Parents, teens frustrated by lack of driver’s exam appointments throughout Minnesota

Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) lack of appointment availability is due to limited resources and funding, DVS officials say.

“This isn’t a life or death situation, but you want your kid to be able to take the test on their birthday,” said Adam Kristal, a Golden Valley parent.

Kristal’s son turns 16 in January, so the search to find an appointment to get him behind the wheel.

“I was clicking on literally every station throughout the state of Minnesota, and nothing would come up,” Kristal said.

He said it took him over two months to book an appointment in the state. Kristal checked online nearly five times a day, hoping to snag an opening.

“I’m like ‘Oh my God, if no appointments open up, what are we going to do?’,” Kristal said.

Driver’s test delays have been an issue 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has been tracking for three years now.

DVS officials have tried to solve the problem by adding more testing sites and increasing testing hours.

The DVS director said the demand for written and driving tests has increased, and there are not enough workers to meet the need.

“The big challenge is increasing our capacity and getting the resources necessary so that we can provide the right number of exams for customers,” said Pong Xiong, DVS director.

Xiong said more funding could solve the problem.

“We’ll have to go through the legislative process by requesting additional funding to get the resources,” he said. “We want to provide all the exams that Minnesotans are looking for and asking for.”

In the meantime, DVS officials said checking frequently online for appointments is your best bet.

“We are operating at full capacity for offering every appointment that we have [the] capacity for at every one of our exam stations,” Xiong said.

DVS officials encourage people who no longer need their appointment to cancel it immediately, so someone else can occupy it.

Minnesota woman anxiously waiting to hear from parents in Florida after Hurricane Ian

A Minnesota woman says her family is having a difficult time communicating with their parents in Florida after Hurricane Ian.

Seventy-six-year-old Sharon Nelson and her husband, 81-year-old Jerry Nelson moved from Minnesota to Sanibel Island, Florida in 1990. Their family says the couple is used to the potential for severe weather.
But after this week’s storm, they’ve had very little communication with them and just want to know for sure how they’re doing.

“I’m the oldest, and I talk to my mom like every four hours and this is really, really hard for me,” said Christine Nelson Mullen, who lives in West St. Paul.

Hurricane Ian Coverage

From her West St. Paul home, Nelson Mullen is checking her phone often, waiting anxiously.

“Their cellphones are dead, I can’t reach either of them,” she said.

Despite concerns from their kids, the Nelsons decided to stick it out through Hurricane Ian.

“We’ve all kind of said to them, ‘You got to go, you got to leave,'” Nelson Mullen said.

When the storm rolled in on Wednesday, Nelson Mullen said her family heard from their folks briefly. It wasn’t until midday Thursday that the family received just a single text.

“It says, ‘We are okay,'” Nelson Mullen said.

But despite that one text, Nelson Mullen says in the 24-plus hours since, the family hasn’t had any other communication with their parents.

“You don’t even know where they’re at right now?” she was asked.

“I do not. I hope they’re in their house still,” Nelson Mullen said. “I have not had verbal communication with them since, not at all.”

SWFL Emergency Relief Fund

As the cleanup continues, rescue crews are still searching for thousands of people still reportedly missing. If the Nelsons are waiting it out in their home, the family is worried that no one can get to them.

“My parents are stuck, literally stuck,” Nelson Mullen said.

With power and cell service no guarantee in those areas of Florida right now, loved ones from afar are hopeful for answers.

“You never know that this could really happen and it could happen to family but if anyone sees them or knows where they are or hears from them, I would like them to call me,” Nelson Mullen said.

To make matters even more difficult, Nelson Mullen says her parents are recovering from recent shoulder and cataract surgeries, so getting around isn’t very easy.

School districts update policies to increase security at athletic events

Following several incidents this fall, including last week’s shooting outside a homecoming football game in Richfield, multiple school districts are implementing new policies to increase security at athletic events.

The Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington and Edina public school districts confirmed that they’re working together to ensure they have similar guidelines and more secure events.

RELATED: Richfield administrators cancel homecoming events after shooting outside football game

In a letter to families, Richfield High School Principal Stacy Theien-Collins and Activities Director Chris Peterson said the school will now require students to register by 1 p.m. on the Wednesday before an away game if they wish to go. Additionally, all attendees will have to show a photo ID to get into the game, and all students have to be accompanied by a parent or chaperone.

For Richfield’s game Friday night against Washburn, only families of the football players and students with a chaperone are being allowed to attend, and those who want to attend had to fill out a form by noon.

Bloomington Public Schools told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that only Kennedy High School students with IDs will be able to attend Saturday’s homecoming game, along with their parents and families. Any elementary and middle school students must be accompanied by an adult.

The district added that it is partnering with Bloomington police to have more personnel in and around the stadium.

“All of these measures are in place as a result of the incident last Friday evening in Richfield. We will reassess security plans in effect for any further home games this year, after Saturday,” Rick Kaufman, the executive director of community relations and emergency management for Bloomington Public Schools, said.

RELATED: Teen charged in shooting outside Richfield football game

Two teenagers — one 15, one 16 — were arrested in connection to the shooting outside the Richfield vs. Bloomington Kennedy game last Friday that left two people injured. Wednesday, prosecutors confirmed one of the teens had been charged but, due to their age, declined to specify what the charges are.

Richfield Public Schools added that it is still developing a plan for home games and is working with local law enforcement and other conference schools in doing so.

“We want to thank you in advance for your support and cooperation as we work together to ensure athletic events remain safe and enjoyable for all,” Theien-Collins and Peterson said in the letter.

While not all have escalated to shots being fired, fights have been an issue for several schools this fall. One of those was a large fight at Edina’s homecoming, and a letter to families from Edina Public Schools Superintendent Stacie Stanley confirmed that some of those involved were from outside the district.

That prompted changes to school policies even before last week’s shooting in Richfield.

“It’s been a difficult week — it’s been one of making sure students are supported,” Kaufman said.

As for the policy limiting other community members from attending the game, Kaufman said it’s not necessarily what the district wants to do but is something that it feels is necessary at this time.

“It’s just unfortunate, yet it’s also a responsibility we take very seriously to ensure the safety and well being of everyone involved in the program,” he said.

“I think they have to do everything they can to make people feel safe — and continue attendance — and keep people coming to enjoy a sense of normalcy,” Leslie Lien, a parent of a Richfield High School student, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS about the updated policies at the districts.

Lien’s daughter was in the stands when last week’s shooting happened in Richfield.

“Scary, sometimes we talk about it sometimes we don’t, it’s surreal, very surreal,” Lien said.

