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Minnesota News Briefs: Snowstorm causes 120 accidents

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Minnesota News Briefs: Snowstorm causes 120 accidents
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

ST. PAUL - The State Patrol is reporting more than 120 accidents on Minnesota roads so far today, including a fatal crash near I-494 in Eagan.

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Statewide more than 23 injuries have been reported, with 119 spinouts or vehicles going off the roads. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says driving conditions continue to remain difficult in many parts of the state and it's expected the evening commute will be slow as well.

The winter storm that dumped several inches of snow on central and southern portions of the state overnight is causing some commuter headaches this morning.. The snowfall continued throughout the day and a winter weather advisory is in place until 6 p.m.

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The Minnesota State Patrol dispatch centers in Baxter and Virginia are scheduled to close this spring. The Baxter location will close March 18th and Virginia is set to close April 14th. The State Patrol began consolidating its ten dispatch centers in 2009 and will only have two remaining in Roseville and Rochester in mid-April. All the dispatchers were given the option to transfer. The state of Minnesota website currently has job postings for State Patrol radio communications operators in Roseville and Rochester.

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A Blaine Police officer working a traffic stop escaped injury when his squad car was hit by a pickup, despite the fact that the emergency lights were flashing. The officer was standing near the driver side door of the car he had just pulled over when the patrol car was hit. State Troopers arrested the driver of the pickup on suspicion of drunken driving.

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A St. Peter teen remains in critical condition following a head-on crash last Saturday near Lake Crystal. Eighteen-year-old Amy Weinandt was driving east in the westbound lane of Highway 60 when her car collided with a pickup truck. Weinandt suffered serious injuries including possible fractures to her pelvis and femur. She was taken to a Mankato hospital and later flown to St. Mary's in Rochester. The State Patrol says alcohol was detected in both drivers' systems and Weinandt's three passengers. Possible charges are pending.

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The company seeking permits for two proposed frac sand mines in southeastern Minnesota has agreed to an environmental review. A public hearing Thursday night in Winona County was canceled after Minnesota Sands announced it would conduct a voluntary environmental impact statement. That means the two permits for Saratoga Township could be delayed for up to a year. Winona County Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman says this move could also impact a proposed frac sand processing plant near St.Charles. Silica sand is used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for oil and gas. Opponents are calling for a two-year statewide moratorium.

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A state lawmaker from St.Paul Park is sponsoring a bill that would expand alcohol sales at University of Minnesota basketball and hockey games. Beer and wine are currently only available to fans in premium seating at Williams and Mariucci Arenas. TCF Bank Stadium sold beer and wine to all Gopher football fans for the first time this fall and made more than $900,000 in sales. Representative Dan Schoen introduced the legislation on Thursday.

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In the weeks leading up to a finalized Minnesota budget, the Senate's Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy sat down with Senate Fiscal analyst Eric Nauman, to learn more about what led up to state's current economic state. DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen says it's a look at the previous 10 budget years and the methods used to balance them. He says it demonstrates that a lot of things have been done through one-time solutions and borrowing from other funds to cover up general fund challenges. Thissen says it's not about making political points, or calling out one political party as in the wrong, but doing a better job of balancing the budget in a more year-to-year sustainable way in the future.

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The city of Minneapolis is no longer in the running to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Mayor R.T. Rybak sent a letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee Thursday declining an invitation to submit a bid for the Summer Games. Rybak says the city and other local partners decided to focus on the Super Bowl, Democratic National Convention or other large events. Minneapolis was one of 35 U.S. cities invited to make bid for the Olympics.

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Representatives for employers and SEIU Local 26 head back to the bargaining table today to try and reach an agreement on a fair contract for janitors and security officers in the metro and its surrounding suburbs. Cuts in hours and health benefits are among the key issues in dispute. The union represents six-thousand workers who have been without a contact since December. The workers voted to approve a strike--if it's necessary-- earlier this month, and just this week announced Sunday as the deadline for a new contract before a strike would occur.

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A SkyWest Airlines copilot and flight attendant have been suspended without pay after they tested positive for alcohol just before their flight was scheduled to leave Bemidji for Minneapolis yesterday (Thu) morning. They were tested after an employee at a local motel called the Bemidji Regional Airport said the flight staff had been drinking there and that they could smell alcohol on them. Police say airport employees could smell alcohol on the flight staff as well. The flight captain had no alcohol in his system, the copilot had a .03 percent BAC, and the flight attendant had .02. While neither reached the .04 threshold for drunk flying in Minnesota, it's also illegal to fly within eight hours of consuming alcohol. They were not arrested, but the report was forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration.

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Three young men were arrested and a teenager was airlifted to the hospital with a head injury after an apparent street brawl in Austin Wednesday night. Three other teens between the ages of 15 and 17 were hurt, and investigators say it looks like the assailants beat them with baseball bats and crow bars. Austin Police Captain Dave McKichan says gang affiliation "may have started it." The victims and the three men in jail are all Austin residents. The Mower County Attorney's office is likely to file charges against the 19, 22, and 26-year-old suspects today.

