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REGIONAL BRIEFS: I-35 rest stop janitor run over, killed on the job

From the Forum News Service


I-35 rest stop janitor run over, killed on the job

CLOQUET, Minn. -- Greg Blackburn was just doing one of his jobs Wednesday evening -- as janitor at the Mahtowa rest stop along Interstate 35 in Carlton County -- when he was run over by the driver of a pickup truck.

Blackburn, 62, of Cloquet, was killed, and the driver of the truck that hit him fled the scene and led law enforcement on a 25-mile-long high-speed chase. The pursuit ended when Minnesota State Patrol troopers ran a pickup truck driver off the road in Hermantown.

Relatives on Thursday identified Blackburn as the victim. He had worked in the maintenance job at the Minnesota Department of Transportation rest stop for about five years, they said. Blackburn was also a contract newspaper carrier for the Duluth News Tribune.

A 55-year-old rural Duluth man arrested after the hit-and-run and high-speed chase is in the Carlton County jail. The Carlton County Attorney’s Office said he’s expected to be charged this morning.


Police mum on details of homicide investigation

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Police kept mum Thursday on details of an investigation into the apparent homicide of a man who was found dead Wednesday night in a downtown Moorhead home.

Officers were called about 9:25 p.m. to a house on Main Avenue owned by Henry Volochenko. Officers were sent to the house for a medical assist and found the man’s body.

Police said Thursday it was early in the investigation. Few details were released, other than the body had been sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office in St. Paul for an autopsy.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is assisting in the investigation.

Moorhead Deputy Police Chief Shannon Monroe said Thursday afternoon that no report had been received from the medical examiner and the victim’s identity had not been officially confirmed.

City records identify the owner of the home as Volochenko.

A neighbor, who declined to be identified, said Volochenko had lived in the house for many years and was known as a caring person who often would open his doors to people down on their luck. The neighbor described Volochenko as possibly in his 80s and said he noticed nothing suspicious Wednesday night, other than police sirens, which he said are common in the neighborhood.

Monroe said police did not have any information to indicate that any suspects were a danger to the public at large.


Warrant issued for Georgia man in check scam

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- A warrant has been issued in Douglas County for the arrest of a Georgia man convicted in a fraudulent check cashing scam.

Elijah Zachariah Moore, 24, of Atlanta, was involved in a scam that spread through at least four states last year. Similar instances were reported in Georgia, Louisiana, Wisconsin and in the Minneapolis-St. Paul and Moorhead areas.

Moore was arrested along with Javonta Cornell Elliott, 21, of Lithonia, Ga., and William James Pierce, 39, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., after a bogus check was cashed Dec. 3 at American National Bank in Alexandria.

Moore and Elliott were charged with felony labor trafficking and aiding and abetting offering a forged check.

Earlier this year, both men pleaded not guilty to the labor trafficking charge and guilty to aiding and abetting. After failing to appear at a hearing May 24, a warrant was issued for Moore’s arrest May 28.

Elliott was convicted of felony aiding and abetting on April 24 in Douglas County court and credited for 65 days time served in jail. He was fined $135 in court fees and given five years of supervised probation.

One charge against Pierce, offering a forged check, was dismissed.


Father of girl who died in van surrenders to police

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- The father of a 5-month-old Moorhead girl who died last week after being left unattended in a van on a warm day is expected to make an appearance this morning in Clay County District Court.

Andrew J. Sandstrom, 24, turned himself in to the Moorhead Police Department about 1:15 p.m. Thursday.

He was charged Tuesday with second-degree manslaughter in the death of his daughter, Christiana.

Sandstrom was not considered a flight risk and cooperated with law enforcement, so he was allowed to attend his daughter’s funeral before having to turn himself in, according to a statement released by Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger.

The Clay County Attorney's Office said Sandstrom is expected to appear in court today.


Bar issued violation notice for grease in sewer system

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued a notice of violation to a local bar accused of dumping its cooking grease down city stormwater drains.

The MPCA recently issued Toasty Beaver’s Sports Bar and Grill the notice after city employees found evidence that grease had been discharged into the drain behind the bar in early April.

The notice lists four corrective actions the bar must take. That includes submitting a plan within 30 days that describes how it will ensure grease and grey water won’t reach surface waters, submitting a report on how it will train employees on proper grease and grey water disposal, and ceasing any unpermitted pollutant discharges into the city’s stormwater system.

Failure to complete those actions could result in further enforcement, Dan Olson, a MPCA public information officer, said in an email.

The violation notice doesn’t carry a financial penalty.

Toasty Beaver’s has already agreed to pay for the cleanup costs, but was also facing further penalties from the city. Its attorney, Minneapolis-based Ross Hussey, has maintained that the grease didn’t end up in the drain intentionally, as the city has alleged.

He and city attorney Al Felix didn’t return calls seeking comment Thursday.


Man charged with stealing more than $60,000 from church

WILLMAR, Minn. -- The treasurer for a central Minnesota church is accused of stealing more than $60,000 from the congregation.

Paul Alton Hanson, 50, of Willmar, made his first court appearance Wednesday on three felony charges of theft by swindle from Tripolis Lutheran Church of rural Kandiyohi County.

According to the complaint filed in Kandiyohi County District Court, Hanson allegedly wrote 129 checks to himself between July 2011 and January 2013 for $61,623.83 and disguised his actions by writing apparently legitimate church expenses in the church’s financial ledgers.

