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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Minneopa golf clubhouse damaged by fire

SOUTH BEND, Minn. --  Damage is estimated at one-million dollars after a fire early Tuesday in the clubhouse of Minneopa Golf Course near Mankato. 

Flames had already reached the roof of the wooden structure when firefighters from South Bend and Lake Crystal arrived.  The owners live in a home connected to the clubhouse and they were awakened by smoke detectors and able to escape unharmed.  The cause remains under investigation, but it is believed to have started in the bar area.  The Minneopa Golf Course is open for business as usual.


VA clinics in Minneapolis and Rochester have been flagged for further review in an audit of the nationwide VA system's wait times, but U.S. Senator Al Franken (DFL-Minneapolis) is confident the second review will show positive results.  The initial audit showed 1,400 patients had never been treated, but Franken says Minneapolis VA Director Pat Kelly told him it was a reconciliation error.  Franken says he doesn't know what is causing the extra audit for the Rochester VA facility, but will be closely watching that.  The first audit showed average wait time for VA patients in Minnesota is under a month, but Minnesota officials say in reality it's currently only about two weeks for primary care.  In Minneapolis, mental health patients can be seen in less than a day and emergency patients can walk-in and be seen.


The U.S. Veterans Administration is calling on leaders of Rochester-based Mayo Clinic and other private health care executives as it works to sort out wait time problems and other issues affecting veterans seeking medical treatment.  A report released Monday shows that more than 70 percent of patient-scheduling staffers at VA clinics across the U.S. did not fully use scheduling software developed in 2002.  The report also finds that 13 percent of VA patient schedulers say they were told by supervisors or others to enter a date different than what the veteran had requested in the appointment scheduling system.  Eight percent said they used alternatives to the official Electronic Wait List, in order to make wait times appear more favorable.  Acting VA Inspector General Robert Griffin says only criminal charges against VA employees who manipulate the system will stop the practice.


Minnesota-based Target Corporation plans to start selling beer, wine and liquor in its home state next month.  The Otsego City Council has approved Target's application for a liquor store within its existing SuperTarget store.  The one-year license goes into effect July 1st.  Target has sold low-alcohol beer in its Minnesota stores for years and the liquor license in Otsego is part of a pilot program.  Company officials will not say whether it plans to add liquor to 75 other stores in the state. 


A Minnesota-based organization is helping create Somalia's first commercial microfinance institution.  American Refugee Committee president Daniel Wordsworth describes microfinance as a means of helping poor people from developing nations escape poverty.  Wordsworth says it might help a fisherman buy a boat and equipment, or a refrigerator to put fish in or support a young restaurant owner who needs cooking equipment and food, plus enough money to start hiring wait staff.  He says the vast majority of Somalis who use the services will never have used banks before.


The weekly crop report shows 96 percent of Minnesota's expected corn acreage has been planted, one percentage point behind the five-year average.  Soybean planting is 86 percent complete, three points behind the five year average.  Wet conditions are delaying some farmers from their final planting push.  Eighty percent of the state's corn crop is rated in good or excellent condition.  The first soybean condition ratings for the year came in at 77-percent good or excellent.


A Rochester man has been accused of holding his girlfriend captive, beating, and sexually assaulting her.  Witnesses told police they saw 24-year-old Joseph Patrick Martin II jump into the 36-year-old woman's car through an open window in a grocery store parking lot, and bystanders were able to pull the screaming woman from the vehicle to safety.  Martin was arrested a couple of blocks away.  The victim told investigators Martin held her for 24 hours in a Rochester home, where she was beaten and sexually assaulted.  She convinced him to go to a smoke shop near the grocery store and that's when she tried to escape.  Martin is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, domestic assault with strangulation, and several other counts.


Authorities have identified the victim of a fatal motorcycle crash in Brainerd.  The State Patrol says 30-year-old John Helstrom was riding his cycle eastbound on Highway 210 yesterday (MON) afternoon when he struck an SUV that was traveling the opposite direction and turning left.  Helstrom was *not* wearing a helmet and was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the SUV was not injured.


Authorities have identified a woman found dead in a car at a Lowe's store in Blaine.  The body of 34-year-old Gina Lieser of Circle Pines was discovered by store employees early Sunday morning.  Authorities were called on a report of a crash and arrived to find Lieser's body in the car.  Anoka County Sheriff's officials say there is nothing to indicate foul play.  The investigation continues.


The state Human Services Department says a Sauk Rapids home for mothers recovering from chemical dependency was at fault in the 2011 death of an infant, and has fined Journey Home and put its license on conditional status.  State officials launched a review of the residential treatment center operated by CentraCare Health after another baby died there in September 2013 after his mother feel asleep while bathing him.  The Human Services Department did not find any maltreatment in that case -- but did find in the earlier incident that Journey Home was responsible for neglect of the mother and her infant.  CentraCare is appealing the decision.


After joining the successful push to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota, a Montevideo man is considering going into the business of growing the plant in his hometown to supply those seeking its benefits.  Jeremy Pauling currently builds grain storage buildings for a Montevideo construction company, but has applied to operate one of two medical cannabis production facilities allowed in Minnesota under the new legislation.  Pauling's seven-year-old daughter Katelyn has Batten's Disease, an incorrectable epilepsy, and suffers many seizures each day.  He says the prospects of Katelyn making it into her teens are very slim, but medical cannabis can give her relief and maybe prolong her life until a cure is found.


 A Rochester mother says she was out for a walk with her infant daughter Friday night when her baby was shot by one of two boys riding through the park shooting BB guns.  The woman tells KAAL-TV in Austin that the BB had to be removed at the emergency room. Police are still looking for the two boys.


 The 71-year-old St. Cloud man injured in a helicopter crash north of Little Falls has died.  Gary Oleen was flying a crop-spraying helicopter May 28th when it crashed into a roof of a barn.  Hospital officials say Oleen died late Thursday.  The cause of the crash remains under investigation.


Two young children were injured Saturday afternoon in Morrison County when the ATV they were passengers on rolled in Pierz Township.  49-year-old Kevin Hastings of Pierz took a curve too fast, and six-year-old Cameron Wilson and nine-year-old Jordan Wilson -- both of St. Cloud -- were thrown from the ATV. Jordan was taken to St. Gabriel's Hospital and Cameron reportedly was taken to St. Cloud Hospital.  The driver was arrested for criminal vehicular operation after he was found to be under the influence of alcohol.


Minnesota officials are launching a statewide campaign today asking motorists to hang up their phones and pay attention in work zones.  MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht says motorists traveling around the state will notice billboards and radio ads with the message "Orange Cones. No Phones."  Gutknecht says distracted driving is a growing problem and people who are texting or using their phones are much more likely to have a problem in a work zone.  The campaign will continue through the construction season. 


Minnesota came in third best on Money-Rates-Dot-Com's ( recent survey of the Best And Worst States to Make a Living.  Analysts for the personal finance site used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources on average salary, cost of living, employment rate, and workplace conditions for each state.  Minnesota came in third due to low unemployment and a high work environment score.  Washington state was at the top, followed by Texas.  Hawaii ranks worst, due to a cost of living that is 157 percent higher than the national average, plus a poor work environment score.


The author of a comprehensive guide to road trips has named a scenic byway that begins in Minnesota to his top ten driving trips.  Author of Road Trip USA Jamie Jensen says there is no better way to appreciate the power of the mighty Mississippi River than driving its length from north to south. He tells USA Today that, "from Mark Twain to Bob Dylan to Muddy Waters, it has a place in the national psyche. It's where the West begins."He suggests breaking up the trip along the Great River Road into pieces, from the hilly terrain in Wisconsin and Iowa, to the Delta region from Memphis to New Orleans.