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Across the Region: March 17


Ex-Iowa player files suit over ‘rhabdo’ injuries

One of 13 Iowa football players hospitalized after a high-intensity workout in 2011 claims the university’s negligence caused him physical and mental harm.

Former Hawkeye William Lowe filed a lawsuit last week against the university. It says the team’s coaches and trainers failed to properly supervise and monitor him during the workout and failed to offer prompt medical care after he and others reported severe pain.

The lawsuit says the team was negligent in “developing and implementing a dangerous improper training program.”

Lowe and 12 others were diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolysis in the days after a Jan. 20, 2011 offseason workout at the start of winter training. Lowe spent several days in the hospital after being diagnosed with acute renal failure.

He’s seeking unspecified monetary damages for pain and suffering.

Supreme Court hears HIV conviction appeal

The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments last week on whether it should uphold the conviction of a man with HIV who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for not telling a partner he carried the virus when they had sex.

The court agreed in January to hear Nick Rhoades’ case after the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in October. That court concluded Rhoades had violated the state’s HIV transmission law because he didn’t disclose that he was infected, even though his partner did not acquire the virus and their 2008 encounter posed a low risk of transmission.

Rhoades’ attorney Christopher Clark, a Chicago attorney for the gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal, said his client’s use of a condom shows Rhoades did not intend to expose his partner to a bodily fluid that could have transmitted HIV.

In addition, he argued that Rhoades’ treatment for HIV left him with a very low level of the virus in his blood, which means transmission was nearly impossible.

Iowa passed a law in 1998 making it a felony for someone with HIV to engage in intimate contact with another person without disclosing it. That is defined as the intentional exposure of the body of one person to a bodily fluid of another person in a manner that could result in the transmission of HIV. The law does not specify that the other party must become infected for there to be a crime.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Cmelik argued that because Rhoades knew he had the virus and had sex in a way that was possible to transmit HIV means he was properly prosecuted for the crime and the conviction should be upheld.


State to pay $2M for fatal prison van crash

Nebraska officials have agreed to pay $2 million to the family of a Lincoln woman who was struck and killed by a state prison van driven by an inmate.

The settlement will go to the husband and son of Joyce Meeks, 47, who was killed in the crash on June 25 in Lincoln. Lawmakers gave initial approval to the payment as part of the state’s annual claims bill.

The inmate driver, Jeremy Dobbe, was seen speeding and swerving erratically before he struck Meeks’ vehicle. Dobbe was driving to transport inmates as part of a state work-release program.

The lawsuit by Meeks’ husband, Leonard Meeks, and son, Martell Buchanan, alleges that Dobbe was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or some other intoxicating substance.

Proposed e-cigs ban for Nebraska minors advances

Nebraska minors could soon be banned from using electronic cigarettes.

Lawmakers passed a measure that would prohibit minors from using the product and stores from selling them to anyone under 18. Supporters say there hasn’t been enough study to know if e-cigarettes are safe.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that give users a puff of vapor, typically containing nicotine and sometimes flavorings such as fruit or mint. Users can vary the amount of nicotine.

At least 27 states have prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Minors who use e-cigarettes could be charged with a misdemeanor, as could businesses that sell the product to a minor — the same penalties currently on the books for tobacco. A minor can be free from prosecution if he or she provides evidence for the conviction of the person who sold the tobacco product.

Stores would have to keep the products behind the counter or in a secure display case, though tobacco specialty stores, which ban minors without a parent or guardian, would be exempt from that provision.

The measure faces two more votes of approval from the Legislature.


Montana man pleads guilty to construction fraud in ND

A Montana man has pleaded guilty to three federal charges for taking millions of dollars in down payments from customers to build steel buildings and instead using the money for his personal benefit.

Jonathan Lee Oliver of Missoula solicited payments of nearly $7.9 million mostly from residents of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota between October 2010 and December 2011 to build steel buildings, but he completed only one building, the U.S. attorney’s office in Montana said.

The payments he received from customers ranged from $90,000 to $993,000, according to court records.

