From Wabasha to Warroad, from Sleepy Eye to Silver Bay, Dateline Minnesota scours the state to bring you breaking news from outside the Twin Cities.

Investigation into NDSU student's homicide continues

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: February 9, 2015 - 3:46 PM
Photo from the In Memory of Tom Bearson Facebook group.

Photo from the In Memory of Tom Bearson Facebook group.

More than four months after Thomas Bearson's death, the search for his killer goes on.

Fargo and Moorhead police held a joint press conference Monday to offer their worried communities an update on the homicide investigation, and to ask for help locating a vehicle spotted in the area where the 18-year-old's body was later found.

"This is still a very active case," Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger told reporters. "As a result, we have to be circumspect."

Details were scarce, but investigators did try to debunk a few of the rumors swirling around Bearson's death. No, his body wasn't mutilated. No, he didn't die of a drug overdose or from alcohol poisoning. No, he wasn't believed to be working as a confidential informant for the police at the time of his death.

Investigators still weren't able to share details about how Bearson died, or why. No suspects in his homicide have been identified. But police are searching for a four-door passenger vehicle spotted in the vicinity of the Moorhead RV dealership where Bearson's body was found, three days after he vanished.

Photo from the In Memory of Tom Bearson Facebook group.

Photo from the In Memory of Tom Bearson Facebook group.

The case remains "on the front burner," Ebinger said. "I feel hopeful...There's good work being done here."

Bearson was last seen at 3:40 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20, in Fargo, walking away from a house party. It was the first month of his freshman year at North Dakota State University and his dorm room was just six blocks away.

They found his body three days later, five miles away on the other side of the Red River, in the lot of Larry's RV Sales in Moorhead. Bearson's left tennis shoe, a white Nike Air Jordan, size 9 ½, and his silver iPhone 5 were missing from the crime scene. Neither have been recovered.

Moorhead, Fargo and the North Dakota State University police launched a joint investigation into his death, along with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI. Moorhead police recently received the final results of the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's autopsy on Bearson.

Bearson was the second college student found dead on the banks of the Red River last year. The first victim was 20-year-old North Dakota State College of Science student Andrew Sadek, who had been working as a police informant before his death. Investigators say there is no indication that Bearson, who was arrested for driving under the influence shortly before his death, was engaged in any sort of undercover work for the police.

The death of the smiling, charismatic student from Sartell has shaken the campus communities around Fargo and shattered his family and grieving hometown back in Minnesota.

"This is still one of the safest places to live or send your kid to school in the country," Ebinger said. "We intend to keep it that way."

Last chance for the marijuana survey

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: February 6, 2015 - 4:29 PM

AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonFriday is the last chance for Minnesota patients to weigh in on the Health Department's medical marijuana survey.

To participate, patients with qualifying medical conditions can log on here and fill out the form between now and Feb. 6.

The state's new Office of Medical Cannabis hopes the survey will answer some of the biggest questions still hanging over the upcoming legalization of medical marijuana. More than 1,100 patients have already weighed in.

The drug will be legal for patients with certain qualifying medical conditions -- including glaucoma, terminal illnesses, seizure disorders, muscular dystrophy and certain cancers -- in July. The two state-sanctioned manufacturers have begun growing the plants in secure greenhouses in Otsego and Cottage Grove and will soon begin refining it into pills and liquids -- the only legal forms the Minnesota Legislature approved.

But no one knows yet how many patients might be interested in signing up for the program. Nor does the state know how many of them live near one of the eight clinics where the cannabis will be sold.

Back on the ice: Superior vows to rebuild ice sculpture

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks under Lions Updated: February 4, 2015 - 4:08 PM

One day after his record breaking ice sculpture broke, a Minnesota artist vows to rebuild.

The city of Superior, meanwhile, plans to party on.

The Superior Ice Project was supposed to be the anchor of three consecutive weeks of winter festivals in Superior, Wis. Self-taught artist and engineer "Iceman Roger" Hanson had spent the past two months encamped on the Superior shoreline, painstakingly spraying layer after layer of frozen lake water into a six-story abstract sculpture. The unfinished spire soared close to 60 feet tall, already topping the previous world record for world's tallest ice sculpture.

On Tuesday morning, after weeks of freeze-and-thaw temperatures through the unusually mild winter, the ice sculpture abruptly collapsed, leaving millions of pounds of ice cubes where the ice sculpture was supposed to be.

But it's going to take more than gravity and a winter thaw to crush Superior's plans.

"The show must go on!" the chamber of commerce declared on Facebook.

Wednesday morning, Hanson was back at his work site, repairing one of the ice towers he hoped to use to rebuild the sculpture as high as he could while the weather held out.

"I'm not a quitter," said Hanson, who has spent the past seven years constructing massive ice structures in the back yard of his home in Big Lake. In a press release the city released Wednesday afternoon, Hanson pledged to try again. "My work here is not done."

