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.

Free brakes for food?

Posted by: James Walsh under Local business, People and neighborhoods, Urban living Updated: August 20, 2014 - 6:14 PM

August always has been a slow month for the folks at Signal Garage Auto Care. So, 11 years ago, they decided to do something that would help drum up a little business -- while also doing some good for the community and their customers. Signal is offering free brake inspections and, if necessary, repairs to people who bring in a bag of groceries or school supplies. The effort is meant to help restock food shelves and school supply inventory as the new school year is about to start.

 "As a neighborhood business, contributing to the lives of those in the community is important to us and our employees. This year marks our 11th year Free Brakes For Food drive." said Heidi Wessel Derhy, co-owner of Signal Garage Auto Care.

Here is the deal, says Avi Derhy of Signal:

For the month of August, customers who make an appointment and bring their car in on a weekday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. -- and provide a bag of nonperishable food items or school supplies -- will get a free test drive and brake inspection. After that, if the vehicle needs new brake pads or shoes, the garage will replace them, free of charge. If the vehicle needs more than that, like calipers or brake lines or rotors, the garage will charge for parts and labor -- but not before getting customer approval first.

As far as foodshelf efforts go, this one seems to work. Derhy said that, in 2012, Signal collected 6,138 pounds of food and $2,000 in school supplies. Last year, the numbers rose to 7,200 pounds of food and $3,106 in school supplies. Signal will also accept cash donations.

Last year, as part of the promotion, Signal performed 331 brake inspections and replaced 138 brake pads sets.

To make an appointment through Aug. 31, call 651-455-1045. Signal locations are at 84 E. Moreland Av. in West St. Paul and at 2050 Grand Av. in St Paul.


Reward offered in Phillips killing

Posted by: James Walsh under Public safety Updated: August 19, 2014 - 5:59 PM
Friends of Kelly Phillips, the Boston Scientific executive gunned down at an Arden Hills gas station last week, have established a reward fund to encourage information leading to the capture of the suspect in the case, Lyle “Ty” Hoffman.
Hoffman, who was named a suspect by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office a day after Phillips was killed, remains at large. On Aug. 15, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office charged Hoffman with second-degree murder and issued a warrant for his arrest.
On Tuesday, a fund was set up through the Council on Crime and Justice and, within hours, more than $10,000 was contributed, said Dave Michela, a friend of Phillips and a spokesman for the effort. He said that amount is expected to grow.
The reward is in addition to the $1,000 reward put forward by CrimeStoppers.
You can contribute to the reward fund by going to www.crimeandjustice.org and click on the tab for the Kelly Phillips Reward Fund. Or go here:http://tinyurl.com/mvwsd48
If you have information about Hoffman’s whereabouts, contact the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office at 651-266-7320.

Teenager gets highest civilian award from St. Paul Fire Department for rescue

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet under People and neighborhoods, Public safety Updated: August 20, 2014 - 4:50 PM

Ricardo Martinez, 16, may only be in high school, but if an award ceremony this week is any indication, he could have a future as a firefighter.

Martinez was honored Tuesday with the Meritorious Service Award, the highest civilian recognition given by the St. Paul Fire Department, for his efforts to save a man and his brother from a burning duplex last month on the city's West End. He was honored alongside several other residents and fire staff.

"It feels pretty good," Martinez said.

The award is given to people who go above and beyond the call of duty at the risk of their own lives, said St. Paul Fire Chief Tim Butler.

"To have that presence of mind at such a young age is really commendable," said Capt. Sean Lofgren, a paramedic who responded to the fire scene and was also honored.

On July 21, Ricardo rushed into the duplex at 424 Goodrich Av. after hearing screams. The thick smoke forced him back outside where he scaled a ladder to climb to the roof above the house’s porch. When Martinez reached the top, he spotted Richard Stauch through the window and was able to get him out to the roof. But when Martinez went through a window and called through the smoke to Stauch's brother Louis, there was no answer. Firefighters later rescued Louis Stauch.

Besides Martinez, several others also were honored in the Tuesday ceremony. Joshua Hoover and Dale Tilleskjor received Letters of Commendation for attempting to rescue the Stauch brothers by going into the burning building and trying to knock down the locked door where the men were trapped. They had to retreat because of the heat and smoke, but they were able to help Martinez by finding a ladder. Jackie Venable also received a Letter of Commendation for calling emergency crews and rushing into the building to try to save the brothers' dog. Fire District Chief Barton "Butch" Inks and the Engine/Medic 10-B Shift also were honored for their work that day.

Deanna L. Thielbar, the homeowner's girlfriend, was charged earlier this month with first-degree arson for allegedly setting the duplex on fire following a fight with the homeowner. The two brothers had been renting the second-floor unit.

$46,000 kick-starts Rice Park renovation plan

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: August 18, 2014 - 10:25 AM

St. Paul leaders are taking the first steps towards a full-scale renovation of Rice Park, the downtown square that fronts on the Ordway and Landmark centers.

