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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Windchills plunge to -50 in parts of state

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CHANHASSEN -  A wind chill warning is in place for parts of central and northern Minnesota, and the rest of the state is under a wind chill advisory. 

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Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen say the early morning started out cold and is only expected to get colder, with lows in the double-digits below zero by bus stop time.  The winds have died down a bit, but wind chill values will still range from 35 to 50 below zero this morning.  The diminishing winds have improved visibility for drivers, but MnDot warns that there may be slick spots on the roads this morning because of the drifting snow overnight and there may also still be drifted roads, especially in rural location.

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Everyone is okay, but there were some scary moments for 29 Minneapolis School District students when their bus crashed yesterday morning  The bus driver tried to stop on ice at a stop sign and slid through, hitting a car and causing that vehicle to hit another.  Minneapolis police note no one in the three vehicles involved were hurt, and two other cars went into a snowbank to avoid hitting the bus.  

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A shout-out from President Obama for Minnesota DFLers efforts to raise the minimum wage, during the president's stop at Saint Paul's Union Depot on Wednesday.  Obama says state legislative leaders are also working hard on a new women's economic agenda -- what the president calls a "family economic agenda" -- equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave and other measures.  Democratic leaders hope to put a minimum wage increase on Governor Dayton's desk early-on in the legislative session -- but they're wrangling over the amount and other issues.  Last year DFLers couldn't agree, even though they control both the Minnesota House and the Senate.

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The day after President Obama rolled out his transportation initiative in Saint Paul, bills will be introduced at the *Minnesota* Legislature to increase the gas tax by linking it to the price at the pump.  Mound Republican Senator David Osmek warns it would work the opposite of what backers expect:  When gas prices are lower and people drive more, with more damage to the roads -- gas tax revenues would actually drop.  Osmek says the rationale seems to be completely reversed -- like a lot of things at the Capitol.  Minneapolis Democratic Senator Scott Dibble calls Osmek's objection "completely ridiculous," saying the amount raised by the gas tax is very modest and doesn't even compare to the volatility of fuel prices.  Legislative leaders, meanwhile, are cool at best on proposals to increase the gas tax during an election year.

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Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken was unable to attend the president's St. Paul visit yesterday because he was in attendance at the private funeral for his friend, director, writer and actor Harold Ramis.  The service was held in Glencoe, Illinois and drew other familiar faces from Ramis' past.  Among them, Dan Aykroyd, who co-wrote and starred in "Ghostbusters" with Ramis; Chevy Chase who starred in Ramis' "Caddyshack" and "National Lampoon's Vacation"; and Ramis' "SCTV" co-stars Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas. Franken starred in Ramis' 1995 movie "Stuart Saves his Family."  President Obama also offered his condolences to his fellow Chicagoan in a statement this week.

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Minnesota House lawmakers have begun debating the regulation of electronic cigarettes in the state.  Representative Laurie Halverson of Eagan is sponsoring one of the bills and says local governments are looking for guidance.  Halverson's bill would define using e-cigarettes as "smoking," and they would not be allowed in public places under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act.  But Representative Nick Zerwas of Elk River says there are no studies that confirm second-hand e-vapors are harmful.  He says the bill tries to "prevent a problem we don't know we have."  Zerwas adds the Clean Indoor Act was based on a lot of science about second-hand cigarette smoke.

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The deaths of two suspects involved in the shooting of a Douglas County sheriff's deputy Monday have been ruled a murder-suicide.  The Ramsey County Medical Examiner says 29-year-old Katie Christopherson of Fargo died of a gunshot wound while 24-year-old Devin Blowers of Fargo died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  BCA investigators say Deputy Dustin Alexander was checking on a suspicious vehicle when Blowers shot him in the chest, striking his bullet-proof vest.  Deputy Alexander returned fire and the suspects ran off.  Christopherson and Blowers were found dead four hours later with a handgun and shotgun near their bodies.  Blowers' father tells the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that his son was distraught because child welfare officials in Fargo wouldn't let the couple have custody of their baby daughter.

