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Minn. roundup: St. Thomas Academy teacher fired over texting students; Motorcyclist allegedly left scene after girlfriend fell off, died on interstate

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn.—A St. Thomas Academy teacher has been fired after she allegedly sent "inappropriate and concerning" text messages to at least three students, according to the all-male Catholic prep school in Mendota Heights.

The content of the text messages centered around drugs and alcohol, said Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy. The allegations are being investigated, said McCarthy, who added that the teacher has not been arrested.

St. Thomas Academy Headmaster Matthew Mohs said school officials learned Monday about one text sent to a student that "we deemed be inappropriate and concerning."

School officials initially were not sure who sent the text, but by midday Tuesday "we had enough confidence that we had the right adult and that we should have legitimate concerns about the behavior."

The school fired the teacher Tuesday.

Citing the ongoing police investigation, Mohs would not release the teacher's name. He said this school year was her first teaching at St. Thomas Academy, but it wasn't her first teaching job.

St. Thomas Academy has 600 students in seventh through 12th grades.


Man, 77, dies in tractor accident in Detroit Lakes

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — A 77-year-old man died Wednesday, May 10, after the malfunctioning tractor he was driving crashed into a tree, trapping him in between.

Larry Mahlon Jones was driving the tractor at his home, 28998 Tower Road in Detroit Lakes, when at 2:51 p.m., Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander received a report of a man trapped under a tractor, according to a press release issued Wednesday evening.

Emergency crews arrived to find Jones stuck between the tree and tractor, which was still running. Once the tractor was removed, officials discovered Jones was dead due to a mechanical failure with the tractor that caused him to crash into the tree, Glander said. The terrain also contributed to his death, he added.


Leader of drug ring that targeted NW Minnesota reservations sentenced to 25 years

MINNEAPOLIS—The ringleader of a multi-state drug trafficking organization prosecutors say flooded the Red Lake and White Earth reservations with heroin was sentenced Wednesday.

Omar Beasley, 39, received a 25-year prison sentence after he was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and methadone. Thirty-nine other co-defendants have also been or will be sentenced in the case, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Beasley led the organization from April 2014 to April 2015, the release said. He recruited drug sources, manages, distributes, facilitators, couriers and drivers, the release said. The organization brought drugs to communities in North Dakota, as well as Minnesota, and targeted Native American reservations.

Beasley pleaded guilty to the charge on March 20, 2015. The other 39 co-defendants also pleaded guilty. One co-defendant remained at large as of Wednesday.


Classroom assistant/coach facing St. Paul school investigation

ST. PAUL — A classroom assistant and coach at Capitol Hill Magnet School is on administrative leave and under investigation by St. Paul Public Schools.

Jonathan G. Ball, 33, has worked for the district in various coaching roles since November 2009 and as a full-time teaching assistant since January 2016, the school district said in response to a Pioneer Press records request. He also works for the district's summer school programs.

Ball coaches flag football and boys and girls basketball for middle school students at the grades 1-8 school, according to the school website.

"There was a complaint against him and the District is currently looking into the matter," spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey said in response to a records request.

Stewart Downey would not say whether Ball is the unnamed employee who, according to a letter sent Monday to parents from Principal Patrick Bryan, is suspected of "inappropriate communications and actions" with a student.

However, Ball was placed on leave April 25, she said. That's the same day Bryan said the school learned of the alleged misconduct.

St. Paul police said Tuesday that they received a report from Capitol Hill on April 26 and are investigating an employee for possible criminal sexual conduct.


Man admits hiding in basement two days, then killing friend's grandfather in Eden Prairie

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A Le Sueur, Minn., man who pleaded guilty to killing his friend's grandfather in Eden Prairie last summer says he hid in the victim's basement for two days before he stabbed him.

Nathan Foth, 24, said he heard voices while he hid in a basement closet, but was no longer hearing them when he decided to kill 74-year-old Allen Retzer in July.

During his Tuesday plea hearing in Hennepin County District Court, Foth said had been treated at a hospital after a drug emergency. Not knowing where to go upon his release, he went to Retzer's home in the 7900 block of South Bay Curve because he had gone there before with the man's grandson.

Foth said he broke into the basement and hid there for about two days. He said he eventually went upstairs and struggled with Retzer, who had been sleeping, and stabbed him with a knife.

While conducting a welfare check on July 22, officers found the man dead in his bed.

Foth, who agreed with a doctor's assessment that he could not claim he was mentally ill as a defense, entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 14.


Charges: Motorcyclist allegedly left scene after girlfriend fell off, died on interstate

ST. PAUL—A St. Paul man has been charged with two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide after his girlfriend fell from his motorcycle and died last fall on Interstate 35 in Forest Lake.

Myles W. Eckman, 24, was charged in Washington County District Court with negligent driving while under the influence of alcohol and a controlled substance and leaving the scene of an accident.

According to the criminal complaint filed April 28, troopers from the Minnesota State Patrol received a report in the early-morning hours of Nov. 18 of a fatal accident near the Minnesota 97 interchange in Forest Lake. Troopers responding to the call at 4:43 a.m. found a woman, Ena M. Bhatia, 21, of St. Paul, lying face down on the right shoulder of the highway. Bhatia had head trauma, and "there was blood on the right lane of traffic away from where her body was found," the complaint states. No vehicle or motorcycle were found nearby.

About four hours later, a trooper was asked to call Eckman's father. Eckman's father told officers that his son and his girlfriend had left his house earlier that morning on his motorcycle going north toward Forest Lake. He said he had heard about the fatal crash and was worried about their safety. According to the complaint, traffic cameras on Interstate 35 showed a rider falling off the back of a motorcycle at 4:38 a.m. At 4:41 a.m., the driver can be seen circling back to the scene and "then leaving a short time later, exiting I-35 at (Highway) 2 in Forest Lake," the complaint states.

Eckman was arrested the next day trying to hide his motorcycle in a pond.