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News Briefs: American Crystal faces fines

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


American Crystal faces fines over alleged safety violations

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. -- Workplace safety officials have been investigating what they say were several safety violations at American Crystal Sugar’s East Grand Forks factory this year.

According to online records with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inspectors found 26 violations of safety requirements at the facility during an April 9 inspection, including 22 classified as serious.

The alleged violations have not been resolved, as American Crystal is contesting some of the citations.

“We’re in ongoing discussions with OSHA,” said American Crystal Vice President for Administration Brian Ingulsrud. “We look at them as a resource to improve safety at our factories.”

The alleged violations from the inspection included processes for handling hazardous chemicals, hazardous waste operations, air contaminants, carbon monoxide monitoring, labeling of hazardous substances, wiring standards, and requirements for machines, stairs and ladders, power tools and welding equipment, according to online records.

Fines for those alleged violations could amount to more than $49,000.

Vergas woman charged with felony bigamy in Clay County

MOORHEAD, Minn. – A Vergas woman faces a felony bigamy charge after one of her husbands reported to Texas authorities that the two weren’t divorced before her recent marriage in Clay County to another man.

Penny Lynn Fick, 38, was charged Monday in Clay County District Court. Court documents state that Fick’s husband contacted the sheriff’s department in Parmer County, Texas, after hearing that Fick had married another man, Bill Carl Fick, in Clay County in April 2011.

Texas authorities contacted Clay County Detective Gabe Tweten, who determined that Penny Fick had applied for a marriage license in Otter Tail County in March 2011, on which she claimed her previous marriage was dissolved in “Ortoro” County District Court in New Mexico.

Tweten could not find a county by that name in New Mexico, but did find an “Otero” County there. But Otero County records showed no dissolution of any couple by the names of Fick and the first husband.

The first husband told Tweten that he and Fick were married in New Mexico at the Curry County Courthouse in January 2008, but Fick left him and disappeared in November 2008.

Vergas is in Otter Tail County in western Minnesota, neighboring Clay County.

Two Duluth officers cleared in fatal shooting

DULUTH -- Two Duluth police officers have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the June shooting death of a Duluth man.

Officers Matthew Hendrickson, a seven-year veteran of the department, and Jacob Peterson, a four-year veteran, used authorized force in shooting Zachary Premo, the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office concluded.

“The officers’ reaction in protecting themselves from apparent death or great bodily harm with the use of deadly force was justified,” Gary Bjorklund, criminal division head for the attorney’s office, wrote in his report. “There is no evidence the officers had any motive to shoot Premo other than their reasonable belief of the immediate threat posed to them.”

Both officers fired at Premo when he reached for a gun as they tried to take him into custody in his parents’ backyard during the early morning hours of June 11, police said.

Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave but have since returned to work.

Reached for comment Thursday, Premo’s parents declined to comment and referred questions to their attorney, David Malban, who said the family isn’t ruling out a civil lawsuit if they are left unsatisfied by the report.

More than 100 pot plants seized in arrest

CROSBY, Minn. -- A Crosby man was arrested with more than 100 marijuana plants after he got into a fight with his neighbor, authorities said.

Jerry Dean Erickson, 50, was arrested Tuesday after the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office responded to a call of a dispute between neighbors on the 300 block of Third Avenue, the sheriff's office said. Upon arrival, deputies noticed several marijuana plants growing near Erickson's garden.

Agents with the Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division were contacted. After a search of Erickson's property and the adjacent property, 100 mature marijuana plants seized, the sheriff’s office said.

Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl said the marijuana recovered from the scene had a $10,000 to $20,000 potential street value.

Driver’s license expiring in 2071 leads to fraud charge

WOODBURY, Minn. -- Red flags went up in a Woodbury store after a woman presented a driver’s license purporting it wouldn’t expire for more than 50 years.

Derrah Trechell Tyler, 23, who authorities say tried to buy more than $500 worth of merchandise from Kohl’s on Aug. 27, was arrested and charged with one count of felony financial card fraud and one count of giving police a false name, a misdemeanor.

According to a criminal complaint, store workers spotted Tyler’s driver’s license, which purported to be from Arizona with an expiration date of the year 2071. They alerted police, who tracked down Tyler’s vehicle in traffic to question her.

She first gave a false name and birth date, the complaint says. Officers said her driver’s license appeared to be forged, “particularly because the expiration date was for 9/28/2071.”

Tyler’s identity was determined thanks to a prescription bottle found in her car, police said.

An inquiry with the credit card company revealed the account had been established by a person in Kansas. Other possibly fraudulent credit cards were found in Tyler’s car, the complaint states.

Tyler, who lists a Detroit address but told police she is homeless, later admitted trying to buy the merchandise fraudulently, according to the complaint.

Northern Lights Express clears first environmental hurdle

DULUTH -- The Federal Railroad Administration has concluded that there would be no significant environmental impact if the Northern Lights Express passenger rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities is built and operated.

The federal agency made a formal “Finding of No Significant Impact” for the project, setting the stage for a second, more in-depth environmental assessment that will begin later this year, said Mary McFarland Brooks, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“It’s a big step. It’s the federal agency saying they see no reason not to proceed with the project,” McFarland Brooks said Thursday.

Public input on the next-level environmental review, which will include things such as the locations of specific train stations and the train’s impact on local communities, probably will begin this year as well, she said.

A more-detailed engineering study on the project also can begin with the federal agency’s finding. Both efforts are expected to take about two years.

