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UPDATE: Charges pending against semi driver in fatal crash

One person died Friday morning in a semi versus car crash on Interstate 90 in eastern Rapid City after the semi-truck crossed the median and hit a car traveling the opposite direction. 

The crash that occurred near Exit 60 on eastbound I-90 was reported around 9:30 a.m., Jim Bussell, spokesman for the Rapid City Fire Department, said at a press conference. 

At the scene, a white semi-truck was laying sideways across the grassy gap between the highway and exit while blocking the exit. There appeared to be skid marks on the highway leading across the gap. An extensively damaged car and vehicle parts were in the grass south of the exit. 

The South Dakota Highway Patrol said the semi-truck was traveling westbound on the interstate when it left the roadway and crossed into eastbound traffic. The semi then collided with an SUV driven by a 64-year-old woman. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene. 

The 53-year-old male driver of the semi-truck is facing charges according to the South Dakota Highway Patrol. He suffered minor injuries.

The names of both the individuals involved were not immediately released. 

While the fire department was initially told a vehicle was on fire and the semi-truck appeared burnt, neither car was on fire when the department arrived, Bussell said. 

One man wrote on the Journal's Facebook page that two fires were seen under the car. He said he helped put them out with his hands before a woman brought a small extinguisher and then a first responder brought a larger one.

There were multiple eyewitnesses before the fire department arrived, and some claimed there was a fire while others didn't, Bussell wrote in an email. He confirmed that a fire extinguisher had been used before the department arrived. 

Bussell said it's possible there was a fire but "there are lots and lots of occasions where smoke and steam from fluids (oil, anti-freeze, etc.) coming in contact with hot motor components will be mistaken for the vehicle being on fire. The same holds true for airbag powder."

"Some of (the burn-like patterns on the truck) has to do with debris from motor components, some of that has to do with debris from airbags, some of that has to do with just pulverized debris from vehicles, but there was no fire," he said at the press conference. 

Meanwhile, the I-90 Exit 60 eastbound off-ramp was closed "for an appreciable amount of time" as authorities investigated and cleaned up the scene, he said. 

Exit 60 is on the eastern side of Rapid City near Rushmore Crossing, a popular shopping area. After the fatal accident, Bussell asked the public to refrain from parking behind the interstate-facing businesses to watch the scene and take photos. 

"This is someone’s personal tragedy and not worth your Facebook posts," he said.

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Panel approves requiring abortion providers use state form

PIERRE | A South Dakota Senate panel on Friday advanced Gov. Kristi Noem's bill to give the state control over a form that women must sign before they can have an abortion.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to advance the measure to the chamber's floor. Noem told reporters after the vote that abortion providers have been "blurring the lines" on what the law requires for informed consent to get an abortion in South Dakota.

Noem's general counsel, Tom Hart, told the committee that the bill would require providers to use a state Department of Health form to ensure disclosures in law are "accurately and effectively" provided to women seeking an abortion. He said Planned Parenthood has refused to use the department's form and is instead using "language in the disclosures that is contradictory to the purpose" of the law.

Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, which runs South Dakota's only abortion clinic, opposes the bill. Spokeswoman Jen Aulwes said the organization uses its own form that complies with the law and that the state's current version contains "medical misinformation."

"This is not about a woman's right to know all of the information before she makes her decision. A woman already has that right," Aulwes said. "This is about politicians in South Dakota having their own specific agenda around abortion and trying to insert themselves in between a woman and her doctor."

The group also questions who would be liable, the state or Planned Parenthood, if a patient makes a claim that they were misinformed about a procedure they were undergoing, Aulwes said.

She said the Department of Health annually audits Planned Parenthood's consent form and has never found the group is out of compliance with the law. But lawmakers approved a measure last year establishing legislative findings that Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood officials have provided pre-abortion counseling that violates state mandatory disclosure requirements.

The committee on Friday rejected a bill to require providers before performing an abortion to display sonogram images and make audible a fetal heartbeat, if present.

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Judge sides with school district in Rapid City teacher contract dispute

A contract dispute between Rapid City’s public school district and the local teachers’ union appears to be headed for resolution after a state administrative law judge recommended adoption of the district’s position.

Rapid City Area Schools’ last offer was a $700 raise for each employee in the teacher group, including not only teachers but also positions such as librarians, counselors, therapists and others. Spread across the roughly 1,000 employees in the group, the raises would cost the district about $700,000.

An administrative law judge for the state Department of Labor and Regulation, Michelle Faw, conducted a hearing Jan. 9 and then issued a written recommendation in favor of the school district on Jan. 18.

“RCAS believes that providing the $700.00 per teacher while also focusing on repairs and the school strategic plan is fair and allows RCAS to resolve competing interests,” Faw wrote.

Synova Nicolaisen, the school district’s director of human resources, said the recommendation could be adopted by the school board at its next meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. Monday in the City School Administration Center at 300 Sixth St.

The teachers’ union, called the Rapid City Education Association, had sought stepped pay increases of up to $2,000 for teachers in their first six years on the job, plus $700 pay increases for those beyond their sixth year. That proposal would have cost more than $700,000.

Sue Podoll, a teacher and president of the association, was not surprised by the recommendation from the Department of Labor’s administrative law judge.

“They don’t tend to tell districts where they should spend their money,” Podoll said.

She said the association will now shift its focus to contract negotiations for the next school year.

The average teacher salary in Rapid City public schools during the 2017-18 school year was $50,946, according to information published by the state Department of Education.