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News Briefs: Woodbury police identify jewelry store gunman

The following is a collection of news briefs from Forum Communication Company newspapers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.


Woodbury police identify jewelry store gunman

WOODBURY, Minn. -- Police on Wednesday identified a 54-year-old Minneapolis man as the person suspected of robbing a jewelry store in Woodbury before taking his own life.

According to police, Thomas Eric Jones, brandished a handgun Saturday while attempting to rob Johnson Jewelers. A worker at the store said Jones bagged up diamonds but panicked after seeing a Woodbury police officer outside the building who had been flagged down by another employee of the jewelry store.

Jones rushed to the back of the store and died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Erick Larkins, 46, was arrested Sunday as a suspected accomplice to the weekend robbery. He was being held in Stillwater on suspicion of aiding and abetting robbery in the first degree.

Paul and Babe make top 5 in USA TODAY quirky landmark poll

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The iconic statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox ranked fourth among the greatest "Quirky Landmarks" in the United States, according to an online poll conducted by USA TODAY.

In results released Wednesday, the Bemidji pair beat out a list of oddities that included the peach-shaped water tower in Gaffney, S.C., which is featured on the Netflix series "House of Cards" (10th), the Enchanted Highway of Regent, N.D., (8th) and the Fremont Troll of Seattle (5th). However, the folksy majesty of Paul and Babe was apparently lost on the people who favored Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made out of cars in Alliance, Neb., (3rd), Longaberger Home Office, an office building shaped like a giant basket in Newark, Ohio, (2nd) and Big Tex, a giant corporate-sponsored cowboy at the state fairgrounds in Dallas (1st).

Landmarks were nominated by USA TODAY staff.

To see more on the contest results, go to

Man charged with kicking pregnant woman, threatening her with knife

WINDOM, Minn. -- A Windom man accused of threatening a pregnant woman with a knife and kicking her has been charged with attempted second-degree murder.

Nickson Otema, 25, was arrested Sunday.

The criminal complaint said the victim was living with Otema at an apartment and told authorities she was four months pregnant and the child belonged to the suspect.

Otema threatened the woman with a knife and told her he was going to "get the baby out," according to the complaint.

Otema is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

Windom is in Cottonwood County in southwestern Minnesota.

Man sentenced to probation in party that led to hypothermia death

MADISON, Minn. -- A 59-year-old Madison man charged in connection with a party that led to a young man’s death must serve one year of probation and pay prosecution costs.

The misdemeanor charge against Gary Hastad for violating the Lac qui Parle County alcohol ordinance was continued for dismissal Wednesday. That means the charge will be dismissed from his criminal record if he completes probation and other conditions of his sentence.

Hastad was charged under the county’s “social host” ordinance in connection with the March 8 party attended by Michael Anyasike, 18, of Dawson, who died of hypothermia after fleeing the party when law enforcement arrived. The high school senior’s body was found the next day about a mile away.

Hastad is not accused of being at the party, but the criminal complaint charges that he should have known about the party. The complaint alleges that other parties had been hosted at the farm place, and that snow had been cleared at the site.

Hastad’s son, Erik Patrick Hastad, 19, of Madison, and five others were sentenced early this month in the case. The younger Hastad, who hosted the party, was sentenced to two years of probation and 30 days in jail.

Menahga man charged in teen’s killing opts out of guilty plea

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- A Menahga man abruptly withdrew his intention to plead guilty Monday in the February killing of a Park Rapids teen.

Harley David Leritz, 21, is charged with second-degree murder in the strangling death of Keila Gem Knowles, 19, in her Park Rapids apartment. He is also charged with a probation violation related to a 2012 criminal sexual conduct conviction.

A plea hearing was set for Monday morning, but Leritz opted out of entering a guilty plea.

Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne said he couldn’t say why Leritz changed his mind. He met privately with members of Knowles’ family in the courtroom after the hearing.

Judge Paul Rasmussen was scheduled to hear the plea Monday. Another hearing set for Tuesday was canceled.

Leritz is jailed in Hubbard County on $1.5 million unconditional bail and $1 million conditional.

Leritz has been convicted of traffic and liquor charges, as well as fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving an underage female.

For that crime he received 30 days in jail and 10 years of supervised probation. He is charged with a probation violation in that case, for allegedly failing to remain law abiding.


Eight minors hospitalized after horse riding accident near Medora

MEDORA, N.D. -- Eight minors were hospitalized Monday afternoon after being bucked from their horses during a trail ride near the Medora riding stables.

