What’s making news in St. Paul, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to richard.meryhew@startribune.com.

Men allegedly jumped through McDonald's drive-thru window, attacked employee

Posted by: Chao Xiong under Public safety Updated: July 31, 2014 - 1:33 PM

Three men allegedly tried to pull a McDonald's employee through a drive-thru window and then jumped through the window and attacked him, according to charges filed Wednesday.

The men are members of the St. Paul gangs the East Side Boys and Ham Crazy, according to charges, and the employee who was attacked had tried to start a relationship with the ex-girlfriend of another alleged Ham Crazy gang member. The employee told police that the suspects had been harassing him at work for a month.

The Ham Crazy gang is an affiliate of the East Side Boys. Both gangs are known for violent attacks and have been tied to several murders of teenagers and young adults in St. Paul.

Evan K. McMillan, 18, of St. Paul, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with aiding and abetting first degree burglary while committing assault, and aiding and abetting crime committed for the benefit of a gang. Willie C. Lassiter, 18, of St. Paul, was charged with identical counts.

McMillan and Lassiter's friend who was also allegedly involved has not been charged in the case.

According to the complaints: The men pulled up to the McDonald's at 1388 E. Maryland Ave. about 3:23 a.m. on July 24. They argued with a 24-year-old employee at the first drive-thru window. The employee told police that the men drove up to the second drive-thru, spat at him and tried to drag him out the window. He punched and broke their car window.

The men pulled to the side and stopped. They got out of their vehicle, opened the drive-thru window and jumped in, attacking the employee and causing him minor injuries, the charges said.

Lassiter was arrested on July 28. He told police that McMillan and a second friend fought with the employee, and that he entered the window after he saw a different employee hitting his friend with a pole. Lassiter denied attacking anyone, but admitted to throwing a pot of coffee, the charges said. Lassiter didn't think anyone was harmed by the coffee pot.

McMillan was later arrested and told police that the group went to McDonald's to buy food. He said that the employee was rude at the intercom, and that the two argued. The employee punched the car window twice, McMillan told police, according to the charges. McMillan, who was driving, told police that he, Lassiter and another friend jumped through the drive-thru window because the restaurant's doors are locked at 10 p.m., the complaint said.

McMillan admitted to attacking the employee, the charges said.

One witness said there were four men in the car when it first pulled up. Two other witnesses said three men got out of the car and jumped through the drive-thru window.

BY CHAO XIONG

Twitter: @ChaoStrib

Woman grateful after man saves family from burning St. Paul duplex

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet under People and neighborhoods, Public safety Updated: July 29, 2014 - 3:08 PM

Richard Johann and Vanessa Pryor spoke to the media outside a duplex that caught fire Monday.

Vanessa Pryor stood in front of the burned duplex that used to be her North End home Tuesday afternoon and said she was thankful.

Her sister and 6-month-old niece were able to escape the fire that ravaged the home at 1210 Albemarle St. on Monday night thanks to a man who pulled them from a window.

Pryor, 31, had been at a park with her children when she received a call around 7:30 or 8 p.m. Monday saying that her house was on fire. She went back to the home worried that her younger sister, who had been visiting with her daughter, could be hurt.

"First thing that went through my head is my sister," Pryor said.

When she got to the home, her sister and niece had already been rescued. Other witnesses told her that there had been two boys who had taken lighter fluid and set fire to a couch in the abandoned unit next to her's, Pryor said.

Richard Johann said in a story in Tuesday's Star Tribune that he was standing outside the nearby Tin Cup restaurant when he saw black smoke down the block and realized something was wrong. After he ran to the home, he pushed on the screen of an open window and saw Pryor's sister standing there holding a baby. Johann told her that she had to get out, and the woman handed the baby to him and he handed the baby to his friend. As emergency crews arrived, Johann grabbed the woman and got her out as well, he said.

"I just wanted to see if I could assist in any way," Johann said on Tuesday, as Pryor stood next to him.

Pryor said her sister saw boys sitting on the porch of the duplex and noticed the smell of smoke, but she hadn't realized the seriousness of the fire. She had been in Pryor's bedroom when she was rescued.

"Scary...There's a chance that she could have not made it out of there," Pryor said.

St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said Tuesday that the cause of the fire was still under investigation. A sign on a tree in front of the duplex said that the fire was suspected to be the result of arson and that rewards were available for information leading to the identification of those responsible.

If children started the fire, Pryor said she hopes they are taught a lesson but not placed behind bars.

"They're kids...They don't know better," she said.

Pryor is trying to figure out what she will do next. She wasn't able to recover anything from her home, and she didn't have renter's insurance. She is staying in a hotel for a few days with the help of the Red Cross, but she's not sure what she will do after that.

"I'm still lost right now," she said.

A duplex fire last week in the city was also suspected to be the result of arson. A 16-year-old boy helped save someone from that fire which broke out on St. Paul’s West End on July 21.

Nice Ride launches Neighborhood Program in East Side, Frogtown and North Mpls.

