All invited to celebrate Law Day at County Government Center May 1

Approaching the bench, (from left) Public Defender Kevin Tierney and Wright County Attorney Tom Kelly pose with Judge Michele Davis and Wright County Courts Administrator Monica Tschumper to help promote a Law Day event coming up on May 1 at the Wright County Government Center.  Everyone is invited.  (Photo by Ed DuBois)

On Monday, May 1, the Wright County Government Center in Buffalo will open its doors to the public as part of a Law Day celebration aimed at educating citizens about their local justice system.

The event will give attendees the opportunity to take part in free legal advice clinics, as well as attend presentations on emerging criminal justice issues and learn how to reinstate their driver's license or resolve an outstanding warrant.  The event will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Law Day event will feature numerous activities, including:

● Free legal advice clinics with volunteer attorneys to help individuals with civil and family law matters;

● Free clinics on the process of expunging criminal, juvenile and housing court records.  Volunteer attorneys will provide legal advice, assist with the completion of court forms and work with court staff to set court dates.

● Presentations on important criminal justice issues, such as drug courts and other treatment court programs, common scams targeting local residents, and demonstrations of the Wright County Sheriff Department's K-9 unit.

● The ability for those with outstanding misdemeanor-level warrants to get free legal assistance and possibly resolve their case.

● A clinic for those who have had their driving privileges revoked, with staff from the Department of Public Safety's Driver and Vehicle Services division prepared to answer questions and provide information about how to get a driver's license reinstated.

● An information fair highlighting Wright County's justice partners and various legal services available in the community.


Presentations in the County Boardroom

● 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. - Scams, presented by Wright County Sheriff's Office.  This is an informational session about current scams in the county and how to protect yourself.

● 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. - Introduction to restorative practices utilized within Corrections and the community presented by Karen Evans, Wright County Court Services.  This presentation is an introduction into restorative practices, including victim offender dialogue, community conferencing and conflict resolution.  Potential benefits for victims, offenders and the community will be discussed.  Karen will sharing real case examples of restorative practices.  Learn how restorative practices has the potential to repair harm to victims and the community, hold defendant's accountable and encourage victim empathy.

● 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. - Introduction to the Wright County Attorney's Office presented by Tom Kelly, Wright County Attorney.  This presentation will highlight the role and function of the County Attorney's Office.

Presentations in the Courtroom

● 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. - The Turn, presented by District Court Judge Michele Davis and Darnell Brethorst, The Turn coordinator.  This is an introduction to Drug Court programs that are being implemented all over the country.  Get a more in-depth look specifically at the Wright County Adult Drug Court Program, The Turn.

● 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. - Guarding the Record, presented by Michelle Pecharich, court reporter.  This is an informational session about what the court reporter does, how a transcript is made and how to obtain a transcript from a court hearing.

● K9 presentations will be on the front lawn of the Government Center at 10:00 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.

The Wright County event is scheduled to coincide with Law Day, a national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law.  Law Day underscores how law and the legal process have contributed to the freedoms that all Americans share.  Law Day was first established in 1958 through a proclamation by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Congress passed a joint resolution designating May 1 as Law Day, U.S.A. in 1961.

"Minnesota's justice system is recognized nationally for its innovation and effectiveness, and we have so much to be proud of here in Wright County," said Tenth Judicial District Judge Michele Davis, who is chambered in the Wright County Government Center.  "This Law Day, as our country reflects on the importance of our legal system and the rule of law, we wanted to invite the public into the Government Center so they can see first-hand how our community works together to keep our neighborhoods safe and our rights protected.  We also wanted to focus on expanding access to justice, by offering free legal assistance and information for those that may need it."

The Law Day Open Courthouse event is being hosted by Minnesota's Tenth Judicial District in partnership with the Wright County Sheriff's Office, the Wright County Attorney's Office, Wright County Court Services, Central Minnesota Legal Services, the Wright County Public Defender's Office, the Wright County Law Library, and Wright County Health and Human Services.

Complementary rides will be provided by Trailblazer Transit by calling 1-888-743-3828 up to one week in advance to schedule a ride on the bus.

More information about the event, a detailed event schedule will be provided in the weeks ahead and will also be posted online at

The Wright County Government Center is located at 10 2nd St. N.W. in Buffalo.

The Tenth Judicial District consists of: the Counties of Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Washington, and Wright.  Forty-five judges serve the district, which is the second largest of Minnesota's ten judicial districts.  In 2016, more than 130,000 cases were filed in Tenth Judicial District courts.


