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Woman says sorry for swearing at judge; gets furlough for treatment

Kelsey Oka came back to state court in Pierre this month with a new lawyer and a new attitude to face the same judge.

That’s Circuit Judge Bridget Mayer, who was the target of an unusual string of profanity from Oka during an unsuccessful July 23 court hearing which led to an admittedly intoxicated Oka being escorted straight to jail.

After Oka had been taken out of the courtroom, her attorney in July, Tara Adamski, told Mayer she didn’t think she could represent her anymore.

Oka was arrested March 15 and charged with 15 counts, including two felonies of aggravated eluding of law enforcement. The other counts were petty or Class 2 misdemeanors involving traffic offenses such as speeding, not stopping for a light, and not having three small children buckled into child safety seats. By late March, a grand jury’s indictment led to a bill of five counts, including a Class 5 felony of aggravated eluding of law officers that could mean up to five years in prison on conviction.

Oka, who turns 27 next month, showed up late — hours late — to court on July 23. Judge Mayer said she looked tired and asked her if she had been making her appointments for drug and alcohol testing, as required. Oka said she had been drinking for two weeks. Mayer ordered a urine test for her.

Oka began unloading swear words at Mayer, saying she just wanted to plead guilty, and continued swearing at the judge.

Mayer told Oka she was too intoxicated to plead at all and ordered her taken to jail for testing and holding.

Oka’s tirade got louder as she was led out of the courthouse.

During her stay in jail, attorney Robert Konrad was appointed to represent Oka. One of his first moves was to give the court notice that Oka wanted to apologize.

Which she did last week to Mayer in court.

Her demeanor was entirely different from her July appearance, court officers said.

Mayer granted Konrad’s request for a furlough from jail for Oka so she could enter a 28-day residential treatment program in Yankton, which had a bed opening up on Aug. 7. The Hughes County Sheriff’s Office was to transport her to Yankton.

She is due back in court to face Judge Mayer on Sept. 17 on the charges from her March arrest.

No contempt of court charge was filed against Oka, in light of her larger charge and her apology, court officials said.


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Swimmers below Oahe Dam are in danger

Reports of people swimming and spearfishing in the turbulent waters of the Oahe Dam have sparked local concern. Swimmers beware, say officials: The turbulent waters on the downriver side of the Oahe Dam are closed to swimmers for safety reasons.

Two agencies — the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department (GFP) — want to warn people that swimming below the dam is dangerous.

Why?

If a swimmer were to get caught in the currents around the dam they could be in serious trouble, worst case sucked through the dam by strong currents like the fish that have littered the shorelines of the lake in recent days.

ACOE determines the daily average release flow from Oahe Dam at so many cubic feet per second (cfs). Even in drought years, this can be tens of thousands of cfs. During extra wet years, as with this year’s devastating storms and flooding, the daily release is far greater, with 52,000 cubic feet per second or greater being somewhat common this summer.

Access

Access to the Missouri River in general, and to Lake Oahe specifically, is to a large degree public.

GFP uses its printed guides and its website (https://gfp.sd.gov/) to help the public in identifying public lands, including shorelines. It shows land that is managed or owned by multiple public and private agencies, not just those managed or owned by the GF&P.

The land surrounding Lake Oahe, and to a diminishing degree the water below the dam, is under ACOE management. Except for immediately around the dam and just below the dam, this area is usually a fairly thin strip of land directly adjacent to the water.

GFP District Supervisor Josh Carr calls it the ‘top of the bathtub’ explanation:

In general, from the edge of the water to the high water mark is under the management of ACOE. In general, from the high water mark beyond — this land known as “take land,” land offered to GFP and other entities by ACOE in 2007 — is under GFP management.

Swim rules

Whether swimmers get to the water from shore or from a boat, they are for the most part not restricted by GFP rules. Restrictions below Oahe Dam are for safety reasons.

People doing more than just recreational swimming are under certain GFP regulations, again based on safety. Divers and anyone using an underwater air supply, including a snorkel, must display a diver-down flag. This applies if the people are in an area where sailboats or motorboats may also be. The red flag, measuring at least 12 by 15 inches, must have a white diagonal stripe running from corner to corner. Divers must stay within 75 feet of the flag, and boaters must stay at least 75 feet away.

To not unduly restrict water enjoyment of others, underwater diving is not allowed where the flag’s perimeters would stop boats from using their public access ramps or their reasonable navigation.

If the underwater swimmers are also spearfishing, then further safety measures apply. Underwater spearfishing may not be practiced within 100 yards of a designated swimming area, of a water skiing area, boat docks, power intake tubes or spillways.


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Pierre Commission makes new move: taking over lot, taking down house to re-sell parcel

For the first time in memory, the Pierre City Commission took over a property that had been taken back for unpaid taxes, tore down the house, spruced up the lot and replatted it to sell it.

On Tuesday, Aug. 6, the Commission voted 5-0 to pass two resolutions about it.

City Planner Sharon Pruess told the Commission the now-vacant lot at 412 S. Brule had been a long-vacant house on which the taxes had long gone unpaid.

