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MINNESOTA NEWS BRIEFS: Fridley man shot to death on way to AA meeting

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 NEW HOPE, Minn. - A Fridley man who was left partially disabled by a stroke several years ago was found shot to death in his car after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New Hope Thursday night.

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New Hope police say they are meeting today to evaluated the evidence collected so far in the death of Kent Walker Jr., who was found dead in a parking lot near the location where the AA meeting was held. The Hennepin County medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide, and police say the 59-year-old was shot several times. Investigators have not publicly speculated about a possible motive.

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A 10-year-old boy is hospitalized after he was hit by a car at an Interstate 35 rest stop yesterday afternoon. Minnesota State Patrol says Ashton Philyaw of North Carolina was hit in the parking lot of a rest area near the Iowa border in Freeborn County, by a car driven by 59-year-old John Sassaman of Center City. The boy was treated at an area hospital, and troopers say his injuries were not life threatening.

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Starting today, four major cell phone carriers (AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Verizon) will provide "bounce-back" messages to people who text to 9-1-1 in emergencies. Dana Wahlberg with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says the technology to text 911 is not yet operational in most of the country, including in Minnesota. She says the bounce-back message will inform users that texting to 9-1-1 is not supported and that they should make a voice call to 911 instead.

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Minnesotans are among hundreds of thousands converging on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as the nation marks the 150th of that important Civil War battle. The First Minnesota Infantry played a key role defending the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. State Representative Dean Urdahl says they suffered 82 percent casualities, the highest losses of any regiment for the Union Army in the entire war.  Tomorrow and Wednesday, a Minnesota delegation will lay a wreath at the Minnesota memorials at Gettysburg, while people across the state remember sacrifices their fellow Minnesotans made to preserve the Union. The First Minnesota Infantry, commanded by Colonel William Colvill of Red Wing, played a key role in the pivotal battle on July 2nd, 1863. The First Minnesota contributed significantly to defending a key Union position on Cemetery Ridge. President Calvin Coolidge later said, "Colonel Colvill and those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank as the saviors of their country."

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The Minnesota Department of Transportation will open all lanes of Interstate 94 between St. Augusta and Clearwater tomorrow. The lane and ramp openings are to accommodate 4th of July travelers and avoid delays. MnDOT will keep the lanes open from July 2nd until Monday, July 8th. Intermittent lane closures will resume in both directions of I-94 July 8th through July 26th. 

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"Taxes" are a big part of new state laws that take effect today in Minnesota. Among them: there's a new top bracket for state income taxes which will affect married couples making over 250 thousand dollars if they file jointly -- over 125 thousand if filing separately; also heads of household making over 200 thousand and singles with incomes over 150 thousand dollars. The higher rates apply to the entire 2013 tax year and subsequent years. For the first year, part of the money raised will be a backup if electronic pulltabs continue falling short of expected revenue for funding a new Vikings stadium. (The new tax revenue will pay for increased public school funding and for property tax relief -- not only the homeowners and renters property tax refund, but also increased state aid to cities and counties -- which backers say will help keep property taxes down Also effective today, state sales tax must be paid if you download ringtones, music, videos or books, and sales tax also applies to those who play on-line computer games.

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A $1.60 in the state's cigarette tax takes effect today (Mon) and prices are going from about six dollars to nearly eight dollars a pack. Anti-smoking groups support the tax hike because of the public health benefits. Mike Sheldon of ClearWay Minnesota says the spike in cigarette prices is projected to prevent more than 47-thousand Minnesota kids from becoming addicted adult smokers. In addition this also helps save more than 25,000 Minnesotans from premature smoking-related deaths. Sheldon says the increase will also help over 36-thousand current smokers in Minnesota quit. The American Cancer Society says every state that has increased its cigarette tax has seen a reduction in smokers.

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The interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans jumps from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent today. Late last week, U.S. Senator Al Franken (DFL-Minneapolis) and several Senate colleagues introduced the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act of 2013. The bill would keep the interest rate at current levels for one year, while a long-term fix is worked out. Franken says Minnesota is third in the nation in terms of the debt level students graduate with. He says the proposed bill would keep rates lower for almost 200-thousand Minnesota students. If the bill becomes law, the interest rates would retroactively lower to 3.4 percent.

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School is out for the summer for most Minnesota students, but the state's school nutritionists will be in class over the next year, learning and getting ready for the changes coming to cafeteria snack bars and vending machines under the coming Smart Snacks in Schools standards. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says, beginning with the 2014-15 school year, approved snacks will contain more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, and vegetables, and less fat, sugar and sodium, and be limited to 200 calories. The new snack standards are aimed at combating obesity, with the hope of maximizing academic performance and reducing health care costs over time. The USDA says Nearly a third of American children are overweight.

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State health officials have a reminder for you before the busy July 4th holiday...keep germs out of pools, lakes and splash pads. There were a record 11 outbreaks of waterborne illnesses reported in Minnesota last year and officials are preaching prevention. The Department of Health's Trisha Robinson says some bacteria like cryptosporidium (KRIP-tow-SPO-rid-ee-um) are a resistant parasite. Some tips to avoid waterborne illnesses -- make sure kids aren't drinking the water, avoid swimming if you have diarrhea, change diapers often and encourage kids to take bathroom breaks often. Robinson says splash pads often re-cycle the water, so remind children not to drink from the fountains. 

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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