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News Briefs: Minnesota driving deaths down in 2013

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


Man injured after rear-ending snowplow

LITCHFIELD, Minn. –– A 25-year-old Cosmos man was injured Wednesday when the vehicle he was driving collided with a snowplow.

Blowing snow and poor visibility is being blamed for the accident, which happened around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in Meeker County.

According to the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office, Dwayne Anderson was driving north on State Highway 4 and was unable to see a snowplow traveling in front of him because of poor visibility caused by blowing snow.

Anderson swerved in an attempt to avoid rear-ending the snowplow, but his vehicle struck the side wing of the snowplow and rolled.

Anderson was transported by a private vehicle to the Hutchinson Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

The snowplow, which is owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, was operated by Scott Powell, 53, of Hutchinson. Powell was not injured.

Minnesota driving deaths down in 2013

ST. PAUL -- Fewer drivers died in Minnesota accidents last year than in 2012.

The Public Safety Department on Thursday reported the preliminary 2013 road death toll at 375, down from 395 a year earlier and a peak in the past decade of 567 in 2004.

“Despite last year’s dip in traffic fatalities, these numbers still reflect far too many victims who have lost their lives on our roads,” the department's Donna Berger said. “We continue to encourage all drivers to make good decisions about driving sober, buckling up, slowing down and eliminating distractions.”

The department reported that the fatality report includes 31 pedestrians, six bicyclists, 60 motorcyclists and 278 motorists. The only area that saw an increase from 2012 was motorcycle drivers, where the death toll rose five from 2012.

The deadliest 2013 months were July (52), September (50) and November (38).

Preliminary reports also indicate 23,800 motorists were charged with drunken driving last year, up nearly 400 from a year earlier.

Driver found guilty of vehicular homicide

AUSTIN, Minn. -- A southern Minnesota man has been found guilty of vehicular homicide in a crash that killed two of his friends.

A jury reached that verdict late Wednesday in a case involving Jason David Fredrickson, who was accused of drunken driving while traveling faster than 120 mph on an Austin-area county road Feb. 25, 2012. The car went airborne, ramming a tree and two utility poles.

Two Austin residents, Luke Unverzagt and Jake Moe, died in the crash.

Fredrickson is free until his March 13 sentencing.

Esko man arrested in school bomb threat

CARLTON, Minn. -- An 18-year-old Esko man has been arrested on suspicion of making terroristic threats for allegedly calling in a bomb threat to the Esko School on Tuesday.

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said Thursday that the man was in the Carlton County jail awaiting formal charges.

The school was evacuated and searched Tuesday afternoon, but no bomb was found, and school resumed Wednesday.

Babbitt man charged with murdering house guest

VIRGINIA, Minn. -- A 24-year-old Babbitt man was formally charged Thursday in the killing of a Mahtomedi man.

Shawn Russel Doherty was charged in State District Court in Virginia with second-degree murder in the death Monday of Paul John Bulen, 55.

Judge Gary Pagliaccetti set Doherty’s bail at $1 million and granted an application for a public defender.

Pagliaccetti also ordered that Doherty undergo a competency evaluation before the case proceeds.

Authorities said Bulen, a guest in Doherty’s home, was found dead just after 11 a.m. Monday outside the home.

An autopsy performed by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office in Hibbing showed the cause of death was manual strangulation resulting in suffocation.

Woman dies after escaping house fire in northeastern Minn.

MEADOWLANDS, Minn. -- A 72-year-old woman died after escaping a house fire in Meadowlands early Thursday.

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office said John Stossel, 75, reported just after midnight that his home was filled with smoke and he and his wife, Karen Gosch, could not get out.

Meadowlands firefighters got the two out of the single-story home, which was destroyed by the fire, the sheriff’s office said. The couple were transported to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where Gosch was later pronounced dead. Stossel was in stable condition.

Early investigation of the fire points to it starting in the kitchen, but a full investigation continues. Firefighters remained on the scene for several hours.

