Regional News in Review – September 2010

Cab service generates complaint A Bloomington man has filed a Minnesota Department of Human Rights complaint alleging that a taxi […]

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Cab service generates complaint

A Bloomington man has filed a Minnesota Department of Human Rights complaint alleging that a taxi service provider is not providing services to patrons with disabilities. Zachary Johnson, 26, and the Minnesota Disability Law Center filed the complaint in mid-August. Johnson is alleging that Airport Taxi failed to provide wheelchair-accessible cabs on a 24-hour basis, and that the cabs are only provided between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Johnson, who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in sports management, uses an electric wheelchair. “If this is happening to me, it’s happening to other people,” he said. “I can’t be the only one this is happening to. I want to see this fixed.” Johnson also said he hopes the complaint will draw attention to the problems wheelchair users have in trying to find public and private transportation.

Not having access to taxi service means Johnson runs the risk of being stranded away from home if he goes out late at night with friends, or if he finds a job that requires evening hours. He can schedule rides through Metro Mobility in advance, but not having access to cab service means he cannot do things at the spur of the moment or even with a day’s notice.

Johnson also points out that some Twin Cities communities, including Minneapolis, are requiring that at least 10 percent of new cab fleets be accessible.

As of Access Press deadline, Airport Taxi had not filed a response to the complaint. [Source: Access Press staff]

Sidewalk cafes are scrutinized

The popularity of sidewalk cafes in St. Paul has prompted the City Council to adopt an ordinance that calls for clarifying requirements on where the cafes are located. However, the review of the ordinance revealed that St. Paul is out of compliance with federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. That in turn has triggered a need to revisit and make further changes to the ordinance, most likely in time for the 2011 outdoor dining season.

The change adopted Aug. 25 calls for sidewalk cafes where liquor is sold to be placed on property that is compact and contiguous to the licensed premises. The word “compact” was added to the ordinance. Another change to the ordinance would allow seating at curbside if there is adequate space for pedestrians to get through between diners and the building. Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune said he has received complaints that some sidewalk cafes, especially those where liquor is served with food, tend to sprawl out and take up much of the available sidewalk area. People who use wheelchairs, walkers or canes have had difficulty passing through the café areas, especially in places where there are sloping sidewalks or tree grates that can catch a cane or chair wheel.

The most recent rewrite of ADA regulations affecting sidewalk cafes was completed in 2004; it’s not clear why St. Paul didn’t bring its regulations into compliance at that time. Federal ADA requirements call for clear, unobstructed pedestrian access that is four feet or 48 inches from the edge of any obstruction. A tree grate, light pole or tables and chairs are considered to be obstructions. St. Paul’s current ordinance isn’t in compliance with the ADA as it requires that there be clearance of only three feet or 36 inches. A spot check of many area establishments showed that most cafes meet that distance requirement but not all meet the ADA requirement. Hamline-Midway resident Michael Samuelson and Access Press Executive Editor Tim Benjamin submitted written testimony about the need for clearance on sidewalks. Samuelson indicated that not only is the city not in compliance with federal law, it also is measuring the clearance zone incorrectly. Samuelson, who has worked as a property inspector in other cities, noted that best practices call for the pedestrian clearance zone to be measured four to six inches from the inside edge of the curb, not from the outside edge. [Source: Access Press staff]

GAMC in line for changes

State officials are pondering changes to the payment formula for hospitals participating in an experimental new health plan for some of the state’s poorest residents — a further sign that the revised General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program launched last spring is not working out the way authorities had hoped.

GAMC has been causing headaches since the program went through changes last spring. State officials had expected 17 hospitals to sign up but have only four. The latest questions were raised because Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis has had a smaller percentage of potential patients enroll than the other three participating hospitals and, as a result, is getting paid more than twice the amount per patient. The state “is evaluating the enrollment patterns and [payment] options,” Bonnie Martin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, told the Star Tribune. So far, about 12,350 patients have signed up to receive coordinated care at the four hospitals, but enrollments have not been evenly distributed.

University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview and North Memorial Medical Center, Robbinsdale, have reached their patient enrollment limit. That leaves Hennepin County and Regions Hospital in St. Paul for about 20,000 GAMC patients statewide who have not yet selected one of the four hospitals for coordinated care. Regions officials expect to reach the limit soon.

Even if Hennepin County reaches its full enrollment, the program would cover 17,236 patients, leaving about 12,000 without coordinated care. Those left out must find clinics offering charity care, get care from hospital emergency rooms or go without. [Source: Star Tribune]

Charges amended in nursing home case

One former nursing home worker reached a plea agreement and another faces amended charges in the case of alleged abuse of residents at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea.
Last month the Freeborn County Attorney’s Office filed amended charges against Ashton Michelle Larson. Larson, 20, had been charged with 10 counts ranging from fifth-degree assault, criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult, criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult involving sexual contact, disorderly conduct by a caregiver and failure to report suspected abuse. She is now charged with 17 counts. Most of the added counts are similar to the existing charges. The charges represent five alleged victims.

Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson told the Albert Lea Tribune that the amended charges came about as he was preparing for Larson’s trial. The total counts represent three or four ways of charging the same allegations.

Larson is one of six young women who face charges of alleged abuse from January through May 2008. She and co-defendant Brianna Broitzman have been charged as adults, while the remaining four young women faced charges in juvenile court.