Information Booths:

Wright County Court Administration, Wright County Sheriff's Office, Buffalo Police Department, Wright County Human Services - Mental Health & Chemical Dependency & Truancy, Wright County Child Support, Rivers of Hope, Central Minnesota Jobs in training Services (The Work Force Center), CAAP - My MN Conservator Program, Criminal Defense Panel, Public Defenders Office, Suicide Awareness, Department of Corrections, Self Help Center, and Wright County Court Reporters.



City and county officials update Chamber

By Doug Voerding

"Exciting times are ahead for Buffalo, a great place to live and work," said Buffalo Police Chief Pat Budke as he updated the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, April 11.

Joining Budke were Buffalo City Administrator Mert Auger and Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty.

Auger opened the meeting with an informal "State of the City" report including upcoming city projects and plans for downtown.

Auger explained the city has always focused on both infrastructure and economic development.

"We need adequate capacity of our infrastructure to attract economic development.  This year, we will be expanding the fiber optic network and band widths to all industrial and commercial areas," said Auger.

He also said that this summer, work will be finished at the 2nd St. S. railroad crossing to make the area a quiet zone with no train whistles. The crossing is near SuperAmerica and Cub Foods.

Auger said the city is starting to address downtown in a different way.

"The goal is to increase the density and the number of businesses in the Central Business Zone. One way to do that is to look at ground floor commercial businesses with multi-storied residential above the businesses," he stated.

Auger said the city is evaluating its website to find ways to improve marketing the city.

Budke told the Chamber members that the city police department had 11,000 calls for service over the last year.

"But," said Budke, "personal crimes are low. We are seeing more calls for chemical dependency and mental health issues."

Budke urged those at the meeting to "encourage those people you know who need help, to get help."

He also mentioned the success of the middle school and high school resource officers and how that program is a crime deterrent.

Hagerty talked about how all of the deputies are now trained in de-escalation tactics.

"We have 25 tasers and have not used one in the last year," said Hagerty.

The department has hired more than 25 deputies since 2015.

"Now," said Hagerty, "we use a psychological test to make sure we are hiring people who are aggressive with crime, but not personally aggressive."

Hagerty explained there has been an upswing in fraud in Wright County.

"Criminals are stealing mail from rural mailboxes to find checks.  If they find checks," said Hagerty, "they copy checks and get cash from the accounts quickly."

Other criminals are skimming credit cards to gain card information, according to Hagerty.

"We do need the help of the public," concluded Hagerty. "Calling us, calling 911, or emailing us does make a difference in stopping crimes."



Ditch project could help improve water quality in a pair of lakes

By Ed DuBois

Lake Ann and Lake Emma could benefit from attention County Ditch 10 is receiving from the Wright County Board, according to Board Chair Charlie Borrell.

Action was taken on the matter last Tuesday, April 11.  The lakes and ditch are located south of Howard Lake.

Borrell told the Journal-Press about a process of cleaning out the ditch and widening it to help slow down the water flow and allow phosphorous to settle on the bottom.  During the course of removing silt from the ditch in years to follow, the phosphorous never reaches the lakes, and their water quality begins to improve.

He said during the board meeting last Tuesday that he hopes the Ditch 10 project can serve as a model for other ditches.

Board approved a feasibility study for the County Ditch 10 outlet, as well as approving a proposal from ISG, an engineering firm, for a multi-purpose drainage management report on County Ditch 10, coordinated by the Wright County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).  Bids from three firms, Wenck, ISG and HEI, had been considered.

The cost of the work being performed by ISG is $44,000, and the cost is being split evenly between the county and SWCD.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch commented that approval of the work could help obtain grants from the state.

In other business:



Commissioner Darek Vetsch took a moment early in the meeting last Tuesday to offer an apology to Sunny Hesse, the county's human resources director, who accepted.  Vetsch explained he was apologizing for some of his comments during a heated discussion the previous week in regard to a clerical staff reorganization in the Sheriff's Office.  Some of the comments reflected badly on Hesse, and Vetsch was sorry for that and a poor choice of words, he said.



The Board authorized signatures on a 2018-19 contract for the Sentencing to Service (STS) program, which allows qualifying inmates to work on community projects.  Borrell commented that he has heard many positive remarks about STS.



The Board approved retaining Clay Dodd to perform appraisals for tax court purposes.  Brian Asleson, chief deputy county attorney, said the matter involves a valuation appeal.  The properties involved are occupied by the Landscape Structures business in Delano.