Hibbing, city workers agree on new contract

HIBBING, Minn. -- The Hibbing City Council voted Thursday in special session to ratify a three-year contract with its public workers, union and city officials said.

That announcement followed a vote Wednesday night by members of AFSCME Local 791 to also accept the agreement, said Steve Giorgi, associate director of AFSCME Council 65.

The contract offers pay that was acceptable to employees along with an increase in insurance premium payments beginning in 2016, Giorgi said in a statement. Both sides agreed to a different health insurance plan, he said.

The contract is retroactive to Jan. 1.

City administrator Tom Dicklich said he was pleased by the agreement.

“We ended up with a fair contract for both the union and the city,” Dicklich said. “We have great workers here. They deserved to get a good contract.”

The agreement averted a strike that could have begun as soon as this past Tuesday. Local 791 filed a notice to strike Jan. 3, after several failed mediation sessions.

Instead, the two sides ironed out their differences Friday in an 11-hour session with a mediator, Dicklich said.

Lawyer in vampire trucker kidnapping case wants evidence tossed

MOORHEAD, Minn. – A lawyer for a Salt Lake City trucker accused of holding a woman prisoner in his semi for six months before being arrested at a Moorhead weigh station wants evidence in the case thrown out.

Steve Beitelspacher, of the Clay County public defender’s office, said at a hearing Thursday in Clay County District Court that he plans to file a motion to suppress evidence on behalf of Timothy Vafeades, 53.

Beitelspacher said law enforcement did not have probable cause to stop Vafeades’ truck.

Vafeades was charged Dec. 2 in Clay County with kidnapping and false imprisonment.

Court documents describe Vafeades as a vampire enthusiast who held the woman captive in a semi he called the Twilight Express. The woman told an investigator Vafeades filed her teeth down with a Dremel tool and made her wear dentures, while wearing dentures himself shaped like vampire fangs.

Vafeades’ truck was stopped Nov. 26 at the Moorhead weigh station on Interstate 94.

Court documents say authorities discovered Vafeades was the subject of a protection order barring him from having contact with the woman who was with him. The woman is his relative.

North Dakota

Fargo teen found; man arrested on unrelated warrants

FARGO -- Fargo police have located a 14-year-old runaway who walked away from school in north Fargo on Jan. 10.

The missing teen, Dallas Patrick Samdahl, was located in Fargo, according to a statement from Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel.

After he went missing, police believed Samdahl was with Joseph Aaron Marshall, 37, of Fargo, but the two were not found together.

Vettel said they were acquaintances prior to Samdahl running away.

Marshall also was found and arrested on outstanding warrants unrelated to the incident with Samdahl, Vettel said.

Police are no longer seeking information about Samdahl or Marshall.

Airman court-martialed for raping wife of deployed airman

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- An airman at Grand Forks Air Force Base was sentenced Monday at his court martial to 34 years in prison for raping a woman on base this past summer, the base said Thursday.

Senior Airman Jory Hodge, 23, broke into the home of an airman who was deployed and forced himself upon the deployed airman's wife early on the morning of Aug. 10, the base said.

Hodge agreed to plead guilty to all charges he faced, including rape by threat or fear, sodomy, assault consummated by a battery, burglary and communicating a threat. In exchange, his sentence was capped at 20 years.

The victim testified that she awoke to a shadowy figure standing above her in her bedroom, according to the base. She said he punched her and she begged him to stop, thinking he wanted to kill her.

Air Force military judge Col. Natalie Richardson presided over Hodge's court martial.

Engelstad Arena’s events director leaving for South Dakota

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The Ralph Engelstad Arena’s events and marketing director is leaving to become assistant general manager of a group of events centers in Sioux Falls, S.D.

According to a news release from the South Dakota events centers’ management, Chris Semrau will be responsible for booking entertainment at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, Sioux Falls Arena and Convention Center and the Orpheum Theater Center.

His last day will be Feb. 10.

Semrau has been with the Engelstad arena since 2000, the same year he graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelor’s degree in business.