The collapse of the $30,000 ice sculpture the city commissioned didn't cool Superior's plans for a series of weekend winter festivals on Barker's Island, around the site of the Ice Project. If anything, city officials say the media attention around the spectacular collapse -- Hanson captured the entire thing on a video he posted on his Facebook page -- might draw even bigger crowds to the party.

"We intend to move forward with our original goal of creating a signature winter event in Superior," Mayor Bruce Hagen said in a statement Wednesday.

Hanson doesn't have much time to rebuild. The first weekend's celebration is set for Valentine's Day. The city is planning a series of evening light and music shows around the Ice Project on Barker's Island at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday Feb. 14, along with bonfires, food and beverage vendors. Similar celebrations are planned for Feb. 21 and 28.

Hanson, meanwhile, plans to continue holding "Meet the Iceman" talks at 2 p.m. every Saturday through February in Barker's Island Festival Park.

Another defamation suit in Cold Spring officer's murder

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: February 3, 2015 - 6:05 PM

A man detained but never charged in the murder of a Cold Spring police officer is suing Sauk Rapids Police Sgt. Tom Roy for defamation, claiming the officer wrote on a Facebook page that he was likely the killer or a participant in the crime.

Cold Spring officer Thomas Decker was shot in the head outside a bar on Nov. 29, 2012, shortly after making a welfare check on Ryan Larson. The check was prompted by a call from Larson’s mother, who expressed worry that her son was suicidal.

Larson was taken to jail but was never charged with a crime, and released five days after the shooting. Another man, Eric J. Thomes, was later named a person of interest in the murder but killed himself after a standoff with police a month later.

The suit Larson filed in Benton County last week claims that Roy posted comments on a Facebook saying Larson was “far from innocent in this case. We could not and would not have held you in custody for four days without some ‘reasonable suspicion.’ Search your soul and do the right thing in this, be honest and tell all you know. … You … are likely the killer or a participating witness.”

The suit said that Roy’s statements wrongly created the impression that he had “engaged in illegal, immoral, criminal or wrongful conduct.” Larson is seeking damages of at least $50,000.

Larson already settled defamation suits with KSTP and WCCO for undisclosed amounts last year.

A hearing is set for April 2.

World's (almost) tallest ice sculpture collapses in WI

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks under Lions Updated: February 3, 2015 - 4:36 PM

What was supposed to be the world’s largest ice sculpture is now an icy pile of rubble on a Wisconsin shore.

The city of Superior’s hopes for a record-breaking ice spectacle came crashing down Tuesday morning, victim of weeks of unseasonably warm weather.

Minnesota artist “Iceman Roger” Hanson had been working on his six-story-tall “Lake Superior Ice Project” installation since early December, sleeping in a lakeside trailer by night and spending day after day spraying lake water onto a cable strung between two poles. As the water dripped down, it froze into fanciful shapes that inched higher every day.

At 10:06 a.m., it collapsed.

Hanson, who was giving an interview to the New York Times at the moment it fell, posted a mesmerizing video of the collapse on his Facebook page. One of the icy pillars around the sculpture’s base caved in, followed by the millions of pounds of ice resting above it. One giant cube came to rest on top of the pile like a punctuation mark.

"What are you going to do? Who are you going to fight? I can't fight the weatherman," joked Hanson, already making plans to salvage what he can and start sculpting as much as he can in this unseasonably warm weather.

"Today was a big learning lesson," he said. "It's not a total failure. I'm going to try to start again."

 Hanson, a self-taught engineer, has spent years creating towering ice sculptures in his back yard in Big Lake. This winter, he approached Superior with an offer to make them something spectacular — something to draw the crowds the way the ice caves did when last year’s polar vortex froze Lake Superior solid.

Yichun, China, currently holds the world record for tallest ice sculpture, at 53 feet. Superior officials offered him $30,000 to break that record. He was aiming for 70 feet and was reportedly pushing 60 when it all came tumbling down.

“The weather just wasn’t with us this year,” said Superior Parks Director Mary Morgan.

It was 37 degrees on Christmas Day on Barker's Island, where the Ice Project was trying to rise. On Jan. 24, Hanson posted a picture of himself on Facebook, looking puzzled as the temperature outside hit 44 degrees.

The warm days, followed by cold snaps, degraded the stability of the ice, Undaunted, Hanson is making plans to keep building as long as the temperatures stay cold enough for water to freeze.

"We can be back in business," said Hanson. "I'm not a quitter. I'm a stubborn man."

Morgan said city officials were meeting to discuss whether the project can be salvaged. The plan was to have the sculpture as a centerpiece for community gatherings, starting on Valentine’s Day and running through the final weekends of February. There would have been light shows and bonfires, food vendors and family activities.

The Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, which set up an Ice Project page to chart the sculpture’s progress, was even looking forward to its eventual collapse.

“[I]ts collapse, expected sometime in mid-March, may also prove to be an exciting part of the process,” the Chamber wrote on its site. “Just think of the over 6 million pound ice crashing spectacle!”

You can watch Hanson's video of the spectacular collapse here.

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