The lot is a half-block toward the Missouri River off Dakota Avenue, not much more than two blocks from the now-empty former city hall building at 222 E. Dakota Ave. Which the city has up for sale, by the way, since it bought the new one on the northeast side of town.

Relatives of the former residents of the now-vacant lot on Brule told the county some time ago there was no one to pay the taxes and the county took it over. Then the discussions began about what to do. County officials knew the house wasn’t livable or fixable, so demolition was the thing.

In talks with the school district and city — the other property tax collectors in the community — the county decided to transfer the property to the city which agreed to demolish the home and put it the lot up for sale.

On Tuesday, Pruess told the Commission it needed to pass one resolution to “vacate” an alley on the property, meaning the city would no longer be in charge of it. Another resolution authorized Pruess to re-plat the lot so it can be put up for sale.

The lot is about about 9,500 square feet, Pruess said.

Commissioner Jamie Huizenga said in his 11 years on the Commission this was a new one for him. “This is really our first action like this, of taking possession” of a property for unpaid taxes, and getting it ready for resale, he said in response to Pruess.

“I can’t recall any other property we have done this with,” Pruess said.

“It’s not that we want to get into the business, but it could come up again,” Huizenga said.

“It could,” Pruess said.

After the meeting, Huizenga told the Capital Journal: “We are not looking to get into the real estate business. But this was cleaning up a property that people living there had not tended to and it gets it back on the tax rolls.”

Pruess said the three owners of adjoining properties all signed on to the idea.

Huizenga said it’s not a quick and easy process, because the county, city and school district all have to agree on how to do it, and how is going to demolish the house, in this case.

“We essentially did it ourselves and put our city crews to work on it,” Huizenga said. “That takes up their time, too. And we had to haul it to our landfill.”

“So it’s not something we are looking to get into on a big scale, but if the situation arises, it’s still better to clean up an abandoned property and keep it from deteriorating more.”


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Noem Appoints Fourth Circuit Judge

Governor Kristi Noem today appointed Kevin J. Krull to serve as judge for the Fourth Judicial Circuit.

“Kevin has a strong history of serving his community and seeking out truth,” said Noem. “His background and experience have prepared him well for this position, and I’m confident he will be an excellent judge.”

“I am honored and humbled for this opportunity to serve South Dakota,” said Krull. “In my position as State’s Attorney, I have worked hard to listen to the opinions of others and evaluate those opinions with an open mind. I look forward to exercising these same practices as I serve the people of the Fourth Circuit as judge.”

Krull grew up in Watertown, South Dakota. He attended the University of Notre Dame, where he obtained a degree in government and international studies, and the University of Florida College of Law, where he obtained his Juris Doctor.

Krull served in the U.S. Army from 1987 until 1991. From 1998 until 2002, he worked in private law and practiced general law and family law. In 2001, he began serving as a part-time Deputy State’s Attorney and added criminal prosecution to his practice. In 2003, he became a full-time criminal prosecutor, and served in that capacity until 2011, when he was appointed Meade County State’s Attorney. In this role, he has specialized in criminal prosecution and provided legal advice to the county commission and other county officials.

Krull is a member of the State Bar of South Dakota and is admitted to practice before the courts of the State of South Dakota and the U.S. Federal District Court.

Aside from his law practice, Krull enjoys boating and fishing with his family. He teaches a weekly Sunday School class at his church and enjoys cheering on his sons in sporting and schooling events.

The Fourth Circuit includes Butte, Corson, Dewey, Harding, Lawrence, Meade, Perkins, and Ziebach counties in western South Dakota.


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South Dakotans warned to avoid water with toxic algae blooms

SIOUX FALLS — As the dog days of summer drag on, pet owners are being reminded by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks to steer clear of ponds with smelly water containing blue-green algae blooms.

Fisheries manager Mark Ermer says due to excessive spring flooding, the state has even more small ponds in unexpected places this summer.

Ermer fields a lot of questions about the dangers of blue-green algae on lakes and ponds, but says it’s fairly obvious they should be avoided.

“If you get into a blue-green algae area, and the dog drinks a significant part of that water, then yes, he can die very quickly,” he warns. “But 99 percent of people, if they had their kids or if they had a dog and they walked by a pond like this? They’re never going to let their dog go in there.”

Ermer says animals can experience symptoms within minutes of exposure to toxins in such a lake or pond.

He says symptoms might include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, difficulty breathing and seizures.

Sensitive individuals, including young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk to adverse health effects from algal toxins.

Ermer says as summer heat reduces oxygen in lakes and ponds, algae typically looks like pea soup or a thick coat of paint covering the water.

He adds that a key factor contributing to the growth of toxic algae is the amount of available nutrients from agricultural and stormwater runoff as well as leaching from septic systems.

“The fact that we use more and more chemicals on our landscapes, that’s what’s driving these systems,” Ermer explains. “That’s the fuel that creates algae blooms, is when you have high levels of those two components — especially phosphorus and nitrogen.”

Scientists studying global warming say harmful freshwater blooms are becoming more frequent and more dense and moving farther north in the U.S. than their traditional boundary