Ryan Larson, the only named suspect in the Nov. 29 shooting death of Cold Spring-Richmond Police Officer Tom Decker, allowed Stephanie Dickrell of the St. Cloud Daily Times to view his Cold Spring apartment Monday. Larson did this because he was upset about the treatment of his possessions by police and investigators. Larson, who was arrested soon after the shooting but later released without charges, lived above Winner’s Sports Bar and Grill, near the alley where Decker’s body was found. He came back Sunday for the first time for a change of clothes and found the place in a state of complete upheaval. “Just the sheer disrespect for somebody’s personal property. It disgusts me. I was irritated. I was confused before, now I’m mad. To turn it upside-down like this. This isn’t an investigation.” Dickrell writes: “Among the piles were family photos, school books, assignments and projects. Possessions were strewn about, at times not in the original room in which they had been kept. … Carpet was pulled from floorboards and left in an adjoining room. … ” Larson has been staying at friends’ houses and plans to take incompletes on his classes at St. Cloud Technical College.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says the case of two recent runaways from Duluth illustrates the problem of sex trafficking, “which is modern-day slavery.” Richard Chin of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has the story of two Duluth women, 16 and 18, who took a bus from Duluth to St. Paul to meet the 18-year-old’s former boyfriend, Fonati McArthur Diggs, 24, of Northfield, and Timothy Denzel Cross, 19, of St. Paul. The two men face sex-trafficking charges after they forced the women to engage in prostitution, according to a criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court. In addition to the sex-trafficking charges, Cross also was charged with two counts of second-degree assault and illegal possession of a firearm. Choi said, “With these two cases, we have now prosecuted 12 sex-trafficking cases this year — the vast majority of which involve victims who are runaway children under the age of 18 from throughout Minnesota and neighboring states.”
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show the poverty rate in southern Minnesota jumped to 12.6 percent in 2011, a number equating to nearly 28,000 people living at or below the poverty line, writes Robb Murray of the Mankato Free Press. Poverty is defined as annual income of about $11,700 for an individual or about $22,800 for a family of four. Funding hasn’t kept pace. For example, Murray writes that federal funding to the Minnesota Valley Action Council has gone from about $13 million in 2000 to about $17 million in 2012 while over that same time, the number of people eligible for MVAC services has grown from 16,292 in 2000 to 27,957 in 2011. Blue Earth County, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state, saw its poverty rate increase from 16.7 percent to 18.3 percent from 2010 to 2011. Other area counties and their poverty rates include Faribault at 13.6 percent, Martin at 12.5, Watonwan at 11.8, Sibley at 11.6, Nicollet at 10.3, Waseca at 9.9 percent, Le Sueur at 9 and Brown at 8. The poverty rate was 11.8 percent for all of Minnesota in 2011, and 15.9 percent for the nation. Murray writes that the poverty rate in south-central Minnesota has risen steadily since 2000, when it stood at just 7 percent. Since that time, an additional 11,665 people in the nine counties have slipped from the middle class into poverty, a 71.6 percent increase.
A weather expert is predicting more moisture for Minnesota and North Dakota farmers in 2013, reports Jonathan Knutson of Agweek. Leon Osborne, president and CEO of Meridian Environmental Technology, told farmers at the Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks that 2013 will be wetter than drought-plagued 2012, but the region’s 2013 growing season threatens to be risky nonetheless. “The question is, will it be enough?” he said. Osborne spoke at the conference a year ago and predicted the drought that most farmers were able to muscle through thanks to abundant subsoil moisture. However, most area fields will begin 2013 drier than usual. That means area crops will need above-average precipitation to catch up on their moisture needs, he said. “This year (2013) is a risky year.” His forecast calls for near-normal precipitation and temperatures from late spring to early summer. That prediction comes with a confidence factor of 75 percent.
Blue Earth City Councilman Glenn Gaylord has a bee in his bonnet about dog poop. Jodelle Greiner of the Fairmont Sentinel has the dirty details: Gaylord registered a complaint at a work session of the Blue Earth City Council on Monday about dog feces left in public areas such as the school playground. Gaylord is a custodian at Blue Earth Area middle school, where kids “track it in the school and track it on the buses,” adding that it’s not healthy. He wants to ban dogs from the playground. “We do have citizens who are good about taking their little bag, but they are in the minority,” said Councilman John Huisman. Councilman Rick Scholtes doesn’t want to punish lawful dog owners, and believes the real problem is from dogs running at large. Huisman suggested assembling a committee with representatives from law enforcement, the animal shelter and the city to draft a plan. He volunteered to be the city’s representative.
Daylight for the National Audubon Bird Count, a tradition nationally since 1900, broke cold and wet for the four bird-watchers in Sibley Park, writes Tim Krohn of the Mankato Free Press. “The rain really keeps the birds from moving,” said Merrill Frydendall, who has led the local count for 34 years. “There’s mallards. Five, eight, nine of them,” said Mark Jenzen, who was with his wife, Linda, and their daughter, Erynn. Soon more mallards, then a lone hawk gliding in the distance over the Blue Earth River. A red-tailed, Frydendall confirmed. At the Ney Nature Center near Henderson, birders were able to watch birds coming to an array of feeders outside the windows. Lots of gold finches and chickadees, some cardinals, blue jays, and a blue bellied woodpecker were among the early tally. At the end of the day, Frydendall’s group spotted a total of 46 species, including three new species for the local count: ruddy duck, herring gull and the Eurasian collared dove. They also had a fairly rare sighting of Eastern bluebirds at Minneopa State Park.
A building boom in Byron may help the town keep its State Aid for Local Transportation funding, which amounts to $167,500 annually as long as the population reaches 5,000 by 2015, reports Gretta Becay of the Rochester Post-Bulletin. In the past 12 months, Byron has issued 42 new home permits. In 2011, 23 were issued. In 2010, it was just 17. In comparison, City Administrator Mary Blair-Hoeft said area cities like Pine Island issued seven permits in the past 12 months, Kasson issued 19, Stewartville issued 12 and Eyota and Dover each issued one. Hoeft credits the incentives offered by an Economic Development Authority program launched last December. The “It Pays to Build in Byron” program includes deferred and reduced building permit fees and a landscaping water/sewer credit. Byron needs to raise its population to continue to receive State Aid for Local Transportation funds, which are awarded to cities with more than 5,000 people. The state demographic center had raised the city’s population estimate to 5,045 in 2009, which qualified it to receive the funds. But the 2010 census counted 4,914 Byron residents. For 2011, the state demographer lists Byron’s population at 4,952, and that doesn’t include new home occupants.
Mild weather has allowed Winona and Winona County to carry over salt supplies from the previous season, writes Mary Juhl of the Winona Daily News. Thanks to little snow last winter and mild weather this fall, Winona County carried over 800 tons of salt, while the city carried over about 200 tons. “As of right now, it’s been a good winter,” city street department superintendent Mike Biggerstaff said. County highway engineer Dave Kramer said the highway department is slightly ahead of budget, in part because of temperate weather conditions.