According to the complaint, the investigation began when church officials met with a detective from the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office in February. The officials reported that Hanson had been employed as the church treasurer and that they had received information from their bank that Hanson had been cashing numerous checks written to himself.

The officials told the detective that Hanson had admitted he had written the checks to himself for personal gain, had apologized profusely and requested that the matter be taken care of within the church.


North Dakota

Bismarck State’s Skogen named acting chancellor

BOTTINEAU, N.D. -- The State Board of Higher Education voted Thursday to name Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen as acting chancellor of the North Dakota University System.

Skogen will begin Monday after the state board’s decision at its annual meeting at Dakota College at Bottineau. He will maintain his position at BSC while serving for 60 days or longer as leader of the 11 public universities while the state board searches for a full-time interim chancellor of the University System.

The state board voted June 3 to buy out the remainder of outgoing Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s three-year contract, totaling just over $925,000 with salary and benefits, opting to put Shirvani on administrative leave beginning July 15.

The state board changed that date, voting to put Shirvani on leave effective immediately.

Shirvani did not attend Thursday’s state board meeting.

Skogen said he did not apply for the interim chancellor position, but board President Duaine Espegard called him Wednesday asking if he would temporarily fill the position.

“I said I’m a public servant and always have been, and I can help wherever I am needed,” Skogen said.


Lisbon man drowns after pickup swept off highway

GWINNER, N.D. -- Authorities on Thursday recovered the body of a Lisbon man who drowned after the pickup he was driving went off a flooded highway and was swept into deep water.

James Materi, 48, called 911 about 7:45 a.m. Thursday after his pickup was swept off Highway 32 north of Gwinner and into Dead Colt Creek, said Sargent County Sheriff Travis Paeper.

Paeper said members of the Gwinner Fire Department responded within a few minutes of the 911 call. Firefighters were actually running alongside the banks of the swollen creek following the truck when they saw it sink beneath the surface, Paeper said.

He said 911 dispatchers were in contact with Materi for a time, but he was unable to get out of the vehicle and the contact was eventually lost.

Paeper said that after sinking, the vehicle was in water between 8 and 12 feet deep. The pickup was lifted out of the creek about 1:45 p.m.

The area received 7 or more inches of rain overnight Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol reported that at the time the pickup went off the road, a state Department of Transportation worker was flagging traffic through about 8 to 12 inches of water on the roadway.


Boy making progress after double-lung transplant

HOUSTON -- Things are progressing quickly for Jordan Peterson, the Fargo 10-year-old who had a long-awaited double-lung transplant Tuesday in Houston.

Jordan’s new lungs are both fully inflated and he breathes without a ventilator, said Dan Peterson, his father. He said doctors are “thrilled” with Jordan’s progress, but they’re dealing with other complications from the transplant.

Though Jordan was able to eat his first solid food Thursday, his glucose levels shot up afterward. Many who undergo transplant surgery become diabetic through the process because of the drugs that prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs, Peterson said.

Another big challenge is pain management. Doctors needed to cut Jordan’s sternum in half and separate his ribs for the transplant. He also has four chest tubes that can be painful.

Jordan does small exercises such as standing and shifting his weight from foot to foot, but he’s sedated from pain medication.

Today could be another “big step” in Jordan’s recovery, Peterson said. Doctors plan to remove two of the tubes from his lungs and can possibly move him from the cardiac intensive care unit to a pediatric unit.

“Tomorrow could be a great day,” Peterson said Thursday.



Suspect, already in jail, named in 2012 Superior homicide

SUPERIOR, Wis. -- Superior police announced Thursday that a suspect has been arrested in Chicago in the 2012 murder of Toriano Dawen Cooper.

Tiawain Albert Johnson, 21, who originally is from Chicago but was living in Superior at the time of the shooting, was already in jail Monday in Chicago on an unrelated charge when a warrant was issued in Douglas County for his arrest alleging first-degree intentional homicide in the Cooper case.

Illinois authorities notified Superior police that Johnson already was in custody. He is in Illinois’ Cook County Jail awaiting extradition procedures.

Cooper was shot and killed outside a residence on Jan. 15, 2012, apparently in retaliation for a robbery during a previous drug deal.

According to Superior police, the murder investigation uncovered that the robbery took place a few weeks before the shooting. Information acquired during the investigation suggested that Cooper may have participated in a robbery of Johnson in which narcotics and money were taken. Johnson was aware of Cooper’s identity, police said, and the shooting is believed to be an act of retaliation for the robbery.


Speeding ticket overturned due to obscured sign

MADISON, Wis. -- When the city of Superior is required to post a speed limit sign, it can’t be enforced unless motorists are able to see it, a state appeals court ruled this week in dismissing a traffic ticket.

The District III Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a ruling by Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Thimm, who ordered Justin Bachinski to pay $175 after being clocked at 44 mph in a 25 mph zone on State Highway 35.

Police Officer Adam Zielinski issued Bachinski a citation last July for the minimum 10 mph over the speed limit.

Bachinski, 23, of Superior, contested the ticket before Thimm and presented three photographs of a tree branch obscuring the speed limit sign. Bachinski argued that it would be unfair to hold motorists responsible if they couldn’t see the sign.

The city countered that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices provision that signs not be obscured was a recommendation, not mandatory, and Bachinski’s citation was valid.

Thimm agreed the shrubbery obscured the sign but since maintenance wasn’t mandatory, he found Bachinski guilty of speeding.

On appeal, Bachinski’s attorney, David Kropid, argued that state statutes require the city to post the speed limit sign and it must remain legible, and the District III court agreed.


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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