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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Students evacuated from burning school bus in Litchfield

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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Students evacuated from burning school bus in Litchfield
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

LITCHFIELD, Minn. --  More than three-dozen central Minnesota students were safely evacuated from a school bus yesterday morning before it was engulfed in flames near Litchfield. \

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Officials with the Litchfield School District say the driver detected a "hot smell"in the bus before noticing smoke coming from a heater control panel. After she got all of the children off the bus, the driver tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher, but flames had already consumed the bus by the time firefighters arrived at the scene.

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Sappi Fine Paper North America has successfully completed its conversion project at the Cloquet Mill to produce specialized cellulose. The product, also known as dissolving wood pulp, is used in the textile market and in a variety of consumer goods. With the 170 million dollar conversion project now complete, the Cloquet mill's production is about 330 thousand metric tons per year. Managing director of the Cloquet plant Rick Dwyer says the completion of the conversion celebrates the hard work of their employees and contractors in bringing the state-of-the-art innovation to the mill.

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A North Dakota U.S. Senator is urging the creation of a national commission that could have a positive impact on Native American children in Minnesota. Senator Heidi Heitkamp says the mission of the Commission on Native American children would be to address the high rates of poverty, crime, and unemployment in Indian country.  Heitkamp says 37-percent of Native children live in poverty and the high school graduation rate for Native students is only around 50-percent.

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While Minnesota has officially recovered the jobs lost over the Great Recession and the unemployment rate continues to trend down, the state is still struggling with a major employment gap among races.  University of St. Thomas law Professor Nakima Levy-Pounds says minorities are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than whites and she cites multiple reasons.  They include a lack of networking opportunities and says often, when it comes to finding a job, it isn't just what you know, it's who you know.

During the recession, the jobless rate for whites in Minnesota topped out at just over eight-percent, while it reached 16-percent for Hispanics and around 23-percent for African Americans.

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Minnesota Power broke ground yesterday on a major construction project that will reduce emissions at the company's coal fired Boswell plant.  The project would reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent and would also reduce levels of particulates and sulfur at the plant that is capable of producing 585 megawatts of electricity.  Minnesota Power says the project will also ensure a diverse fuel mix of renewables, coal and natural gas over the coming years.

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A sagging basketball hoop was the first sign of possible trouble with the roof at Memorial Auditorium at Concordia College in Moorhead.  Structural engineers will visit the campus next month to make an assessment; meanwhile, Concordia administrators stress that the building is safe. Their main concern with what may happen should there be heavy snow build-up.  Unless there's heavy snow, most events at Memorial Auditorium will go on as scheduled.  Memorial Auditorium opened in 1952. The roof was replaced in 2007.

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Another Twin Cities woman is missing, and Minneapolis police believe she may be in danger.  Police spokeswoman Cyndi Barrington says 46-year-old Cynthia Sullivan hasn't been seen or heard from in more than a week.  She was last seen at work on Thursday, October 24 and friends and family haven't been able to get in touch with her -- and say that's out of character for Sullivan.  Police cite unspecified "extenuating circumstances" in their belief that she might be in danger.  Her silver Nissan Altima is also unaccounted for.

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FBI raids three years ago are the focus as two anti-war activists ask a federal judge today (9am) to unseal affidavits that led to those search warrants.  Jess Sundin says they have a right to know what claims were used against them.  Sundin's attorney Bruce Nestor says there is no outward sign that the government is still investigating the case.  He says keeping the affidavits secret violates the constitutional presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

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Criminal sexual conduct charges have been filed against a southeastern Minnesota police chief .  Brownsdale top cop Jason Mindrup is accused of offering a woman he met at a Waltham bar a ride, and then driving to a remote spot, removing his clothes, and sexually assaulting her.  Mindrup admitted to Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents that he offered the woman a ride, but claims he dropped her back off at the bar after she asked to go to his home.  He was placed on administrative leave during the investigation, and will make his initial appearance in a Mower County courtroom on November 14th.  The Olmsted County Attorney's office is handling the case to avoid a conflict  of interest. 

