Your Wednesday News Brief: January 3

By: News Director Larissa Donovan

BEMIDJI– A 20-year-old Bemidji man is in custody pending formal charges of arson and attempted murder after a New Year’s Day house fire. All residents of the Northern Township home were able to escape the blaze, according to a release from the Bemidji Fire Department.

The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office reports that an arrest was made after interviewing witnesses and the suspect. The suspect was treated for smoke inhalation at the Sanford ER and released to the custody of the jail.

The fire department reported that the blaze appeared to have begun in the living room of the Sunset Way home, and that the building suffered moderate damage. The fire was met with the response of 17 firefighters who were on the scene for four hours, in addition to the assistance from the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office, the Beltrami Electric Cooperative, Bemidji Ambulance Service and the state Fire Marshall’s office.

The fire is still under investigation.

MINNEAPOLIS– The former Bemidji Middle School assistant principal is scheduled to be sentenced within the coming weeks in both the federal and state courts.

Federal court documents filed yesterday show both the sentencing requests from  34-year-old Brandon Mark Bjerknes and the U.S. Attorney. Federal prosecutors describe Bjerknes’ “elaborate social media scheme to sexually exploit minors,” with as many as 55 victims, as grounds for their request to 30 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release.

A document from Bjerknes’ defense states that (quote) “his crime has brought great shame on him and his family,” and requests a 15-year sentence and a lifetime of supervision. Bjerknes will be sentenced in the federal courts February 6th, and will be sentenced in Beltrami County on January 10.

Bjerknes, 34

PILLAGER– The Cass County Sheriff’s Office says two stranded motorists from Brainerd were rescued from the bitter cold after getting lost in the woods Sunday morning. Deputies say the Pillager Fire Department worked with the sheriff’s department to rescue the two individuals after they got stranded in the Pillsbury State Forest after they apparently ran out of gas.  Pillager fire officials said the temperature was 32-below when the two were found.

BEMIDJI– Bemidji’s Ward 4 Councillor seat is officially vacant, and the city will accept applications to fill it starting today. Patrick Plemel won the Ward 4 seat last May, after a special election to fill the seat vacated by Reed Olson when Olson won a Beltrami County Commissioner seat in a regular election.

Mayor Rita Albrecht presented the appointment process as an attractive option instead of a special election.

“The appointment makes a lot of sense for us. As we learned form the last time around, it took us six months to get someone into the position,” Albrecht said. “The city charter allows us to appoint someone if there are less than 364 days left in the term.”

Plemel, according to his letter of resignation in effect at the end of December, has taken a job to run a mental health facility in North Dakota.

City Clerk Kay Murphy says applications for the Ward 4 Seat will be accepted until January 12th at City Hall, and an interview process will begin shortly after. Applicants must be a Ward 4 resident, at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen to be considered for the appointment.

City ordinance dictates that the seat be filled 30-days after a vacancy is declared, and the Ward 4 Seat is up for re-election this November.

CASTLE ROCK, CO– One of the law enforcement officers who was injured in a shooting incident in Colorado on Sunday morning is a Bemidji State University alumnus. The Douglas County, Colorado Sheriff’s Department says Matthew Riehl opened fire on four deputies, killing one, when they responded to a disturbance at an apartment complex in suburban Denver. Tom O’Donnell, an officer with the Castle Rock Police Department, was also shot at a later point in the incident. WDAY-TV reports O’Donnell is originally from Underwood, Minnesota and a 2000 BSU grad.


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