In other actions, the Board:

● scheduled an April 18 committee of the whole meeting at 8 a.m. for the selection of a construction management firm for the new courts facility project;

● approved a firm, Central Applicators, for weed spraying and cleaning along county ditches to prevent vegetation from clogging the ditches;

● authorized junk abatement litigation in regard to 413 Coburn Ave. NW in Chatham Township; and

● approved $246,459 in claims involving 213 transactions with 106 vendors.



Extra caution needed on county's roads during planting season

The Wright County Highway Department would like to remind Wright County citizens to use extra caution on county highways now that farmers are in the fields and using the roadways to transport trucks and equipment from storage facilities to the fields.

Farm-related truck traffic increases significantly during the planting season, both in volume and in the number of hours on the road.  Motorists are urged to watch for tractors pulling wagons at slow speeds, as well as plows, planters and other wide equipment that may go over the center line (due to vehicles taking wide turns because of their size).

The leading contributing crash factors in farm vehicle crashes are inattention, speeding, and unsafe passing, according to Wright County Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins.

Please be alert and prepared for slow-moving farm vehicles, especially on rural, two-lane highways.  Motorists need to give them extra space and use caution when attempting to pass.

Motorists should also watch for fallen debris from farm-related vehicles and remember that it is safer to brake or drive through the debris rather than veer into oncoming traffic or off the road.  Farm-related traffic is encouraged to clean up immediately any excess mud that they track onto the roads.

Drivers are urged to: use safety belts, drive with headlights on at all times, observe posted speed limits and traffic signs, and watch for excess mud tracked onto the roads and debris dropped by trucks.



Pursuit ends with crash in Buffalo

The Buffalo Police Department was in pursuit of a vehicle around 2 a.m. last Monday, April 10.  According to the State Patrol, the driver of the vehicle being chased lost control at a high rate of speed and crashed at the corner of 8th Ave. NW and 8th St. NW in Buffalo.

The vehicle was airborne, and the driver, Chad Peterson, 21, (address unknown) was ejected.  He was taken to the North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.

Peterson could face charges.

"Our first concern is for him and his family as he recovers," said Buffalo Police Chief Pat Budke.  "We have submitted reports to the Wright County Attorney for consideration of charges of fleeing police."

North Memorial reported last Tuesday, April 11 that Peterson was in fair condition.



Extra distracted driving enforcement planned

The tragedy of Joe Tikalsky's death from a distracted driver in 2015 stretches beyond family and friends, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).  He was a school bus driver from New Prague, and the generations of kids who rode his bus are now left with only memories of how he touched their lives.

Law enforcement agencies across Minnesota will be conducting extra distracted driving enforcement April 10 - 23 to help prevent more senseless deaths like Tikalsky's.  As distracted driving incidents and citations continue to increase, Minnesota law enforcement is extending the extra enforcement period to two weeks to specifically focus on this deadly behavior.

For 17-year-old Sylvie Tikalsky and her family, her grandfather's death is a call-to-action to get Minnesotans to realize that driving requires your full attention.

"I'm living my life without my grandpa, and it's not right when I think about what happened," said Tikalsky. "I miss him so much, and it's really hard to deal with every day.  That's why my family and I will do what we can to stop distracted driving."

Sylvie and the Tikalsky family will be handing out 500 "CELLslips" to high school drivers and others with a message: "Hands on the Wheel, Eyes on the Road: In memory of Joe Tikalsky 10-28-15."  The goal is for drivers to place their phones inside the CELLslip, which blocks the cell phone signal.

Deputies, police officers and troopers from more than 300 agencies are participating in the extra distracted driving enforcement campaign coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS).  They use overtime funding provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to keep Minnesotans safe from the dangers of distraction.

Minnesotans need to commit to keeping their eyes on the road to reduce distractions and the heartache that can result.  Texting and driving citations continue to climb statewide: 2012 - 1,707; 2013 - 2,177; 2014 - 3,498; 2015 - 4,115; and 2016 - 5,988.  In 2015, distracted driving contributed to 7,666 injuries and 74 deaths.  When a crash occurs in Minnesota, the driver behavior that law enforcement agencies cite most often as a contributing factor is attention or distraction.

In Minnesota, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts and emails, and access the web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.  This includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign or stopped in traffic.  It is also illegal for drivers with a permit or provisional driver's license to use a cell phone while driving, except for emergencies to call 911.

Under Minnesota law, drivers face a $50 fine, plus court fees, for a first offense. They'll pay an additional $225 fine (for a total of $275), plus court fees, for second and subsequent violations of the texting-while-driving law.

Make the Safe Choice:

Cell phones - Put the phone down, turn it off or place it out of reach.

● Music and other controls - Pre-program radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot.  Adjust mirrors and ventilation before traveling.