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A Minnesota teacher is charged with misdemeanor assault and malicious punishment of a child after he was accused of throwing a heavy backpack at a student in class.  The criminal complaint states that the 17-year-old student wasn't feeling well at the end of September and put his head down on the desk in St. Peter High School science teacher Robert Shoemaker's class.  That's when Shoemaker is accused of hitting the student in the head with the 11 pound backpack before shouting at the boy and telling him to be a leader in the classroom.  The teacher apparently apologized after class.  The teen was treated for a bruised neck.  School officials are also investigating the matter.

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People in south-central Minnesota are paying more for health insurance policies on the new MNsure health exchange than those in other areas of Minnesota.  State Senator Kathy Sheran from Mankato is on the committee that oversees MNsure and says other parts of the state are seeing four or five companies and many more policies.  She says the oversight committee is looking at ways to add more companies and policies.  One analyst says health insurance rates have always been higher in some areas than others, but points out nobody really noticed until now, when it's easier to compare prices.

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The Independence Party-endorsed candidate for Minneapolis mayor is urging the city council to think twice about approving $48 million dollars in taxpayer money for renovating Target Center.  Stephanie Woodruff objects there's been no public hearing and adds it's "once again putting sports facilities and projects first over people in our struggling neighborhoods."  Woodruff pledges if she's elected that will stop.  Officials at the mayor's office weren't immediately reachable for comment.  The Timberwolves and Lynx are kicking in $43 million for the renovation and the company that manages Target Center is contributing five-and-a-half million.

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A bill meant to improve access to health care for veterans in rural areas has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by a Minnesota lawmaker.  Senator Al Franken (DFL-Minneapolis) says Minnesota has a disproportionate number of veterans who live in rural areas and that presents a challenge for getting quality care through the Veterans Health Administration.  The bill would require the V-H-A to make strategic plans for recruiting and retaining medical practitioners in rural areas...make full and effective use of mobile outpatient clinics...and plan for care for women veterans in rural areas.  Franken says his bill would also improve rural veterans' access to emergency care, including emergency mental health treatment.

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A daycare provider from Pine City has pleaded guilty to child neglect after a toddler in her care wandered onto a nearby highway  56-year-old Carrie Richardson of Sandstone will be sentenced later.  Prosecutors say Richardson was intoxicated and watching 10 children when a two-year-old wandered out onto Highway 23.  Vehicles swerved to miss the child before she was rescued by nearby residents.  Richardson� daycare license has been suspended.

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A St. Louis County Jail inmate is accused of threatening to blow up buses and government buildings from Duluth to the Twin Cities -- and doing it while behind bars.  Prosecutors say 32-year-old Clayton Hanks was jailed for burglary and check forging when he phoned in bomb threats to the Minnesota Departments of Transportation, Revenue and Education on October 14, which led to inspection of buses in Duluth and the Twin Cities, plus evacuation of the Revenue building in St. Paul.  Hanks is also accused of threatening to kill his cellmate if he told anyone about the calls.

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A voicemail left for a MnDot employee in Mankato stated, "listen to me right now. It's after hours, and I know you went home. Tomorrow early, not too early but before 10, a bomb is going to go off in a bus downtown Minneapolis. Another bomb is going to go off in a bus downtown Duluth. You have until 9:45 a.m. to figure out which buses. Put it on the news or everyone dies." Similar messages were left employees at the Department of Revenue in St. Paul and the Department of Education in Roseville.  They were traced back to Hanks through a review of the jail's phone records.

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A food bank that serves North Dakota and western Minnesota is waiting to see the effects of tomorrow's five-billion-dollar reduction in the food stamp program (11/1).  Marcia Paulson with the Great Plains Food Bank says more people will likely be showing up at food pantries if the effects of the cuts are widespread.  Paulson says at this point they're providing as much food as their pantries can handle and, if there's a problem, they'll have to see what more can be done.  A temporary SNAP benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus runs out November 1st.  The U.S. Agriculture Department says the reductions are equivalent to about 16 meals a month for a family of three.    

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Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has filed a lawsuit against a Florida company accused of collecting customer overdraft money owed to banks--including Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank--then falsifying affidavits to collect the debt on those accounts.  A-G Lori Swanson says the company, United Credit Recovery, simply cut-and-pasted bank employees signatures on the affidavits.  She says the goal of the suit is to protect consumers and the integrity of the legal system. 

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