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Urban living Updated: July 25, 2014 - 3:21 PM

Photo courtesy of Nice Ride Minnesota

Photo courtesy of Nice Ride Minnesota

St. Paul residents are getting used to seeing the green Nice Ride bikes being pedaled down city streets. But this week, Nice Ride has introduced orange bikes to some of the most underserved areas in the Twin Cities.

As part of the Nice Ride Neighborhood Program, 145 orange bikes are being distributed to cyclists in Frogtown and the East Side as well as North Minneapolis. The goal of the initiative is to cultivate new cyclists, said Paul Stucker, the Neighborhood Program coordinator for Nice Ride.

"We’re looking at different tools to serve different communities...We’re really looking geographically at what areas are cut off and need a different tool," Stucker said.

Over on the East Side. there aren't any urban bike shares, Stucker said. While there are green bikes in Frogtown and the North Side of Minneapolis, they haven't been as popular as in other areas, he said. Of the 145 orange bikes, 51 went to residents in St. Paul.

Nice Ride partnered with several local organizations to identify program participants. The partners in St. Paul are Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Hmong American Partnership, Model Cities, St. Paul Public Housing, and Vietnamese Social Services. In Minneapolis, the partners are Emerge, Minneapolis Urban League, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, and Redeemer Center for Life. All of the orange Neighborhood bikes have been committed to participants for this year.

Besides attending an orientation, orange bike cyclists are also encouraged to participate in community events such as last weekend's Rondo Days to connect with other participants. The orange bikes aren't linked to the urban bike sharing system at all, Stucker said. The chosen cyclists keep their bikes until October, when they turn them in and help evaluate the program, he said. Feedback and engagement could determine what the program looks like next year as well as provide information for potential Nice Ride expansion, Stucker said.

Bumpy streets in St. Paul to get repaved in time for winter

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: July 24, 2014 - 11:50 AM

Just in time for winter, St. Paul city officials have agreed on a plan to strip and repave 11 of Mayor Chris Coleman’s “Terrible 20” arterial streets in critical need of repair.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved Coleman’s proposal to spend $2.5 million this summer to improve the roads, which include some of the city’s most highly-traveled – Cretin, Fairview, Grand and Hamline avenues, among others.

The work should be done by November.

Coleman thanked the council. “We do not want to repeat the winter and spring we had this past year,” he said, in a statement released Wednesday. “No one wants another polar vortex and everyone wants the roads to be better in St. Paul.”

The plan will use $1 million transferred from closed-out projects and areas such as street sweeping, along with $1.5 million already authorized for the work.

It wasn’t the council’s first choice on how to address growing problems with the washboard-like streets, which many people have been blaming for flat tires and out-of-whack suspensions.

Last month, six council members united around a plan to spend $22 million in bonding proceeds to start rebuilding the streets, rather than simply repairing them. The streets required more than just a short-term fix, they said.

But Coleman maintains that reconstructing all arterial streets will cost about $20 million a year for the next 10 years. His plan to spend $2.5 million now on repairs will buy the city some time until a long-term solution can be found – something he plans to offer in next month’s budget address.

That sounds good to Council President Kathy Lantry. “We believe there needs to be a large infusion of money into rebuilding our roads in the future and we look forward to working with the mayor to identify a plan we can all get behind,” she said.

The streets chosen for repairs this year, based on condition and traffic volume:

  • Cretin Avenue (from Interstate 94 to Marshall Avenue, and Summit Avenue to Ford Parkway)
  • Eustis Street (from the Hwy. 280 off-ramp to the I-94 on-ramp)
  • 11th Street (from St. Peter to Jackson streets)
  • Fairview Avenue (from Shields to Summit avenues)
  • Grand Avenue (from Interstate 35E to W. 7th Street)
  • Hamline Avenue (from University to Selby avenues, Portland to Grand avenues, and St. Clair to Randolph avenues)
  • Johnson Parkway (from Minnehaha Street to I-94)
  • Lafayette Road (from E. 7th to Grove streets)
  • Rice/W. 12th Street (from University Avenue to Wabasha/St. Peter streets)
  • Wabasha Street (from 6th to 7th streets)
  • Wheelock Parkway (from Edgerton to Arcade streets)

C-SPAN looks around St. Paul

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government Updated: July 23, 2014 - 4:54 PM

C-SPAN has St. Paul in its camera lens this week.

The national cable public affairs network, perhaps best known for its unblinking (and sans commentary) coverage of congressional debates and hearings, is in the capital city this week for a series on St. Paul’s history and literary life that it plans to air in September.

C-SPAN executive producer Mark Farkas popped in on Wednesday’s City Council meeting to talk about what his crew was doing and to thank the city for its hospitality. The crew will return to Washington, D.C., next week to produce 16 to 18 pieces on St. Paul, he said.

Sure to be included: the Hmong culture, the State Capitol, the Minnesota History Center, poet laureate Carol Connolly, a gangster tour with author Paul Maccabee, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Summit Avenue district. Visits also were made to Fort Snelling, the Alexander Ramsey house, and Garrison Keillor’s Common Good bookstore.

St. Paul is one of several cities across the country on which C-SPAN is training its spotlight this year. Last weekend, Des Moines was the featured city on C-SPAN’s 2014 Cities Tour. St. Paul’s turn will come the weekend of Sept. 20-21.

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