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Roughly two-thousand Best Buy managers nationwide will soon be losing their jobs.  The Richfield-based electronics giant is laying off those employees in a cost-cutting move.  The New York Post reports it doesn't appear store-level managers are targeted, with field managers likely to get pink slips.  The retailer is not commenting and plans to release its next earnings report today.

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 It's been a tough winter on the state's pheasant population.  The DNR's Nicole Davros  says it's not necessarily due to a lack of food, but rather exposure to the elements.  Davros says extreme cold combined with wind is typically what kills pheasants.  She says a healthy bird can actually go for a couple of weeks without feeding.

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A packed courtroom listened as 21-year-old Harley Leritz of Menagha was charged with second degree murder for the death of 19-year-old Kiela Knowles of Park Rapids. Knowles leaves behind a two-year-old son.  Her friend, Lori Hanson, says Knowles had a heart of gold and would help anyone.  Knowles father found her unresponsive and unclothed in her apartment building.  In surveillance video, police saw Leritz coming in and out of the building on Sunday.  He was found returning to the apartment on Monday and asked to come to the police station, where he admitted to having sex with Knowles and then choking her to death.  The two had been corresponding on-line, and met in person for the first time over the weekend.  Police say Leritz violated his probation from a 2012 criminal sexual conduct charge.  His next hearing is set for March 17th.

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The father of five children who died in a fire on Valentines Day is blaming the landlord for the deaths of his children.  Troy Lewis told reporters Wednesday that he told the landlord that his second floor apartment didn't have any heat, and that the windows were so drafty that the wind was whistling in like they were outdoors.  A recent fire investigation report shows that the fire started in the same spot where a space heater had been running for several days.  Lewis says he was also warming the apartment with a stove and bundling the children in blankets to keep them warm.  KARE-11 is reporting that the landlord has said he did not receive any written or verbal complaints about maintenance problems.

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Morrison County authorities don't believe foul play was involved in the death of a Staples woman whose body was found outside an apartment complex Tuesday morning.  A resident walking their dog discovered the body of 36-year-old Anna Eakle outside the Country Terrace Apartments in Motley just before 9 a.m.  According to the National Weather Service, the windchill just after 8 a.m. was 29 degrees below zero.  The Ramsey County medical examiner's office is conducting an autopsy. 

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The man that walked away from a minimum security correctional facility in Pine County Tuesday night has been caught.  51-year-old Richard O'Reilly escaped the Willow River correctional facility around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and yesterday morning police went to the home of a friend, believing the fugitive may be hiding there.  The homeowner admitted that O'Reilly had been there earlier but left; when the suspect showed back up late last night the man called police and convinced O'Reilly to surrender.  The wanted man was arrested without incident.  O'Reilly is serving a sentence for counterfeiting and fraud.

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Wells Fargo is cutting 700 mortgage-related workers, including just over 200 in the Twin Cities.  The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal is reporting that the bank told employees that the cuts are being made because demand for mortgages continues to shrink.  Most of the Minnesota pink slips were handed out at the bank's South Minneapolis home mortgage operation.  No other details have been released.

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The Pebble Lake Golf Course in Fergus Falls is in financial trouble and is asking the city for help.  A member of the Pebble Lake board says the operation needs nearly $34,000 to make payroll and meet other expenses.  City Council member Anthony Hicks said the money problems are like a "black hole" and that it needs more than a "Band-Aid approach" to fix.  The city council will take up the request Monday night.

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The St. Paul native who was the first host of the popular game show "The Dating Game," has died at his home in California at the age of 81.  Jim Lange began his career in Twin Cities radio, and his big break into television came in 1962 when he was made an announcer and sidekick on "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show."  "The Dating Game" brought him national recognition, and he later hosted "Hollywood Connection," "$100,000 Name That Tune" and "The New Newlywed Game."  Lange also worked as a radio personality for decades in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.  He retired from broadcasting in 2005.

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