While the other districts have implemented changes, Minneapolis Public Schools told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Friday that it will have separate entrances for spectators and an increased security presence for Washburn’s homecoming game. However, it isn’t restricting who is able to attend.

The districts noted they will continue to review and refine the policies, and update them further, as necessary.

They kept asking, ‘Where’s Katie?’ Now neighbors question why it took months to find the woman’s body inside her Minneapolis home

Neighbors kept asking the same question.

“Where’s Katie?”

For six months last year, they would look at the house on Barnes Place in Minneapolis and wonder: “Where’s Katie?”

They first called 911 to request a welfare check in March.

As the months passed, they kept asking.

“Every day,” said one neighbor. “Where’s Katie?”

Deep down, they already knew the answer.

“I said, ‘Katie’s in that house,'” Pearlie Collins said. “‘She’s in that house somewhere.'” 

The answer finally came on a sunny September morning last fall.

Crews working to clean out the condemned home in the Near North neighborhood found the body of Kathleen “Katie” Norton.

This picture from the 1980s is the only image friends and family could find of Kathleen “Katie” Norton.
The 76-year-old woman was found dead inside her home last year.

City housing inspectors immediately called Minneapolis Police. 

Police were already familiar with the house. They had it boarded up six months earlier after they first searched for Katie.

Records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES would later reveal a failure by police to follow up on repeated concerns over Katie’s wellbeing.

Those records, as well as interviews with neighbors and experts, confirmed that police also failed to alert the city officials who could have found her sooner.

“I’m sure she laid there probably waiting on somebody to help her,” said Collins, who lived next door. “And nobody never came.”

Collins knew Katie for more than 20 years. 

“She had a contagious spirit,” she said. “You just wanted to say hi to her and talk to her.”

“Katie” was often seen walking in the neighborhood, pulling a red wagon along and stopping to chat with people who lived nearby.

And she was full of stories, said Reeve Klatt, who lived across the street.

“She could talk your ear off,” she said with a laugh.

Yet even those closest were held at a distance. Katie lived alone. She had no close family and didn’t own a car or even a phone.

Neighbors knew Katie was a hoarder. For years, they watched items pile up on the property on Barnes Place. The two identical houses Katie owned were guarded by a high, chain-linked fence.

Neighbors repeatedly called police to this home in Minneapolis after they became concerned about Katie Norton.

“There’s definitely, I think, some mental health issues that she struggled with,” Klatt said.

In the early months of 2021, when people stopped seeing Katie, they started to worry.

Collins noticed she wasn’t out walking. Several women who ran a food shelf at Community Covenant Church said Katie hadn’t shown up as she usually did. Klatt saw the neighbor’s mailbox stuffed full.

“That was a huge red flag,” she said.

On March 27, 2021, Klatt and her husband called Minneapolis Police. Body camera video obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES shows the couple speaking to the officers.

“There’s stuff barricaded, pushed up against the doors,” the officer is heard saying to Klatt’s husband. “If she does that and it’s all pressed up against there, where is she now, because she’s clearly not inside the house.”

“He was very emphatic,” Klatt said. “He just said like she’s not in there.”

That was a dangerous assumption, according to Janet Yeats, a nationally recognized expert on hoarding disorder who reviewed the police file obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.

“When the first police officer entered the home, maybe she was alive, and maybe something could have been done to help her,” Yeats said. “I don’t know that. But that’s the question I’m left [with]. And that troubles me.”

The Minneapolis Police Department declined to release body camera video of the search of the property, citing privacy concerns.

The department also declined multiple interview requests to explain what happened during the search and what steps officers took afterward.

In a statement to 5 INVESTIGATES, an MPD spokesperson wrote, “After attempting to enter her residence, it was deemed to be uninhabitable due to the extreme number of personal possessions and hazardous conditions.” 

The follow-up

Police reports detail the hoarded conditions of the home that officers encountered during the initial search.

In his written report, the officer noted the “large amounts of stuff placed in front of the front and side door” of the house.

Despite that observation, the officer did not alert housing inspectors after that first visit.

“The right thing would have been to call housing immediately,” Yeats told 5 INVESTIGATES. “The housing inspectors are the ones that have a protocol for what you do with a hoarded home.”

Yeats spent years training city and county officials on the best practices for dealing with hoarded homes. She says the proper protocol is to contact housing inspectors right away.

However, MPD does not have a policy that requires officers to take that step when they discover an “uninhabitable” home in the city, according to a review of department policies.

Officers did follow one protocol in their manual. After forcing open the door to Katie’s home, they ordered it be boarded up.

“If you board it up at this point, wouldn’t you be one-hundred percent sure that she’s not in there?” Collins said.

“We just kept saying, ‘Where’s Katie?'”

The question lingered through the spring and summer of 2021.

“We just kept saying, ‘Where’s Katie?'” Collins said.

Her son, Robert Lattimore III, asked himself the question daily. 

“That was [the] only question, ‘Where’s Katie?'” he said. “Every day. ‘Where’s Katie?’ All day long. I’d walk past and just think like, you know, where could she be?”

What the next-door neighbors didn’t know was that other people had the same question.

MPD dispatch records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES show nearly half a dozen calls to police after that initial search, asking officers to do a welfare check.

On April 10, the mail carrier called and said Katie hadn’t checked her mail in three weeks.

Ten days later, a man called police on April 20, worried because he knew Katie lived alone.

On May 4, a woman called and reported she hadn’t seen Katie at church since February.

“I have never been told of a case in which that many phone calls were made by neighbors,” said Yeats, the expert on hoarding disorder.

But after each call, records show police didn’t return to search the home because it was already boarded up. They also didn’t contact housing inspectors.

The discovery

City officials told 5 INVESTIGATES that MPD did not refer this case to housing until August 2021 — five months after the initial search.

When “police gave housing inspectors permission” to enter on Aug. 18, 2021, they pulled down the boards and entered Katie’s home.

Housing officials documented unsanitary and dangerous conditions inside both houses on the property. Photos show items piled to the ceilings. Trash and other debris covered the floors. Inspectors found a deceased cat.

The city filed paperwork to condemn the homes and hired a contractor to clear the property. Three days into that work, at the end of September, crews found what was left of Katie Norton.

“She was found like garbage,” Collins remarked. “She was found like a piece of garbage.”

According to the medical examiner’s report, Katie had on multiple layers of clothing, including a mask. Her remains weighed just 25 pounds. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as apparent natural causes.

The discovery gave neighbors like Klatt a sense of relief but also anguish.