A group of 14 people were on the ride -- 13 minors and one supervising adult. Two Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation guides led the group.

At one point, one of the horses near the front saw something and got spooked, Billings County Sheriff’s Deputy Pat Rummel said.

After that, other horses became fearful as well, bucking off their riders. No one was seriously injured, Rummel said.

“It sounds like it was a chain reaction,” he said.

Neither guides nor riders were able to identify what scared the horses, Rummel said.

Billings County Ambulance Service workers responded to the accident, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation marketing director Justin Fisk said.

Those who complained of pain were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dickinson. Fisk said the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation is staying in touch with those who were hospitalized.

The public nonprofit organization supervises about 5,000 trail riders every year, but rarely do accidents of this size occur, Fisk said.

Sandpiper pipeline approved by N.D. Public Service Commission

BISMARCK -- North Dakota’s Public Service Commission on Wednesday approved construction of the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline.

The pipeline will extend through 10 northern North Dakota counties, starting at the Beaver Lodge oil and gas field near Tioga. It is planned to reach a terminal in Clearbrook, Minn., and end at a terminal in Superior, Wis.

New pipes, ranging from 24 inches to 30 inches in diameter, will allow oil to be shipped to Canada, and the southern and eastern United States. Canadian energy delivery company Enbridge will supervise pipeline construction.

Project managers say the pipeline will offset oil imports, increase North American energy independence and create thousands of new jobs.

Opponents have maintained that the pipeline will negatively affect woods and farmland. Others have also said it will increase fossil fuel use, contributing to climate change.

The 612-mile pipeline will carry 225,000 barrels of oil each day. Construction is slated to begin this fall, as Enbridge predicts the pipeline will begin transporting oil in 2016.

N.D. Reading Corps seeks tutors in five cities

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- The North Dakota Reading Corps is seeking literacy tutors in five cities after the NDRC received an $800,000 federal grant last month to improve childhood reading proficiency in kindergarten through third grade.

The South East Educational Cooperative, the agency that oversees the NDRC, said the money will be used to hire and train an additional 40 AmeriCorps volunteers who will work in 36 schools in Jamestown, Fargo, West Fargo, Bismarck and Mandan.

AmeriCorps is a national volunteer organization that funded the NDRC grant.

Tutors must commit to either 450 or 675 total hours with the program during the school year from August to May, which works out to about 15 to 20 hours per week.

Tutors will be paid $400 a month at the 450-hour level and $600 a month at the 675-hour level, and will also receive an education award for $1,493 or $2,150 that can be used for tuition or to repay student loans.

Participants who are 55 or older can choose to have their education award donated to a student who is a family member.

Interested individuals can apply to be a tutor online at

Arrest warrants issued for two men in Grand Forks murder case

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Arrest warrants have been issued for two men wanted in the killing of a 24-year-old Grand Forks man at an apartment complex.

Delvin Lamont "Squeaky" Shaw, 29, is suspected of having murdered Jose Luis Alphonso "Joeluis" Lopez early Tuesday, police said Wednesday. Police said Shaw is considered armed and dangerous.

A warrant also was issued for Dametrian Marcel Welch, 18, who is suspected of burglary and conspiracy to commit murder.

Welch is confined at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center on an unrelated municipal warrant for failure to pay fines.

Lopez was found with gunshot wounds at Valley Park Apartments, where he lived. He was transported to Altru Hospital, where he died of his injuries.


Wisconsin sets quota for wolf hunting, trapping season

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board on Wednesday set the state’s 2014 wolf hunting and trapping season quota at 156, down from last year’s quota of 275.

The quota is the same as that proposed by the Department of Natural Resources Wolf Advisory Committee.

The quota was set with the intention of continuing to reduce the state’s wolf population in accordance with the goals identified in the wolf management plan, DNR officials said in a news release.

Last fall, hunters and trappers in Wisconsin took 257 wolves. The state’s current late-winter 2014 minimum count is 660 to 689 wolves. This count represents a decline of 18 percent from the 2013 winter count of 809 to 834.

The DNR Wolf Advisory Committee is composed of DNR staff, the Chippewa tribes, partner natural resource agencies and stakeholders representing the agriculture industry, Wisconsin Conservation Congress, sporting groups and organizations with an interest in wolf management.

Though the quota has been decided, the amount of wolves harvestable by state trappers and hunters may be adjusted dependent on tribal harvest declarations.

Minnesota expects to set its 2014 wolf hunting and trapping quotas in July, said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist.