MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Body pulled from burned out Minneapolis apartment building
Fire officials say a body has been found in the rubble of a Minneapolis apartment building that burned down after an explosion Wednesday morning. Two people remain unaccounted for as crews begin the process of going through the debris. The body has been sent to the medical examiner for identification, and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges says she knows it's an agonizing time for families waiting for information about their loved ones. Investigators are looking at a possible gas leak as the cause of the blast that injured 14 other people, after witnesses reported smelling natural gas shortly before the explosion, but Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel says it's possible that investigators might not be able to determine a cause.
Police in Willmar say a man held his girlfriend and her two children hostage for a month, beat and abused her, and threatened to throw one of the children out a second-story window when officers came to the residence New Year's Eve. 25-year-old Erik Ozornia made his first court appearance today in Kandiyohi County, facing felony charges of domestic assault, terroristic threats and child endangerment. Willmar Police Chief Dave Wyffels says Ozornia's girlfriend told officers she escaped with one child and called for help, and when officers arrived at the house, the defendant grabbed the couple's six-month-old child, barricaded himself in a second-floor bedroom and threatened to throw the baby out the window. The chief says it took quite some time to convince the man to surrender.
The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting a big spike in influenza activity across the state. The latest update shows 71 flu-related hospitalizations in the week ending December 28th. That's nearly double the number from the previous week and a total of 189 hospitalizations this flu season. There was one flu outbreak in nursing homes and zero school outbreaks, likely due to the holiday break. State health officials say surveillance indicates "widespread" geographic spread of influenza in Minnesota. So far, no flu-related deaths have been confirmed in the state.
The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is asking a Ramsey County judge this morning (11am) to loosen his order requiring the church disclose the names of all priests accused of sexually abusing children since 2004. The archdiocese attorney argues "if mere accusations must be publicly disclosed regardless of credibility, there is an obvious risk of destroying the reputations of completely innocent priests." They want 30 days to determine whether accusations are credible and then have the court review cases in question. But victims' attorney Mike Finnegan with Anderson and Associates says history has shown it's "very dangerous" for the Catholic Church to be in control of the process of determining which priest sex-abuse allegations are credible, and which are not.
The Saint Louis County Attorney says the Catholic Diocese of Duluth has agreed to change its procedures, after allegations of sexual abuse by Father Cornelius Kelleher were not communicated promptly to authorities. County Attorney Mark Rubin says the victim requested her privacy be respected and, as a result, the diocese did not report the allegation to law enforcement or social services for 15 months. Rubin says in his conversation with the victim, it became apparent the incident occurred about beyond the statute of limitations so his office couldn't prosecute. Rubin says his office respects the rights of victims to remain anonymous and decline prosecution, but adds it is also prosecutors' obligation to "seek accountability for criminal behavior." He says Duluth Diocese officials now realize that even in such cases they must promptly report allegations to law enforcement, but don't need to divulge the victim's name. The diocese says it "was pleased to work with the county attorney in developing a mutually agreeable procedure to address such matters going forward."
The North Dakota Health Department has been in Casselton since Monday, overseeing the work of BNSF Railway and its contractors as they clean up from the massive oil train derailment. Dave Glatt, the department's environmental health chief, says state officials don't have equipment to do the monitoring, but do have expertise to evaluate whether BNSF and its contractors are doing what's appropriate. Glatt says the primary concern now is cleaning up contaminated soil and containing any runoff. He says they're still working to determine how much oil was recovered and what amount may have been spilled.
A judge has set bail at two-million dollars for a Ponsford man charged with murder and arson. 48-year-old Charles Joes is accused of setting fire to a house near Ponsford. Joes admitted to a Becker County sheriff's investigator that he started the fire on Monday afternoon while 35 year-old Shalonda Clark was asleep on a couch. Joes was found at a neighbor's home. He had suffered burns.
A Sartell man who says he was sexually abused by a priest in the mid-1960s has filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of St. Cloud. In 1993, Robert Ethen told attorneys he was abused by Father James A. Thoennes and is filing the lawsuit against the Diocese so that no child has to go through what he did. In 2003, church officials admitted there were 26 priests who worked in the Diocese of St. Cloud who had been accused of sexually molesting minors. Similar lists have already been released by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Winona and Duluth with pending suits in Crookston and New Ulm.
Red Wing Senator Matt Schmit says it's time to improve broadband Internet access in Greater Minnesota, when the state budget has a surplus and a bonding bill is on the legislature's plate for 2014. Schmit kicks off the second leg of his "Border to Border Broadband Tour" Monday (1/6) in North Branch. He'll criss-cross the state next week getting public input.
Duluth Police have arrested a suspect in the attempted armed robbery at a Subway Monday night. 36-year-old Eric Dahlberg was arrested without incident and was formally charged with felony 2nd degree assault and terroristic threats. Dahlberg allegedly brandished a knife at the Subway employee. Authorities say he has a long list of convictions dating back to 1994.