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Minnesota

Mayor arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct

HALSTAD, Minn. -- The city's mayor was in jail after being arrested Monday on allegations of criminal sexual conduct, terroristic and domestic abuse.

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Norman County Sheriff Jeremy Thornton said Steve Sortland was arrested after a traffic stop about 4:35 p.m. Monday in Halstad.

Thornton said he was being held on suspicion of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and making terroristic threats, both felonies, and suspicion of misdemeanor domestic assault.

Thornton said his office received a report Thursday alleging the criminal conduct but declined to provide further details about the allegations.

The sheriff said he expects formal criminal charges to be filed against Sortland today.

Sortland was being held at the Northwest Regional Corrections Center and was expected to make his first court appearance today. Bail had not been set.

(FF)

Duluth man admits murder of Floodwood woman

CARLTON, Minn. -- An alleged member of the Native Mob admitted Tuesday that he murdered a Floodwood woman last fall.

Michael William Siewert, 23, of Duluth, pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder in the slaying of Cristyna Leah Watson, 25, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Watson's body was found Oct. 4 off Reservation Road outside Cloquet. Her death was ruled by a medical examiner to be the result of homicidal violence.

Siewert entered the plea before Judge Dale Wolf in State District Court in Carlton.

According to the criminal complaint, Cloquet police were investigating drug trafficking Oct. 2 when Alyssa Rae Peterson, Siewert's girlfriend at the time, said she had information regarding Native Mob gang activity and serious crimes in connection with Watson's disappearance and disposal of her body at 213 Reservation Road, where Clifford James Thompson lived. Thompson was charged with aiding an offender-accomplice after the fact.

With the help of cadaver dogs, Watson's body was found at Thompson's residence, where Siewert had been staying.

(DNT)

Authorities investigate possible burglary, arson

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A couple lost a source of income and two others lost virtually all of their belongings Sunday after burglars allegedly torched a home on the north side of Big Lake.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said the renters of the home were not present at the time of the burglary or the suspected arson that followed. The homeowners live nearby and act as landlords for the rambler-style home.

Beltrami County deputies, Leech Lake Tribal Police and the Cass Lake Fire Department received a report of a house fire at 1:46 p.m. Sunday, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

Hodapp said the relatively remote location of the home, and the absence of its occupants, ensured its total destruction. Authorities believe the home was set ablaze to cover up evidence left during the burglary, but the release did not state the value or specify the items taken from the house, which Hodapp said was worth at least $100,000.

Evidence of the use of an accelerant was found in the home, Hodapp said.

(BP)

Man who died in canoe accident identified

BRAINERD, Minn. -- A 64-year-old Brainerd man who died in a canoe accident Sunday has been identified.

Peter Johnson was found unresponsive in the Gull River on Sunday after his canoe capsized. The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office responded to a report Sunday afternoon of two people in the river, according to a news release from the sheriff's office.

Nearby residents located Thadeus Strader, 4, of Gilbert, Ariz., in the water and brought him to shore. He was later released from the hospital, the release said.

Attempts to resuscitate Johnson were unsuccessful, and his body was taken to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office.

Both Johnson and Strader were wearing life jackets. The cause of the capsizing remains under investigation.

The news release did not indicate Johnson's relationship to Strader.

(BP)

Ely man identified as fire victim

ELY, Minn. -- The 49-year-old man who died in a cabin fire in Lake County east of Ely on Monday morning has been identified as Brant Harris of Ely.

The cabin, accessible only by water, was on Greenstone Lake in Fall Lake Township. The fire was reported just after 5 a.m. The Morse Township and Fall Lake fire departments responded but could not save the person inside the cabin.

Authorities said the cabin's owner, Brian Sherwood, also of Ely, told them he was not injured in the fire but that Harris was unable to get out.

Results of an autopsy have not been released. The cause of the fire remained under investigation Tuesday.

(DNT)

No signs of foul play in woman camper's death

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, Minn. -- A preliminary investigation into the death of a 25-year-old Taconite woman while camping with her family Monday gives no indication of foul play, the Itasca County Sheriff's Office said.

Laura Marie Nielsen died while camping in Lawrence Township in eastern Itasca County.

Authorities received a 911 call about 9 a.m. of an unresponsive woman in a camper. The caller said CPR was being performed.

The Balsam Volunteer Fire Department and Nashwauk Ambulance responded to the scene. CPR was continued until Nielsen was pronounced dead.

