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REGIONAL BRIEFS: Bus driver pleads guilty after boy left on locked bus

From the Forum News Service


Bus driver pleads guilty after boy left on locked bus

CARLTON, Minn. -- A former school bus driver accused of leaving a 3-year-old on a locked bus has pleaded guilty to child endangerment.

Thomas Mitchell Soderholm, 53, of Mahtowa, was accused of endangering preschooler Ty Stiffarm on Jan. 14 after the boy was left alone on Soderholm’s locked Head Start bus for three hours with temperatures hovering around zero.

Soderholm made an Alford plea Wednesday in Carlton County Sixth District Court. Under the Alford plea, Soderholm acknowledged there is enough evidence for a jury to possibly find him guilty, but he doesn’t admit to committing the crime.

Judge Dale Wolf stayed a sentence of one year on the condition that Soderholm commit no same or similar crimes and fined him $200 for the cost of prosecution.

Although Soderholm apparently did not leave the boy on the bus intentionally, Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said he pressed charges because “when you’re dealing with young children, there is a heightened responsibility to make sure things like that can’t happen.”

According to the criminal complaint, Fond du Lac Reservation law enforcement was informed by the Fond du Lac Transportation Department that the boy had been left on the bus after an employee noticed the boy waving and pounding on a window.

Soderholm lost his job with the reservation, Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver said after the incident.


Despite protest, trees next to Bemidji State stadium come down

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The removal of three large trees, a side effect of the adjacent renovation to Bemidji State University’s Chet Anderson Stadium, drew ire this week from those who wanted to preserve the pines.

But by Thursday afternoon, little more than a few stumps, limbs and branches remained sitting on the field.

“We are very upset about how little dialogue there was throughout this process,” Caitlyn Schuchhardt, one of two people sitting under one of the trees Tuesday in protest of its pending demise, wrote in Facebook message. She said that tree was more than 100 years old.

An online petition asking BSU President Richard Hanson to prevent the trees from being cut down drew 318 signatures before being closed.

The university posted a letter from Hanson on The Bemidji Pioneer newspaper’s Facebook page Thursday explaining the decision. He wrote that the artificial turf being installed at the stadium, which will be paid for with external and private funds, “will be a major and much-needed improvement to BSU athletic facilities.”

“Although we originally had hoped to save one or more of the trees, professionals on the project advised us from the outset that this would not be possible,” Hanson continued.

Hanson said the university will explore ways of making the wood from those trees into something “visible and meaningful on our campus.”


Man who raided garage fridge for beer pleads guilty

WILLMAR, Minn. -- A Willmar man who admitted helping himself to a few beers in a neighbor’s garage after being caught on camera has struck a plea deal.

Kevin Gene Sorenson, 50, pleaded guilty Thursday in Kandiyohi County District Court to a misdemeanor charge for taking alcoholic beverages stored in a refrigerator in the garage.

District Judge David L. Mennis sentenced Sorenson to 90 days in jail, which was stayed, pay a $50 fine, serve one year of probation and follow the recommendations of a chemical use assessment.

As part of the plea agreement, a third-degree felony burglary charge was dismissed.

Willmar police began investigating Oct. 25 when residents of a home reported that someone had entered their garage and drank a half bottle of rum and several beers that were chilling in the refrigerator.

The residents reported in early November that more beer was missing from the garage refrigerator, so police installed a motion-activated camera directly over the refrigerator.

Images from the camera showed that a man was inside the garage Nov. 18 and Nov. 28. One of the residents picked Sorenson from a photo lineup and knew he lived a few blocks from the home. When Sorenson was informed about the camera, he admitted entering the unlocked garage and taking beer.


Duluth head shop suspends synthetic sales

DULUTH -- The Last Place on Earth head shop was uncharacteristically devoid of customers Thursday afternoon as a city ordinance regulating synthetic drugs kicked in.

Potential buyers were greeted with a sign saying the downtown Duluth shop wasn’t selling any “incense” products. Owner Jim Carlson said he is awaiting a decision today that he hopes will allow him to sell the synthetic drug despite the city ordinance. Callers to the store were told that the ban on incense was temporary and they might have products available by early next week.

The decision Carlson is waiting for will come from U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois, who will decide whether to issue a temporary injunction against the city licensing law aimed at Carlson and the Last Place on Earth.

Carlson’s attorney, Randall Tigue, says the license requirement is unconstitutional because it forces Carlson to implicate himself as selling illegal items, namely synthetic marijuana.

