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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Bus driver pleads guilty after boy left on locked bus

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news Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

CARLTON, Minn. -- A former school bus driver accused of leaving a 3-year-old on a locked bus has pleaded guilty to child endangerment.

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Thomas Mitchell Soderholm, 53, of Mahtowa, was accused of endangering preschooler Ty Stiffarm on Jan. 14 after the boy was left alone on Soderholm’s locked Head Start bus for three hours with temperatures hovering around zero.

Soderholm made an Alford plea Wednesday in Carlton County Sixth District Court. Under the Alford plea, Soderholm acknowledged there is enough evidence for a jury to possibly find him guilty, but he doesn’t admit to committing the crime.

Judge Dale Wolf stayed a sentence of one year on the condition that Soderholm commit no same or similar crimes and fined him $200 for the cost of prosecution.

Although Soderholm apparently did not leave the boy on the bus intentionally, Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said he pressed charges because “when you’re dealing with young children, there is a heightened responsibility to make sure things like that can’t happen.”

According to the criminal complaint, Fond du Lac Reservation law enforcement was informed by the Fond du Lac Transportation Department that the boy had been left on the bus after an employee noticed the boy waving and pounding on a window.

Soderholm lost his job with the reservation, Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver said after the incident.

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BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The removal of three large trees, a side effect of the adjacent renovation to Bemidji State University’s Chet Anderson Stadium, drew ire this week from those who wanted to preserve the pines.

But by Thursday afternoon, little more than a few stumps, limbs and branches remained sitting on the field.

“We are very upset about how little dialogue there was throughout this process,” Caitlyn Schuchhardt, one of two people sitting under one of the trees Tuesday in protest of its pending demise, wrote in Facebook message. She said that tree was more than 100 years old.

An online petition asking BSU President Richard Hanson to prevent the trees from being cut down drew 318 signatures before being closed.

The university posted a letter from Hanson on The Bemidji Pioneer newspaper’s Facebook page Thursday explaining the decision. He wrote that the artificial turf being installed at the stadium, which will be paid for with external and private funds, “will be a major and much-needed improvement to BSU athletic facilities.”

“Although we originally had hoped to save one or more of the trees, professionals on the project advised us from the outset that this would not be possible,” Hanson continued.

Hanson said the university will explore ways of making the wood from those trees into something “visible and meaningful on our campus.”

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WILLMAR, Minn. -- A Willmar man who admitted helping himself to a few beers in a neighbor’s garage after being caught on camera has struck a plea deal.

Kevin Gene Sorenson, 50, pleaded guilty Thursday in Kandiyohi County District Court to a misdemeanor charge for taking alcoholic beverages stored in a refrigerator in the garage.

District Judge David L. Mennis sentenced Sorenson to 90 days in jail, which was stayed, pay a $50 fine, serve one year of probation and follow the recommendations of a chemical use assessment.

As part of the plea agreement, a third-degree felony burglary charge was dismissed.

Willmar police began investigating Oct. 25 when residents of a home reported that someone had entered their garage and drank a half bottle of rum and several beers that were chilling in the refrigerator.

The residents reported in early November that more beer was missing from the garage refrigerator, so police installed a motion-activated camera directly over the refrigerator.

Images from the camera showed that a man was inside the garage Nov. 18 and Nov. 28. One of the residents picked Sorenson from a photo lineup and knew he lived a few blocks from the home. When Sorenson was informed about the camera, he admitted entering the unlocked garage and taking beer.

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The Republican-controlled U-S House passed a pared-down Farm Bill Thursday afternoon which makes no changes to food stamps and postpones that fight until later. Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, lead Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, says splitting the Farm Bill is a mistake. Peterson warns it will "ensure that Congress never considers another Farm Bill, and farm programs as written (in current law) are gonna remain forever." The Senate version of the bill has much smaller cuts to food stamps than House leaders originally proposed. Analysts predict the Senate will be leery of the split bill that the House passed. 

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The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday (Thu) approved the nomination of Minnesota U.S. Attorney Todd Jones to be permanent director of the A-T-F. A G-O-P filibuster is expected to derail the confirmation in the full Senate, and Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal is calling on lawmakers to put public safety first by moving Jones confirmation forward without further delay. He says, "An agency cannot function cannot function indefinitely without the kind of leadership that Todd Jones will provide." G-O-P lawmakers say Jones has been accused of cronyism and political favoritism in the Minnesota U.S. Attorney's office, and is facing pending mediation in a whistleblower complaint brought by an assistant U.S. attorney in Minneapolis who says he was unfairly disciplined by Jones for raising management concerns, and the nomination should not be "rubber stamped."

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