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REGIONAL BRIEFS: Man faces 24 years in motel hostage standoff

From the Forum News Service


Man faces 24 years in motel hostage standoff

STILLWATER, Minn. -- A man accused of holding a group of people hostage last year during a deadly night at Woodbury's Red Roof Inn will spend at least 24 years in prison under a plea agreement reached Thursday.

Demetrius Santreell Ballinger, 26, pleaded guilty in Washington County District Court to five counts, including criminal sexual conduct and attempted murder. Other charges, including aggravated robbery, were dismissed.

During Thursday's hearing, Ballinger admitted to accusations set forth in a criminal complaint, which alleged he shot his friend Mark Henderson as he attempted to flee a room Aug. 31 at the Red Roof, then held several people hostage inside the room.

During the four-hour standoff with police, Ballinger sexually assaulted one 15-year-old girl and three 16-year-olds, the complaint states.

Ballinger said he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he went to the Red Roof Inn motel room for a party with 11 others, most of whom he did not know.

In court, he said was still aware of his actions and that when he shot Henderson, he attempted to kill him. Henderson died after receiving additional gunfire from police, who mistook him for an advancing suspect. A grand jury later cleared the officers in the shooting.

Ballinger is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 7.


Let's Go Fishing pontoon boat stolen

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. -- Nursing home residents, adults with disabilities and 4-H youths are among those losing out on summer trips after the theft of the pontoon boat belonging to the Montevideo chapter of Let's Go Fishing.

The 25-foot-long boat was stolen Sunday from where it is kept in the parking lot of the True Value store on Legion Drive. The theft wasn't reported until Wednesday. The pontoon's disappearance didn't initially trigger alarm bells because different volunteers had been planning to do maintenance work on it, explained chapter President Don Lausen.

Three people believe they saw the pontoon being pulled by a dark-colored pickup truck. Sightings have been reported near Clara City and Raymond on Minnesota Highway 23 on Sunday evening, and later on U.S. Highway 71 near Belgrade, according to Montevideo police Sgt. Ken Schule.

The stolen boat is a 2006 model Clipper DLX. It has a collapsible canopy and large markings with the Let's Go Fishing logo, as well as the names of supporting businesses in Montevideo.

Trips scheduled for the coming weeks are being canceled unless the pontoon can be recovered.


Teen killed, two injured in rollover crash

GRAND MARAIS, Minn. -- One teen was killed and two others injured Thursday morning in a one-car rollover in Cook County.

The car, occupied by three boys ranging in age from 14 to 18, rolled over after the driver lost control on a gravel road about six miles west of Grand Marais, according to the Cook County Sheriff's Office. The crash was reported about 5 a.m.

A 14-year-old was ejected and pronounced dead at the scene. The other two teenagers suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were treated at Cook County North Shore Hospital. All three are Cook County residents. Authorities had not released their names.

The sheriff's office and Minnesota State Patrol are investigating.


West-central Minnesota still in drought

WILLMAR, Minn. -- Even with the numerous heavy wet snows in April and May and seemingly abundant rainfall, west-central Minnesota is still in a moderate to severe drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday shows that severe drought conditions remain in portions of Renville, Redwood and Yellow Medicine counties. The severe-rated area is just 0.87 percent of the state's land, but it is a significant portion of those three counties.

The southern portion of Kandiyohi County, along with western Meeker, western and southern Swift, much of Renville, eastern Yellow Medicine and portions of Lyon, Redwood, Brown, Nicollet and Sibley counties remain at the moderate drought rating. There is also a portion of northern Minnesota, including Beltrami and surrounding counties, still in the moderate drought stage.

Most of west-central and southwest Minnesota continues to be in abnormally dry. A total of 66 percent of the state is no longer in drought conditions.


Day care closed after girl found wandering on highway

SANDSTONE, Minn. -- Authorities ordered a Sandstone day care center closed Wednesday after a 2-year-old from the center was found wandering along Minnesota Highway 23 and sheriff's deputies saw possible signs that the day care provider was intoxicated.

The incident began about 3:30 p.m. when the Pine County Sheriff's Office received 911 calls reporting that a passerby found the girl walking on the highway. Responding deputies found the girl in the arms of a woman who had seen the girl walking on the highway. The woman saw at least one vehicle swerve around the child. The woman ran to the girl and carried her to safety.

The deputies canvassed the area looking for the girl's home, locating a day care center about one block from where she was found. The center had a fenced play area filled with several children. The gate to the play area was open.

The deputies determined that the girl had come from the center and while talking with the provider, they saw signs of intoxication and performed field sobriety tests.

Pine County Child Protection arrived and ordered the center closed. Authorities notified the parents of the children present, and remained on the scene until all the children had been picked up.

The case will be sent to the Pine County Attorney's Office for a decision on charges.


Man dies in fall from deer stand

LAVELL TOWNSHIP, Minn. -- A Hibbing man died Thursday after falling off the deer stand he was working on.