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The Minnesota House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee discussed a bill that would change state law to give veterans that committed a crime before their military service a chance to work in many state departments, even with a criminal record, if they can show that they've turned their life around. Republican Representative Bob Dettmer says many returning vets are struggling. The unemployment rate for Iraqi and Afghan veterans remains high in Minnesota; the latest number from DEED shows that unemployment rate for veterans ages 18-24 is 10 percent, and the rate for women veterans is higher at 13 percent. The bill would add the DD-2-14 from the military, or honorable discharge paperwork, as proof that they have become productive members of society. The exception would not apply to police officers, lawyers, and a few other professions.

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Although the flu season peaked last month, people are still dying from this year's outbreak. The Minnesota Department of Health says there were 12 more flu-related deaths last week, which brings total deaths for this flu season to 148. A total of 2,784 people were hospitalized. Flu season peaked in Minnesota in late December and January -- and state health officials say the outbreak was severe this year, but they suspected it might be.

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The Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing a number of bills aimed at reducing gun violence. Universal background checks and enhanced penalties for convicted felons were debated Thursday. Senator Bobby Joe Champion is sponsoring legislation that would extend the background checks to cover all guns sales in the state. He says local law enforcement is finding the restraining orders, domestic violence convictions, commitments and other red flags, they are not caught by the federal system. But Andy Rothman with the Gun Owner Civil Rights Alliance says no background check is going to stop a criminal from getting his hands on a gun. He says he knows that and two-and-a-half million Minnesota gun owners know that. The Senate committee will hear several other gun-related bills this afternoon.

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A St. Paul woman was jailed on a misdemeanor charge, but her children were taken away after police found her drunk and the family living in a home filled with trash. Officers went to Toya Hunter's apartment after someone called to ask them to check on the family's well-being. A St. Paul Police spokesman says there was a strong odor of feces and garbage, standing water in the bathtub and dirty diapers and beer cans scattered around the home. She struggled with police while they were trying to put her in a squad car for a ride to the Ramsey County Detox Center, and had to be maced. The 28-year-old mother is charged with obstructing the legal process. Her one and six-year-old daughters are staying with a relative.

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A state House committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill that would regulate dog and cat breeding facilities in the state. Keith Streff of the Golden Valley Humane Society says he's investigated many puppy mills, and found dozens of dogs sick, injured, or dead. He says a lot of it is due to improper sanitation, water, feed, ventilation and treatment which result the animal becoming ill. The bill would require commercial dog and cat breeders in Minnesota to be licensed, subject to inspection from officers with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, and impose civil and criminal penalties for those who break the law.

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The Minnesota Department of Public Safety credits a new type of Amber Alert for the safe recovery of an abducted child Wednesday in Minneapolis. Officials say the kidnapping of eight-month-old Carlos Orozco marked the first time an Amber Alert was sent to Minnesota cell phones via Wireless Emergency Alert. A teenager who received the alert on her cell phone spotted the vehicle used in the abduction and told her father, who notified police. Minneapolis officers located Carlos unharmed in the basement of a home where that vehicle was found. The suspect was arrested outside. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office will likely file kidnapping and burglary charges against the alleged abductor today.

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A Rochester middle school student was injured yesterday when the battery in his cell phone exploded. Kellogg Middle School Principal Dwight Jennings sent an audio message out to parents that says the battery burned a hole in the boy's pants, burned his leg and left a burn mark on the floor. The explosion left a lingering odor throughout the entire school, and Jennings asked parents watch their children for symptoms of smoke inhalation.

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Flags are flying at half-staff today in Minnesota in honor and remembrance of St.Paul Police Officer Josh Lynaugh. The 30-year-old officer died last Saturday of complications from a heart attack suffered while chasing a suspect a week earlier. A funeral mass with full police honors took place this morning at the Cathedral of St.Paul. Lynaugh will be laid to rest at Lakeview Cemetery in Stillwater. Lynaugh twice won the St. Paul Police Department's "Life Saving Award" and received 16 commendations during his five years of service.

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Investigators say a 71-year-old Burnsville woman told a witness that she hit her husband over the head and tried to strangle him because she had "had it." Police went to Sharon Ripka's house after she called 911, saying her husband had assaulted her and she had hit him with a hammer. Both were covered in blood when officers arrived, and the husband had a "telephone cord wrapped tightly around his neck," and a large bruise on his scalp. The husband told investigators that he believes Sharon Ripka suffers from dementia, but has never been diagnosed because she refuses to see a doctor. Sharon Ripka is charged with attempted domestic assault by strangulation, terroristic threats and interfering with a 911 call.

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