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News Briefs: Farmington police seek help locating missing woman

Editor's note: The following is a collection of news briefs from Forum Communication Company newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota.


Farmington police seek help locating missing woman

FARMINGTON, Minn. -- Farmington police are searching for a 37-year-old woman who has been missing for more than a month.

Laura Jean Simonson, 37, was reported missing Nov. 22, Detective Sgt. Lee Hollatz said. Simonson was last seen by family members Nov. 1.

Hollatz said Simonson has residences in Farmington and St. Paul, so relatives here were not initially concerned when they had not seen her for several days. Simonson reportedly parked her van at her mother’s Farmington home Nov. 2 but has not been seen since.

Family members told Hollatz that Simonson has had family issues in her recent history. Hollatz also has information that her disappearance may have been planned. But relatives say it is unusual that Simonson would go so long without contacting them, he said.

Simonson is described as 5 feet 2 inches tall and about 105 pounds. She has strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes.

“We don’t believe any foul play is involved, but with these types of incidences, we take these very seriously because we are concerned about the well-being of Laura,” Hollatz said.

Information can be directed to Hollatz at (651) 280-6700.

Hubbard County drug offenders could lose welfare benefits

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- Hubbard County Social Services will ask for permission Dec. 17 to implement a new state law that lets counties deny public assistance to people who use drugs.

Hubbard would join other counties, including Becker County, which recently implemented the law.

Hubbard County Social Services Director Daryl Bessler said each county got a list of potential offenders this fall from the court system.

In Hubbard County, only seven people fit the criteria. Becker County had 17.

The law took effect in November. It requires counties to send out notices to convicted felons that they must pass a drug test before their welfare benefits can continue. Those recipients can appeal before the policy takes effect, if approved by the county board.

If they pass the test, benefits resume for six months until the next test. If they fail, benefits can be reduced or cut off.

The issue has been debated by civil libertarians, who believe it’s an extra infringement of welfare recipients’ civil rights, and conservatives, who don’t believe public money should subsidize criminals who abuse drugs.

Wrongful death lawsuit filed in workplace accident

OLIVIA, Minn. -- The family of Andrew Burnett says he was wearing a body safety harness attached to a lanyard when he fell about 60 feet to his death last year while working at the South Central Grain and Energy facility in Buffalo Lake.

The allegations are contained in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family in District Court in Renville County.

Rescuers were unable to resuscitate Burnett, 28, of New Ulm, at the scene of the accident on Oct. 27, 2012, according to a Renville County Sheriff’s Office report.

The lanyard and a rebar hook -- a component piece of it -- are a focus of the suit. The plaintiffs allege that Burnett’s injuries “were the result of certain defects in the lanyard and its component parts.’’

Defendants include lanyard manufacturer Honeywell International of Delaware; rebar hook manufacturer Pen Safe Inc. of Ontario, Canada; CEEC Inc. of Wabasso, the general contractor for a construction project; and Valley View Electric of New Ulm, a subcontractor and Burnett’s employer.

The defendants deny the allegations in responses they have filed to the lawsuit.

Attorneys are to meet with the court Dec. 11 to schedule a possible trial.

Walmart video reviewed in Detroit Lakes bomb scare

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Walmart is reviewing its surveillance video as authorities try to determine who is responsible for a Black Friday bomb scare that led to an evacuation of the Detroit Lakes store.

A bundle of store items were found wrapped in a camouflage jacket secured with zip ties and left on a store shelf, prompting the Crow Wing County Bomb squad and other agencies to respond to the suspicious package.

Detroit Lakes police Sgt. Robert Strand said Walmart is combing over its surveillance video for evidence.

“It’s (Walmart’s) own private security system, so we can’t just go in there and start looking at their stuff,” Strand said. “But when or if they find something, they’ll give us a call.”

Strand said that if a suspect is identified, he or she could get charged with attempting to conceal merchandise.

“But just because we suspected it could be a bomb, does that mean they’d get charged with anything (regarding the bomb scare)? No.” Strand said. “The prosecutor would have to look at the reports and decide if there would be anything else they could charge them with.”

The store was evacuated for about five hours Friday evening, which was supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year for the retailer.

Moorhead man pleads guilty in home invasion case

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- A man charged with attempted murder after his involvement in a home invasion that led to a high-speed chase has pleaded guilty in the case.

Emmanual Xavier Kennedy, 23, of Moorhead, pleaded guilty Monday in Clay County District Court to one count of possession of a weapon by a person with a criminal history and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, both felonies.

The attempted murder case against him was dismissed.

Kennedy was charged with three other men in August. Court documents say they showed up at a Moorhead home with guns and wearing gloves and masks, asking the residents for cash.

One man told police he was shot at, and another man was hit in the head with the butt of a shotgun.

Kennedy’s sentencing is set for Jan. 21.


N.D. spill website now live

BISMARCK – A North Dakota spill report website detailing oilfield spills and other environmental incidents is now live.

The North Dakota Department of Health, Environmental Health Section, created the website,, to make information about spills easy to access.

The website provides information on the type of spill, amount released, date of incident and location. It also includes incident summaries, such as potential environmental impacts and actions taken or remediation plans.