Broitzman, who faces 15 counts, pleaded guilty Aug. 16 to three counts of disorderly conduct by a caregiver as part of a plea agreement in the case. Nelson added four counts to her charges a few days prior to when she entered the plea. Her sentencing is Oct. 22.

Larson’s pretrial court hearing is Sept. 15. No trial date has been set. [Source: Albert Lea Tribune]

Stolen wheelchair returned to teen

A Hugo teen’s wheelchair, stolen when her family’s vehicle was taken, has been recovered by St. Paul Police and Washington County law enforcement. The missing $6,000 specialized wheelchair went missing Aug. 11 when a burglar entered the Hugo garage of Kris Diel and stole a red Chevy Avalanche with the wheelchair in it. The chair is used by Diel’s 13-year-old daughter, Amber, who has spina bifida.

The family was surprised and pleased by an outpouring of public support from strangers wanting to replace the chair, which is pink and black with gray wheels.

But Amber Diel was happy to get her chair back after the arrest of Chad M. Dann, 35 of St. Paul. He was arrested just a few days after the vehicle and wheelchair were stolen.

Dann is charged with auto theft, fifth degree drug possession and fleeing a police officer. After his arrest law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at his home and recovered the wheelchair. It was quickly returned to its owner. [Source: Pioneer Press]

Beep Baseball wants vets to play

The World Series of Beep baseball or beep ball was hosted in Rochester at Fuad Mansour Soccer Complex. Remarkable athletes from around the world took the fields, and every one of them has a story.

But something is still missing, according to National Beep Baseball Association Vice President Jan Traphagan — former soldiers who have been blinded in combat. She recently took the first step toward creating a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by proposing the idea, though the plan remains in its infancy. Traphagan views it as a logical step for both sides to take, perhaps even incorporating Beep Baseball into the military’s rehab program for those who become visually impaired.

”They probably think they can’t do anything active anymore,” Traphagan told the Rochester Post-Bulletin. “I’m here to tell them they can. After rehab, or maybe it’s even a part of rehab, we’ll help these (people) get their self esteem back, their confidence back. Beep Baseball is a wonderful way to increase their mobility.”

Traphagan has not gotten in touch with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs yet, but Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Communications Director Anna Long called the proposal something that “sounds like it’s right in line with our initiatives.” [Source: Rochester Post-Bulletin]

Daring rescue in Vadnais Heights

Maplewood resident Darrell LaFountaine has a new friend for life in Henry Anderson. Anderson, 65, rescued LaFountaine from a burning van Aug. 8. LaFountaine and his girlfriend Faith Lockwood were driving their van along Centerville Road in Vadnais Heights when a broken gas line sent fire shooting from the engine. Smoke was beginning to fill the air inside.

LaFountaine, who has been paralyzed on his left side since 2008, uses a wheelchair. He was unable to get out of the van by himself. Anderson was running errands and getting ready for his wife’s baptism that day when he saw the burning van. The Vadnais Heights resident pulled off to the side and ran to help. He calmed Lockwood and LaFountaine, and helped get LaFountaine out of the vehicle. He then grabbed the wheelchair and helped LaFountaine to safety. Anderson also helped rescue a pet dog from the van.

Anderson will receive an award for heroism this month from Ramsey County.

Vadnais Heights Fire Chief Ed Leier said Anderson is a “good Samaritan” for what he did not only during, but also after the incident. “He brought them and their belongings into his own van and took them to their home in Maplewood,” he said.
Anderson never made it to his wife’s noon baptism at Roseville Baptist Church that day. His wife, Trudy Irish, took it in stride. “It was fine with me. He had called me and told me what was going on,” she said on Monday. “That’s just Henry. When there’s someone who needs help, he’s there.” [Source: Pioneer Press]

Police seek driver who ran down disabled man

St. Paul Police continue to seek the public’s help in finding out the motorist who struck and fatally injured Pine City resident Danny Wright. Wright, a person with disabilities, was struck and killed Aug. 8 as he walked from Regions Hospital to a rented room at Union Gospel Mission.

Wright had gone to Regions for medical treatment. As he walked back to the mission, a man drove up alongside him, shouting at him for reasons still unclear, police said. Wright continued walking to the mission’s parking lot, where the driver stopped behind him, then accelerated. Then, police said, he ran Wright down. Wright was taken back to Regions, where he died later that day.

Wright’s family and friends were stunned by the incident and said Wright would have done nothing to provoke someone else. “Whoever was yelling at Danny, I’m sure he didn’t engage,” said his cousin Tracy Clymer, of Pine City. “When the car pulled up behind him, I know he felt fear. This was just really sadistic and vicious.”

Wright was psychiatrically disabled, but was a highly functioning adult and not homeless, she said. Before his disability was diagnosed about 20 years ago, he managed apartment complexes and worked as a handyman. He had planned to return to the Pine City farm after spending two weeks in the Twin Cities for medical appointments. When in the Cities, if he wasn’t staying at his father’s home in South St. Paul, he would rent a room at the mission. He had two adult sons and many other relatives and friends.

Wright was cremated and his cremains buried in one of his favorite flowerbeds at the farm. Wright stayed on-and-off at the farm and helped care for the nearly 30 dogs housed at its no-kill animal shelter, called Guardian Angel, Clymer said.

Crime Stoppers offers a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the identification and arrest of a suspect in the case.

[Source: Star Tribune, KSTP TV]

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