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New Census Numbers Show Growth in Tri-Cities

New census numbers show growth throughout much of Central Nebraska.

The latest figures, released on Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau for counties and metropolitan areas shows Adams County's population actually dropped between 2013 and 2014 by 124. Since 2010, Adams County's population is up modestly at 0.3 percent. The latest number shows Adams County's population at 31,457 for 2014.

Neighboring Hall and Buffalo Counties are among the top five fastest growing counties in the state. Both showed gains from 2013 to 2014. Hall County is the fourth fastest growing county in Nebraska up 4.9 percent since 2010 while Buffalo County is fifth, having climbed 4.6 percent since the 2010 census. The latest numbers show Hall County at 61,492. Buffalo County's population is 48,224..

Populations are trending down in some of the rural surrounding counties. Clay, Fillmore, Franklin, Nuckolls and Webster Counties each reported a fourth consecutive year of declines in population. Kearney and Thayer Counties meanwhile both reported gains over the last two years.

The overall state population also grew 3 percent and is nearing 1.9 million people.

Nebraska's Unemployment Rate Now Lowest in the Nation

A new report released today shows that Nebraska's preliminary unemployment rate of 2.7 percent last month was the lowest in the country.

The Nebraska Labor Department said in the report released Friday that the February rate is seven-tenths of a point under the February 2014 rate of 3.4 percent.

The new Nebraska figure remains well below the preliminary national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in February. U.S. Labor Department figures say Nebraska was trailed by North Dakota at 2.9 percent and South Dakota and Utah at 3.4 percent.

More Than 45 Pounds of Marijuana Seized Near Giltner

A traffic stop Thursday in Hamilton County led to a seizure of 45 pounds of marijuana and one arrest.

A trooper with the Nebraska State Patrol stopped a pickup driver for speeding just off the Giltner exit on I-80 shortly before 1 p.m. A service dog then alerted the trooper to drugs coming from the rear of the pickup. A probable cause search led to the seizure of the 45.3 pounds of marijuana which was contained in 42 packages located in two suitcases.

The driver, 47-year old James Slater, Jr. of Illinois is being held in Hamilton County Jail on a charge of Possession with Intent to Deliver.

Hastings College Says Vote No to Grow

Hastings College has a new motto: "Vote No to Grow."

That's the message college officials want voters to remember when they vote on a special ballot measure this spring which will decide the fate of 9th Street through the campus. The motto was unveiled at last night's Business After Hours event for the college.

A "No" vote would mean the college could close the one block between Elm and Ash Avenue and move forward with capital improvement projects. A "Yes" vote allow the thoroughfare to remain open.

Ballots will be sent out to voters on April 22. The election deadline is May 12.

GIPD Arrests Five Linked to Burglaries

Police in Grand Island say they've arrested five individuals over the past three days who have been involved in burglaries.

One of the suspects arrested Thursday was located in a stolen vehicle and was in possession of drugs. Police were tipped when a neighbor called 911 and reported suspicious activity in the neighborhood.

Police also arrested three teenagers Wednesday after a neighbor spotted the three breaking into a home. They fled but were caught by police. On Tuesday and adult male was arrested after witnesses observed suspicious activity. Two others fled the scene are still being sought.

In a release this morning, Grand Island Police thanked the public for reporting such activity and reminds others to always call 911 if they observe suspicious activity.

G.I. Police Work to Correct Errors in Annual Violent Crimes Report

The Grand Island Police Department is working to fix errors that recently appeared in their annual report of violent crimes.

This week, the Grand Island Police Department corrected an earlier report that showed violent crime had gone up between 2013 and 2014 in the city. But the department's crime analyst spotted some logging errors in those reports to indicate that violent crimes were actually trending down.

Captain Dean Elliott with the Grand Island Police Department told KHAS Radio in an email that says they are continuing to comb over all the details of their new report and have uncovered even more logging errors, especially in domestic violence cases. He says just this morning, the crime analyst found an additional dozen offenses that were coded as misdemeanors that should have actually been coded as felonies.

An earlier report showed domestic violence to be up slightly in Grand Island from the previous year, but that number is expected to be up even more. Elliott says the department plans to issue a final revised report early next week to clear up any confusion.

Hastings Senior Named National Finalist for Merit Scholarship

A Hastings High School senior is a national finalist for a merit scholarship.

Ryder Mays was announced as a finalist on Wednesday. Mays joins a group of close to 8,000 finalists nationwide. Mays is in this class based on his outstanding score on the PSAT/merit scholarship qualifying test. He also scored a perfect 36 on his ACT, which was not a factor in the process.

