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News Briefs: Motorcyclist killed after hitting I-394 pothole at 100-plus mph

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Motorcyclist killed after hitting I-394 pothole at 100-plus mph

By St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- A motorcyclist is dead after hitting a pothole Tuesday night at more than 100 mph on Interstate 394 in Minneapolis.

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Eyewitnesses saw two motorcyclists traveling east on I-394 at “very, very high rates of speed,” said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Jason Bartell.

The motorcycles were going between 100 and 120 mph, he said.

Shortly before 10 p.m., Anand Baskaran, 30, of East Northport, N.Y., was ejected after hitting a pothole and losing control near Theodore Wirth Parkway, according to the patrol.

Witnesses said Baskaran had been wearing a helmet, although those first on the scene did not observe one. A helmet was later recovered at the scene.

The other motorcyclist “took off,” Bartell said, and authorities were looking for that person, who is described as driving a black 2009-10 Honda CBR sport-style motorcycle.

It was not immediately clear whether the two motorcyclists were racing. The patrol did not receive any reports of the bikers weaving through traffic, Bartell said.

This is Minnesota’s first death of a motorcyclist in 2014, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Editor's note: The following news briefs are from Forum Communication Company newspapers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Minnesotan killed in Montana avalanche

COOKE CITY, Mont. – An 18-year-old man from Lake Lillian, Minn., died Tuesday afternoon after being buried in an avalanche while snowmobiling in the Yellowstone area of south-central Montana.

The victim was identified as Zach Joseph Junkermeier by family members through the Peterson Brothers Funeral Home of Atwater.

The Yellowstone Park Dispatch received a report about 4 p.m. of a snowmobiler buried in an avalanche in the Daisy Pass/Crown Butte area near Cook City, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Department.

Five members of the Park County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue based in Cooke City responded to the scene and began probing the snow about 4:15 p.m.

The snowmobiler was located about 5:10 p.m. about 6 feet below the surface, according to the sheriff’s department. Rescuers were unable to revive him.

The victim was snowmobiling with friends. He was about halfway up the slope when he was overtaken by the avalanche. Another member of the group tried to outrun the avalanche and was knocked off his snowmobile and into some trees. He was slightly injured but was not buried.

The avalanche area is part of the Gallatin National Forest, part of the Yellowstone area. Officials consider this a large avalanche at about 500 feet wide, 600 feet long and 20 feet deep in areas.

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center reports that there have been five avalanche fatalities in Montana this year, four of them in the last 18 days.

Tribal councilman was shot; woman in custody

RED LAKE, Minn. -- A woman was taken into custody after a Red Lake Tribal Council member was found dead Saturday with a gunshot wound.

About 7:40 p.m. Saturday, Red Lake tribal police received a call regarding a shooting at a Red Lake residence, said a news release sent Wednesday by William Brunelle, director of the Red Lake Department of Public Safety.

Officers found Donald "Dudie" May Jr., 58, dead with a gunshot wound. The release did not say if the gunshot was what killed May. A 47-year-old woman was at the residence and was taken into custody and faces charges of domestic violence, third-degree assault and disorderly conduct in tribal court, the release said. The release did not say if the woman shot May. The shooting remains under investigation by Red Lake as well as the FBI.

May was elected to the Red Lake Tribal Council in 2004, 2008 and again in 2012. He most recently was director of Red Lake Sanitation.

A wake was being held Wednesday in the Red Lake Humanities Building and will continue until funeral services at 10 a.m. Friday, also at the Humanities Building.

Minnesotan finishes Iditarod as top rookie

NOME, Alaska -- Musher Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, Minn., has crossed the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race finish line in Nome as the first rookie to complete this year's 1,000-mile race across the Alaskan wilderness.

Schroeder -- competing in his first Iditarod after winning Minnesota’s John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon three times -- crossed the finish line at 8:52 a.m. Alaska time Wednesday, according to the race website. He finished in 17th place of the 50 teams that have either finished or were still on the trail; 69 teams started the race March 2.

Schroeder's finish puts him in elite company among race rookies. In the past 20 years, only six rookies have finished higher in the standings.

