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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Rochester police believe Laura Simonson killed in hotel

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Pierce County Herald
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Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Investigators in Rochester believe 37-year-old Laura Simonson of Farmington was killed at a hotel in the city before her body was stuffed into a suitcase and taken to Wisconsin.  Simonson's remains were identified this week as one of two bodies found in the town of Geneva, Wisconsin.  Rochester Police Captain John Sherwin says Simonson and 52-year-old Steven Zelich had stayed at the Rochester Microtel Inn and Suites on November 2nd and it's suspected that's where she died. Sherwin says Zelich left without her the next day.  He says Simonson and Zelich had established an Internet relationship, apparently through a sex-related website.  Simonson's body was nude, bound, and gagged when it was found inside a suitcase that was discarded alongside the road.

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A nine-year-old girl is being credited with leading Barnesville, police to a marijuana grow operation in northwestern Minnesota.  Police chief Dean Ernst says the girl walked inside the police department and told an officer that her mom and dad smoke pot.  "The girl's concern was about her parents smoking marijuana and actually growing marijuana in the house," according to Ernst.  "They had a little grow room set up in a cellar under the house." Police got a search warrant for the home and seized marijuana plants, drug paraphernalia and grow equipment.  The girl said her parents even gave the plants names such as "Justice" and "Lily." Charges have not been filed.  The girl is staying with relatives.

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Drunken boating accidents and arrests are down sharply throughout Minnesota.  According to the Department of Natural Resources, ten people have been arrested for boating while intoxicated so far this year compared to 20 at this time in 2013, and the arrests fell by 50-percent last year from 2012.  The DNR, county sheriff's offices and federal agencies will step up patrols for impaired boaters this weekend from June 27 to 29.

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A memorial service is this afternoon (1pm) in Duluth and a Catholic Mass tonight (6-8pm) in Chisholm for the late Congressman James Oberstar, who died in his sleep May 3rd at the age of 79.  He represented northeastern Minnesota for 36 years in Congress.  Long-time aide and spokesman John Schadl says Oberstar was a visionary and it's difficult to overstate the impact he had on transportation in Minnesota.  Schadl says Oberstar believed America needs a broader approach to moving people and goods to market.

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The state's on-line health care exchange MNsure will be down from 6:00 tomorrow night (sat) through 6:00 a.m. Monday morning for routine maintenance and system updates.  Spokesman Shane Delaney says even though open enrollment for private insurance is over for now, they are still seeing around one-thousand new enrollees every day to Minnesota care and Medical Assistance.  The next open enrollment period begins November 15th.

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Triple-A Minnesota is projecting 41-million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over the Fourth of July holiday.  Spokeswoman Gail Weinholzer says this is a nearly two-percent increase over last year and almost 14 percent higher than this past Memorial Day.  She says gas prices have seen a slight uptick of about a dime or more in the last month due to the political situation in Iraq.  Weinholzer says the average price for a gallon of unleaded in Minnesota is $3.60. 

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Minneapolis is one of the least-stressed cities in the country.  That's according to a recent study by CNN Money, which puts Minneapolis fourth on its list.  Minneapolis got the nod because of the low crime rate and plentiful jobs - but the top stressor is heavy traffic.  Salt Lake City is the least-stressed, followed by Raleigh, North Carolina, and Rochester, New York.

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 The harsh winter and late spring apparently didn't harm the rhubarb crop in the Duluth area and there will be plenty of rhubarb treats available tomorrow (sat) at the 10th Annual Rhubarb Festival sponsored by CHUM, an organization to help those in need.  A Children's Rhubarb Run for kids 4-to-6 and 7-to-10 starts at 9 and other activities will be held in the Festival's Children's Tent throughout the day. Over a thousand pies and other baked goods featuring rhubarb will be for sale during the event. The Festival raises funds for CHUM programs and services and honors the late Steve O'Neil, who started the event ten years ago.

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It's the second day of President Obama's visit to Minnesota focusing on the economy.  At a town hall meeting Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis, the president called for more family-friendly workplaces, which he argues makes good business sense.  Obama says if an employer gives an employee a week to to care for a sick child or parent, they'll work that much harder when they're back on the job.  The president speaks this morning about the economy at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis.

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A Willmar teen will plead guilty next week to a lesser murder charge for killing his grandmother, and first-degree premeditated murder charges will be dropped, according to a report in the Star Tribune.  The plea deal gives 18-year-old Robert Warwick the possibility of parole after 30 years.  He was originally charged with planning the killing of his grandmother, 79-year-old Lila Warwick.  Brok Junkermeier, a friend who stabbed and strangled the elder Warwick, pleaded guilty in the middle of his trial in April to first-degree premediated murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.  Junkermeier testified they expected to find ten of thousands of dollars in a safe in the slain woman's home.  

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Another Willmar teenager is accused of stabbing his grandmother, but in this case the victim will likely recover.  Police say 64-year-old Maria Garcia ran to a neighbor's home Thursday morning, covered in blood, and was airlifted to a nearby hospital for treatment of multiple stab wounds.  Her grandson, 19-year-old Exsavor Cruz, was arrested yesterday (Thu) afternoon and the West Central Tribune reports that officials say he faces initial charges of second-degree assault with a weapon and attempted first-degree arson.  18-year-old Robert Warwick, also of Willmar, is expected to plead guilty next week to charges connected to the murder of his grandmother, Lila Warwick, last July in order to steal money from her safe.

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Nine months after her body was discovered in roadside ditch, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom says charges will be filed against the two people suspected of killing Anarae Schunk.  Backstrom says 32-year-old Shavelle Chavez-Nelson and his former girlfriend, 24-year-old Ashley Conrade, will each be charged with second-degree intentional murder.  Schunk and both defendants were at Nina'ss Bar & Grill in Burnsville on the night of her death, and speculation is that she may have witnesses the shooting death of Palagor Jobi in the bar's parking lot.  Nelson is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in Jobi's death, and is expected to go to trial in October. Conrade is charged with aiding an offender in that case. Conrade was taken into custody Wednesday.  Chavez-Nelson is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence for an unrelated burglary.  More details will be released in Schunk's disappearance and death in a press conference this afternoon.

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Senator Amy Klobuchar is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to grant the state's request for a preliminary damage assessment after devastating flooding.  Torrential rains have caused major damage to roads, bridges and farmlands across much of Minnesota.  Klobuchar says she spoke with FEMA and urged the agency to begin determining the scale and impact of the damage so they can get federal assistance to affected communities as quickly as possible.  She also talked with President Obama about the extensive damage caused by flooding and the importance of a strong and swift federal response. 

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Last week's heavy rains destroyed all of the exhibits belonging to the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato.  Executive Director Peter Olson says water marks on the storage area walls are well over six feet and black sludge is coating everything.  The interactive children's displays were being kept in a large storage facility while a new, permanent building is prepared for the popular museum.  Olson says their insurance does not cover damage from water or flooding.  Preliminary damage is estimated at 50-thousand dollars -- possibly much more.  

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Early voting begins today (Fri) in Minnesota for the August 12th primary elections.  Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says a new law allows voters to cast ballots 46 days in advance at a county courthouse or city clerk's office, and an excuse is no longer necessary.  Ritchie says Minnesotans can also go online and request that an absentee ballot be mailed to them.  Absentee voting is expected to rise in the state this year under the new law.  

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