The Northern Lights Express is a proposed, 155-mile high-speed passenger train to run along existing lines from Duluth to Superior, Wis., and on to Minneapolis. Trains would reach speeds of 110 mph.

Duluth port among Obama transportation grants

DULUTH -- The Obama administration on Thursday announced $474 million in federal grants for 52 transportation projects in 37 states, including $10 million for the Duluth port and $1.5 million for rural Minnesota highways.

The port project was revealed this week by Minnesota members of Congress and will be used to rebuild and expand the port’s general cargo dock at Garfield Pier, including bolstering the dock itself, improvements to road and rail connections, and dredging the adjacent harbor to provide better ship access — part of a $16 million effort that includes $3 million in state aid.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority already has set aside its $3 million share of the project.

The federal grants are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Tiger” system — Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — aimed at rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure and creating jobs.

The Tiger program is being questioned by Congress as putting too much discretion in the administrative branch. But on Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his agency is taking the story of the grants across the country in an effort to save the program for 2014 and beyond.

Spelling error slips through on yearbook cover

MOORHEAD, Minn. – Students who worked on the Moorhead High School yearbook learned a hard lesson this week in the importance of proofreading, as hundreds of final printed copies of the 2013 yearbook arrived with the misspelling “Moorehead” on the cover.

The mistake slipped past an adviser and two classes of students who worked on the yearbook last year. They finalized it after graduation before sending it to Jostens to be printed this summer, Moorhead school officials said.

“They proofed the book and the cover, and they missed it,” district spokeswoman Pam Gibb said. “I don’t know that there’s much we can do now. It’s a mistake, and it was made.”

The district can’t afford to reprint the yearbooks, which annually cost about $20,000 to $21,000 to produce.

Moorhead High Principal Dave Lawrence said the two classes that worked on the yearbook, one during each semester, consisted of seniors, juniors and sophomores.

Lawrence said he shares the blame for not proofreading the yearbook as assistant principal last year.

$50 copper theft leads to $30,000 in damage

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – Copper thieves cost the Otter Tail Power Company more than $30,000 in repairs after stealing about $50 worth of copper wire from a Wahpeton, N.D.-area substation, company officials said Thursday.

A caller reported arcing wires at the electrical substation north of Wahpeton around midnight Wednesday, Otter Tail Power Company spokeswoman Cris Oehler said.

Authorities and company workers found that someone had cut the substation fence and ground wires from electrical equipment before hitting a live wire, which caused an arc flash. About 20 pounds of wire was missing, Oehler said.

“In this case, the thief, or thieves, risked severe burns or death for about $50 worth of copper, and they put emergency responders and people who rely on electricity for life support at risk,” Eric Hamm, the company’s safety services manager, said in a news release.

Hamm said several large customers had to shut down operations when the company turned off electricity to secure the scene.


Tribal Council members seek dismissal of Yankton suit

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Members of the Spirit Lake Tribal Council have asked a federal court to throw out a lawsuit brought last month by Roger Yankton Sr., who seeks to regain his position as chairman of the tribe.

In a motion to dismiss filed this week in U.S. District Court in Grand Forks, they argue that tribal sovereignty “precludes the exercise of … jurisdiction (by the court) over the named defendants.”

They also note that Yankton “has failed to exhaust tribal remedies” or “state a cause of action for which relief can be granted.”

In his lawsuit, filed Aug. 12, Yankton argues that a restraining order issued against him by a Spirit Lake tribal judge was obtained improperly, prevents him from acting as chairman and amounts to an “illegal detention” that violates his civil rights.

He says the restraining order, which bars him from entering the tribal headquarters or contacting members of the council, makes him “a virtual prisoner on the reservation.”

Yankton named as defendants five other members of the Tribal Council, including Leander “Russ” McDonald, who twice this summer was declared chairman in Yankton’s stead.


Roberts man pleads guilty in school arson

HUDSON, Wis. -- The man who set fire to a Roberts school pleaded guilty to an arson charge last week in St. Croix County Circuit Court, according to court records.

Justin Walter Nelson, 25, of Roberts, started a fire at St. Croix Central Elementary School after breaking into the building in the early morning hours of April 30 in an apparent burglary attempt.

After pleading guilty to the arson charge, charges of burglary, criminal damage to property and possession of THC were dismissed. Four charges against Nelson from an April 18 incident were also dropped.

The fire displaced the elementary students, teachers and district administrators for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, which they finished at a nearby Girl Scout camp.

The new school year began Tuesday, and construction work still needs to be completed on the school’s main office area and library.

Nelson is next scheduled to appear Oct. 18 for a status conference.


MTI student's death not foul play, police say

MITCHELL, S.D. -- An 18-year-old man found dead Wednesday in a Mitchell apartment does not appear to be the victim of foul play, Mitchell police said.

A police statement issued Thursday confirmed the deceased man's identity as Paul Jackson, a Mitchell Technical Institute student from Brandon. Jackson's roommate reported the death Wednesday.

Investigators received preliminary autopsy results Thursday but probably will have to wait several weeks for a full report, said Mitchell police Detective Lt. Don Everson.

"We know what didn't happen, but we're still waiting on some results," Everson said. "You don't always have an exact cause."

The investigation is ongoing, Everson said.

Staff at MTI were officially notified of Jackson's death Wednesday, according to Julie Brookbank, MTI's director of marketing and public information.

"We try to offer as much support as we can to anyone involved," Brookbank said. "Particularly to the young man's family and friends."

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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