“To know, like, all that time when we sat and waited, she was in there,” Klatt said, thinking back. “Just like, laying there. It’s horrifying to think about.”

The rest of the world would have never noticed Katie Norton — if not for the people who called out for help. And still, they say, it wasn’t enough.

“She was overlooked,” Collins said. “They boarded up her house and left her there to rot.”

Owner of St. Cloud’s Press Bar sentenced to prison for arson, must pay $3M in restitution

A man who pleaded guilty to intentionally lighting the Press Bar and Parlor on fire in St. Cloud more than two years ago will serve time in federal prison.

Earlier this year, 42-year-old Andrew Welsh entered guilty pleas to intentionally lighting the fire.

RELATED: St. Cloud Press Bar owner pleads guilty to arson

Friday, a federal judge sentenced Welsh to nearly six years in federal prison for the crime, as well as restitution, which totals more than $3 million.

Court documents say Welsh used gasoline to start the fire, which destroyed the building, going on to add he then filed a claim for nearly $1.5 million for damages and property lost. He also falsely stated in the insurance claim that “said loss did not originate by any act, design, or procurement on the part of your insured,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

RELATED: Owner of St. Cloud bar federally indicted for arson, insurance fraud scheme

The 71-month prison sentence is the maximum under the guidelines for someone such as Welsh, who had no other criminal history.

“Fire is particularly a monster that once you summon it, you can’t control it,” said Nathan Nelson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, at the sentencing hearing. “(Welsh) had to know at a minimum … he would harming his neighbor and probably harming many others.”

No one was seriously injured in the fire in February 2020, but the neighboring Cowboy Jack’s bar and restaurant had significant damage.

RELATED: St. Cloud bar owner charged with intentionally setting fire; bail set

“It left a vacant pile of rubble, shut down businesses for some time and really left a hole in the heart of that community,” Nelson said.

As part of Welsh’s petition for a lighter sentence, his attorney told the court his client’s crime was not premeditated and blamed the end of his marriage and financial trouble for his actions.

“This was a complete act of desperation,” defense attorney Ryan Garry said. “It wasn’t all planned out. Mr. Welsh had lost everything.”

That plea for sympathy only went so far with Judge Eric C. Tostrud.

“The truth is many Americans deal with these challenges every day without turning to crime and putting people’s lives at risk,” Tostrud said.

The St. Cloud Fire Department is now among the parties due restitution from Welsh.

Steve Wunderlich, deputy chief of operations, says the outcome of the fire could have been much worse.

“Anytime you have a basement fire, you have all the heat and everything coming up. Plus, it was really hard to find where the fire started because it burned through the floor,” Wunderlich said. “It could have very easily spread to other businesses. With our people going in … we could have lost people, we could have lost more businesses.”

Despite telling the court he had “accepted responsibility” for his crime, Welsh struck a different tone when asked for comment outside the federal courthouse in St. Paul before sentencing on Friday.

“The government put out all this fake news … they’re evil people,” Welsh said.

He did not answer questions about whether he still admits to setting the fire to collect insurance money.

“They’re real good at lying,” Welsh said. “And that’s all I’m going to say.”

Welsh is expected to turn himself in to begin his prison sentence in November.

New Minnesota pilot program aims to help ex-prisoners find work

A new pilot program in Minnesota will help former prisoners find work while also hoping to fill the gaps amid the ongoing labor shortage.

The most recent data shows 226,000 open jobs in Minnesota, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is 14% higher than this time last year.

“There are four open jobs for every one person looking for a job right now. It is kind of mind-boggling,” said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Grove said he has noticed a stigma associated with recently released inmates and encouraged Minnesota businesses that are struggling to find workers to reconsider their hiring practices.

“Those who have done time in correction facilities, those who are ‘second chancers’ if you will, have a tremendous amount to contribute to our economy,” Grove said.

The new Pilot Re-Entry Competitive Grant Program was announced by DEED Friday during a roundtable discussion inside the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility.

The new initiative will give nonprofits, community groups and business organizations up to half a million dollars in grant money to help place former prisoners in jobs. The funding will provide them with:

  • One-on-one career counseling/case management through a dedicated navigator,
  • Job search assistance,
  • Skills training including on-the-job training, and
  • Wrap-around support services working closely with a navigator.

“We know that having a good job when people get out makes a huge, huge difference to their success,” Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said.

Minnesota’s 11 prisons also offer career tech programs, providing prisoners with job skills ranging from electrical wiring to welding to hair styling.

Manufacturing businesses, such as Greenheck Group in north Minneapolis, said it has seen great success in hiring recently released prisoners.

“They are the most loyal. They want to come and work and stay with the company,” said Maxi Tumusiime, senior recruiter at Greenheck Group.

Former prisoners also spoke during the round table discussion about finding work after serving time.

“I put in for 22 jobs and I got hired at all of them until the second interview because of my record,” Fredrick McGee said.

He now works at Ace Auto Parts in St. Paul and runs his own landscaping business.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” McGee said. “A lot of people didn’t think I would make it due to my background.”

Crystal Hill-Hover, who was also formerly incarcerated, said she has also been able to start her own business and help people who are struggling like she once was.

“I was told in boot camp after my second trip to prison that I should use my intelligence and street smarts to do something good for the world and that stuck with me,” said Hill-Hover, who opened Twin Cities Wellness Center and Recovery Gym in north Minneapolis last year. “That’s what we need. We need more open-minded people who will give second chances.”

Bail set at $25M for St. Paul triple homicide suspect

The man charged with killing three people and injuring two others at a home in St. Paul earlier this month made his first court appearance Friday.

Antonio Dupree Wright, 41, is charged with three counts of intentional second-degree murder and three counts of attempted second-degree murder. He was arrested in Chicago days after police found three people dead inside a home in the 900 block of Case Avenue and two others with injuries outside on Sept. 4.

RELATED: Murder charges filed against suspect in St. Paul triple homicide

One of the injured victims told police he recognized Wright as the shooter and believes Wright thought they were snitching on him.

Friday, a judge set Wright’s bail at $25 million and granted his request for a public defender.

His next court hearing is set for Nov. 7.

Putin illegally annexes Ukraine land; Kyiv seeks NATO entry

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties Friday to illegally annex more occupied Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of his war. Ukraine’s president countered with a surprise application to join the NATO military alliance.

Putin’s land-grab and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s signing of what he said is an “accelerated” NATO membership application sent the two leaders speeding faster on a collision course that is cranking up fears of a full-blown conflict between Russia and the West.