The 55-year-old man had been working on the roof of the stand in rural Lavell Township when the accident occurred, according to a news release from the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office. Emergency responders from the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, Toivola Fire Department and Life Link air medical were called to the scene at 11:24 a.m.

"Despite the efforts of the first responders and Life Link air medical staff, the victim died at the scene from his injuries," said a statement from Sgt. Wayne Toewe of the sheriff's office.

The man's name was not made available Thursday evening.


North Dakota

Dickinson sports editor one of two facing human trafficking charge

BISMARCK -- The sports editor for The Dickinson Press was one of two men arrested Wednesday in Burleigh County on human trafficking charges.

Bobby Abplanalp, 29, was charged with the Class A felony of attempted human trafficking. The charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The criminal complaint alleges Abplanalp attempted to obtain another person for sex, knowing that person was under 18 and would be subject to human trafficking.

Another man, Aaron S. Collins, was charged with the same crime.

Bond for both men was set at $50,000.

The Press is owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns Forum News Service.

Abplanalp joined the newspaper in May after working as the sports editor of the Cortez (Colo.) Journal.


Prosecutors drop felony charge against NDSU player

FARGO -- Authorities are not sure what started the bar fight last weekend that involved a star linebacker at North Dakota State University, but prosecutors say they're convinced they couldn't prove he committed felony assault.

Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said Thursday that based on a review of surveillance videos and interviews with witnesses, prosecutors are dismissing the Class C felony aggravated assault charge against Travis Beck.

The 21-year-old was charged Monday in Cass County District Court, accused of punching a man in the head multiple times in what began as a verbal fight in a downtown Fargo bar Saturday night and Sunday morning. Police reports alleged the man Beck punched was found unconscious on the sidewalk.

Misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest filed against Beck in Fargo Municipal Court are still pending, Burdick said.

According to the complaint filed in court, multiple witnesses told officers at the scene early Sunday that Beck was the aggressor in the fight.

The linebacker, who will be a junior for the Bison next year, was indefinitely suspended from the team Monday pending further investigation.


Stutsman County ROV used in first mission

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- The Stutsman County ROV Team responded to its first rescue mission Monday, assisting the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department in locating a drowning victim's body in the Missouri River near Bismarck.

Stutsman County's remote operated vehicle is the second in North Dakota -- Valley Water Rescue in Fargo also has one, said Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Reuther.

Stutsman County acquired its ROV last year after the family of Darrin Ackerman, who drowned in the Jamestown Reservoir in December 2011, raised funds for it.

In Ackerman's case, there weren't any ROVs ready to be used in North Dakota, and Ackerman's family and friends waited eight days for an ROV to be brought from Duluth, Minn., to find and retrieve his body.

The ROV is about 2 feet long and 1.5 feet tall, Reuther said. It goes underwater on a tether and records video and sonar. Stutsman County's ROV can operate up to 500 feet deep. It also has a small arm that can be manipulated to grab things.

An ROV takes a minimum of three people to operate, Reuther said. One person controls the machine and watches the sonar and video monitors, another also watches the monitors for targets, and the third person stretches the tether.



Superior denies liability for post-flooding damage

SUPERIOR, Wis. -- The city of Superior is denying flood damage claims filed in Douglas County Circuit Court by several residents.

Two separate complaints were filed in April, one by Superior Police Chief Charles LaGesse and his wife, Lori, and another by six other couples in their neighborhood. Each of the plaintiffs suffered more than $10,000 in damage to their homes during last year's June flood, according to the complaints.

City Attorney Frog Prell's response to the complaints denied city responsibility. In both cases, he asserted that the damage was caused by acts of God and failure of the plaintiffs' private plumbing or sewer systems. He also said the city is protected from liability by virtue of "discretionary immunity."

State statute does offer such immunity to municipalities. But these claimants may represent a narrow exception. Each of the residents survived the initial flooding only to have their basements fill with rain and wastewater after a sanitary sewer cover was removed. Both cases cite the negligence of the city, its agents, employees and servants, as the cause of the flooding in these homes.

Attorney David Kropid, who represents six of the homeowners, said that although the flood affected many people, these cases are unique because his clients believe they would not have suffered damage if the city had not wrongly removed the sanitation sewer cover.


South Dakota

Former court clerk gets jail time

KENNEBEC, S.D. -- A former Lyman County clerk of courts was sentenced to jail time Wednesday for stealing more than $1,100 in traffic fine payments from the county between September 2008 and June 2010.

Judge Gene Kean sentenced Denise Rae Anderson, 58, to a 15-month suspended prison sentence. The prison time will remain suspended if Anderson serves eight days in jail by serving two days on the first weekend of four consecutive months, starting July 5.

She must also be on probation for 12 to 15 months, have no law violations during that time, pay court costs of $104 and pay $1,183 in restitution to Lyman County.

Finally, she must obtain a chemical dependency and alcohol evaluation and follow the recommendations of that evaluation during her probation.