On Monday morning, the St. Paul Garden Club is giving the city a $46,000 check to begin the planning process for the 120-year-old park, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful urban squares in the country. Its fountain and large leafy trees provide the backdrop for numerous events and festivals.

Officials and community leaders said, however, that more events and more visitors are taking a toll on the park. The Ordway is adding a $75 million concert hall and the Landmark Center is undergoing a $4 million restoration, making it the right time to take a new look at how the park functions, said Amy Mino, president of the Rice Park Association, a private group dedicated to enhancing the park area.

"Rice Park is a jewel in downtown and requires a commitment from both the city and neighborhood groups to keep it looking beautiful," Mino said.

Following a public engagement process, a conceptual plan will be developed for the park that includes an estimated cost and a timeline for how the plan would be implemented.

The St. Paul Garden Club first planted 1,700 tulips in Rice Park in 1927, and has helped maintain the park’s growth since. Most recently, it purchased and installed 140 yew shrubs in the park.

Attorneys will challenge cases against peeking custodian Walter Happel

Posted by: Chao Xiong Updated: August 6, 2014 - 5:08 PM

Walter J. Happel is charged in eight cases in Ramsey County for allegedly sexually assaulting boys, peeking at students and pressing his penis onto one boy's buttocks in 2010.

Attorneys representing the former St. Paul schools custodian charged in eight sexual misconduct cases plan to invoke the statute of limitations in challenging some of the cases against their client.

Walter J. Happel, 62, of Newport, appeared in Ramsey County District Court Wednesday afternoon in an orange jumpsuit for a pretrial hearing on the eight cases that span 34 years.

Happel's attorneys, Daniel McGarry and Thomas Donohue, didn't specify which cases they'll challenge and declined to comment after the hearing, but Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Andrew R.K. Johnson said he anticipates that two cases from the 1980s will be challenged.

"We knew it would be an issue," said Johnson, who is prosecuting all eight cases.

Happel is charged with several felony counts that range from interference with privacy for allegedly peeking at an 11-year-old boy using a bathroom stall at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus School in St. Paul this February, to first-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly raping his son's friend between 1984 to 1988.

The two most serious cases stem from Happel's alleged abuse of his son's friend between 1984 and 1988, and the alleged sexual assault of a relative between 1980 and 1982. Happel is charged with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in the case involving the relative.

The remaining six cases involve Happel's alleged conduct with young boys at Linwood Monroe from 2010 to 2014, including a 2010 incident in which he allegedly pressed his penis onto one boy's buttocks in the lunchroom.

Happel worked for the St. Paul School District from 1984 until the student reported the February peeking incident, which led to Happel's resignation and criminal prosecution. The February case also led to public tips and reports of Happel's alleged behavior, and seven additional cases were filed against him in May.

Johnson doesn't plan to back down from prosecuting the two older cases, but the complexities and changing nature of the statute of limitations will require research and nuance from both sides.

Minnesota's statute of limitations isn't clear-cut. The statute from the year the alleged crime was committed typically applies to a case regardless of what year that case is prosecuted. But the law has changed multiple times, and some of those modifications affect how the law from previous years are applied.

Further complicating matters is the legal doctrine known as "tolling," which stops the clock from ticking on the statute of limitations. Certain issues can trigger "tolling." Johnson said he has to conduct further research to see whether any "tolling" issues are at play and how the statute of limitations applies in the Happel cases.

"The statute of limitations has changed many times over the years, and it does get very confusing," Johnson said.

Ramsey County District Court Judge Diane Alshouse gave the defense and prosecution until Sept. 12 to file their motions and legal arguments. An evidentiary hearing for oral arguments is scheduled for Sept. 26.

According to charges against Happel in the case involving his son's friend from 1984 to 1988: Happel showered naked with the boy, then 9 or 10, and hit the boy with his penis, fondled the boy and made the boy pose for naked pictures. Happel also allegedly performed oral sex on the boy and forced the boy to penetrate him.

The charges against Happel involving the relative from 1980 to 1982 allege that Happel started abusing the boy when he was 8. Happel allegedly fondled the boy, offered the boy beer and made him watch porn, photographed the boy's genitals and ejaculated on the boy.

The investigations into Happel also led to the charging of an assistant principal with St. Paul schools and a former principal who both worked at Linwood Monroe when allegations surfaced about the custodian. Craig A. Guidry, who is now an assistant principal at Jackson Elementary in St. Paul, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with one out of misdemeanor failing to report the maltreatment of minors.

Former Linwood Monroe principal Beth A. Behnke, who is now principal at Falcon Heights Elementary School in Roseville, faces the same count.

Charges allege that Behnke and Guidry knew about Happel's alleged misbehavior but didn't report a 2012 incident in which he slapped a boy's buttocks and made a sexually suggestive remark. The incident occurred just months after Happel had allegedly followed a different student into the bathroom, exposed his genitals to the boy and made a sexually suggestive remark.

The boy from the 2012 slapping incident is the same boy Happel allegedly pressed his penis onto in 2010.


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