Putin vowed to protect newly annexed regions of Ukraine by “all available means,” a renewed nuclear-backed threat he made at a Kremlin signing ceremony where he also railed furiously against the West, accusing the United States and its allies of seeking Russia’s destruction.

Zelenskyy then held his own signing ceremony in Kyiv, releasing video of him putting pen to papers he said were a formal NATO membership request.

Putin has repeatedly made clear that any prospect of Ukraine joining the military alliance is one of his red lines and cited it as a justification for his invasion, now in its eighth month, in Europe’s biggest land war since World War II.

In his speech, Putin urged Ukraine to sit down for peace talks but insisted he won’t discuss handing back occupied regions. Zelenskyy said there’d be no negotiations with Putin.

“We are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but … with another president of Russia,” the Ukrainian leader said.

At his signing ceremony in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George’s Hall, Putin accused the West of fueling the hostilities to turn Russia into a “colony” and a “crowd of soulless slaves.” The hardening of his position, in the conflict that has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people, further raised tensions already at levels unseen since the Cold War.

Global leaders, including those from the Group of Seven leading economies, responded with an avalanche of condemnation. The U.S. and the U.K. announced more sanctions.

U.S. President Joe Biden said of Putin’s annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions: “Make no mistake: These actions have no legitimacy.”

“America and its allies are not going to be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats,” Biden added, noting that the Russian leader “can’t seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it.”

The European Union said its 27 member states will never recognize the illegal referendums that Russia organized “as a pretext for this further violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Friday that would have condemned the referendums, declared that they have no validity and urged all countries not to recognize the annexation. China, India, Brazil and Gabon abstained on the vote in the 15-member council.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called it “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War.”

The war is at “a pivotal moment,” he said, and Putin’s decision to annex more territory – Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine – marks “the most serious escalation since the start of the war.” Stoltenberg was noncommittal on Zelenskyy’s fast-track NATO application, saying alliance leaders “support Ukraine’s right to choose its own path, to decide what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of.”

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said Zelenskyy’s move toward the military alliance amounts to “begging NATO to accelerate the start of World War III.”

Zelenskyy vowed to keep fighting, defying Putin’s warnings that Kyiv shouldn’t try to recapture what it has lost.

“The entire territory of our country will be liberated from this enemy,” he said. “Russia already knows this. It feels our power.”

The immediate ramifications of the “accelerated” NATO application weren’t clear, since approval requires members’ unanimous support. The supply of Western weapons to Ukraine has, however, already put it closer to the alliance’s orbit.

“De facto, we have already proven compatibility with alliance standards,” Zelenskyy said. “We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other.”

The Kremlin ceremony came three days after the completion in the occupied regions of Moscow-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that Kyiv and the West dismissed as a blatant land grab held at gunpoint and based on lies. In his fiery speech, Putin insisted Ukraine treat the votes “with respect.”

As the ceremony concluded, the Moscow-installed leaders of the occupied regions gathered around Putin, linked hands and chanted “Russia! Russia!” with the audience.

Putin cut an angry figure as he accused the United States and its allies of seeking to destroy Russia. He said the West acted “as a parasite” and used its financial and technological strength “to rob the entire world.”

He portrayed Russia as pursuing a historical mission to reclaim its post-Soviet great power status and counter Western domination he said is collapsing.

“History has called us to a battlefield to fight for our people, for the grand historic Russia, for future generations,” he said.

Moscow has backed eastern Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions since they declared independence in 2014, weeks after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Russia captured the southern Kherson region and part of neighboring Zaporizhzhia soon after Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament will meet next week to rubber-stamp the annexation treaties, sending them to Putin for final approval.

The orchestrated process went into a celebratory phase Friday night, with thousands gathered in Red Square for a concert and rally that Putin joined. Many waved Russian flags as entertainers from Russia and occupied parts of Ukraine performed patriotic songs. Russian media reported employees of state-run companies and institutions were told to attend, and students were allowed to skip classes.

Putin’s land grab and a partial troop mobilization were attempts to avoid more battlefield defeats that could threaten his 22-year rule. By formalizing Russia’s gains, he seemingly hopes to scare Ukraine and its Western backers by threatening to escalate the conflict unless they back down — which they show no signs of doing.

Russia controls most of the Luhansk and Kherson regions, about 60% of the Donetsk region and a large chunk of the Zaporizhzhia region, where it seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

But the Kremlin is on the verge of another stinging military loss, with reports of the imminent Ukrainian encirclement of the eastern city of Lyman. Retaking it could open the path for Ukraine to push deep into Luhansk, one of the annexed regions.

“It looks quite pathetic. Ukrainians are doing something, taking steps in the real material world, while the Kremlin is building some kind of a virtual reality, incapable of responding in the real world,” former Kremlin speechwriter-turned-analyst Abbas Gallyamov said, adding that “the Kremlin cannot offer anything сomforting to the Russians.”

Russia pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones in Moscow’s heaviest barrage in weeks, with one strike in the Zaporizhzhia region’s capital killing 30 and wounding 88.

In the Zaporizhzhia attack, anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has repurposed as ground-attack weapons rained down on people waiting in cars to cross into Russian-occupied territory so they could bring family members back across front lines, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office.

Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces, but gave no evidence.

The strike left deep craters and sent shrapnel tearing into the humanitarian convoy, killing passengers. Nearby buildings were demolished. Bodies were later covered with trash bags, blankets and, for one victim, a blood-soaked towel.

A Ukrainian counteroffensive has deprived Moscow of battlefield mastery. Its hold on the Luhansk region appears increasingly shaky, as Ukrainian forces make inroads with the pincer assault on Lyman, a key node for Russian military operations in the Donbas and a sought-after prize. The Russian-backed separatist leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said Ukrainian forces have “half-encircled” Lyman. Ukraine maintains a large foothold in the neighboring Donetsk region.

Russian strikes were also reported in the city of Dnipro. Regional Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said at least three people were killed and five were wounded.

Ukraine’s air force said the southern cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa were targeted with Iranian-supplied suicide drones that Russia has increasingly deployed.


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Ian lashes South Carolina as Florida’s death toll climbs

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A revived Hurricane Ian pounded coastal South Carolina on Friday, ripping apart piers and flooding streets after the ferocious storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida, trapping thousands in their homes and leaving at least 17 people dead.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the deaths included a 22-year-old woman ejected in an ATV rollover Friday because of a road washout and a 71-year-old man who died earlier of head injuries when he fell off a roof while putting up rain shutters. Many of the other deaths were drownings, including that of a 68-year-old woman swept into the ocean by a wave.

Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week as the storm churned northward. The death toll was expected to increase substantially once emergency officials have an opportunity to search many of the hardest-hit areas.

Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown, South Carolina, with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday as one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S. As Ian moved across South Carolina, it dropped from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone.

Sheets of rain whipped trees and power lines and left many areas on Charleston’s downtown peninsula under water. Parts of four piers along the coast, including two at Myrtle Beach, collapsed into the churning waves and washed away. Online cameras showed seawater filling neighborhoods in Garden City to calf level.

Ian left a broad swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas on both of its coasts, tearing homes from their slabs, demolishing beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2 million people without power.

Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through riverine streets in Florida after the storm to save thousands of people trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings .

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that crews had gone door-to-door to over 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.

“There’s really been a Herculean effort,” he said during a news conference in Tallahassee.

Officials fear the death toll could rise significantly, given the wide territory swamped by the storm.

Among those killed were an 80-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man who relied on oxygen machines that stopped working amid power outages, as well as a 67-year-old man who was waiting to be rescued and fell into rising water inside his home, authorities said.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said first responders have focused so far on “hasty” searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, which will be followed by two additional waves of searches. Initial responders who come across possible remains are leaving them without confirming, he said Friday, describing as an example the case of a submerged home.

“The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.

Desperate to locate and rescue their loved ones, social media users shared phone numbers, addresses and photos of their family members and friends online for anyone who can check on them.

Orlando residents returned to flooded homes Friday, rolling up their pants to wade through muddy, knee-high water in their streets. Friends of Ramon Rodriguez dropped off ice, bottled water and hot coffee at the entrance to his subdivision, where 10 of the 50 homes were flooded and the road looked like a lake. He had no power or food at his house, and his car was trapped by the water.

“There’s water everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “The situation here is pretty bad.”

University of Central Florida students living at an apartment complex near the Orlando campus arrived to retrieve

The devastating storm surge destroyed many older homes on the barrier island of Sanibel, Florida, and gouged crevices into its sand dunes. Taller condominium buildings were intact but with the bottom floor blown out. Trees and utility poles were strewn everywhere.

Municipal rescuers, private teams and the Coast Guard used boats and helicopters Friday to evacuate residents who stayed for the storm and then were cut off from the mainland when a causeway collapsed. Volunteers who went to the island on personal watercraft helped escort an elderly couple to an area where Coast Guard rescuers took them aboard a helicopter.

Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. Ian made landfall in South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). When it hit Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph (240 kph).

After the heaviest of the rainfall blew through Charleston, Will Shalosky examined a large elm tree in front of his house that had fallen across his downtown street. He noted the damage could have been much worse.

“If this tree has fallen a different way, it would be in our house,” Shalosky said. “It’s pretty scary, pretty jarring.”

In North Carolina, heavy rain bands and winds crept into the state Friday afternoon. Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to be vigilant, given that up to 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of rain could fall in some areas, with high winds.

“Hurricane Ian is at our door. Expect drenching rain and sustained heavy winds over most of our state,” Cooper said. “Our message today is simple: Be smart and be safe.”

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was directing “every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors.”

“It’s going to take months, years to rebuild,” Biden said.

“I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you’re going through and we’re with you.”


Gomez Licon reported from Punta Gorda, Florida; Associated Press contributors include Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds in Fort Myers, Florida; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Bobby Caina Calvan in New York, and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

New Prior Lake-Savage district superintendent speaks on combating racism after multiple incidents

The new Prior Lake-Savage area school district superintendent said he plans to combat the issue of racism head-on, following previous school year of racist incidents. 

Nya Sigin, former Prior Lake Student, was at the center of a racist video that circulated on social media last year. The video was riddled with racial slurs and attacks on mental health.

She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she’s still trying her best to move forward.

RELATED: Prior Lake student says she was target of racist attack, calls for accountability

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’ve moved past it, but I’m doing better,” she said.

She just started her sophomore year at Shakopee High School, after the incident made her transfer from Prior Lake.

Sigin said trying to start over has been a challenge.

“I feel like I’ll just never really get away from the whole thing, which kind of upsets me. I’m trying my best to move on from it,” Sigin said. This racist incident is one of many that happened at Prior Lake High School last school year.

“Folks painfully remember what happened. We will never forget that. That’s part of our story,” Dr. Micheal Thomas said. “I can’t undo that, but we can learn from that to really affect what happens in the future.”

Dr. Thomas, St. Paul native, is now leading the Prior Lake-Savage area school district as the superintendent.

He was recently the superintendent of the Colorado Springs district and holds 25 years of experience in public education.

He also brings personal experiences to the role.

“As a leader of color, it’s something that I’ve lived. You don’t make it to this point in your life without having to navigate a lot of racial challenges and tensions,” he said. He explained the continued efforts in the district are to create opportunities for students to be seen, valued and heard.

“We have a variety of student affinity groups particularly at the high school level. I will be scheduling time now to go out and meet with every single one of those student based groups, just so that they know they have the support and the ear of the superintendent,” he said.

Dr. Thomas said staff members are also engaging in cultural competency training.

He explained the responsibility to combat racism goes far beyond the walls of the school.

“The solutions aren’t going to just happen here at school,” Dr. Thomas said. “There’s only so much that we can influence and at the end of the day. We’ve got to make sure that we’re in sync with our community and that our community is taking a stand for what is best for our students.”

Dr. Thomas explained he’s also participating in listening and learning tours.

During these tours, conversations are held between him and community members to talk about what’s going well in the school district, while also targeting opportunities for growth.

Justice Jackson makes Supreme Court debut in brief ceremony

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson made her first appearance on the Supreme Court bench in a brief courtroom ceremony Friday, three days before the start of the high court’s new term.

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses attended the invitation-only ceremonial investiture for Jackson, the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wished the 52-year-old Jackson a “long and happy career in our common calling,” the traditional welcome for a new justice.

She took her place at the far end of the bench to Roberts’ left, just next to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The justices are seated by seniority.

During the ceremony Jackson also followed the custom of every other new justice since 1972 and sat in a chair that once belonged to John Marshall, who served as chief justice for 34 years in the early 1800s.

Marshall also was a slaveholder, perhaps adding a special poignancy to Jackson taking her place in his onetime possession. She is only the third Black justice in the court’s history, along with her new colleague Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Friday’s ceremony included the reading of the commission appointing Jackson to the court. She also repeated the oath she took when she formally joined the court in June, just after the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.

Breyer was among a courtroom filled with dignitaries, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Speaker Paul Ryan, a Jackson relative through marriage.

Jackson’s parents, daughters, brother and in-laws had a front-row seat.

