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MINNESOTA NEWS BRIEFS: Edina author dies of cancer

EDINA, Minn. - A top selling author from Minnesota has died.  Forty-seven-year-old Vince Flynn of Edina passed away this morning at a Twin Cities hospital after losing a long battle with prostate cancer. 

Flynn has authored 14 political thrillers centered around the character of Mitch Rapp, an undercover CIA agent.  Many of his novels have made it to the New York Times bestseller list.  Flynn was reportedly working on his 15th novel.  He leaves behind a wife and three children.

One year ago today, ten-plus inches of rain fell in northeastern Minnesota in just a few hours.  Hardest hit, Duluth.  Residents described raging water popping off manhole covers and sinkholes all over the place.  Hundreds of homes sustained water damage in the area and many roads washed away from the force of the water.  The floods also hit the Lake Superior Zoo, drowning some of the barnyard animals, and allowing two seals and a polar bear to escape.

The state of Minnesota is opening a new foreign trade office in Europe.  Governor Dayton and Department of Employment and Economic Development Commisioner Katie Sieben are scheduled to announce the location this afternoon.  The trade office in Europe will be one of three that will open internationally as part of the Global Competitiveness Initiative, which was passed during the 2013 legislative session.  Minnesota currently has one foreign trade office in Shanghai, China.

A new Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll shows more than half of Minnesotans surveyed are pleased with Governor Dayton's performance. The results show 57-percent of adults surveyed think Dayton is doing a good job.  800 people were surveyed in the telephone poll that has a margin of error of plus or minus three-and-a-half percentage points.  Daytons's support follows the Legislature's approval of a tax increase on the state's higher earners, legalizing same-sex marriage and funding all-day kindergarten across the state.  This is the Governor's highest approval rating since taking office. 

Members of U.S. Senator Al Franken's (DFL-Minneapolis) staff will be in central Minnesota tomorrow.  They will be discussing efforts to end the backlog of Veterans Benefits claims.  Franken's staff will meet with local veterans and V.A. advocates at 10:00 a.m. at the St. Cloud Technical and Community College, and at 1:00 p.m. they?l be at the Stearns County Service Center in Waite Park.

Investigators do not suspect foul play in the fire that destroyed a building Monday night in northeastern Minnesota town of Cook.  The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and State Fire Marshal say the blaze appears to be accidental in nature.  It appears to have started inside the Gilley's Naturals health products store on the main floor.  The building also housed the Dollar Barn and eight residential apartments. 

Another skunk has tested positive for rabies in St. Cloud.  The city's health director says the recent skunk was lethargic, and animal control was able to capture it before it had contact with any humans.  Last week's rabid skunk did come in contact with a dog.  Officials remind people to stay away from wild animals and say anyone bitten should seek medical attention right away.

 An Army veteran was seriously injured after he pulled his truck onto the shoulder of I-35 near Hinckley because of mechanical trouble and was hit by a car.  A witness says the car that hit Trevor Langlois slowed momentarily, but then sped off.  He is listed in critical condition.  Minnesota State Patrol is searching for the hit-and-run driver.  They say the dark colored Ford sedan is likely to have moderate to heavy damage to the front bumper, hood, and quarter panel; it may also have passenger side mirror damage, and some white paint on the damaged spots. 

A man who was attacked by a black bear in northwestern Wisconsin is recovering at a Twin Cities hospital. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says Jerry Brown was attacked in his yard near Shell Lake Monday night, and his dog was also injured in the attack.  DNR officials believe the bear was a large male, and they are now searching for the bear.  Brown is in critical but stable condition.

A man who says he was sexually abused by an Irish priest in Minnesota 31 years ago is suing the Diocese of New Ulm. It was one of a handful of filed suits made possible by a new law easing the state's statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. The Brown County lawsuit filed on behalf of John Doe 103 names Francis Markey, who was extradited to Ireland in 2010 to face sexual abuse charges there but died year before going on trial.  The court files claim John Doe 103 was about 15 years old when Markey abused him in 1982 while he served at a parish in Henderson.  The diocese says it "deeply regrets the long-lasting and devastating effects of sexual misconduct on the part of clergy."

Amazon is shutting down the accounts of Minnesota bloggers participating in its Associates Program, and the company has sent them a notice blaming it on the state's new "unconstitutional" Internet sales tax.  The program allows anyone with a website to earn advertising fees for referrals that lead to the shipment or download of a product from Amazon.  Beginning July 1, major online retailers must collect 6.875 percent sales tax on purchases made in Minnesota.  While Amazon opposes Minnesota's Internet sales tax, the company supports a federal bill that would require online retailers to collect state sales tax nationwide.

The Stillwater Lift Bridge is closed right now so that crews can repair the cable that snapped Monday night and inspect the bridge's lift system.  The Minnesota Department of Transportation expects the bridge to reopen to cars by 4 p.m., and they hope to have it open for boat traffic by the end of the week.

