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After deciding to play volleyball last year, Blooming Prairie’s Bobbie Bruns was given the chance to return to competitive running this fall. In 2016 and 2018, she earned all-conference honors as a seventh grader and freshman, respectively. (Jon Weisbrod/People’s Press)

Annual Jacob’s Run is full throttle for this weekend

Engines will roar this weekend as the ninth annual Jacob’s Run begins at The Eagles Club in Owatonna.

The run begins with an 8 a.m. check in Saturday, and kickstands go up at 10 a.m. Money raised at the event will go toward the Open Arms Suicide Prevention Program in memory of Jacob Robert Sikel, a 15-year-old Claremont boy who died by suicide in 2012.

Jacob’s family decided to come together to organize the Open Arms Suicide Prevention Program with the goals of spreading awareness, preventing suicide and and letting people know they are not alone and that there are people that care. They want people to know that it’s ok to ask for help.

“Every year we just want people to know that there is a group out there … us,” Jacob’s dad, Robert Sikel said.

On Saturday, a group of bikers will take off down the road to bring awareness to the cause, stopping at various places in Waltham, Myrtle and Manchester. The route changes annually to keep it fresh for participants. Each stop will have outdoor seating and arrangements to comply with COVID-19 guidelines, according to Sikel. Traditionally Sikel makes an announcement to the participants just prior to takeoff.

“I always get choked up every year just to see all of the people that are there to support,” Sikel said. “I always tell myself, I think Jacob didn’t think that anyone cared about him at that moment and you look around and you’re looking at two to 300 people standing there, a lot of them didn’t ever know him.”

About 15 to 20 certified blockers will ride about a half mile ahead of the motorcycle group to manage intersections, allowing the core of the group to safely make their way through an area.

Eventually the group will make it back to Owatonna where a raffle will take place. Raffle prizes consist mostly of handmade goods, for example Sikel’s hand-built benches, among other donated items. Raffle tickets are sold the day of the event, everyone is welcome to participate in the raffle drawings (which will be held at The Eagles Club in Owatonna) regardless of participation in the run. Food trucks will be available in the parking lot for pre-ride breakfast sandwiches, as well as post ride meals from trucks such as, El Rey Del Taco, Pretzel Wagon and The Lunch Box.

Funds are raised through the event’s registration as well as raffle ticket purchases.The money is then allocated to Open Arms Suicide Prevention Program’s various projects and initiatives, including training in suicide prevention.

Several $500 academic scholarships are awarded each year to area students. Last year, they were able to give away 14 scholarships, according to Sikel. Other monies go toward the group’s bracelets, which are often handed out during presentations.

“Basically our motto is ‘it’s OK to ask for help’ which gets printed on the bracelets as well as the group website,” Sikel said.

Open Arms Suicide Prevention Program provides certified trainers who go into schools, churches and other community settings to share educational presentations that focus on awareness and prevention of suicide.

“To me it’s my therapy, it helps me deal with losing Jacob, everyday it still hurts, I still think of it every single day,” Sikel said. “Our presentations are not stale handwritten presentations, every one that we ever do is different, it’s just having real people stand up and tell their real story.”

Biker’s peal out of Owatonna for 2019’s day-long ride in honor of Jacob Sikel. Since 2012, the annual Jacob’s Run has helped raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention. (File photo/southernminn.com)

A look at the past and into the future

Sikel says all of their current merchandise is half off, as the group is in the process of rebranding and will be dropping the “yellow ribbon” aspect of the group. He says annual retraining for the group’s six trainers has gotten really expensive under the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program, around $500 per person each year.

“That’s a whole scholarship,” he said adding with six trainers the expenses add up.

The annual run is held on the weekend after Labor Day, which Sikel says lines up with Suicide Prevention Week. Next year will be the 10th annual run, which will fall on Sept. 11. The group hopes to invite a speaker from a Minnesota organization that raises awareness about veteran and military suicides. Sikel’s goal is to reach people of all ages and backgrounds, as suicide can affect anyone.

“The first year (the run) started out, it was a friend of mine who was trying to get some money together to help fix my motorcycle that I had actually crashed on my way home after finding out that Jacob had passed,” Sikel said. “He actually got the ride together to help fix the bike, but you know I had insurance so I didn’t really need the money ... we had this bit of money to use and we ended up going down and getting trained on suicide prevention at the national suicide prevention place.”

Since then the program and annual run participation has grown with each year. Sikel hopes this trend continues. Although he believes this year’s turnout will be good (he’s seen a lot of new names signing up to participate), he also admits there is some uncertainty in this year’s fundraising capabilities with COVID-19. Like many nonprofit organizations, COVID-19 has provided additional obstacles when it comes to finding donations. The group still has funds allocated from last year, which he says they could dip into.

But Sikel’s hopeful.

“I still think this year is still going to turn out really good,” he said.

County's mutual aid agreement renewal assists Freeborn’s ICE contract

An agreement between Steele and Freeborn counties renewed Tuesday will help Freeborn maintain a contract with the federal government worth about $6,710 a day.

The contract allows Freeborn County to house people believed to be living in the country illegally.

The Steele County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to renew the 10-year mutual aid agreement with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office to make equipment, personnel, the Steele County Detention Center and other resources available in the event that the Freeborn County Adult Detention Center needs to be evacuated. According to Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag, this agreement is necessary to maintain the county’s contract with Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, often known as ICE.

“To have an agreement with ICE, something needs to be in place in the event that we have a riot or a fire or some sort of flood and we need to get people out,” Freitag said. “We have to be able to get our detainees and their detainees into other facilities, so this will keep up in compliance with our agreement.”

Per the agreement with ICE, Freeborn County receives a federal payment of $95.86 per detainee for each day they are housed in Freeborn’s facility. Freitag said they average about 70 ICE detainees a day, with their highest population of ICE detainees reaching 102 a couple years ago.

“It is a good revenue stream for the county,” Freitag said. According to Freitag, Freeborn County is the only county in southeastern Minnesota that has an ICE detention center classification.

If the Freeborn jail were somehow unavailable for detainees, Freitag said the Albert Lea Bus Co. would provide transportation for inmates to any other responding party’s facility. The bus company would be paid its going rate at the time of the incident.

“Obviously they have the resources that we need, so this is a money-making venture for them,” Freitag said, adding that he feels it is common for private companies to have contracts similar to this with local governments. “They fulfill a need that we have should we have to vacate our facility and go elsewhere. We have never had to use them before, but it’s good to have them on retainer as a backup plan.”

Faribault and Mower counties also signed the mutual aid agreement.

Mutual aid is common throughout the United States, with Sheriff Lon Thiele saying it is an important relationship with local law enforcement departments.

“It’s very important to have these agreements in this day and age because we never know what agency might need assistance and when,” Thiele said. “Steele County has absolutely requested mutual aid in the past — and it can come from anywhere — whether it be for a criminal event or an act of Mother Nature like tornadoes.”

Thiele recalled specifically receiving mutual aid from Freeborn County when a 146-car train derailed south of Ellendale in 2016. Following the derailment, law enforcement confirmed that one car filled with liquid petroleum gas had been punctured, forcing an evacuation for the small town and within a 1-mile radius of the crash. Thiele said the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office provided mutual aid in the form of an Emergency Operations Center trailer and additional manpower.

“There is a variety of different ways mutual aid can be used,” Thiele said. “It’s important that area law enforcement can lean on one another.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ annual Bowling for Kids’ Sake fundraiser supports Big and Little matches throughout Dodge, Rice, Steele and Waseca counties. This year, the fundraiser is being held in September and involves bocce ball instead of bowling. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Carlson)

Traffic stop results in seizure of 28 grams of meth

A Saturday traffic stop for inoperable brake lights quickly turned into a Blooming Prairie man’s arrest on drug and weapons charges.