(DNT)

North Dakota

Oil rig fatality under investigation

BOWBELLS, N.D. -- Authorities are investigating a fatality that occurred Saturday on a drilling rig in Burke County.

The Burke County Sheriff's Office said the fatal accident happened at 12:20 p.m. at a rig near County Roads 11 and 16. Authorities did not release details of the incident Tuesday.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating, said Scott Overson, assistant area director of the Bismarck OSHA office. Overson said he believes the incident involved one fatality.

No further information was available Tuesday. Overson said he expects OSHA tol have more information today.

(AD)

Driver pleads guilty to illegal saltwater dumping

BISMARCK -- A North Dakota truck driver has pleaded guilty to illegally dumping saltwater at a disposal well location in Williams County, marking the first criminal conviction for violating North Dakota Industrial Commission rules.

According to a news release by the Industrial Commission, Benjamin LeBaron of Dickinson was charged with two counts of willfully violating environmental protection rules of the North Dakota Administrative Code under the Industrial Commission, after video surveillance recorded him dumping saltwater last summer on Oasis Petroleum property in Williams County.

LeBaron was employed by Power Fuels at the time of the July 28 incident.

Under a court-approved plea agreement, LeBaron pleaded guilty to a single count of the Class C felony.

Northwest District Judge Joshua Rustad suspended LeBaron's one-year jail sentence on the condition he pay a $500 fine, complete 50 hours of community service, reimburse the Oil and Gas Division of the Department of Mineral Resources for $450 in costs, pay $525 in court fees and have no other offenses. LeBaron will be on supervised probation for one year.

"We want to send a message to those who violate North Dakota's laws," said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who sits on the commission with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. "Anyone intentionally polluting our environment will face serious consequences."

Assistant Attorney General Hope Hogan prosecuted the case.

(BND)

Man struck, killed by train in downtown Fargo

FARGO - A 59-year-old Fargo man was killed early Tuesday after being struck by a train in downtown Fargo.

The incident was reported at 4 a.m. at Main Avenue and Fourth Street North. The victim was dead at the scene, according to the Fargo Fire Department.

Fargo police said the initial investigation indicates the eastbound BNSF Railway train struck a man who was approaching the tracks from the south. The victim was identified as John Dean Westra of Fargo. The case remains under investigation.

A spokeswoman for the railroad said the train was carrying 63 loads of automobiles and that the collision happened about 20 feet east of the railroad crossing.

She said the crossing gates and lights were active at the time.

(FF)

Autopsy shows strip club patron died from blunt head injury

FARGO -- Police say a preliminary medical examiner's report shows that man knocked down by a bouncer outside the city's only strip club died from blunt head injury.

Deputy Chief Pat Claus said Tuesday the investigation remains open into the death of Christopher Barr, 38, and would not release further details.

Barr had already been kicked out of the Northern Gentleman's Club the night of April 13, when police were called there for medical assistance. Barr, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Cass County District Court, was lying on his back in the parking lot and told an officer a bouncer was responsible.

A Northern employee told the officer Barr had been drunk, belligerent and disrespectful to staff members and had refused to leave. The staffer told police he grabbed Barr and took him to the parking lot, and as Barr took a swing at him, pushed him in self-defense.

Claus has said police did not open an investigation at that point because Barr was uncooperative. Barr was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died May 7.

Barr's family has hired a private investigator for a possible civil lawsuit related to his death, police claim in the affidavit for a search warrant to seize security video from the strip club.

(FF)

Wisconsin

Letter carrier fined for stealing rebate check

MADISON, Wis. -- A former letter carrier was fined $2,500 Friday in federal court for taking a $118 Menards rebate check intended for a patron while walking his mail route.

Although he faced a possible six months in prison, District Judge Barbara Crabb said she wasn't going to put Brent Olson, 37, of Superior, in jail or on probation because has no prior felony convictions, has a lengthy work history and "is a good citizen" except for this incident.

Crabb asked Olson why he stole mail after 17 years with the U.S. Postal Service.

"I don't know," Olson replied.

"Obviously, nobody else understands it either," Crabb said.

Olson said he has pondered the question daily and sought counseling to determine why he took the postcard rebate intended for Ed Nelson on May 26, 2012.

After Nelson complained to Menards about not getting the rebate check, the store located surveillance camera footage of Olson using it, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Connell said at Olson's plea hearing earlier this year.

Olson paid Nelson for his loss, and Nelson and others have written the court in support of Olson.

(ST)

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