A man accused of sexually abusing young boys over several decades has been sentenced to more than six years in prison.  Seventy-year-old Tom Erikson Pled guilty to three counts of second degree criminal sexual conduct, but declined to address his victims at the hearing.  Two of them were in the Crow Wing County courtroom.  Sexual Assault Services executive director Rose Kramer told the judge that Erickson also assaulted other boys, but the men could not file a complaint because the statute of limitations has expired.

Three Goodview firefighters fell through the roof of a home in Winona Monday night, when it collapsed beneath them.  Fire officials say the fire was out when it happened.  One of the three was treated at the hospital.  Officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, but they do not suspect foul play.

Winona Senior High School was evacuated yesterday morning after an ammonium sulfide spill.  Winona fire officials say the chemical was stored in a room that was being renovated, but construction crews didn't know it was there and accidentally knocked the container over.  Students are in summer break, but administrators say the school band, some teachers, and construction workers were in the building and were evacuated.  Nobody was hurt, and the Winona Fire Department cleaned up the spill. 

Federal officials investigating a helicopter crash that killed a Mayo Clinic heart surgeon and technician say the pilot's decision to continue flying through deteriorating weather was the result of mounting financial pressure.  The National Transportation Safety Board found no evidence that the helicopter or pilot E. Hoke Smith of SK Logistics in St. Augustine were experiencing any problems, but say the helicopter was not certified to handle the misty and overcast conditions that day. Smith's business had faltered in the recession, and the board found that his decision to keep flying was likely influenced by "his self-induced pressure to complete the trip."

A Brooklyn Park mother was reunited last night with her two month old son last night, after he'd been missing for more than nine hours.  Christina Alonzo awoke on her living room couch early yesterday (Tue) morning, and discovered that her 2-month-old son Elijah wasn? next to her. In fact, he was nowhere in their Brooklyn Park apartment.  She made a frantic call to police and, after interviews with friends and relatives suggested an address in St. Paul, officers drove to the home just as a car was backing out of the driveway.  In that car was baby Elijah, safe and unharmed.  Investigators say a woman staying with Alonzo took the baby without her consent, and they aren't sure yet why.  She and the man in the car with her were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping.  Elijah was checked out at the hospital and got a clean bill of health.  Alonzo was finally reunited with her infant son more than 15 hours after she discovered him missing.

Charges have been filed against the father of a Moorhead infant who died last week after she was left in a hot minivan. Clay County Attorney Brian Melton says that Andrew Sandstrom is being charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter.  Five-month-old Christiana Sandstrom died while she and her five siblings were in the care of their father.  The children's mother was away at work.  A custody hearing was held Friday after Clay County Social Services discovered what they call "extremely filthy" conditions in the Sandstrom's apartment.  The children are in custody of social services.

An employee of the St. Louis County Public Works Department was arrested at his place of employment Monday morning for possession of child pornography.  The suspect is being held in the St. Louis County jail.  Formal charges are pending.  A search warrant was executed at the suspect's home and the investigation is ongoing.  Officials say he is facing five felony counts of "possession of pornographic work involving minors."

The family of murdered Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker has reached an agreement on the allocation of memorial funds that were donated after his shooting death last November.   Widow Alicia Decker had earlier asked that half of the money go to her, with the other 50 percent divided into trust funds for his four children.  Ex-wife Rebecca Decker argued that Alicia Decker and the four children should each receive 20 percent.  The settlement was reached Monday, just before a Stearns County District Court hearing on the matter.  The details of the agreement were not made public.

For the first time since 2007, Minnesota saw an increase in traffic fatalities last year.  Donna Berger is with the state Department of Public Safety and says in 2012 there 395 deaths, up seven percent from the year before.  Berger says those numbers represent someone's lost loved one and many of the accidents could have been prevented.  The 2012 deaths include 116-unbelted drivers, 104 drunk driving crash victims, and 55 motorcyclist deaths.  So far in 2013 there have been 134 road deaths.

Congressman John Kline (R-Burnsville) is urging the U.S. Senate to take up his bill aimed at preventing student loan rates from doubling on July 1st.  Klein says Congress kicked the can down the road last summer by extending current rates for just one year.  He says many members of the House Education and Workforce Committee believe lawmakers need to take advantage of that time to come up with a solution for setting student loan rates long-term. Their proposal would tie them to the market, use a ten-year Treasury note, and add percentages.  Meanwhile, DFL Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato signed a petition Tuesday to bring legislation he co-sponsored to the House floor for a vote.  The Student Loan Relief Act of 2013 would freeze interest rates at 3.4 percent for two years while Congress works on comprehensive student loan reform. 