Several wives of current and former justices also attended, including Virginia “Ginni” Thomas. Thomas was interviewed Thursday by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Jackson was confirmed in April on a 53-47 vote in the Senate, with three Republican senators joining all Democrats to support her.

Biden had pledged during his presidential campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Biden, Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff spent a few minutes with the justices before the court convened, court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe said.

The president said nothing during the five-minute, tightly scripted courtroom ceremony.

Back at the White House, Biden tweeted in praise of Jackson’s “brilliant legal mind” and touted his record on filling judgeships.

“In fact, we’ve appointed 84 federal judges so far. No group of that many judges has been appointed as quickly, or been that diverse,” Biden said.

Jackson and Roberts walked down the 36 front steps of the court for photos following the ceremony. They chatted briefly on the court plaza, and when Roberts departed, the justice’s husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, joined her.

“I’m so proud of you,” Dr. Jackson said, as they embraced in front of a gathering of reporters and well-wishers.

Jackson is the first justice appointed by a Democratic president since Justice Elena Kagan joined the court in 2010. Kagan was appointed by former President Barack Obama, who also appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009.

It appeared Obama would get a third high court pick when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. But Senate Republicans refused to take up Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, then serving as a federal appeals court judge. Garland, now Attorney General, also participated in Friday’s ceremony.

Former President Donald Trump eventually chose Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first of his three Supreme Court appointees, to fill Scalia’s seat.


Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

State finalizing Frontline Worker Pay appeals, payment plan expected next week

State officials say the final number of people who will receive Frontline Worker Pay and how much they’ll get will be announced next week.

Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry said the state’s review of appeals made for the pay is wrapping up.

According to the state, the final number of approved applications, the payment amount — which will be split evenly among all approved applicants — as well as the payment timeline are expected to be announced during the week of Oct. 3.

Previously, the state had said the money was expected to be sent out in September.

As previously reported, the state legislature agreed to deliver bonus funds to frontline workers during this past legislative session. Gov. Tim Walz then signed the bill, which included $500 million for direct payments to frontline workers, into law in early May.

At the time of the signing, officials estimated about 667,000 Minnesotans were expected to be eligible for the payments, which were initially estimated to be around $750. In order to get the bonus, eligible frontline workers had to apply between June 8 and July 22.

RELATED: Walz signs frontline worker relief and unemployment insurance

There are about 20 job categories that qualify for bonus pay, including maintenance, janitorial, security, child care, nursing home and retail workers, public transit, health care workers and many others. Within those categories, there are also income thresholds and requirements that recipients had to report to work in person.

Applicants immediately ran into technical issues due to capacity issues, according to Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) Communications Director James Honerman.

On the first day, more than 78,000 people had applied for funds. By early July, that number had grown to more than 901,000. However, the state’s labor department said after the deadline to apply had passed, a total of 1,199,416 people had applied for funds.

In mid-August, the state reported the total number of applicants who were subject to being denied funds was 214,209. Those who received denials were able to appeal their applications but had to do so by 5 p.m. on Aug. 31.

RELATED: Appeals now to be considered for 214,000 Minnesotans rejected for Frontline Worker Pay

At that time, the state said once all submitted appeals are processed, another email regarding final decisions would be sent out. As of this publishing, the state hasn’t provided the number of appeals it received but did say payments are expected to be made this fall.

They were rejected for one or more of the following reasons: 55,000 collected too much unemployment pay; 55,000 couldn’t have their employment verified; 43,000 earned too much money; 95,000 couldn’t have their identity verified and 47,000 submitted duplicate applications.

State officials say no funds will be distributed until all appeals are processed.

Bodies and floatplane parts recovered from Puget Sound

SEATTLE (AP) — The bodies of some of the 10 victims and most of a floatplane that crashed in Washington state’s Puget Sound earlier this month have been recovered.

Island County Emergency Management confirmed Thursday that multiple bodies were recovered, but Deputy Director Eric Brooks said he wasn’t yet able to confirm the number, The Seattle Times reported.

About 80% of the plane, including the engine, was recovered and brought to the surface using remotely operated vessels, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said Thursday.

“The recovery operation for wreckage is going really well,” Homendy said, adding that crews of nearly two dozen NTSB, Navy, Island County sheriff and subcontractors have been working around the clock since Tuesday.

The Sept. 4 flight was traveling from San Juan Island to suburban Seattle when it crashed into the water.

Witnesses and first responders found only small pieces of possible debris, personal items and the body of Gabby Hanna, 29, of Seattle. It took officials more than a week and multiple types of sonar to find the plane because of the depth and current of the channel in Mutiny Bay.

Once the recovery is complete, the NTSB will lay the wreckage in a secure location and experts will comb through debris to find potential causes of the crash.

Determining the probable cause of the crash could take 12 to 24 months, officials have said.

NTSB officials released a preliminary report that noted the plane had undergone a routine examination done every 100 flight hours just three days before the incident, and had completed a flight earlier the same day.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Frey nominates O’Hara to be next Minneapolis police chief

The city of Minneapolis is a step closer to reform and accountability with the nomination of a new police chief — but there are many more steps ahead.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey named Brian O’Hara, the deputy mayor of police services in Newark, New Jersey, as his pick to lead the city’s police department.

Before holding that post, O’Hara was the city’s public safety director and a police officer.

“There should be nobody that argues with the fact that we both need change and we need safety,” Frey said. “Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are intrinsically linked [and] that is something that Mr. Bryan O’Hara firmly believes.”

Alongside Mayor Frey and Minneapolis Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander, O’Hara addressed the city and state for the first time.

“Together with community, our law enforcement partners, we will work together collaboratively to heal at the heart of this great city,” O’Hara said.

The possible new chief said he hopes to transform the MPD into an example for the entire world.   

“The problem of serious street crime is urgent, and our communities demand and deserve good police to deal with that urgently,” O’Hara said, adding: “At the same time, I commit to hold all police officers accountable to the values of our community and I invite the community to hold us all accountable as well.”

O’Hara was one of three finalists. It was ultimately Mayor Frey’s decision to go with him, but a committee put together to help in the search played a role as well.

“I think that the wait is over. I’m delighted to know that the mayor has chosen O’Hara to be our next police chief,” said Bishop Richard Howell, member of the police chief search committee and minister with Shiloh Temple in North Minneapolis.

Through the selection process, Bishop Howell said they learned violent crime went down under O’Hara’s leadership in Newark.

“He was successful and something went right under his administration,” Bishop Howell said.

He added that the community should be patient as the impact of the next police chief’s leadership takes shape.