The driver, Scott Michael Hofius, 50, reportedly told Faribault police officers that his license was suspended and that “he did not think he had proof of insurance, but that he was insured.”

While Hofius looked for his insurance card, the officer reportedly conducted routine checks on the driver, confirming Hofius’ driver’s license was revoked and learning he had convictions for first-degree controlled substance crime, fifth-degree controlled substance crime and car theft.

After returning to Hofius’ vehicle, the officer reported that Hofius appeared to conceal a red glass object by shutting the car ashtray as the officer looked into the vehicle. After Hofius was asked to exit the vehicle, officers found a bullet in each of his pockets.

Court documents state a device used to smoke marijuana, “packed with” the drug, was found inside the car along with an unloaded revolver. Next to the gun was a vacuum-sealed bag allegedly containing more than 16 grams of marijuana. One bag found inside the vehicle allegedly weighed 22.21 grams, and the second weighed 5.89 grams.

Hofius is charged in Rice County District Court with first-degree meth possession, possessing a firearm after being convicted of a crime of violence and possessing ammunition after having been convicted of a crime of violence.

Judge Karie M. Anderson set conditional bail for Hofius at $75,000 Tuesday. As of Wednesday, he was in custody.

In other court reports:

Jennifer Anne Working, 30, of Owatonna is charged with third-degree meth possession in a park zone and fifth-degree felony controlled substance possession after she allegedly possessed meth inside of her bra Sept. 7 while at Teepee Tonka Park in Faribault.

Rotary, Chamber host candidate forums starting in October

As has been tradition during election years, the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism will partner with the Early Edition and Noon Rotary Clubs to co-host candidate forums starting next month.

“We think it’s really important to hear directly from the candidates and get a little more than just a sound bite,” said OACCT President Brad Meier. “This gives the community an opportunity to really understand where that candidate is at on the issues.”

The Owatonna People’s Press is also a co-host for the forums.

Each Monday in October and the first Monday in November, the forums will be held at noon at the Owatonna Country Club. The event will be streamed live at OwatonnaLive.com and on the chamber’s Facebook page. The forums will be covered by the People’s Press and aired later on KRFO Radio.

The federal congressional forum will be held on Oct. 5 to feature candidates for Minnesota’s 1st District.

According to Meier, at this time only incumbent Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Blue Earth) has confirmed he will attend, however the invitation remains open to challenger Dan Feehan (D-North Mankato).

The candidates for state Senate and House will have a forum Oct. 12. Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) is being challenged by Roger Steinkamp (D-Faribault) for the state senate District 24 seat, Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) is being challenged by Tom Shea (D-Owatonna) for the state House District 24A seat, and Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault) is being challenged by Ashley Martinez-Perez (D-Faribault) for the House District 24B seat.

The forum for Owatonna City Council and mayoral candidates will be held Oct. 19. Mayor Tom Kuntz is being challenged by Ethan Cords; Councilmember-at-large Doug Voss is being challenged by Matt Durand. Incumbents Greg Schutlz (Ward 2) and Kevin Raney (Ward 4) are running unopposed.

Steele County commissioner candidates will have a forum Oct. 26. Incumbent Rick Gnemi (District 3) is being challenged by Mark “MD” Schultz and Incumbent Jim Abbe (District 4) is being challenged by James “Corky” Ebeling. Commissioner Greg Krueger (District 5) is running unopposed.

Candidates for the Owatonna School Board will have a forum Nov. 2. Incumbents Timothy Jensen and Eric Schuster filed for reelection. Also filing for one of the three open seats are Deborah Bandel, Dom Korbel and Abdulahi Osman.

Each candidate will be given 2 minutes for opening comments to introduce themselves and will then be asked three to four questions provided from the chamber public policy committee, allowing each candidate 1 minute to respond. Questions from the public may also be submitted. Each candidate will be given 2 minutes for closing comments.

“For us, we want to hear their positions on business issues,” Meier said. “But this forum offers a change for the rest of the community to hear from each candidate.”

Information on whether limited seating will be available to the public is yet to be determined.