Data will be updated weekly.

Bismarck builder plans $75 million in 2014 projects

BISMARCK -- A Bismarck housing developer has announced plans to build $75.2 million worth of single-family housing starting in 2014 to meet rising demand in the area.

Wachter Development’s plans outlined in a news release include:

-- South Meadows, a 160-unit housing project in southwest Bismarck at Washington Street and Burleigh Avenue.

-- The final phase of Copper Ridge Development south of Lincoln, adding 70 homes to the 250 already built in the area east of the Bismarck airport.

-- Adding 52 more homes to the Heart Ridge development in southwest Mandan.

The starting price point for all three developments ranges from $249,000 to $275,000, the release said.

“I am looking forward to developing more homes in this price category, what I consider to be the fastest growing and strongest in our market,” said Chad Wachter, president of Wachter Development Inc.

Two men charged in Jamestown stabbing

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Two North Dakota men face charges in a Thanksgiving Day stabbing in Jamestown.

Ernest Castillo, 35, of Jamestown, and Shawn Laber, 26, of Mohall, were each charged Friday in Southeast District Court with aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, both Class C felonies. They were being held in the Stutsman County Correctional Center on $1,000 cash bond.

Jamestown police arrested the men Nov. 28 after police were called to the Jamestown Regional Medical Center as the staff was treating a man who had been stabbed in the neck.

Court documents say Castillo and Laber were involved in an altercation with a 36-year-old Jamestown man at a residence. The man was dating a former girlfriend of Castillo, the documents say, and he went to the residence to talk with Castillo about “threatening statements” Castillo allegedly made about the man.

When the man arrived, Castillo and Laber attacked him, court documents say, with Laber stabbing the man with a steak knife and wounding his neck.

A bond reduction hearing for Labor is scheduled for today. Castillo is scheduled for an arraignment and/or preliminary hearing Jan. 2.

UND volleyball coach resigns amid crash investigation

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- University of North Dakota volleyball coach Ashley Hardee submitted his resignation Wednesday, according to a release from the school.

The resignation comes as Hardee is being investigated for a reported hit-and-run accident Sunday while the team was in Portland, Ore., at the Big Sky tournament. The school put Hardee on paid administrative leave Monday.

“I would like to extend a sincere apology to the program, the university and the community for a serious lapse in judgment,” Hardee said. “... I thank the entire community for its tremendous support over the past five years.”

Portland State University spokesman Scott Gallagher said the accident was reported at 5:05 a.m. Sunday the University Center Hotel, and that witnesses alleged the UND coach was driving the car that struck an unoccupied vehicle. No injuries were reported.

The campus public safety office is investigating, Gallagher said.

Hardee, 40, was hired at UND in 2009 and just completed his fifth season. He led UND to its first Big Sky Conference title in any sport last month. Hardee also led UND to two Great West Conference titles and won the league’s coach of the year award twice.

Former police officer acquitted of terrorizing charge

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- A jury on Wednesday found Jace Prelip, a former Grand Forks police officer, not guilty of felony terrorizing but guilty of a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct for holding a gun to a man’s head last year at a party after hours of drinking.

The jury of eight men and four women deliberated about 90 minutes after hearing several prosecution witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday.

Prelip, who did not testify, faced a mandatory two years in prison if he had been convicted of the terrorizing charge and possibly up to five years.

Watford City man killed in semi rollover

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- A 59-year-old Watford City man was killed in a rollover crash 16 miles south of his hometown Tuesday morning, the North Dakota Highway Patrol reported Wednesday.

The patrol and the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office investigated the crash, which killed Ronald Waters at about 9 a.m. Tuesday, when roads were icy and it was cloudy and snowing.

Waters was driving a 2011 Kenworth Straight Truck on McKenzie County 27 on a gravel road three miles east on the Long X Road. He was traveling east and came to a hillcrest with a curve and failed to negotiate the turn and went into the south ditch, the patrol said. The vehicle rolled and came to rest on its passenger side. The vehicle was totaled.

Waters was not wearing a seatbelt.

Wheatland dog breeder pleads guilty to animal abuse

FARGO – A Wheatland man charged with neglecting about 170 dogs at an apparent puppy mill at his rural home has pleaded guilty in the case.

The defense attorney for Darcy Darrell Smith, 51, entered an Alford plea to one count of Class A misdemeanor animal abuse on Smith’s behalf at a hearing Wednesday in Cass County District Court.

At the hearing, prosecutors amended the charge of depriving an animal of necessary food or water to include all the 168 dogs seized from Smith’s Wheatland-area home July 10.

Five other animal neglect charges against him were dropped.

In an Alford plea, a defendant admits prosecutors likely have enough evidence for a jury to convict him at a trial but maintains he is not guilty.

Cass County sheriff’s deputies said they seized the dogs from Smith’s breeding operation after finding them stacked in cages three deep, some dogs five to a cage, living in piles of their own feces and urine-soaked paper.

Cass County prosecutor Leah Viste said the state was seeking a sentence in which Smith would be prohibited from owning any more dogs. The sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 6.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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