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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Crookston couple dies of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning

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CROOKSTON, Minn. --  Carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected in the deaths of a Crookston area couple. 

49-year-old Kent Ostgaard and his 51-year-old wife, Natalie, were found dead yesterday morning after their 17-year-old daughter called 911.  She was treated and released.  Her 22-year-old sister, Aryanna, is in critical condition at a Rochester hospital.  Polk County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Jim Tadman says the family had been having problems with their furnace and there were no carbon monoxide detectors in the home.  He says it's a tragic lesson we can all learn from.  Authorities say the propane tank was very low and two space heaters were being used.

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One child is dead and two adults are in critical condition after a house fire near Grand Rapids Sunday night.  The Itasca County sheriff's department says the state Fire Marshal's office is still investigating the cause of the fire, but Sheriff Victor Williams says it's not uncommon for a mobile home fire to burn out of control quickly.  WDIO-TV spoke to a relative, who identifies the victims as 24-year-old Nichole Juilen, her boyfriend 38-year-old Glen Campbell, the couple's two children.  An aunt says a three-year-old boy died in the fire and a two-year-old girl was treated at a hospital and released, and Juilen and Campbell are in critical but stable condition.

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A California man will spend 15 months in federal prison on sex trafficking charges out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Joe Becker was sentenced yesterday.  Prosecutors say he was placing on-line ads for escorts in the South Dakota and Minnesota area last August before his arrest.  One of the women involved was his girlfriend.

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There was a surge of optimism about Minnesota’s economy among business supply managers last month.  The Mid-America Business Conditions Survey from Creighton University put the state’s overall economic index at 64.1 in February.  That was up almost seven points from January and is the highest the index has been since March 2011.  It also marked the 15th consecutive month the index has been above 50.  Any reading above 50 is considered an indicator of future economic growth and every component of Minnesota’s index was well above 50 last month. The lowest number was the employment component at 54.

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The Great Lakes are now 90-point-five-percent iced over.  The latest numbers are from NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and show the most ice coverage of the lakes since the record of 94-point-seven-percent coverage was set in 1979.  Climatologists expect the record will be broken within the next several days as temperatures remain bitterly cold.  It’s not believed the lakes have ever been completely frozen before.  The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter "Alder" is scheduled to begin ice breaking operations in the Duluth-Superior harbor today in preparation for the upcoming 2014 shipping season. The area where ice breaking will take place includes some spots frequented by people who ice fish and have shacks on the ice.  Among the places that the Alder will be working is the Superior Front Channel, the Duluth and Superior harbor basins and entry channels, East Gate and the area adjacent to Park Point in Lake Superior. The cutter will also be working in Silver Bay, Taconite Harbor and Two Harbors in the coming weeks. 

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One Minnesotan is making the best of this winter's harsh snow storms.  According to WCCO TV, Greg Novak has constructed a 50-foot tall snowman on his farm in Foley, Minnesota.  Novak built the snowman from snow that was piling up on his farm's greenhouse.  With the help of friends, Novak spent two months building the snow giant, which they've nicknamed "Grand Daddy."  Novak explains that he built "Grand Daddy" to bring smiles to the faces of Minnesotans, who have endured a long winter.  Back in 1991, Novak also built a 29-foot tall snowman. 

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Members of the Minnesota Medical Association will gather today to discuss whether to endorse medical marijuana.  The group of doctors hasn't yet taken a stance on the issue.  Minnesota law enforcement has been generally opposed.  But Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist says, as lawmakers prepare to debate the issue, there may be room for compromise for cancer sufferers or others that are prescribed marijuana by their physician.  A group of lawmakers is pushing to legalize medical marijuana.  Recent discussions have centered on whether the drug could be permitted in pill, liquid or inhaler form, but smoking it would be prohibited.

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A Minneapolis man is facing charges in Illinois after allegedly being caught with 25 pounds of meth in his vehicle.  Roberto Ortiz is charged with felony narcotics possession with intent to deliver following his arrest in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights.  The drugs had a street value of $1.75 million.  Ortiz was arrested over the weekend and was in court in Chicago yesterday.

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Police are still investigating the discovery of a body near a dumpster on Monday.  The remains were found by a garbage truck driver in Fridley around 10:30 a.m.  The driver noticed the body in a fenced area housing the trash bins and called the Anoka County Sheriff's Department.  Police have not released the person's identity, but have noted it appears to have been an adult female.

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Governor Dayton rolls out his "unsession" agenda this morning at the State Capitol.  Dayton's spokesman says it will include proposals to streamline regulations at every state agency, making them easier to understand and providing better access to the public.  Meanwhile at the legislature, there's a hearing but no vote on a bill prohibiting price gouging by propane suppliers in Minnesota.  A House committee also debates a bill that would allow on-line voter registration.  The group Minnesota Majority is still suing Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, alleging he didn't have the authority to implement on-line voter registration himself without the legislature's permission.  But Minnesota Majority's Dan McGrath says they like a compromise bill that will be offered in committee because it addresses concerns about personal data security and has anti-fraud measures.  Also at the Capitol today, a House hearing on Hibbing Democrat Carly Melin's bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Minnesota.

