May 4, 2008

New 35W bridge to open in September

Construction on the new 35W bridge is on pace to be completed in September instead of December as originally planned, the Star Tribune reported Sunday.

Flatiron Construction announced Saturday that the bridge is already 65 percent complete and that the horizontal concrete pieces of the bridge could start to be put together as early as May 14. If the bridge opens in September, they will receive $20 million in federal funds as a reward for being ahead of schedule.

The bridge is estimated to cost $234 million. The entire project, including removal of the old bridge, will cost about $400 million.

The completion date will be within just a few days of the Republican Nation Convention to be held in St. Paul Sept. 1-4, but Kevin Gutknecht, an official with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said that the project would not be rushed to be done by the beginning of the convention.

"The priority on this project is safety and quality," Gutknecht said.

The old Interstate 35W bridge collapsed last August, killing 13 people.

May 1, 2008

Strib: Up to 10 years for millionaire tax dodger

A federal jury in Minneapolis took only two hours Wednesday to find Robert Beale, the former millionaire CEO of Maple Grove-based Comtrol Corp., guilty on seven counts of tax evasion, conspiracy and fleeing authorities, the Star Tribune reported.

The eight-day trial in U.S. District Court featured more than 100 exhibits.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Rank and Michael Cheever argued that Beale tried to hide more than $5 million in income for which he should have paid $1.6 million in taxes.

Beale was originally charged in 2006 but fled court. He was captured 14 months later in Florida.

Beale acted as his own lawyer, repeatedly arguing the meaning of the U.S. Constitution and the enforcement of the tax code.

Beale's fiance, Mun Suk Kim, cried when the verdict was read and declined to comment.

April 20, 2008

Two high-ranking officers let go

Two high-ranking Minneapolis police officers were relieved of duty pending the results of a federal investigation, the Star Tribune reported.

Neither Lt. Lee Edwards, who is currently suing the police department because of alleged racial discrimination, nor officer Mike Roberts could be reached for comment.

Roberts allegedly received $200 for giving out information, sources close to the investigation said. It is unclear how Edwards is involved.

The Star Tribune reported that the FBI investigation, which began last summer, is "very serious."

Edwards was removed from his unit last summer after he allegedly drove a squad car when he had been drinking and made inappropriate comments to colleagues. Sources say that the FBI investigation may have played a role in the removal.

The investigation involves an incident last August when Roberts was given at total of $200 on two seperate occasions for assissting a robbery victim. Police guidlines dictate that officers should not accept money offered to them for their help.

Two U professors accused of "double-dipping"

Georgia Tech has accused two University of Minnesota professors of "double-dipping" on salaries and expense payments, the Star Tribune reported.

The U recruited Profs. Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko away from Georgia Tech last fall. They are national leaders in the "health informatics" field, the discipline of analyzing computer-generated health data.

Georgia Tech contends that it renewed Sainfort's contract in October and Jacko's in January.

The professors are eager to have the situation reviewed by the Georgia attorney general and the U hopes that the situation is just an employment dispute.

"The faculty members are suspected of dual employment and double billing their time to [Georgia Tech], falsifying travel reimbursement documents and other potentially illegal actions,'' Georgia Tech said in an official statement made Wednesday. "To date, the investigation has revealed approximately $100,000 in questionable activity.''

The couple have a reputation for winning large research grants. The pair, husband and wife, will have a combined salary of more than $500,000 at the U.

Jacko was named director of the Institute for Health Informatics at the U of M in December 2007 and is a professor in the School of Nursing and School of Public Health.

April 12, 2008

Jones acquitted of rape

Former University of Minnesota football player Dominic Jones was acquitted Friday on charges of rape but was convicted of unwanted sexual contact, the Star Tribune reported.

Jones, 21, declined to comment on the verdict, saying he needed to focus on his studies. Jones has missed school since March 31, but is still on track to graduate this fall with a sociology degree.

Jones had been charged with third-degree sexual assault with a woman who was reportedly too drunk to give consent. If he had been convicted of that charge, Jones could have faced at least four years in prison.