Carlson has refused to acquire the license, and without an injunction, it’s likely the city will shut down the Last Place on Earth, Tigue said.


North Dakota

NDDOT warns of driver’s license scam

FARGO -- The North Dakota Department of Transportation is warning the public about a phone scam that involves callers claiming to be from the state driver’s license division.

People have reported receiving calls stating their driving privileges are in jeopardy and that fees must be paid to keep their privileges.

The callers ask for personal information and then direct that money be sent to a California address.

Some calls appear to be spoofing the phone number for the Department of Transportation.

The department doesn’t make such calls and anyone receiving such a call is urged to hang up, the agency said in a statement released Friday.

Residents of North Dakota who have questions about their driver’s license or suspicious calls can contact the department at (701) 328-2601 or email questions to


Man busted in sex toy case arrested again

FARGO – A Fargo man who was arrested last week on suspicion of shoplifting a sex toy from an adult bookstore was arrested again Wednesday, this time on suspicion of shoplifting a $550 camera from a sporting goods store.

In Wednesday’s incident, Christopher Wiener, 26, is suspected of taking a camera from Scheels All Sports about 3:10 p.m., police Lt. Joel Vettel said.

Vettel said that when confronted, Wiener returned the camera to a store employee and then fled. When a police officer spotted Wiener in the parking lot of a nearby liquor store, Wiener saw the officer at about the same time and ran inside the store, Vettel said.

The officer arrested Wiener a short time later after Wiener attempted to hide in the store’s bathroom, Vettel said.

Based on the value of the camera involved, Wiener may face a felony shoplifting charge, Vettel said.

A police report regarding last week’s incident at the adult bookstore said jail staff discovered meth and a glass pipe with residue among Wiener’s belongings, and he was charged in Cass County District Court with possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of methamphetamine. In that case, he was freed after posting $500 bail.


WDAY’s Nelson to replace Schauer as co-anchor on KVRR

FARGO -- TJ Nelson, producer and co-anchor of the 5 p.m. newscast on WDAY TV, will take over the empty anchor’s chair left by Austen Schauer at KVRR, the local Fox affiliate.

Schauer announced late last month that he’d be leaving Fox for a job at Park Christian School in Moorhead, Minn. His last day is Aug. 2.

At KVRR, Nelson will be alongside Candace Thornberg, co-producing and co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. newscasts.

With nine years under his belt at WDAY, Nelson called this a “natural step” in his career.

“It was not an easy choice,” Nelson said. “But these main anchor gigs don’t open up very often.”

Nelson’s WDAY seat with co-anchor Robin Huebner won’t stay empty long. Reporter and weekend anchor Todd Kurtz will step in at 5 p.m., said Jeff Nelson, WDAY news director.

TJ Nelson started at WDAY in 2004 as a producer and quickly began anchoring at 5 p.m. The Thief River Falls, Minn., native has been in broadcast for 27 years.

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


South Dakota

82-year-old killed, 12-year-old injured in motorcycle crash

WHITE LAKE, S.D. -- An 82-year-old Redfield man was killed and his 12-year-old granddaughter was injured in a motorcycle crash shortly after 9:15 a.m. Thursday on Interstate 90.

Donald Lewis was westbound on I-90 about three miles west of White Lake on a 1988 Harley Davidson FLTC motorcycle when he left the roadway and entered the ditch, where the motorcycle rolled, according to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.

Lewis’ granddaughter, whose name is not being released because she is a minor, was also on the motorcycle when the crash occurred. Members of Lewis’ family were nearby riding motorcycles and traveling with him, authorities say.

Lewis was thrown from the motorcycle in the crash and suffered fatal injuries. Lewis’ granddaughter was also thrown from the motorcycle, but suffered only minor injuries. Both of them were wearing helmets.


First ticket issued for texting while driving in Mitchell

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Mitchell police issued its first ever ticket for texting while driving late last month.

According to Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg, the city’s first citation was given out June 28. Overweg declined to reveal the identity of the motorist, but he added that six written warnings have also been handed out.

Overweg said the city’s texting-while-driving ban has been effective, even if just one ticket has been issued.

“This isn’t all about ticket writing,” he said. “It’s about changing a culture and getting voluntary compliance.”

The City Council approved the ordinance in April and the law went into effect in May. Texting while driving is now a primary offense in the city, which means law enforcement is able to stop a driver who is believed to be texting while driving, even if no other violation is suspected to have occurred. The fine is $120.

Overweg said he has personally noticed more drivers pulled to the side of the road using their phones because of the ban.

“That’s exactly what we’re after,” he said.


Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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