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Le Sueur envisions historic, multi-user friendly Main Street in final concept
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Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

A reconnected Main Street as seen from the intersection of Main and Bridge. The conceptualized intersection features signage welcoming visitors to Main Street. (Photo courtesy of Corey Bienfang)

Plans are underway to revive Main Street into a pedestrian-friendly roadway, accompanied by outdoor dining space, markets spilling into the sidewalk, public art and an historic aesthetic.

City staff showcased these qualities in final concepts of a reconnected Main Street presented to the Le Sueur City Council on Jan. 25. In their design, City Engineer Corey Bienfang said staff aimed to make Main Street an area that supports pedestrian traffic all hours of the day and all seasons of the year, and it would become a hub for restaurants, cafes, retail shops, historic landmarks and environmental offerings. The ultimate goal is to turn Main Street into “the heart of Le Sueur.”

“We’re really excited about the potential of this project,” said Bienfang. “From the standpoint of inspiration, most notably, this has been a goal of the city for a long time, for a number of decades, and we have taken inspiration from the comprehensive plan.”

The design features a number of elements to encourage multi-use traffic (pedestrians, cyclists and drivers) through Main Street. Trees, landscape beds and benches line the sidewalks, while speed reduction measures, including protruding curb lines and a narrowed road, discourage fast traffic and commercial trucks from entering the area.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

An overhead concept of a reconnected Main Street showcases new features including natural landscapes, benches, a river-like crosswalk and an elevated sidewalk plaza. (Photo courtesy of Corey Bienfang)

“It’s an emphasis on that multi-user Main Street,” said Bienfang. “It will be a connection for cars with tight, low-speed connections. It’s not intended for commercial trucks.”

Visitors entering the city from Bridge Street will be greeted by a kiosk with electric displays at the intersection of Bridge and Main. City staff could change the message on the sign throughout signage throughout the year to accommodate different events and seasons. Main Street would become the place in Le Sueur to hold festivals.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

The conceptualized Main Street as seen from the intersection of Ferry and Main. On the right side is a two-foot limestone plaza to accommodate the elevation of the Le Sueur mall. (Photo courtesy of Corey Bienfang.)

Once on Main Street, visitors would notice a flat, urban sidewalk on one side of the street and stairs and ramps leading up to a 2-foot raised plaza on the sidewalk connected to the mall. Bienfang said the plaza design was chosen to accommodate the raised elevation of the mall. The plaza would also provide a space for outdoor restaurant seating and retailers to sell merchandise.

Many elements have been incorporated into the design to bring out Le Sueur’s character. A crosswalk featuring a river design cemented with blue concrete splits the road in half, symbolizing Le Sueur’s development as a city on the Minnesota River. The raised plaza would feature a Le Sueur limestone wall next to the steps. Structural steel would also be featured, signifying Le Sueur’s industrial characteristics.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

A view from the middle of the conceptualized Main Street. A crosswalk with a blue concrete river design lies in the center of the roadway, symbolizing Le Sueur’s status as a Minnesota River town. (Photo courtesy of Corey Bienfang)

The city hopes to have construction complete on Main Street by Oct. 1 to coincide with the opening of Tiller + Main planned this summer. Project costs total an estimated $2 million, though the city has not yet taken out bids. Approximately 40% of the project would be paid for with a DEED grant of $857,000.

“Those plans are very exciting,” said new Mayor Shawn Kirby. “It looks very welcoming. I think it’s going to do wonders for downtown.”

COVID case rates fall as vaccinations ramp up in Le Sueur County
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The effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota and Le Sueur County is continuing to ramp up as the state recently announced 35,000 new doses of vaccine this week for people ages 65 and up. Locally, Le Sueur County has expanded vaccinations for law enforcement and school staff.

At the same time, COVID-19 rates are falling in Le Sueur County and new cases of coronavirus were cut in half from December to January. As of Jan. 29, Le Sueur County had reported 219 cases for the month. It’s the third highest month on record for the county, but well below the 460 cases reported in December and 799 in November.

Cumulative deaths are up to 16 in Le Sueur County following the death of a long-term care resident in their 80s. The age ranges with the highest number of cases include 50-59-year-olds with 386 cases total, 20-29-year-olds with 345 and 30-39-year-olds with 338.

While COVID rates have fallen over the last month, vaccination rates in Le Sueur County are on the rise. Approximately 6% of county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, a total 1,686 people. Of that number, 385 have received their first and second doses. Statewide, 7.6% of the population has received at least one dose.

Minnesota continues to remain in Phase 1a of its vaccination schedule. Le Sueur County has finished with the first and second priority groups and moved onto the third and final priority group which includes remaining health care personnel not included in the first two priority groups.

The county also scheduled vaccinations on Thursday last week to include local law enforcement and the Sheriff’s Office after the state expanded its definition of EMS workers to encompass police. In addition to targeting health care workers, Le Sueur County provided vaccines to school medical staff.

The county received 200 doses for these new vaccinations last week, as well as 150 second doses for people vaccinated by the county in December.

As the county has taken on health care personnel, local pharmacies have partnered with long-term care providers to distribute vaccines to staff and residents. In Le Sueur, Corner Drug has partnered with the county and administered vaccines to two long-term care facilities and with leftover vaccines has moved on to group homes.

Residents ages 65 and older had the opportunity to receive the vaccine through Minnesota’s COVID-19 pilot program. Those who pre-registered had a chance to be randomly selected for a vaccination at nine sites across the state, North Mankato being the closest site to Le Sueur County.

On Feb. 1, Gov. Tim Walz announced those pilot sites would no longer administer first doses as the state plans to distribute 35,000 vaccines for senior citizens at more than 100 hospitals, clinics and medical providers. The governor also established two permanent community vaccination sites in Minneapolis and Duluth and plans to open a third site in southern Minnesota next week.

