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St. Louis County hit hard by overdose deaths

ALSO: Willmar wagon driver in critical condition; Worthington residents don’t like tax hikes; Mankato cops issue 246 snow emergency parking citations; and more.

While the majority of the 338 people who died from opioid overdoses in Minnesota in 2015 were from the metro area, St. Louis County had the highest overdose death rate, adding up to at least two dozen last year. Jon Collins, Minnesota Public Radio, reports that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also show that American Indians in Minnesota died at a rate about five times as high as whites. Maggie Kazel, program manager for Rural AIDS Action Network, said economic distress is part of the cause of rural opioid overdoses. “In rural areas, what are you going to do when you have no money, no jobs, no nothing?” Kazel said. “You will get whatever the heck is available, and usually that’s going to be some really raw, straight-up drugs, and you’re at the mercy of the drug dealer.” 

The driver of a horse-drawn wagon had a heart attack at some point during Saturday’s incident during a Christmas light celebration in Willmar. Gretchen Brown of the West Central Tribune reports that the horses driving the wagon carrying 15 passengers became spooked and bolted for about one mile before the wagon crashed into a basketball pole. According to his family, driver Fred Zwart had a heart attack during the crash as well as suffering a back injury. A passenger told police Zwart did a good job keeping the wagon on the road during the incident, but the horses ultimately crashed into the pole. Some of the 15 passengers had non-life-threatening injuries, but Zwart was unresponsive, had no pulse and was not breathing when law enforcement arrived at the scene. Zwart remained in critical condition Monday.

Worthington city officials held a truth in taxation hearing Monday, and that’s exactly what they got. Karl Evers-Hillstrom of the Worthington Daily Globe reports that two taxpayers approached the Worthington City Council: Darwin Sieve said his property taxes increased by 25.5 percent this year even though his house had not changed in 30 years. “I’m retired. I can’t take it anymore,” he said. Roger Westendorf said the value of his home rose 26 percent. “I don’t mind paying for schools, don’t get me wrong, but that don’t even show justice,” he said. Mayor Mike Kuhle said the unexpected assessments should be brought up with the county assessor’s office.

The Mankato Department of Public Safety was out in force during the weekend dealing with snow-related crashes and injuries. The Mankato Free Press reports that the ink in police pens didn’t freeze: They wrote 246 citations during the weekend for failure to move vehicles during a snow emergency.

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The cold snap is bringing ice fishing enthusiasts onto state lakes. Briana Sanchez of the West Central Tribune writes that ice is reportedly about three and a half inches thick on Willmar Lake. She adds that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says it’s early in the season and “you can’t judge lake ice by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, or whether or not the ice is covered with snow. All these factors plus the depth of water, size of the lake, water chemistry and currents, the distribution of the load on the ice and local climatic conditions need to be considered as well.”

In an effort to keep chronic wasting disease from spreading in the state, the DNR announced Monday that it will ban deer feeding as well as establish a 370-square-mile disease management zone in Fillmore, Houston, Mower, Olmsted and Winona counties. The Associated Press reports that the DNR will also offer a late-season deer hunt in the zone. Two deer shot by hunters near Lanesboro in November were infected with chronic wasting disease, marking the first detection of the fatal brain disease among wild deer in the state since 2010.

In the lemons into lemonade department, the University of Minnesota Duluth is continuing to study ways to use taconite byproducts to patch pavement and fill in potholes. Brooks Johnson of the Duluth News Tribune reports that the ongoing studies have resulted in one patent for the UMD Natural Resources Research Institute called Rapid Patch. The product uses no petroleum or Portland cement, is activated by water, and sets quickly. A second mixture under investigation is activated by a truck-mounted, high-power microwave. The study report notes that the ideal is a product that will last at least one year, can be distributed in all seasons and will keep traffic disruptions to a minimum. “No single repair method achieves this ideal. However, the two alternatives studied during this project represent potentially important steps in that direction,” the study notes.

A woman has accused a man of raping her during a bus trip between Minneapolis and Grand Forks. Andrew Hazzard of the Grand Forks Herald reports that Mohamed Harir Ayanle, 22, of Minneapolis, faces up to 30 years in prison after being accused of sexual assault on a Jefferson Lines bus on Friday. According to the criminal complaint, the victim said a man approached her after her daughter fell asleep shortly after a stop in Bemidji and invited her to watch a movie with him in the back of the bus. She said she believed he had a knife. She said she was raped in the back seat of the bus. The victim got off the bus in Crookston and reported the incident. Police pulled the bus over and found Ayanle, who fit the suspect description. Ayanle said the two had intercourse but that is was consensual. He denied threatening her. Police did not find weapons on his person.