area have also reported seeing the birds.

DNR nongame wildlife specialist Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer said to the Associated Press that bald eagles only need a few things in order to thrive: tree cover, an adequate food supply and some distance from other nesting pairs.