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GEM Days kicks off with vendors, music and reptiles

Downtown Owatonna is once again the place to be as GEM Days takes over the streets.

Thursday morning, downtown businesses brought their products outdoors with special sales as food vendors lined Central Park to celebrate the inaugural GEM Days event. The first day — coined “Community Day” by the committee — featured tours at the Orphanage Museum in West Hills and the Village of Yesteryear, yoga for kids in Central Park and a special entertainment from RAD Zoo.

GEM Days is Crazy Days re-imagined in Owatonna, specifically designed to celebrate the area’s rich history as the “jewel on the prairie” — a termed coined thanks to the historic Louis H. Sullivan National Farmer’s Bank downtown, now Wells Fargo.

“We want to celebrate our historic buildings and our beautiful parks and trails. We’ll celebrate our history, our legends and our entrepreneurial spirit,” said Cindy Stelter, owner of Central Park Framing in downtown Owatonna and member of Owatonna Business Partnership, during the the planning stages of GEM Days. “We’ll celebrate our art and music and our attractions and entertainment. We’ll celebrate our businesses, our services and our schools.”

“And above all, we’ll celebrate our citizens who are GEMS,” she continued. “One and all!”

GEM Days continues through Saturday, with Friday deemed “Family Day” and Saturday to be “Market Day.” Upcoming events include a petting zoo in Central Park on Friday and as well as a special presentation from the Camp Pillsbury kids that evening. On Saturday, people can enjoy the farmers market downtown as well as compete in a cardboard boat regatta at River Springs Water Park.

There will be two special events on Sunday, including a special admission price at River Springs Water Park and a Turbo Kick Class in Central Park at noon.


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Project Lifesaver receives new transmitter for Alzheimer’s patient

Thanks to a generous donation, the Steele County Sheriff’s Office can help bring peace of mind to the family of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Bob Parrot from Project Lifesaver Minnesota Support Center distributed the donation from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America this month, which allowed the Sheriff’s Office to purchase a transmitter kit that will be designated for a new Project Lifesaver client that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and tends to wander.

“Having this transmitter available to an Alzheimer’s patient will provide a client who has wandering tendencies and their loved ones a piece of mind,” said Mary Ulrich, a Sheriff’s Office investigator and one of the individuals who heads up the Project Lifesaver program in Steele County. “It allows them to know that this technology will allow fast and coordinated efforts to locate and return that individual home safely.”

Project Lifesaver is a program utilized by law enforcement to help family members or authorities locate people who tend to wander. These clients include elderly individuals who may have Alzheimer’s or other cognitive disorders as well as children who have cognitive and developmental disorders. The program connects the client with a bracelet that emits a unique radio frequency that law enforcement can then use to locate the individual if they wander away from home or their caregiver.

According Ulrich, the Steele County program has had clients ranging from age 4 to those in their 80s since it was first implemented in 2016. The reasons for the clients to enroll have also been vast, including those with high functioning ADHD and others with dementia.

The average search time for an Alzheimer’s patient who has wandered ranges from six to nine hours, according to information provided by Project Lifesaver International. With Project Lifesaver technology, however, that time is cut to less than 30 minutes. These device signals reach anywhere from half a mile to a mile.

“By having [the transmitter] purchased for a client already, it provides the equipment to that individual at no cost,” Ulrich said. “This is great for loved ones that want to protect an Alzheimer’s patient, but don’t have the funds to do so.”

Though this will be a cost benefit for this particular patient, the Project Lifesaver program is considered “highly affordable” by local law enforcement. Local agencies often can help set a family up with more affordable options if there are financial concerns and those already receiving help from Social Services can also qualify for a waiver from the state.

The donation also paid for brochures specific to the Steele County program to be created, explaining what Project Lifesaver is and how it works. The brochures will be available at the Steele County Free Fair in the Sheriff’s Office as well as in other areas throughout the county.

“We are big about pushing whatever information we can when it comes to community safety,” said Steele County Sheriff Lon Thiele, adding that the fair is a perfect example on the importance and convenience of Project Lifesaver. “It really works out nicely during the fair because often we will have someone from another county who is part of this program come visit, and all their caregiver needs to do is give us that unique frequency. Then if they wander off we can locate them quickly.”


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Couple charged with selling meth after months-long investigation

An Owatonna couple is facing multiple drug charges after they allegedly sold methamphetamine out of their home to confidential informants over a span of three months.

Timothy Allen Smith, 46, and Laura Christine Wittwer, 42, were both charged Wednesday in Steele County Court with multiple felonies. Smith is facing one count of first-degree drug sales and one count of third-degree drug sales. Wittwer is facing two counts of third-degree drug sales. The charges come following a three months-long investigation in Owatonna by the South Central Drug Investigation Unit.

According to the criminal complaint, SCDIU worked with informants from January 21 to April 15 to conduct on investigation at Smith’s residence in Owatonna, where law enforcement believed Smith was selling meth. Smith allegedly arranged six different transactions to take place at his home between him and the informants. On two of these occasions, Wittwer allegedly performed the transaction on Smith’s behalf.

Smith allegedly took part in the following transactions from his home:

Jan. 21, 2 grams of meth for $200, total weight of 2.4 grams.

Feb. 8, 3 grams for $300, total weight of 3.1 grams.

Feb. 25, 3 grams for $300, total weight of 4.8 grams.

March 8, 3 grams for $300, total weight of 3.8 grams.

Wittwer allegedly took part in the following transactions at Smith’s home:

Feb. 19, 4 grams for $300, total weight of 3.2 grams.

April 15, 5 grams for $400, total weight of 3.5 grams.

In each of these incidents, Smith and Witwer would allegedly approach the informant’s vehicle stopped in the driveway and reach inside to place the substance in the car before accepting payment. The substances involved in the transactions all tested presumptive positive as methamphetamine, according to the report.

Neither Smith or Wittwer have any previous felony convictions on record in the state of Minnesota.

Wittwer’s first court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 19 while Smith’s first appearance will be Aug. 23.


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