There was a departure ceremony this morning in St. Paul for the National Guard's Detachment 39 Operational Support Airlift Command.  Nine Minnesota soldiers will be flying in the Middle East and Southwest Asia for the next nine months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Detachment 39 will also command the Kuwait Regional Flight Center.  Commander Brad Husnik says this group will be flying distinguished visitors, providing diplomatic passenger transport and performing on-demand cargo missions throughout the region.  He says these soldiers are prepared for flying in desert conditions and the high altitudes.

Before taking out a reverse mortgage, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota is advising homeowners to do their homework.  With a number of seniors living on a fixed income and strapped for cash, the trend has led some lenders to push reverse mortgages on this population.  The BBB's Dan Hendrickson says this type of loan allows a homeowner to convert part of the equity in their home into cash without having to sell the house.  Hendrickson says interest charges are added to the loan each day it's held, so it's possible the mortgage may grow to equal the value of the home, leaving them and their heirs with nothing equitable.  People who take out reverse mortgages are also responsible for property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs.

A new survey suggests most Minnesotans support the DFL-controlled legislature's tax hikes on high-income earners and smokers. Fifty-eight percent of respondents to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Minnesota Poll approve of an income tax increase on the wealthiest Minnesotans while 36 percent disapprove.  Ninety percent of Democrats back the higher income tax rate and  54 percent of independents support it, but 76 percent of Republicans oppose the tax hike.  The poll also found that 64 percent of Minnesotans support a dollar-60 per pack increase in the cigarette tax while 32 percent are opposed.  The survey of 800 adult residents was done was last week.

 A postal worker was killed in an accident yesterday at the U.S. Post Office in Brooklyn Center.  Police say a truck backing into the loading dock area struck an employee who was on foot.  The victim died at the scene.  Officers say foul play is not suspected and the driver is cooperating with the investigation.  State and federal authorities are investigating.  The victim's name has not been released. 

Authorities have identified the man shot and killed early Monday morning in south Minneapolis.  The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office says 35-year-old Daniel Maniece of Jordan died of a gunshot wound to the chest.  Minneapolis police are still investigating the homicide. 

The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and State Fire Marshal are investigating a fire that destroyed a building last night in Cook (Mon).  The building houses the Dollar Barn, Gilley's Naturals health care products and eight apartment units.  Fire crews spent several hours battling the blaze and no injuries were reported.  The Red Cross is assisting the residents who lived in the apartments. 

An arrest has been made in a hit-and-run accident Sunday that injured a bicyclist in Carlton County. The 69-year-old Esko woman is in jail, and is facing a preliminary charge of criminal vehicular operation with substantial bodily injury.  Carlton County Sheriff's investigators say inattentive driving appears to be a factor.  43-year-old Michael Norton of Duluth was injured when his bicycle was hit near Esko, and the driver did not stop.  At last check Norton was listed in serious condition.

An Elkton man is charged with vehicular homicide in connection with a crash that killed two men in Austin last year.  Investigators say 44-year-old Jason Frederickson was driving more than 120 miles per hour in February of 2012 when he lost control of the car, and it careened into a ditch, slammed into a utility pole, crashed through a fence, and wrapped around a large walnut tree.  32-year-old Luke Unverzagt and 32-year-old Jacob Moe were killed.  Mower County detectives say the three men went out for the evening with a designated driver, but after they returned home they decided to go out again, without a sober driver.  Frederickson's blood alcohol content tested at 0.126, above the legal limit of 0.08.  He faces six charges, each of which could mean 10 years in prison if he's convicted.

An Austin woman who claimed she was being held against her will in Chicago this weekend was later found safe.  The investigation began when a 25-year-old Austin man called Saturday night, saying he received text messages from his 18-year-old girlfriend saying the young woman was at a park in Chicago with two men who wouldn't let her leave.  She had announced the night before that she needed to take a break from their relationship.  Police in Park Ridge, Illinois tracked the woman's phone to a park where they saw two men and a woman matching the description, but when they spoke with her officers say she gave only brief, vague answers and did not appear to need help.  The next morning the boyfriend told police that his girlfriend had texted him saying she had escaped.  She turned up at a Chicago Police precinct.  Police have not released her identity and no charges have been filed.

The U.S. Supreme Court has just given the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to challenge deals between drug-makers to keep generic drugs off the market for certain time periods.  Those deals allow the brand-name manufacturers to make more money after their drug patents expire, but the FTC has said these "pay for delay" arrangements cost people who use the drugs $3.5 billion a year.  Generic drug companies like the pay-for-delay strategy because it minimizes their risk of being sued if they infringe on an expiring patent.  AARP's Leigh Purvis says they would really like to see pay-for-delay deals go away and encourage people to seek less expensive options.  The average Minnesota senior who takes medication pays $85 a month out-of-pocket for prescription drugs, and the Minnesota Board of Aging says close to one in four (23 percent) spend more than $100 a month.