Schroeder and his team of 11 dogs left the Safety checkpoint, about 20 miles from the finish, at 6:15 a.m. Alaska time Wednesday — the same time as fellow rookie Abbie West and her team of eight. Schroeder and West traded the lead rookie spot for much of the race before Schroeder pulled ahead at the finish, finishing 5½ minutes ahead.

Schroeder's total time on the trail was 9 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes, 51 seconds.

Court suspends Jim Carlson’s attorney for financial mismanagement

ST. PAUL -- The attorney for Duluth head shop owner Jim Carlson must serve a 30-day suspension due to mismanagement of financial records, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered Wednesday.

Randall Tigue, who has his law office in Golden Valley, will begin serving the suspension March 24.

“It’s going to disrupt things, but not too much,” Tigue said. “It’ll be an annoyance, but not something I can’t overcome.”

The Supreme Court opinion says Tigue “failed to maintain trust account books and records, failed to retain trust account bank records for the required period of time, and negligently misappropriated client funds.”

The suspension could interfere with the sentencing for Carlson, who was convicted in October of 51 federal crimes related to the sale of synthetic drugs at his Duluth shop, Last Place on Earth. Tigue said a probation officer recently notified him that Carlson’s presentence investigation should be complete by March 31, so a sentencing date probably will be set soon thereafter.

But Tigue, 65, said he has another attorney in his office who can handle his caseload for a month, and four other defense attorneys are representing Carlson’s girlfriend and son in the case.

Lew selected as new chief public defender for northeastern Minnesota

DULUTH -- Daniel Lew has been selected as just the third person to lead public defender services in northeastern Minnesota since the position was established nearly a half-century ago.

Lew, 43, will succeed Fred Friedman, who is retiring March 31 after 28 years as chief public defender for the 6th Judicial District.

Lew is the first Asian-American to serve as a chief public defender in Minnesota, and only the fourth nationwide, according to the Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

A New York City native and the son of Chinese immigrants, Lew first came to Minnesota to study law at Hamline University. After graduating in 1995, he worked as a prosecutor with the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office and a law clerk with Hennepin County Judge Tony Leung.

Friedman brought Lew to Duluth in 1996 as an assistant state public defender. He has served continuously in northeastern Minnesota, with the exception of a five-year stint in the same role in St. Paul. Since 2007, he has served as the district’s managing attorney.

Lew was selected from a pool of applicants interviewed by a Board of Defense committee, which included the district’s chief and assistant chief judges, as well as members chosen by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Mechanical failure to blame for ethanol plant fire

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – Investigators determined that a mechanical failure caused a fire and explosion Monday afternoon at an ethanol plant in Fergus Falls.

A hydraulic pump that controls the damper in the dryer building of the Green Plains Renewable Energy plant failed Monday afternoon, according to a statement released Wednesday from Fergus Falls Fire Chief Mark Hovland.

The failure caused higher than normal temperatures in an attached chamber where hazardous emissions are destroyed. A fire started in the chamber, and smoke from the fire was drawn into the dryer building, causing a smoke explosion.

The explosion tore apart the building, Hovland said earlier this week.

No one was injured in the fire or subsequent explosion.

Green Plains officials are still assessing the damage, which plant manager Anthony Hicks said is “significant,” but no dollar amount was given.

The plant, which produces corn-based ethanol, corn oil and distiller’s grains, has been in operation since 2008.

North Dakota

Investigation into officer’s suicide to be done within days

FARGO – The Fargo police lieutenant who killed himself early Tuesday morning left a note for his family before driving outside city limits and shooting himself with a personal handgun.

The investigation into Lt. Jeff Skuza’s suicide is nearing completion and should be done within a couple of days, Sgt. Tara Morris with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

Skuza, 47, shot himself in the head at Holy Cross Cemetery, just outside Fargo city limits.

Morris said Skuza left a note for his family at home. He used a personal vehicle to drive to the cemetery before shooting himself with his own handgun, not a department-issued weapon, she said. He was off-duty at the time and was in plain clothes, Morris said.

“All the investigation is really just proving the fact that we’re confident it was a suicide,” Morris said. “We’re still kind of at a loss. We don’t – and no one ever does in a situation like this – know why.”

Skuza served about 23 years on the Fargo police force. He is survived by his wife and two teenage children.

New oil and gas rules take effect April 1

BISMARCK – New oil and gas rules that include oversight over 18,000 miles of gathering pipelines have received final approval and will take effect April 1.