Prosecutors alleged Oliver used nearly $686,000 to buy three new vehicles, a 42-foot motorhome, a house, two personal watercraft and an engagement ring. He also was charged with making 17 withdrawals from his account in amounts just under the $10,000 threshold at which banks are required to file a federal report.

Oliver, 41, pleaded guilty Feb. 25 to wire fraud, money laundering and structuring. He had been indicted on 96 counts of wire fraud, seven counts of money laundering, aggravated identity theft, and 17 counts of structuring. He also faces forfeiture of any property bought with the proceeds of his scheme.

Sentencing is set for June 20.

Authorities alleged Oliver filed for a contractor’s license in North Dakota using a false name and failed to disclose his criminal history. It also said he received at least $1.4 million in down payments on steel buildings but in most cases provided none of the materials and did no work.


Fort Berthold Reservation companies questioned

Some American Indian business owners say they’re on the verge of going under because they can’t compete with other Native American businesses that essentially are fronts for non-Indian companies operating on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Under federal rules, tribal companies and members have preference for work on tribal lands. As the oil business on the western North Dakota reservation has boomed — production has reached nearly 300,000 barrels per day — so has demand for jobs affiliated with the oil industry.

But some American Indian businessman such as Steve Kelly, who runs an oilfield services company, think as many as 20 Native American-owned companies are operating unfairly on the reservation.

The biggest problem is Native American-owned companies that own one truck but lease a much larger number from a non-Native company, he said.

Frank delaPaz, coordinating officer for the Tribal Employment Rights Office, said it is apparent that local companies can’t compete with the established companies with decades of experience that have arrived from primarily southern oil-producing states.


State lawmakers approve domestic abuse law

The South Dakota Legislature has given final passage to a measure that changes the state’s domestic abuse laws to cover couples who are dating but don’t live together.

The Senate voted unanimously  to approve a version of the bill approved by the House. The measure will become law if signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Current law covers harm, attempted harm or the infliction of fear committed by family or household members against spouses, former spouses, some relatives, people who live or have lived in the same household, or people who have a child together.

The bill expands domestic abuse protections to people who are in a significant romantic relationship or are expecting a child together.

Murder convict won’t get new trial

A man convicted of murder in a slaying in South Dakota nearly 30 years ago will not get a new trial, despite new DNA evidence that concluded he was not the source of two hair samples taken from the victim.

Lewis Ashker and Kurt Novaock, both of Wayne, Neb., were sentenced to life in prison for killing Jerry Plihal in 1985 while trying to steal his gun collection. Authorities said Plihal was stabbed 21 times.

Judge Bruce Anderson ruled last week that the DNA evidence must be considered along with all the other evidence in the case against Lewis Ashker.

Ashker last summer requested that the hairs found on Plihal be tested using DNA technology that became available since his conviction. When the results came back earlier this year he asked Anderson to overturn his 1986 conviction.

Deputy Attorney General Bob Mayer acknowledged earlier this month that Ashker was not the source of the hair samples but said other evidence in the case must be taken into account, and Anderson agreed.


Senate passes bill limiting parents’ liability

Parents of teen drivers who get into accidents would only be liable for up to $300,000 in claims under a bill that has passed the state Senate.

The Senate voted 17-16 to pass the bill after Democrats used a procedural move earlier in the week to delay final action. The measure now heads to the Assembly.

Currently, children under 18 need a parent or other adult sponsor to sign and verify their driver’s license application. That makes the parents or sponsors liable for the driver’s negligence or willful misconduct.

The bill would limit that liability to a total of $300,000. Current law has no limit on a parent’s potential liability.

Senate debates bill affecting asbestos lawsuits

The Wisconsin state Senate has moved closer to passing a bill opponents say would slow asbestos-exposure lawsuits, many of which are brought by veterans.

The measure would require plaintiffs to reveal how many businesses their attorneys plan to go after. Republican supporters say such a move would prevent lawyers from hiding multiple claims in hopes of maximizing awards.

But opponents, including veterans exposed to asbestos during their service, say the measure is designed to slow cases down in the hopes plaintiffs will die and protect corporations from making payouts.

The Assembly passed a similar version of the bill last year.

Across the Region is compiled from Associated Press wire, staff reports and news releases.

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