Jones will be sentenced on May 29. He will likely get 24 months of a "stayed" sentence, meaning he would not have to serve time unless he breaks his probation.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Martha Holton Dimick waswas "extremely pleased" with the verdict.

The key evidence for the prosecution was a 30-second cell phone video that showed Jones masturbating over an unresponive victim. The incident happend last April.

Jones testifed he did not have sex with the woman but did masturbate over her, an act he said was consensual.

April 8, 2008

Pawlenty's line-item vetoes slash $200 million

Governor Pawlenty used line-item vetoes on Monday to slash more than $200 million from the bonding bill that was presented to him last week, the Star Tribune reported.

He reduced the budget by 13 percent to $717 million, using 52 line-item vetoes.

Many of the the high-profile items cut out of the bill were in St. Paul: $11 million for a Como Zoo expansion, $24 million for a new Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, and $5 for a new Asian Pacific Cultural Center.

Pawlenty said he did not make the cuts for personal reasons, but rather wanted to set "the right priorties for the state" and "live within our means."

Several Democratic senators saw the move as pay-back for the Democrat-controlled legislature's override of Pawlenty's veto last week on the transportation bill.

Pawlenty also cut $400,000 for a planned sheet music library in Chatfield that he saw as a symbol of the legislature's profligate spending.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said that no decision had been made yet about whether or not the legislature would attempt to override the vetoes.

Democrats, who have a majority in the Senate, could override the veto, but would need at least five Republicans in the House to join them for the move to be successful.

April 5, 2008

U signs contract with Coke

The University of Minnesota board of regents will vote next week on $143.7 million deal that will make Coca-Cola the exclusive on-campus beverage provider for the next ten years, the Star Tribune reported.

The deal would also give Coca-Cola "significant signage" at the under-construction TCF Bank football stadium, set to open in 2010.

Much of the money made from the deal will go toward funding student groups and student programs.

Coca-Cola has come under fire in recent years for supposed human rights violations at its operation in India and Colombia. A university-led committee, however, found that evidence for claims of imporoper practices by the soft drink giant were "inconclusive."

Coca-Cola must also help promote recycling practices as part of the contract.

April 1, 2008

Study: Minneapolis graduation rates among worst in nation

Minneapolis' graduation rate ranks 45th out of the 50 largest U.S. cities, according to a drop-out prevention group.

America's Promice Alliance, founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, found Minneapolis four-year graduation rate to be 43.7 percent, 8 points below the 50-city average of 51.8.

The Star Tribune reported that, like many U.S. cities, Minneapolis' graduation rate is far behind the 80 percent rate in the suburbs.

Minneapolis school officials dispute the findings, saying that some of the data was used was several years old and the city's school have vastly improved since then.

In fact, the Minneapolis schools report a graduation rate 67.2 percent, a discrepancy of almost 25 points.

St. Paul, which is not one of the nation's 50 largest cities, was not included in the study.

The study found also that graduation rates were lowest in cities with high minority and low-income population, a finding consistent with the demographics and graduation rates of Minneapolis

March 29, 2008

U horticulture scientists create new apple

University of Minnesota horticulture scientists have created a new breed of apple called Frostbite, the Star Tribune reported Friday.

This is not the first U of M apple to be introduced to the produce market; the Honeycrisp, SnowSweet and Zestar all got their start at the U.

The scientists held a contest last fall to decide the name of the apple. About 7,000 people wrote in, and 12 independent contestants suggested the name Frostbite.

Frostbite has been part of a breeding program at the U since the 1920s and was only named recently.

The Star Tribune reported that Frostbite apples do "terribly" in taste tests, but are good for making apple cider.

Scientists will start grafting Frostbite apple trees this summer and planting them by 2010. The fruit won't make it to market until 2014.

March 26, 2008

Mystery gas leak injures 37

Thirty-seven people were injured and 15 were sent to the hospital Wednesday following a mysterious chlorine gas leak in the swimming pool at Ricori High School, the Star Tribune reports.

The cause of the leak was unknown as of late Wednesday. "Quite honestly, we're really baffled," Scott Staska, superintendent of the Rocori School District, told the Star Tribune.