Changes to the state’s oil and gas regulations approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission in December were presented this week to the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee.

The new rules result from changes that were made to more than 40 sections of Oil and Gas Administrative Code.

One of the significant changes is the Industrial Commission now has jurisdiction over gathering pipelines that are not monitored by other state or federal agencies. Other changes include strengthening the state’s spill reporting and notification requirements and tightening requirements for treating plants for oilfield waste.

Final rules can be found on the division website at https://www.dmr.nd.gov/oilgas/or23159.pdf.

Tim Hortons to open 15 locations in Fargo, Minot areas

FARGO – As part of a five-year global strategy plan announced last month, Tim Hortons plans to open 15 locations in the Fargo and Minot areas.

The 15 stores will be a mix of full-service restaurants with drive-thrus and “nonstandard” restaurants located within businesses, such as gas stations, hospitals, office buildings and arenas, according to Brynn Burton, manager of U.S. public relations for Tim Hortons Café and Bake Shop.

Fargo can expect to see restaurants opening in early 2015, Burton said in an interview Wednesday.

Tim Hortons is a Canadian-based brand known for its coffee, doughnuts and other baked goods. There are 4,485 restaurants globally, including 859 in the U.S. There now is a Tim Hortons restaurant in Grand Forks, as well as a location inside the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

No details are available about who will own the franchises, the exact locations in Fargo or Minot, or how many of each type of restaurant would be in each community. Burton said more announcements will be made.

Special prosecutor approved for western N.D.

BISMARCK – State lawmakers gave Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem permission Wednesday to hire a special prosecutor who will serve a dual role in federal court to help fight drug trafficking that has followed the oil boom in western North Dakota.

The Legislature’s Budget Section approved the full-time position and gave Stenehjem the authority to spend $100,000 in federal funds on salary and operating expenses.

The prosecutor will serve as both an assistant attorney general and a special assistant U.S. attorney.

It’s the first dedication of federal resources resulting from a decision in November by the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy to designate Williams County as a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA.

Congress provided a $100,000 grant for the position for fiscal year 2013, and Midwest HIDTA Director David Barton said in January that a grant request had been submitted for 2014.

The attorney general’s office is interviewing applicants for the position, spokeswoman Liz Brocker said. The office currently has one assistant attorney general who is also a special assistant U.S. attorney.

Wisconsin

Access to Apostle Islands ice caves to close by Sunday

CORNUCOPIA, Wis. -- Access to the wildly popular ice caves on Lake Superior at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will close for the season no later than Sunday night due to rapidly changing ice conditions, park officials announced Wednesday.

As the ice on Lake Superior breaks up, it is creating day-to-day uncertainty about the safety of reaching the caves along the mainland shore of the lake near Cornucopia, park officials said.

If ice conditions deteriorate before Sunday, access could close sooner, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore officials said.

About 100,000 visitors have made the 1.1-mile trek over Lake Superior’s ice to reach the caves this winter, park officials say.

While the Park Service anticipates that ice conditions will still allow access through this weekend, park rangers will monitor conditions closely and make an immediate announcement if an earlier closure becomes necessary, a park news release stated. The Park Service suggests that people call the automated ice line at (715) 779-3398, ext. 3, for updates or check the park’s Facebook site, www.facebook.com/apostleislandsnationallakeshore.

Two Guard units heading to Afghanistan

MADISON, Wis. -- Units based in Sussex and Chippewa Falls from the Wisconsin Army National Guard will deploy to Afghanistan this spring, according to a news release issued Wednesday.

Sussex-based Battery A of the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment and the 829th Engineer Company, headquartered in Chippewa Falls, will both deploy on separate missions.

The 829th Engineer Company has detachments in Ashland and Richland Center.

Battery A's mission will be to provide artillery fire support for coalition forces in Afghanistan. About 80 soldiers will deploy with the high mobility artillery rocket system unit.

The 829th will deploy more than 160 soldiers to southern Afghanistan to conduct a deconstruction and material reclamation mission. The unit will be responsible for tearing down forward operating bases and reclaiming materials and equipment accumulated by coalition forces throughout the war. Their objective will be to keep those materials from the enemy and to recover U.S. property.

The Wisconsin National Guard is planning send-off ceremonies for both units.

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