“We have problems, we have a police shortage in our department [and] it’s going to take some time to build,” Howell said. “But, I think that we’re on the right pathway.”

The full City Council vote is expected in October following a mandatory public hearing.

City Council members tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they have received information that they want the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to review before they decide whether to vote to confirm O’Hara for the role.

In July, O’Hara was recognized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey for his work on cooperative law enforcement in the state.

“Director O’Hara’s service has been defined by his commitment to reforming policing and his fidelity to partnering with other law enforcement agencies to protect the people of Newark,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said in a statement in July. “Through his leadership, we have maintained our indispensable cooperation and proactive participation in our efforts to confront and suppress violent crime in the great city of Newark. During his career, he brought reform and transparency to police practices by leading the Newark Police Department’s implementation of the Department of Justice’s Consent Decree. Under Director O’Hara ‘s leadership, the Police Department’s crime suppression efforts improved upon the record levels of violent crime reduction that were met in 2020.”

RELATED: State Patrol, BCA to help Minneapolis police under new agreements

The attorney’s office also applauded O’Hara’s work to enhance the collaborative relationships among federal, state and local law enforcement partners in the state, and his multi-agency effort to combat violent crime. At the time, the attorney’s office noted Newark had a 29% decrease in total shootings and 26% decrease in murder victims this year.

RELATED: Federal, state officials announce new strategy to address violent crime in Twin Cities

Those efforts will be critical in leading the Minneapolis Police Department, which has already been working with state and federal partners to crack down on violent crime since this spring. Additionally, Minneapolis leaders announced a new “data-driven” plan last week to reduce crime in the city.

Minneapolis has reported 67 homicides this year, almost 200 carjackings and more than 7,100 shots-fired calls, according to the city’s crime dashboard.

RELATED: State investigation: City, Minneapolis Police Department engage in ‘practice of race discrimination’

Additionally, the department is working with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to institute reforms after the agency found a pattern or practice of race discrimination, and the Department of Justice is still investigating the department, as well. In Newark, O’Hara led the implementation of a Department of Justice consent decree, something he may be tasked with in Minneapolis, if confirmed.

Eastbound I-494 closes in Mendota Heights Sept. 30 – Oct. 3

There will be a full closure of eastbound I-494 just east of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport this weekend.

All eastbound lanes of I-494 will close from Highway 5 to I-35E as crews work to paint the Highway 55 bridge.

The closure will start at 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30, and will last through 5 a.m. Monday, Oct. 3.

MnDOT is encouraging drivers to follow the signed detour using southbound Highway 77/Cedar Ave. and northbound I-35E.

The westbound direction is expected to close the following weekend, Oct. 7 -10.

The closures are a part of the Highway 55 project between Minneapolis and Inver Grove Heights. For more information on the project CLICK HERE.

For a look at construction projects around the metro CLICK HERE

NB I-35W closed in Burnsville Sept. 30 – Oct. 3

Drivers in the south metro looking to head north will need to avoid part of I-35W.

All northbound lanes of I-35W will close from the Burnsville Split (I-35/35E/35W) and Highway 13.

The closure begins Friday, Sept. 30 at 10 p.m. and will last through Monday, Oct. 3 at 5 a.m.

The following ramps in the area to northbound 35W will close beginning at 9 p.m. Sept. 30:

  • County Road 42
  • Burnsville Parkway
  • Highway 13
  • Cliff Road

The closure is due to maintenance repairs and is weather permitting.

Drivers should follow the posted detour signs using northbound 35E, northbound Highway 77/Cedar Ave. and I-494, as shown below.

For a map of construction projects and road conditions CLICK HERE.

An alternate route for a closure on I-35 in Burnsville happening from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. Credit: Hanna Conway/KSTP

A Minnesota woman who owns a home in Florida is sheltering friends there — and hoping people will be safe

The images and video coming in from hurricane-ravaged Florida are unsparing.  

In Fort Myers, a 12-foot storm surge crushed buildings and submerged cars.  

In Naples, streets are like rivers, with fallen power lines sparking fires.

Authorities say more than 2.5-million Floridians were told to evacuate — and now some of those who chose to stay, need rescuing from first responders.

“I was watching all the National Hurricane Center maps,” says Laurie Holasek, from Minnetonka. “Oh my God, my house is going to be under six to nine feet of water storm surge.”

Holasek says she brought a home in Naples in March 2021.

Miraculously, it was untouched by the storm.

Not the case with several of her Florida friends.

“She was talking to me and she said my car just floated away,” Holasek recalls. “And she’s a very strong person, too, and she was in tears, and she goes, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

Southwest Florida communities like Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral — where many Minnesotans own homes or take vacations — were in the bullseye of Ian.

The storm surges are scattering debris everywhere — Florida officials say more than 2.3-million people are without power.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency.

“You’re staring down the barrel of a hurricane making landfall at 150 miles per hour,” he told reporters. “This is not anything anyone wanted to deal with. You go back seventy-two hours before landfall, most of southwest Florida was not even in the cone.”

The National Hurricane Center says the cone “represents the probable track of the storm center” — but does not show the size of a storm.

Ian smashed boats along beaches, and tore the roofs of countless homes.

It happened to another friend of Holasek’s.

“Her house, half the roof blew off. Her clothes are scattered all over the lawn,” she says. “Even the people who’ve been in Florida, she’s been in Florida for twenty to thirty years — are shocked at the amount of devastation this one did.”

Some have lost everything.

In Orlando, rescue crews are evacuating seniors from nursing homes and using boats to retrieve others who stayed home.

“We weren’t prepared for this,” says Joe Orlandini, who thought his family could tough it out. “Quite a storm of this magnitude. We were hoping it would dodge us, and it didn’t. It got worse.”

FEMA urban search and rescue teams are checking homes and gathering information about buildings impacted by the storm.

DeSantis says there have been 700 confirmed rescues so far.

That included Joseph Agboona, pulled out from his flooded home.

“It’s almost to the window,” he says. “So we don’t know how the conditions are going to be when we get back. It’s so bad. We don’t know what to do.”

Holasek says she’s letting Florida friends to shelter at her Naples home, if they need a place to stay.

She’s praying, she says, for friends and others in the storm’s path. “I probably have more friends down there than up here now,” Holasek says quietly. “And my heart goes out to you guys, because I know how tough it can be.”

Mental health workers at M Health Fairview pull strike notice; Allina employees still set to picket

Mental health workers at M Health Fairview are postponing their planned unfair labor practices strike after a marathon bargaining session on Wednesday, a union spokesperson announced.