Many of the patients were coughing and had burning eyes, said the patients' doctor. No one was seriously ill and the victims are unlikely to suffer long-term symptoms.

Students were swimming in the pool Wednesday afternoon when a "big vapor cloud" appeared to be coming from vents in the pool, police said.

"It felt like there was a whirlpool in the water," one student said.

The school was pronounced safe by 4 p.m. and evacuated students were allowed back in the building.

March 16, 2008

One dies in St. Louis Park fire

One man died Sunday in a St. Louis Park fire, the Star Tribune reported.

The fire, in the 1400 block or Oregon Avenue, was reported by a motorist on I-394. By that time, flames were shooting through the roof.

Fire Chief Luke Stemmer said that the roof had already collapsed and that the man and his dog were found dead inside.

Stemmer said the police department has not yet determined the cause of the fire.

"It's unusual for us to get a house fully involved like this at 7 in the morning and not have anybody see it," he told the Star Tribune.

March 15, 2008

Poll: Most Minnesotans OK light rail expansion

Seventy-two percent of Minnesotans back plans for mass transportation expansion, according to a recent poll.

The poll was conducted by Minnesota 2020, a liberal-leaning think tank.

The Minnesota Legislature is currently considering several bills that would expand light rail services, most of them in the Twin Cities area. Lawmakers overode Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a transportation funding bill last month.

The legislature passed a bill funding the Central Corridor light rail line that is to connect Minneapolis and St. Paul when it opens in 2014. They also funded studies for five new light rail lines and high speed train route between St. Paul and Chicago.

The poll found that rural Minnesotans support mass transportation just as much as their urban neighbors.

Ridership on the Hiawatha light rail line between Bloomington and Minneapolis is five times higher then expected, the Pioneer Press reported.

March 6, 2008

Oak Street Cinema demolition likely

The Oak Street Cinema is likely to be demolished after the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival ends May 3, the Star Tribune reported.

The theater's owners are in "serious talks" with a group of developers who want to demolish the building and develop the property into high-density student housing and retail space.

Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak St. SE., was founded in 1995 by Bob Cowgill, now a professor at Augsburg College. He renovated the 92-year-old theater into a destination for film enthusiasts, showing independent, classic, and foreign films.

The cinema is currently $145,000 in debt, according to its most recent tax form, and has had turbulent relations with employees in recent years.

A representative from Minnesota Film Arts, the group that owns the theater, said that selling the Oak would allow the organization to relieve its financial burden.

March 4, 2008

Brett Favre retires

Brett Favre, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers since 1992, announced his retirement on Tuesday, Sports Illustrated reported.

"I know I can still play, but... I'm just tired mentally. I'm just tired," Favre told ESPN.

The 38-year-old quarterback set many records in his final season, including the most career touchdown passes, most yards passing, and most wins as a starting quarterback.

He retires with 5,377 career completions in 8,758 attempts for 61,655 yards and 442 touchdowns.

There is much speculation, however, as to whether Favre's decision is final.

"As the season gets closer, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he changes his mind," said Troy Aikman, a Fox analyst and former Dallas Cowboy.

The three-time NFL MVP has not yet formally addressed the media.

February 28, 2008

Road rage turns violent

A road rage incident near Shakopee on Wednesday turned violent when an enraged driver pulled a woman from her car and threw her onto the street during rush hour traffic, the Star Tribune reported.

Jennifer Boulden, mother of five from Prior Lake, missed her exit on Hwy. 169 south of Shakopee and made a U-turn, angering another driver. The driver honked this horn at her and motioned for her to pull over.

She pulled onto the shoulder, and the man came over to her window and started screaming. He then turned away to walk back to his truck, and Boulden followed him, apologizing. The man started swearing, and she became frightened. She tried to call 911, but the man grabbed her phone and threw it to the ground. The phone shattered.

The man then picked Boulden up and threw her onto the road.

"I remember rolling over and hearing skidding brakes. A lady got out and stopped traffic. A man ran and scooped me up and carried me to side of road," Boulden told the Star Tribune.

State Patrol Lt. Mark Peterson said that incidents of road rage are becoming more frequent, especially during rush hour.