Mays has been involved in several extracurricular activities including being a mentor for freshmen. He plans to go to college and hopes to one day become a young adult novelist.

*Pictured: Ryder Mays at center with father Greg and mother Ann Mays.

Farmers Cry "Fowl" Over Platte River Conservation Efforts

Farmers in the Wood River area claim that waterfowl conservation efforts along the Platte River are damaging Hall County roads and cropland.

Four families spoke with county supervisors Tuesday about their concerns. The families said that flood damage that occurred in February along Shoemaker Island Road will happen again because of raised nesting islands that have been placed in the river by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.

They say the land has flooded twice since the islands were placed in the river. Platte River Recovery Executive Director Jerry Kenny said analysis shows the flooding was not caused by the nesting islands.

Kearney Man Sentenced For Child Sexual Assault

A Kearney man has been sentenced to 100 days in jail and four years probation after he was convicted of having sex with a minor.

20-year-old Jonathan Slagle was recently sentenced in Buffalo County Court on a charge of felony attempted second-degree sexual assault. As a result of his sentence, Slagle was ordered to avoid contact with females under the age of 18.

He was also ordered to complete sexual abuse counseling, group therapy and was told to register with the Nebraska State Patrol as a convicted sex offender.

Kearney School Raises Money For Animal Shelter

A Kearney elementary school recently raised $1,481 to buy supplies for the Kearney Area Animal Shelter.

Students at Central Elementary School raised the money through a coin drive that brought in 228 pounds of coins. In addition to helping a worthwhile cause, the class that brought in the greatest weight in coins won a cookie party, and the class that raised the most money won a pizza party.

The "Fluffy Friends" coin drive ended Friday, at which time students went on a shopping spree at a local retail store to buy items for the shelter.

Following their shopping trip, students delivered more than $800 dollars worth of goods to the Kearney Area Animal Shelter with the remaining balance being put on a gift card for the shelter.

Lawmakers to Debate Medical Marijuana Study for Seizures

Lawmakers will debate a bill allowing patients with seizures to legally access a marijuana derivative under the supervision of University of Nebraska researchers.

A legislative committee voted 6-0 Tuesday to advance a measure creating a pilot study of cannabidiol to gauge its effectiveness treating severe seizures. Cannabidiol has extremely low levels of THC, the compound responsible for the marijuana high.

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha told the committee the $250,000 project would be funded by the Nebraska Research Initiative, a state-funded grant program administered by the university, rather than state general funds.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue has introduced the measure and designated it as her priority bill, increasing the odds that senators debate it this year.

Hotel, Restaurant and Housing Development Planned for South Kearney

A major hotel, restaurant and housing development project will be coming to south Kearney in the near future. Paul Younes, president of Younes Hospitality is planning to build a new extended stay four-story Candlewood Suites hotel with 84 rooms.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Kearney City Council approved a change in zoning, along with special platting and annexation requests to accommodate the new development. In addition to the hotel, a 12,000 square foot restaurant and apartment complex are also being developed. Younes, who was present at last (Tuesday) night's meeting said he's looking forward to beginning work on the new development:

"I think it's going to be a great thing for the community as well for our complexes out there. We needed some restaurants for people to be able to walk into. We also need more room to accommodate the conference center. The apartment situation is to help accommodate our employees to have affordable lodging down there," Younes said.

Because of traffic congestion and other concerns, the city has agreed to build another access road to accommodate the new development. With all of the necessary building requirements now in place, Younes expects to begin work on the project very soon:

"We're hoping to start moving dirt next week. We're going to start working on the hotel project as soon as we can as well as the restaurant pad. We'd like to have everything done by May 1, 2016," Younes said.

The hotel, restaurant and apartment development project is expected to cost an estimated $13.35 million dollars.

No New Judge Yet in 10th Judicial District

The search for a new judge in the 10th judicial district continues. The Nebraska Supreme Court announced this week that only one of the five candidates who applied for the seat garnered enough votes to be nominated to the governor. By law, a nominating commission must present at least two to the governor.

Applications are now being accepted through 5 p.m. on April 21. A second public hearing will be held in the Adams County Courthouse at 10 a.m. on May 12. All five of the previous applicants must reapply to be considered.

The 10th Judicial District is comprised of Adams, Clay, Fillmore, Franklin, Harlan, Kearney, Nuckolls, Phelps and Webster counties. The primary office for the vacant position is in Hastings.

Judge Rejects Plea Withdrawal Stemming From Officer Dragging Incident

A judge has rejected a Hastings man's request to withdraw his pleas to charges stemming from the dragging of a police officer.