According to a news release from SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, M Health Fairview psych associates and behavioral assistants “saw enough movement” following 14 hours of bargaining Wednesday to pull their strike notice for a three-day picket that was set to begin on Monday.

“After 14 hours of bargaining Wednesday, and another date scheduled on Monday, the MHealth bargaining team saw enough movement that they decided to pull their strike notice,” said Brenda Hilbrich, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa executive vice president and lead negotiator. “The bargaining team can and will refile the strike notice if needed, but are hopeful they are going to be able to reach a deal.”

In a statement, an M Health Fairview spokesperson said, “We remain committed to reaching a fair and equitable contract that honors our team members and our shared goals.”

Meanwhile, mental health workers at Allina Health are still on track to picket on Monday.

The planned strike comes after 15,000 nurses affiliated with the Minnesota Nurses Association went on strike earlier this month — reportedly the largest private-sector nurses strike in U.S. history.

SEIU claims Allina Health “walked away” from a bargaining session on Tuesday and there are no other bargaining dates scheduled until “later in October.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has reached out to Allina Health for a statement.

Mental health workers at M Health Fairview approved a union last September, and Allina Health employees followed suit the next month. Those workplaces went on a one-day unfair labor practices strike in May and have yet to come to terms on their first collective bargaining agreements.

Union members say they want to see better workplace safety, higher staffing levels and better pay.

Remodeled Edina Theatre to reopen following yearslong pandemic closure

The Edina Theatre reopens to the public Friday after being shut down for three years.

The iconic movie theater, built in the 1930s, was shuttered by Landmark Theatres at the start of the pandemic.

“Emails were coming in from all over the metro, really: ‘Figure out some way, mayor, to keep that thing open,'” Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said. “I think everybody sees it as an Edina landmark.”

Hovland said the city decided to use $500,000 in American Rescue Plan funding to help bring the theater back under a new operator, Minnesota-based Mann Theatres.

“We really wanted to make this a destination,” said Michelle Mann, co-owner of Mann Theatres, which runs eight theaters across the state. “It’s a community staple and people really want to come back together.”

General manager Zachary Welton added, “We’ve had a bunch of people in Edina reaching out, saying, ‘We’re so glad you’re opening up this theater again.’ They didn’t want to see it go away.”

Mann said they began a $2 million renovation in April, which included repainting the historic marquee, revamping the concession stand, installing new movie screens and putting in 340 recliners with heated seats.

The theater also features an upstairs bar modeled after the Gold Room in the 1980 horror film “The Shining.”

“You can’t miss the photo opportunities because they are scenes from the movie. We’ve duplicated those scenes to the T,” Mann said. “You’re going to feel like you’re sitting next to Jack Nicholson.”

The theater plans to feature Hollywood movies, independent films and live comedy shows.

Hovland told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the reopening of this local landmark is significant for both the city of Edina and the state of Minnesota.

“You really can’t understate the value of this theater historically. It’s something that connects you to past and present,” Hovland said. “In this world of ours that’s constantly changing and evolving, it’s something that seems really symbolic in terms of its steadiness.”

The Edina Theatre held a ribbon cutting with city officials Thursday night.

The theater reopens to the public Friday, with showings of “The Shining,” “Good House,” “Don’t Worry, Darling” and “Bros.”

Inflation Reduction Act to have big impact on Minnesota renewable energy industry, experts say

From electric cars, to solar panels.

The $740-billion Climate and Health Care Bill, also known as the Inflation Reduction Act — passed by the U.S. House Friday — could well have a significant impact in Minnesota, experts say.

Especially to those who switch to solar power or decide to buy an electric car.  

“This provides a foundation for the next decade,” says Griffin Dooling, president of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association. “There’s also a lot of additional grants and financing support for businesses throughout the clean energy supply chain.”

Democrats called it a day of celebration.

“When President Biden took office with a Democratic congress, we promised results,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “We are delivering.”

Republicans called the legislation wasteful, saying it will raise taxes and family living costs.

“Democrats, more than any other majority in history are addicted to spending other people’s money, regardless of what we as a country can afford,” declared House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

But David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University says the bill is a game-changer for Minnesota’s clean energy industry.

“This is one of the most significant bills addressing climate change and renewable energy the U.S. has ever passed,” he says.

Schultz says when he purchased solar panels for his home more than a decade ago, federal tax rebates covered about 30% of the cost.

He says under this bill, those tax breaks could go higher.

“It may not be 100%, but we’re certainly going to be looking at significant outlays in terms of being able to help consumers to buy and install solar panels,” Schultz says.

Homeowners like Virginia Whyte say they’re switching to solar power to make their homes more energy efficient — and reduce the monthly power bill.

“I think it made economic sense,” she notes. “Since I’ve been here, my bill has been going up and up and up — and with the strain on the grid, from what I’m learning, I know I am taking part in alleviating some of that stress.”

Minnesota’s solar power industry is also applauding the legislation.

Dooling estimates the bill will provide $30-billion in grants and loans for solar.

“So one of the major components of the bill is creative incentives and supporting domestic manufacturing like here behind me,” he explains. “This equipment was actually made in America several years ago, and since that time, a lot of these manufacturers have downsized or moved offshore — and so this bill provides ways for these component manufacturers to actually come back and stay in America.”

Dooling is also the CEO of Blue Horizon Energy.

The Minnetonka solar power company, started in 2009, now employs 50 people.

The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association says there are now 147 solar companies in Minnesota, generating nearly 4,000 jobs.

Dooling says in 2021 alone, the solar industry invested $191-million statewide.

He believes the bill will make a big difference in clear energy investment in Minnesota.

“We have one of the few domestic manufacturing plants in the country up in the Iron Range,” he says. “So that plant will be supported for expansion through some of these incentives and grants and so forth.”

The bill also includes health care provisions.

It extends subsidies for affordable care act subscribers, allows Medicare to negotiate prices on some prescription drugs, and includes a $35-a-month cap for insulin, the diabetes drug.

The bill’s passage may also be perfect timing for people worried about high gas prices.

Drivers would get a $7,500 tax credit for buying certain new electric vehicles — and $4,000 for a used one.

Schultz says the bill will help fund the construction of more recharging stations across the country — which he says in turn might encourage people to go electric behind the wheel.   

“There’s still not many of them. Electric cars don’t have anywhere near the same, let’s say distance, that you have currently with gasoline-based ones,” he says. “Tax credits for when you buy these cars, it’s going to make it possible to refuel, recharge them as you’re taking trips, which will then create incentives for people to want to buy these cars.”

President Biden says he’ll sign the bill into law next week.