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Newell commissioner pleads no contest to stalking; intends to resign

A Newell city commissioner was given a 45-day suspended jail sentence Friday after pleading no contest to a stalking charge.

Allen Youngberg, 68, made the plea as part of an agreement with prosecutors, which includes the dismissal of his sexual contact charge. Youngberg agreed also to resign as city commissioner for public safety, authorities said.

As of Monday morning, Newell Mayor Mike Koelker said his office had not yet received Youngberg’s resignation. The city council will appoint a replacement until someone is elected to fill the vacant seat as prescribed by law, Koelker said.

Youngberg declined to comment Monday.

Youngberg was indicted in Belle Fourche in November for stalking and sexual contact without consent against a 37-year-old female home aide. Each misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to a year in county jail and/or a $2,000 fine. 

Youngberg, who was arrested three days after the indictment, pleaded not guilty.

The charges stemmed from the victim's complaint that Youngberg harassed her and touched her inappropriately in June, while she was cleaning the Newell apartment of a 94-year-old man. Youngberg apparently lived in the same building and knew the woman’s client, court documents show.

Authorities also believe Youngberg stole a copy of the woman’s complaint that she had dropped off at Koelker’s office in June, according to court documents.

Besides sentencing Youngberg to a suspended jail sentence, Magistrate Judge Chad Callahan ordered him also to pay a fine of $500 and not have any contact with the victim.

In September, a judge in Pennington County granted the woman’s request for a protection order against Youngberg. The court found that a stalking offense had occurred, and issued a five-year protection order — the longest that can be given.

The victim’s handwritten complaint, dated June 19, states Youngberg had been acting inappropriately toward her for more than half a year. Among her complaints, the woman wrote, Youngberg "made derogatory comments to me that were sexual in nature” and “groped me after pinning me with his body up against the machines in the laundry room.”

On March 30, the Butte County State’s Attorney’s Office filed a civil case against Youngberg, seeking his removal from office. It alleged misconduct and malfeasance related to the home aid’s complaint and the paperwork he was suspected of stealing from the mayor’s office.

The lawsuit will become moot once Youngberg steps down from the council.

Mines' Gas Cube project holds big potential

Humans create tons of waste. They demand a lot of energy, too. That, in essence, is what makes a South Dakota School of Mines & Technology project to convert waste products like cardboard, discarded food and agricultural refuse into methane gas for energy generation so exciting.

The Gas Cube, as the Mines’ students working on the project call it, currently rests in a portable, semitrailer-sized reactor. Funding for the program came in the form of a $4.8 million grant from the United States Air Force, $1.2 million of which is intended for the Gas Cube as the Air Force seeks ways to save money on waste handling and fuel costs at its remote bases across the world.

So, how does it work? Think of a cow’s stomach, said Jorge Gonzalez-Estrella, a post-doctoral research associate in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at Mines, in a news release from the school.

“Our reactor is in some ways a two-stomach cow,” he said. At the cube’s “mouth,” cardboard or food waste is grinded down and deposited into a chamber. In that chamber, microorganisms then break down the grinded waste into sugars followed by fermenting microbes that break down the sugars into smaller parts, called volatile fatty acids.

Next, in a vertical chamber or the cube’s “second stomach,” other microbes turn the volatile fatty acids into methane gas. Any leftover solids are then diverted into a third chamber for additional time for methane producing reactions. In the end, the methane produced from these processes can be piped out to run generators or other equipment needed to power a remote base.

The biggest challenge isn’t creating the methane, researchers say. Rather, it’s making the Gas Cube portable, user-friendly and scaling up its capabilities.

“Usually these things take up acres if they’re industrial. We put it in a 20-by-8-foot space,” said Jim Schultze, a chemical engineer who is helping construct the Gas Cube.

Though the Gas Cube is intended for use by the military, it has a large potential for application across other industries, Mines spokesman Charles Michael Ray notes, including being employed in disaster areas or refugee camps when waste-handling infrastructure is compromised or nonexistent.

It could even be used by local microbreweries, which often face restrictions on dumping their wastewater into municipal sewer systems.

But Dave Litzen, a chemical engineer and president of Litzen Process Consulting, Inc. — who is helping build and test the working prototype — was quick to add in the news release that for now, researchers' minds aren’t muddled by the prospects of project development meetings over a free pint.