The man sped off in his truck before anyone could get his license plate number. Witness descriptions on the man and the truck were varied.

Boulden was released from the hospital on Thursday.

February 27, 2008

Light rail gets green light

The Metropolitan Council OK'd a transit plan on Wednesday that includes building a new light rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Star Tribune reported.

The approved plan calls for an 11-mile, 15-stop light rail line called the Central Corridor. The Pioneer Press, however, reported that the line would have 20 stops.

The line will cost $909 million to build and will open in 2014.

The Met Council has until September to request federal funding. If approved, the federal government would pay half the bill, and local governments would pay the rest.

Kathleen O'Brien, a vice president at the University of Minnesota, endorsed the plan "with reservations." The approved plan calls for turning Washington Ave. into a pedestrian mall.

The U hoped the plan could include a tunnel under the university, believing an at-grade line would cause traffic problems and would reduce patients' access to health care.

A tunnel would be too expensive, however, and would raise the project's price tage to a level too high to qualify for federal funding.

University officials were also concerned that vibrations from the line may cause problems in nearby laboratories.

O'Brien said the university prefers a northern route that would run through the Dinkytown area in lieu of the Washington Ave. route.

The U is in the process of conducting a study of the northern alignment. The results of the study will not be published until September.

If the Met Council goes ahead with the pedestrian mall plan for Washington Ave., the University would prefer to keep the 1,500 busses that use the street each day off it.

The pedestrian mall would also displace 25,000 vehicles per day that would have to be rerouted to surrounding streets.

February 24, 2008

Minnesota's moose rapidly disappearing

The Minnesota moose population in northern Minnesota is nearly extinct, the Star Tribune reported Sunday.

The moose are dying of what scientists call "tip-over disease." Moose afflicted with this mysterious disease simply weaken and crumple to the ground at times they should be very healthy, such as in the prime of their life and in the fall.

Though the cause of the disease is still unknown, scientists think it may have to do with deer parasites, heat, stress, or a combination.

Researchers have been tracking the moose since 2002. Of the 114 moose in the study, more than 40 died of unknown causes.

The program has struggled with finances in the past few years, but recently received a $200,000 grant from the federal government.

The researchers often tranquilize the moose and take blood, hair, and stool samples in a search for clues about the perplexing illness.

One of the scientists involved in the moose-tracking project has attributed the die-off to global warming. The average winter temperature in Minnesota has climbed 11 degrees since 1961.

February 21, 2008

Bars find new way to evade smoking ban with 'Theater Night'

Local bars have found a creative way to get around the state's smoking ban: "Theater Nights."

The statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, passed last year, allows actors to smoke onstage during a theatrical production. Dozens of bars are now dubbing their patrons to be "actors," thus bypassing the law.

An area lawyer told the Star Tribune that he estimates as many as 100 bars could be employing this technique this weekend.

The State Health Department is waiting for the state attorney general's opinion on the legality of the theater nights. State legislators expected the loophole to be plugged soon.

Several local bar owners have reported that the theater nights have significantly increased their business.

February 20, 2008

Four die in Minn. bus crash

Four children died and 14 others were injured after a school bus crashed Tuesday in Cottonwood, Minn., the Associated Press reported.

Motorists who happened upon the accident became rescuers, helping the bus driver pull screaming children from the bus and taking them in their cars to the hospital.

Classes were cancelled Wednesday at the Lakeview School in Cottonwood, which has 580 children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Police said a van struck the bus, which was transporting 28 children at the time, causing it to tip over and land on its side on a pickup truck.

The victims were taken to three different hospitals in Minnesota and South Dakota. Names and ages of the victims have not yet been released.

The police are currently investigating the accident.

February 17, 2008

Twin Cities' storm water tunnels showing their age

The storm water tunnels deep under the Twin Cities are starting to split apart and are in danger of collapsing, the Star Tribune reported.

Minneapolis has more than 15 miles of tunnels, many of which are more than 100 years old. They collect storm water from city streets and rooftops and send it to the Mississippi River.

The tunnels will cost $75 million to repair.

Many of the tunnel walls are cracked. If a wall were to collapse completely, it would back up the tunnel and flood the surrounding area.