● Navigation - Map out the destination and enter the GPS route in advance.

● Eating and drinking - Avoid messy foods and secure drinks.

● Children - Teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle and model proper driving behavior.

● Passengers - Speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior and offer to help with anything that takes the driver's attention off the road.


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Stepping to the plate for a friend

Umpire from Hanover volunteers for kidney transplant surgery to help fellow umpire

By Ed DuBois

After clinging to life through dialysis, Dave Watkins was more than ready for kidney transplant surgery last week.  "I'm ready yesterday!" he declared during an interview three weeks ago.

He said dialysis had been very hard on him.

"A four-hour treatment is like running a 48-mile marathon.  I feel totally drained afterward," he explained.

The likelihood of finding a kidney donor was not good.  He was told he might have to wait 7-10 years to find a donor, and that's "if" one is found at all.


Stepped to the plate

But a donor was found, and he was found in a pleasantly surprising way.

Dave is a baseball umpire, and he has met many people and developed friendships through baseball officiating.  One friend, fellow umpire Nathan Gabrekcik, stepped to the plate when he learned Watkins needed a kidney.

Nate learned about the need one day last August when he saw a Facebook post about Dave's search for a donor.  It turned out that both Nate and Dave have the same blood type, 0 negative, which is the most rare blood type.

Twelve hours of testing at the University of Minnesota showed "everything was perfect" for Nate to donate one of his healthy kidneys to Dave.


Couldn't let him die

Nate is 24 and lives in Hanover.  Dave is 57 and lives in Cottage Grove.

What inspired Nate to decide to give one of his kidneys to Dave?

"He is a good friend," Nate said.  "He has a couple of daughters (and grandchildren).  I thought if there was something I could do about it, I couldn't let him pass away."

As preparations for transplant surgery were underway, the dialysis sessions continued to keep Dave alive by cleaning toxicity from his blood, a function that kidneys perform in all of us.  However, Dave's kidneys had failed.

He mentioned the toxicity level in his blood had been so high at times, he felt ill and couldn't keep food down.  He also commented that after dialysis, he drank Gatorade for the electrolytes, "But pretty soon I couldn't keep that down either."


Blessing from God

Dave needed about $1,500 a month in medications, and the dialysis sessions cost approximately $4,000 each, he said.

His outlook was beginning to diminish.  But then Nate volunteered to be tested.

"I give it all to the Lord.  He brought us together," said Dave.

"It was like a miracle.  I couldn't believe it," he added.  "It was a blessing from God."

"It's not that easy to find a match," Dave mentioned.  "0 negative blood is very rare."


Strong, healthy kidney

Dave's time was running out.

"If this hadn't happened, I am not sure I would last much longer," he said.  "You don't realize what you've got until something like this happens.  I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

For a successful transplant, the donated kidney must be healthy and strong enough to perform extra work, Dave and Nate explained.  It must be able to do the work of two kidneys.  Likewise, the kidney that remains in the donor must be able to perform extra work.


Only one with blue eyes

Dave's kidney failure was hereditary, he learned.

"I found out at age 23 that I was adopted," Dave said.

"I was the only one in the family with blue eyes," he added with a big smile.

He found his natural mother just two years ago.  She was living just thirty miles away from where he was living.

"I knew who you were when you got out of your car," his mother said.

Dave learned his brother also has kidney problems.


Moved to Minnesota

Originally from Florida, Dave moved to Minnesota in 2009 upon getting married.  He had met his future wife while she was visiting Florida from Minnesota.

Dave was pleased to learn the doctors at the University of Minnesota have a near perfect success rate with kidney transplants.

His wife is working at home while he recovers from surgery.

Dave and his wife had been waiting a long time with hope of finding a donor.

"When I told my wife (about Nate and the successful testing), she started crying," Dave recalled.


Go Fund Me

A Go Fund Me page online is helping both Dave and Nate financially.  Dave worked 30 years for the U.S. Department of Defense as a helicopter mechanic and hasn't been able to work for a long time.  Nate works at HOM Furniture in Coon Rapids and is missing work (about 8-10 weeks) while recovering from the transplant surgery.

The Go Fund Me page, "Dave's Kidney Transplant," recently showed donations had reached $10,345 of a $14,000 goal.


Successful surgery

The transplant surgery was performed on April 4.  Contacted the next day, Nate's mom was in his hospital room as he slept.  She said the surgery was a success.

She said the surgery was rough on both Nate and Dave, but she reported Dave commented that he was feeling great compared to before the operation.

He was more than ready for it.

"I was ready yesterday," he said three weeks ago.