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News Briefs: Woman pleads guilty in crash that killed two Carlton County employees

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


Woman pleads guilty in crash that killed two Carlton County employees

CARLTON, Minn. -- A Cloquet woman accused of causing an accident that left two Carlton County employees dead pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of criminal vehicular homicide.

She is expected to serve six years in prison.

Vanessa Rae Brigan, 28, was charged in Carlton County District Court with two counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide while under the influence of a controlled substance in connection with a crash that killed Zachary Gamache, 25, of Esko, and Mitchell Lingren, 29, of Duluth, near Wright on Oct. 1, 2012, as Brigan was on her way back from a methadone clinic in Brainerd.

Lingren and Gamache were working for the Carlton County Highway Department when they were killed in what law enforcement officials said was a methadone-related crash.

Brigan was accused of driving while impaired by methadone when she ran into the truck carrying Lingren and Gamache, causing them to hit a trailer.

Brigan’s plea means she will serve six years in prison with credit for time already served. After that, she will be on probation. Her formal sentencing is scheduled for April 14.

Alexandria robbery could be linked to two others

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- Alexandria police believe a convenience store robbery Tuesday night is linked to two other recent robberies, said Police Chief Rick Wyffels.

Just before midnight Tuesday, a robber at the Super America on Broadway held the clerk at gunpoint and demanded cash from the till, police said. He then tied the employee’s hands and ankles and took her to a back room, at one point throwing her to the floor, causing her to bleed from the nose and face.

The robber went out the front door and showed a customer sitting in a vehicle his handgun, demanding the person’s wallet, police said. Officers determined that a vehicle picked up the robber.

The clerk was treated at Douglas County Hospital and released.

Police think the Super America robbery is related to robberies at a Subway restaurant Feb. 23 and a Premiere Video on March 10.

The robber was described as white, about 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall with a medium to slender build. He also has a pronounced outstep on both legs and feet, with the right leg and foot being very pronounced pointing outward.

Anyone with information is urged to call police at (320) 763-6631.

McDonald named interim president at Minnesota West

WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- Barbara McDonald, provost at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, has been named interim president of Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

McDonald’s appointment becomes effective July 1.

The 15-member Minnesota State Colleges and Universities board of trustees unanimously approved Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s nomination of McDonald.

“Dr. McDonald is extremely well prepared for the position. She understands rural Minnesota, and understands what it means to work across multiple campuses,” Rosenstone said.

McDonald will serve until June 30, 2015. She succeeds Richard Shrubb, who has announced his retirement. A national search will be conducted to find a permanent replacement.

McDonald has been at Itasca Community College since 2000, serving as provost since last year. She also has served as dean of academic affairs and student services, and as director of institutional effectiveness. Before her tenure at Itasca, she was a faculty member and assessment coordinator at Rainy River Community College.

McDonald holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a master’s in teaching English as a foreign language from the American University in Cairo and a doctorate in education from the University of Minnesota.

Sunday liquor sales get toe in door

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota Senate committee is considering "baby steps" that eventually could lead toward Sunday liquor sales.

Bills sponsored by Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, would allow Sunday refills and sales of beer jugs, popularly known as growlers, and allow taprooms to be open. The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to include the provisions in an overall liquor bill it will pass in coming days.

“These are baby steps towards full repeal of the Sunday liquor law ban, but they also represent important issues of equity," Reinert said. "Currently, vineyards across the state can sell their product on Sundays; these bills would allow craft brewers to do the same."

Reinert has fought for years to allow Sunday liquor sales, but has not found the votes to pass that measure.

A representative of Canal Park Brewing in Duluth testified that inability to sell growlers on Sundays significantly inhibits the ability to bring in revenue.

“The craft brewing industry contributes immensely to Minnesota’s economy," Reinert said. "In 2012, it helped add nearly $742 million to the state economy, and in 2013 it contributed nearly 8,000 jobs."

Committee backs bill to expand sex offender registration

ST. PAUL -- A House committee unanimously supported a bill with its roots in western Minnesota that would require any sex offender who is required to register elsewhere to register when he moves to the state.

The bill by Rep. Jay McNamar, D-Elbow Lake, would expand Minnesota law to require registration by any sex offender who must register under federal or tribal law or by another state's law, even if the person did not commit a crime that would have required him to register in Minnesota.

John Kingrey of the Minnesota County Attorneys' Association said the bill stems from a Traverse County case. A North Dakotan convicted of indecent exposure, who was required to register in his home state, moved to the county and authorities did not have the power to make him register in Minnesota.

College student faces sex charge

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A 19-year-old Bemidji State University student is facing criminal sexual conduct charges stemming from a party at his residence.

Joshua Riley Malone has been charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct against a victim who was mentally impaired or rendered helpless. He faces up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

Malone, from Gordan, Wis., is a member of the Bemidji State football team. He hosted a party at his off-campus residence Feb. 21, according to court documents. A woman and her friends attended the party and played drinking games. She became intoxicated and a friend placed her on a couch where she passed out, documents stated.

In a statement to Bemidji police, Malone confirmed that he had a party at his house and reported he carried a drunk woman to his room to take care of her. The two had sex, but Malone indicated that the woman was not unconscious when he had sex with her, according to court documents.

Malone was arrested Monday and arraigned Wednesday in Beltrami District Court. He was being held in the Beltrami County Jail.

Cop impersonator pleads guilty

DULUTH -- A Duluth man pleaded guilty this week to charges that he impersonated an officer at two convenience stores in an attempt to get into their safes.

Cody Lee Walker-Nelson, 23, pleaded guilty to a felony burglary charge and a misdemeanor count of impersonating an officer Monday in State District Court.

Walker-Nelson was arrested last month after police said he entered a Cenex gas station dressed like an officer, wearing a fake badge around his neck and carrying a chemical aerosol container and a stun gun on a duty belt.

Walker-Nelson told the clerk that he was a drug task force officer and requested access to surveillance camera footage and then asked to look in the store safe. A similar description and activity were reported a few blocks away at another Cenex station.

He was later found at his grandmother’s house, where he was arrested. The grandmother said she had been driving Walker-Nelson around that day to convenience stores, believing he was applying for jobs.


Results could take weeks in former attorney general’s death

FARGO – Fargo police said it could take several weeks before the state medical examiner’s office will be able to give more significant information on the death of former Attorney General Nick Spaeth.

Spaeth, 64, was found dead in his Fargo home by police Sunday afternoon.

Police had responded to a call of a possible suicidal person there, but they are not characterizing his death, other than that no foul play is suspected.

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said that some preliminary results may come back by the end of the week, but that neither the cause nor manner of death is likely to be among them.

Vettel said medical examiners need to get Spaeth’s medical records before they can make determinations on his death.

Toxicology screening also can take a matter of weeks, he said.