“I can’t think of a better first customer,” Litzen said, “than the Air Force.”

Son accused of killing mom extradited to California

A California man charged with killing his mother after he was arrested on traffic offenses in South Dakota was extradited to his home state over the weekend.

Tosten Walsh Lommen, 30, is facing a murder charge in the death of his mother, Michelle Walsh, believed to have occurred in her Palm Springs Home around Dec. 30.

South Dakota troopers discovered the woman’s body in the back of the SUV Walsh Lommen was driving after he was arrested in a New Year’s Day high-speed chase on Interstate 90. The body was found wrapped in a blanket once the pursuit ended in Rapid City.

A preliminary autopsy, conducted in South Dakota, showed the 58-year-old woman died from strangulation, according to court records.

Authorities in California’s Riverside County immediately requested Walsh Lommen’s extradition, but he wasn’t transported back till Saturday. Information from the Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office website shows Walsh Lommen was booked at the county’s Robert Presley Detention Center around 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

The site shows he is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning.

Walsh Lommen’s extradition took three months because he refused to return to California, requiring a governor’s warrant to force the transfer.

At a March 21 extradition hearing in Pennington County, the governor’s warrant was presented to Circuit Judge Jeff Connolly along with comparisons of Walsh Lommen’s mug shots and fingerprints from California and South Dakota.

The judge ruled that the man wanted in California was the same man being held at the county jail, and that the state had met its burden, said Deputy State’s Attorney Josh Satterlee.

Extradition hearings are quite rare in Pennington County, Satterlee said, explaining that most defendants don’t fight the request. The last time the county held such a hearing was at least three years ago, the prosecutor said.

California police have searched Walsh’s home and said they found evidence of a homicide, such as bleach and blood stains on the carpet, according to a Palm Springs detective’s declaration in support of an arrest warrant for Walsh Lommen.

The document said also that during a police interview, Walsh Lommen admitted choking his mother and attempting to clean up the crime scene with bleach. 

File photo 

Walsh Lommen

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PODCAST: New SD Catholic Conference focuses on public policy

It’s Chris Motz’s job to talk about two topics that many people try to avoid: religion and politics.

So, how does he start discussions without starting a fight?

“Delicately is maybe one way to approach it,” he said, “but also to just name it right upfront, that this is hard for people to talk about sometimes, but it’s OK.”

Motz is the first executive director of the newly created South Dakota Catholic Conference, which is based in Sioux Falls and is jointly sponsored by the Catholic dioceses of Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Motz was interviewed by the Rapid City Journal last week at the newspaper’s office for an episode of the Mount Podmore political podcast, which is available on the newspaper’s website, iTunes and other podcast apps.

Mount Podmore 10: Chris Motz, SD Catholic Conference

Motz started his job in October. As executive director of the conference, he serves as the public-policy voice of the two Catholic bishops in the state.

One of Motz’s initial duties was traveling to the state Capitol in Pierre, where he lobbied in support of two bills during the recently concluded 2018 legislative session.

One of the bills condemned the language used during pre-abortion counseling at Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls and authorized additional pre-abortion counseling by pregnancy help centers. That bill was passed into law. The other bill would have prohibited the enforcement of the death penalty against certain criminals who suffer from a severe mental illness. That bill was defeated.

Although both of the bills dealt with sanctity-of-life issues, Motz said the conference will not have a single-issue focus.

“The church is not a special-interest group,” he said. “Really the goal is the common good.”

As such, Motz said the South Dakota Catholic Conference will not endorse political parties or candidates. It might take positions on statewide ballot questions, Motz said, although it has not taken positions so far on the questions that will be on statewide ballots this year.

Motz grew up in Sioux Falls and graduated from O’Gorman High School. He served as a Marine and then as an attorney in Minnesota before returning to his home state to accept the job with the South Dakota Catholic Conference.

Catholic conferences exist in 43 other states. Motz said the conferences began to spread around the country after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. The two bishops in South Dakota announced the formation of their Catholic conference in February 2017.

“The time came that they thought it would be beneficial to be a little more organized,” Motz said, “and speak with a common voice on policy matters across the state.”