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Minnesota state lawmakers are expected to debate banning the use of the chemical triclosan, found in antibacterial hand and dish soaps and other such products.  Governor Mark Dayton has already barred state agencies from purchasing any products containing it, amid concerns that natural chemical interactions in the environment will threaten aquatic life.  Mayo Clinic infectious disease expert Doctor Pritish Tosh says there's no clear benefit to antibacterial soaps with triclosan instead of regular soap -- and says if there's a potential downside it makes sense not to use the products.  Dr. Tosh says misuse of antibiotics and overuse of antibacterial agents are at least partially to blame for the growth of so-called "super-bugs."

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Top U-of-M officials are at the State Capitol for a second day, presenting their $233-million-dollar bonding request to Senate lawmakers after Monday's hearing in the House. Over $100 million dollars would go to repair buildings and/or bring them up to code for health, safety and accessibility.  The University is also asking lawmakers for $57 million to renovate the Tate Physics Laboratory on the Twin Cities campus, $4 million for a new chemical sciences and advanced materials building at UMD, and $10 million for a campus wellness center at Crookston.

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Another phone scam is hitting parts of western Minnesota and every phone line at one of the care facilities in Fergus Falls was ringing this past weekend with it.  The calls state that your credit card has been suspended or deactivated and your personal information is needed to reactivate the account.  Some of the calls claim to be from Gate City Bank.  The caller ID has "unavailable" or a strange number like 001 or 215.  If you get such a call, hang up and do not give them any information.  If you have given information out on one of these calls, you need to notify your bank right away.  Gate City has a warning about these calls on their website.

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ClearWay Minnesota is launching a new version of its QUITPLAN Services for people who want to stop smoking.  Spokesman Mike Sheldon says the new website and tools have text messaging, e-mail support, and even a "starter kit" -- two weeks of free nicotine patches, gum or lozenges that people can use to jumpstart their effort to quit smoking.  Sheldon says they did extensive research with tobacco users to find the best ways to get them the help they need.  All QUITPLAN services are free for smokers in Minnesota (quitplan.com  or 888-354-PLAN).  

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One of the Carleton College students who survived a crash last week that killed three other students is improving.  Twenty-year-old William Sparks of Evanston, Illinois has been upgraded from serious to satisfactory condition.  Sparks was driving the SUV that collided with a semi on an icy road near Northfield Friday.  Another student in the vehicle, 19-year-old Conor Eckert of Seattle, Washington, remains in serious condition at HCMC.  Three others in the SUV, 20-year-old James Adams of St. Paul, 21-year-old Paxton Harvieux of Stillwater and 20-year-old Michael Goodgame of Connecticut, died in the crash.  All five were members of the Carleton Ultimate Frisbee team and were headed to the airport for a tournament in California when the crash occurred. 

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Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused a fire in south-central Minnesota Friday that killed nearly a thousand hogs.  Crews were called to the Langhorst farm near Lafayette after flickering lights were reported in a barn.  Three hog barns were fully engulfed when firefighters arrived and are considered a total loss.  Langhorst Pork Incorporated says in a statement that it plans to rebuild the facility and is working with authorities and its insurance company to determine the cause.     

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A new poll of Minnesota voters suggests Governor Dayton is well-positioned to win re-election this November.  The KSTP/Survey USA poll shows Dayton with a 17- to 21-point lead over six potential Republican challengers.  The matchup of Dayton and former state Representative Marty Seifert gives the governor a 51 to 34 percent advantage.  Dayton leads Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson by 18 points, Senator Dave Thompson and Scott Honour by 20 points and Representative Kurt Zellers by 21 points.  The GOP primary is in August and the race is expected to tighten once Republicans pick a candidate.

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The largest annual food drive in the state is under way with the March Campaign from Minnesota FoodShare.  Director Suzanne Shatila says  while the economy has been slowly improving, the need to help families put food on the table is still great.  She also says that the harsh winter that's led to many late starts and snow days at schools has made it even tougher for some families.  The result was more families coming into food shelves for emergency visits because their kids were unable to get free and reduced lunch and breakfast in school.  Information on where, what and how to donate is online at the Minnesota FoodShare website (mnfoodshare).

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One last reminder from the DNR that ice fishing shelters must be removed by tonight from lakes in the southern two-thirds of the state.  Many anglers are finding their fish houses are stuck in the heavy snow and ice on the lake and it takes several hours to get them out.  Conservation officers also urge everyone to pick up all the trash in the area of the fish house - you could face a fine for leaving garbage behind.  Shelters must be removed from lakes in the northern third of the state by March 17th.

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The cold weather records continue to pile up across Minnesota this winter.  A record-low temperature of 33-below zero was set Monday morning at International Falls, breaking the previous record of minus-28 in 1996.  Duluth reported a record-low temp of negative-23 today which snapped the old record of 21-below zero from 1982.  It was a record-low minus-19 in St.Cloud Monday morning - three degrees cooler than March 3rd, 1971.  The Twin Cities and St.Cloud set new record-cold high temperatures on Sunday at three-above zero.     

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