“We have long planned for most Minnesotans to get vaccinated in the places they are used to getting their health care — places like smaller clinics, local hospitals, and community pharmacies,” Gov. Walz said in a statement. “But not everyone has a doctor or pharmacy they’re familiar with. That’s why we’ve built up a reliable network of different ways Minnesotans will be able to access the vaccine. After careful planning, we’re now activating that network to give Minnesotans options close to home.

“We still need more supply, but we have to work quickly with what we do have and be ready when the federal government ramps up to meet the demand. Today we’re expanding locations offering the vaccine and helping connect our seniors to shots where they live, so we can get to work crushing COVID-19 across Minnesota,” Walz added.

People who received a first dose at one of the pilot sites can receive their second dose at the same site. Minnesotans who have not been selected for a vaccine from the pilot registry will remain on this list and continue to have the opportunity to be selected to schedule an appointment at the State of Minnesota’s COVID-19 community vaccination sites.

Vaccines have been in limited supply compared to demand. More than 220,000 people registered for 9,000 slots in the pilot program. But Le Sueur County Public Health Director Cindy Shaughnessy was optimistic about new opportunities for people to receive the vaccine. The Public Health Official praised recentt news that Minnesota’s major healthcare systems would be distributing the vaccine to their patients.

”The vaccine is still really limited, none of us are getting large amounts of vaccine, but that will open up that avenue as well,” said Shaughnessy.

Le Center man suspected of father's death charged with murder, arson
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A Le Center man is accused of stabbing his father to death, then burning down their home with his body inside.

Hardy Robert Wills-Traxler, 25, of Le Center, was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree arson in the Jan. 24 death of his father, Bruce Alan Traxler, 64, also of Le Center.

Investigators suspect arson caused the house fire that killed Bruce Alan Traxler, of Le Center, the morning of Jan. 24. Traxler’s body was reportedly found in the home. Police suspected the fire was started by Traxler’s son. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

Traxler’s body was discovered after firefighters responded to a shed fire at 37722 Hunting Preserve Lane, Le Center at approximately 7:15 a.m Jan. 24. The shed, found engulfed in flames, was reportedly the shared residence of Traxler and Wills-Traxler. At approximately 8:45 a.m., firefighters reportedly found Traxler’s remains on the floor near an interior window.

The father and son reportedly lived together at the shed, but a witness told investigators that the two had not been getting along. That person also told law enforcement of fresh tire tracks leaving the scene of the fire where Wills-Traxler allegedly parked his car. Wills-Traxler was not at the scene when investigators arrived, and a 2007 gold Toyota sedan registered in Traxler’s name was also missing.

At approximately 8:50 a.m., investigators received a tip from Mankato Police that a man matching Wills-Traxler’s description, driving a Toyota sedan, had told someone in the Mankato area that “he killed his father.”

By early afternoon, the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office reported that a group of snowmobilers talked to man identified as Wills-Traxler. The snowmobilers reportedly told police that Wills-Traxler was in possession of a knife, referenced the Bible and told them that “he killed his father.”

He was arrested by the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office shortly after, following a traffic stop near the junction of Hwy. 169 and Hwy. 60 and taken to the Le Sueur County jail.

Investigators report that Wills-Traxler confessed to the murder in an interview with police. Wills-Traxler allegedly told police that the night before the fire he and his father were talking, but Traxler would not go to sleep. Wills-Traxler said his father just stared at him, so he reportedly stared back at Traxler.

The two reportedly began to argue and Wills-Traxler told investigators he was scared and grabbed a knife. He told his father that he wasn’t scared of him, but the argument became physical. Traxler then hit his son on the shoulder and Wills-Traxler reportedly responded by stabbing him with the knife multiple times. Wills-Traxler said that he stabbed his father in the heart and reportedly commented that “it was weird.”

Traxler reportedly fell unconscious after the stabbing and Wills-Traxler said he “was just gone.”

An autopsy concluded Traxler had been stabbed multiple times, with stab wounds found in the left and right chest areas and the abdomen.

Wills-Traxler reportedly told police following the stabbing that “he did what he did,” and decided to burn the shed down. He “had to get out of there” and “get on with his life,” Wills-Traxler allegedly told investigators. He said that he was sorry and that he never wanted it to be that way.

Prior to the fire, Wills-Traxler told investigators he gathered his belongings and washed the blood from his hands. He then stuffed pillows on the stove and turned on the burners. After the flames were lit, he drove away.

Investigators concluded the fire started in the stove. The burner was reportedly found in the “on” position and burned material on the stovetop was consistent with pillows.

Wills-Traxler was taken to a hospital in New Prague for a reported shoulder injury, but no injury was found.

It’s the first murder case in Le Sueur County since January 2014 when Jonas David Nelson, then 18, shot his father in the head as he slept on the floor of their rural Montgomery home. Nelson, convicted in August 2015, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. He claimed his father was too strict and wanted to get out from under his thumb.

Assisting agencies were the Le Center, Montgomery and Cleveland Fire departments; the Minnesota State Fire Marshal and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Wills-Traxler was appointed a public defender. Le Sueur County District Court Judge Patrick Goggins will not take part in the case, due to a conflict of interest; the victim’s brother is reportedly his financial advisor. Instead, Goodhue County District Judge Patrick Biren will preside.

Bail with conditions was set at $1 million for Wills-Traxler; it was $2 million for bail with no conditions. He has a review hearing scheduled for March 26.

Halle Bemmels

Halle Bemmels played live music for the crowd at Giants Night Out as part of the Le Sueur-Henderson Guitar Club. (File photo)