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MINNESOTA NEWS: Judge denies retrial ... Guard to Kuwait, Iraq ... Somali Independence Day ... more

Judge won't allow retrial A state judge has denied a request for a new civil trial in the wrongful death claims against Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad arising from the deaths of four people at a train crossing in 2003 in Anoka County. Dist...

Judge won't allow retrial

A state judge has denied a request for a new civil trial in the wrongful death claims against Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad arising from the deaths of four people at a train crossing in 2003 in Anoka County.

District Judge Ellen Maas also said Friday that a railroad attorney's explanation for paying two new witnesses $15,000 to tell what they saw at the crossing that night

didn't seem right.

"I am really troubled by a motion for a new trial based on reward testimony," Maas said in court. "In my 14½ years on the bench, I have never had something like this come up. It doesn't pass the smell test."

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Railroad attorney Timothy Thornton told Maas the witnesses were rewarded by the previous law firm for the railroad for coming forward with their testimony that the crossing arm worked earlier that night, but they were not told what to say.

"They weren't paid for their testimony," Thornton told the judge. "The witnesses were offered economic incentives to come forward. We didn't say, 'You say this, and we will pay you.' We want true testimony."

The Star Tribune reported that the railroad has claimed that the crossing arm worked the night Brian Frazier, 20, Newport, allegedly tried to drive around the arm with its flashing lights and was struck by the train.

Plaintiffs countered that the arm failed intermittently and Frazier didn't see the train in time to stop Sept. 26, 2003. After hearing the evidence during a six-week trial last year, an Anoka County jury awarded the families of the victims $21.6 million.

But a Coon Rapids police officer and his wife came forward in April after hearing the plaintiffs sought sanctions against the railroad for allegedly mishandling potential evidence. The couple weren't paid. They told railroad attorneys that the crossing arm worked when they drove through the Ferry Street crossing shortly before the fatal crash.

Thornton said that because of credibility issues, he was withdrawing one witness who was paid $10,000. But Thornton said he planned to use the testimony of a Ramsey woman who also drove through the crossing that night. She was paid $5,000.

Victims of the crash were Frazier, Corey Chase and Harry Rhoades Jr., both 20, and Bridgette Shannon, 17.

Maas said she will rule by September on the families' request for $45 million in sanctions. The hearing Friday was in Stillwater, where Maas was transferred after the trial in Anoka County.

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Guard off to Kuwait, Iraq

More than 500 members of the Minnesota National Guard have ended training at Fort Hood, Texas, and are preparing to ship out to Kuwait and Iraq.

Lt. Col. Scott St. Sauver, Pierz, described the plans Friday for the 550 soldiers deploying with the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery. They will be based in Kuwait, but run missions in Iraq.

The unit is made up of groups from Montevideo, Appleton, Marshall, Madison, Olivia, Morris and Ortonville. Ten soldiers are from St. Cloud, and six are from Little Falls. The average age of the soldiers is 28.

St. Sauver said the battalion will be in the desert next month for their yearlong deployment providing convoy security, bringing supplies to bases and helping to remove equipment from Iraq as part of the cut in U.S. forces there.

St. Sauver said his troops have trained well and have the equipment they need to stay safe while they work. "We have a good platform for running missions," he said.

This is the first deployment for 85 percent of the soldiers, but others are returning for their second and third tours. It'll be the fourth tour for two of the soldiers. St. Sauver said those experienced soldiers are an important asset.

"They understand the situation better," he said.

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One of the hardest parts of overseas deployments is the toll it takes on families, but he said the Minnesota Guard soldiers will be able to communicate with home by

e-mail and telephone.

St. Sauver wants Minnesotans to remember those serving abroad. "Community support is vitally important," he said.

Somali Independence Day

The Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis is celebrating Somali Independence Day.

July 1 is the 49th anniversary of the day in 1960 when Somalia achieved independence from Italy. The Somali holiday will be marked Saturday at the Midtown Global Market's Safari Express restaurant, which plans cooking demonstrations, history presentations, live traditional music and a fashion show.

Minnesota has the largest population of Somali immigrants in the U.S., with nearly 35,000 Somali residents. Midtown Global Market is located at the corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. The event is free and open to the public.

Nature center founder rites

A memorial service was held Saturday for Olivia Irvine Dodge, a philanthropist who founded an early nature center and donated the house that became the Minnesota governor's residence.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty was at the service in West St. Paul.

Dodge died in January at age 90. She and her sister, Clotilde, donated the Summit Avenue house that now serves as the governor's official residence, in 1965.

Dodge founded Thomas Irvine Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights in 1967 to teach children about nature and the environment.

She also collected material about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and donated her collection to the University of Minnesota in 1975.

New Hindu temple opens

One of the largest Hindu temples in the U.S. is opening in Maple Grove.

Three days of festivities kicked off Friday at Hindu Temple, built by the Hindu Society of Minnesota. The 43,000-square-foot temple includes a 65-foot-high sculpted tower that arches over its main entry, and sits on 20 acres of land.

It also houses 21 individual mini-temples with unique touches inspired by architectural styles of different regions of India dating back 2,000 years.

Hindu Society executive council chairman Dr. Kumud Sane said it will be the largest Hindu temple in Minnesota and one of the largest in the U.S. The Hindu Society is expecting as many as 5,000 visitors for the opening festivities, which run through today.

Cirque du Soleil prepares

Cirque du Soleil officials raised the trademark blue and yellow big top Friday in downtown St. Paul in anticipation of the upcoming performance, "Kooza."

Mayor Chris Coleman was to be on hand to help with the tent-raising at 1 p.m. in St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood.

The big top is also known as the Grand Chapiteau. It's 66 feet high, 167 feet in diameter and is supported by four masts, each 80 feet tall. It takes about 80 people about seven days to raise the big top and get it set up. It seats more than 2,500.

"Kooza" will run in St. Paul from Thursday, July 2 through Sunday, Aug. 2.

Lift bridge restrictions set

Large trucks are banned from the Stillwater Lift Bridge starting Friday.

A new Minnesota law prohibits commercial vehicles more than 55 feet long from taking the historic bridge over the St. Croix River between Stillwater, Minn., and Houlton, Wis.

It also keeps the trucks off a two-block stretch of Chestnut Street leading to the bridge.

Minnesota state Sen. Kathy Saltzman, a Democrat from Woodbury, said the restriction will relieve traffic in downtown Stillwater and make walking safer. Saltzman was the bill's Senate sponsor.

Exceptions to the truck ban include emergency and maintenance vehicles. Construction companies can get special permits to move oversize equipment.

Teen driving camp under way

Consider it a summer camp on wheels. Driving instructors are putting on a teen driving training academy at Minnesota's State Fairgrounds, all in the name of curbing teen road deaths. It runs through today.

Sponsors said Minnesota teens have been involved in nearly 50,000 crashes over the past few years. The crashes killing 226 people, including 137 who were 16 to 19 years old. The free event is being put on by the Governors Highway Safety Association, the Ford Motor Company Fund and others.

Instructors will teach teens techniques for recognizing hazards, handling their vehicle in various conditions and managing speed.

Gypsy moth spraying set

The state Agriculture Department will spray for gypsy moths in Winona and Houston counties starting Monday, if weather cooperates.

Just over 37,000 acres in the two counties will be sprayed. Each of the areas will be treated once by airplane with a pesticide that is deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The treatment has no known health effects for humans or pets, but to avoid it, residents may wish to stay indoors during the spraying.

The Ag Department said the residue won't damage a vehicle's finish, but residents may want to park vehicles indoors during spraying so they don't need washing.

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