The pressure is so high in a certain St. Paul tunnel that a manhole erupts like a geyser every time it rains. In other places, manhole covers are blown to the sky during storms.

Repairing the tunnels is very dangerous. Two workers repairing cracks in a St. Paul tunnel drowned last July when they were unable to leave during a storm.

February 15, 2008

Child's hand mangled in meat grinder

A 5-year-old boy's hand got caught in a meat grinder on Tuesday, prompting an emergency surgery, the Star Tribune reported.

Wyatt Krumrey of Buffalo Lake, Minn., 80 miles west of the Twin Cities, accidentally put his hand in the machine when his mother turned away for a split-second.

When Wyatt screamed, his mother unplugged the grinder and called 911, while his father began unscrewing parts of the grinder to free Wyatt's hand. They wrapped the hand in towels, his index finger dangling.

They met the ambulance on a rural rood and sped toward the Twin Cities.

Surgeons at the Hennepin County Medical Center spent 10 hours repairing the boy's nerves, blood vessels, and bones.

Wyatt's finger did not need to be amputated.

The Krumreys have a long tradition of butchering meat at their family farm.

It is unknown whether the little boy, who loves playing with monster trucks and feeding the pigs, sheep, chickens and cows, will regain use of his right hand.

February 9, 2008

U of M tuition may surpass $10,000

Tuition for the University of Minnesota will probably surpass $10,000 next fall, the Star Tribune reported.

Students currently pay between $9,661 and $9,882, depending on family income.

"I don't see any possibility that we can roll it back," University President Robert Bruininks said.

The 7.5 increase is due in part to lower-than-expected funding from the state.

Minnesota has higher tuition than Wisconsin, Ohio State, UCLA, California-Berkeley, Florida, Texas and Washington, seven of the 10 schools that the university considers to be its peers. The other three, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois, have higher tuition than the U.

Wisconsin students attending Minnesota schools under the reciprocity will pay approximately $2,400 less than will Minnesota natives.

February 7, 2008

Bridge victims will get more relief

The amount of financial relief victims of the I-35W bridge collapse will be allowed to claim has been doubled from $10,000 to $20,000, the Star Tribune reports.

That money will come from a $1 million fund set aside last year for victims who have lost income because of the disaster.

The government decided to double the amount because more than $900,000 is still left in the fund.

Legislators will meet next week to start making a more permanent financial plan for the victims. 13 died and 145 were injured in last August's bridge collapse.

February 3, 2008

Obama in Minneapolis

Barack Obama, U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful, stopped in Minnesota for a rally Saturday afternoon, the Pioneer Press reported.

Speaking before a crowd of 20,000 supporters at the Target Center, Obama focused on his favorite themes: change and hope. "We want change we can believe in and that has to be earned," he said. "Hope is not blind optimism... I know how hard change is."

Several candidates have chosen to campaign in the Twin Cities recently because of Minnesota's caucus on Tuesday.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney was also in town Saturday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton will attend a rally at Augsburg College in Minneapolis today, and Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul will speak at the University of Minnesota on Monday.

Clinton and Paul's decision to appear at colleges is not abitrary; Minnesota had the highest turnout in the nation among young voters in the 2004 presidential election, the Star Tribune reports.

January 31, 2008

Goodbye to elephant rides?

The Minneapolis City Council will vote on Friday on a proposed ordinance that would ban children from touching or riding elephants at the circus.

The measure is a response to increasing concerns about animal cruelty, public health, and safety concerns. The Shriners, a local circus organization, report that no patrons have ever been injured on the rides.

Officials from the Shriners would consider leaving the city if the ordinance is enacted. Elephant rides are a lucrative component of the circus industry; circus-goers pay $8 for an elephant ride.

Christine Coughlin, executive director of Circus Reform Yes (CRY), who has been advocating the measure for the past eight years, cites "environmental and animal awareness" as two of the reasons the ban should be put in place.

If the ordinance is enacted, circus operators would have to buy a license for $750 and pay for routine inspections by local veteranarians, most likely from the University of Minnesota.

Star Tribune