30-year-old Marty Deckert had accepted a plea deal on charges of attempted second-degree murder and other crimes. But at his sentencing hearing last month, Deckert tried to fire his court-appointed attorney and withdraw his pleas.

Authorities say Deckert tried to avoid arrest in July by speeding away in a car while dragging a police officer.

Deckert said in court on Tuesday that he thought his attorney had pressed him to take the plea deal without fully explaining what it included.

Judge Terri Harder denied Deckert's motion, saying he didn't provide enough evidence to back up his argument and had lied at the sentencing hearing.

Architectural Agreement for Hastings City Auditorium Approved

Plans are moving forward for the Hastings City Auditorium project. The Hastings City Council last night approved an agreement with Sinclair Hille Architects to begin drawing up plans and layouts for the project.

The company will be in charge of renovating the auditorium as well as designing the conference link. City Attorney David Ptak says they hope to break ground in the near future.

"The goal was to try to have something by the first of April. I don't know if we'll quite make the first of April, but we'll be close to that I hope. The purpose of these design services is to be able to develop specifications and bid documents so that we can go out and actually get bids and find out what it's going to cost," Ptak said.

The city hopes to complete the auditorium project sometime next year. The council also unanimously approved an ongoing agreement with Morrison Enterprises and Dutton-Lainson Company for continued operation of the Well D treatment system at the North Landfill Subsite.

Taylor Named President of Grand Island Economic Development Corportation

The Grand Island Area Economic Development Corporation has a new president.

On Monday, Dave Taylor was introduced to take over the position. He will begin his duties on April 6. The position has been vacant for nearly three months.

Taylor will oversee the Grow Grand Island business development plan and also will oversee plans to develop more of the city's industrial parks.

Taylor has been the general manager and director of the Healthcare Laundry Services for Catholic Health Initiatives since 2005. He's also a former GM of the Sodexo, Inc. facility in Stockton, Calif. He received his BS in Business Administration from Bellevue University

Fire Burns Two Acres in Northwest Kearney

A fire late Monday afternoon in northwest Kearney burned nearly two acres of rough terrain.

Shortly before 5 p.m., Kearney volunteer firefighters were called to an area just outside the Meadowlark Dog Park after a fire broke out in a wooded area.

A fire department spokesman says about two acres burned due to strong winds and dry conditions, which helped fuel the flames. Fire crews used chain saws to cut down dead trees to prevent the fire from spreading.

No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Hastings Police Seeing More Tax Fraud Scams

With just three weeks until the April 15 deadline to file tax returns, a rise in the number of tax fraud cases are being reported in Hastings.

At least three separate incidents involving Hastings residents have been reported since March 6. In each case, the victims reported that someone used their social security number in order to file a tax return.

Sgt. Steven Murphy with the Hastings Police Department says victims often don't realize they've been victimized until it's too late.

"If they use your social security number, they try to do an electronic filing and then an electronic deposit of the funds and they usually try to transfer those funds into an account that they have control over. This way you're never even aware and when you go to file then you have a fairly significant problem trying to sort it all out," Murphy said.

Murphy says because so many companies have access to your information, it's becoming more difficult to protect your identity from scammers. He says there are ways you can monitor your information.

"I always keep track of my credit. I check my free credit report once a year to see if it correlates with what I'm doing or if there's something there that's not mine, so I can clear it up immediately," Murphy said.

In addition to tax fraud, several Hastings residents have had identity thieves use their information to open new credit cards and obtain medical services.

Six Nebraskans Indicted in Credit Card Scheme

A federal grand jury has indicted six people who authorities say spent over $74,000 at several Nebraska retailers after stealing account numbers from debit and credit card holders around the world.

An indictment unsealed Monday charges six Nebraska natives with conspiracy to use stolen credit card numbers and other counts. The indictment accuses the six of using cards encoded with account numbers belonging to people throughout the U.S., Japan and Spain to make $74,772 in purchases from March 2014 until September.

The six people charged are 42-year-old Angel Oramas, of Columbus; 48-year-old Vilma Fernandez, of Wilber; 29-year-old Yusnel Abreu Lamas, of Grand Island; and 38-year-old Anyier Paladon, 44-year-old Jorge Tsuhako and 34-year-old Elain Cartaya, all of Crete.

All six were arrested Monday and entered not guilty pleas at initial hearings.

Pleasanton Man Free After Alleged Assault

A Pleasanton man is free on bond after allegedly hitting a woman and threatening to kill her.

52-year-old Michael Stice was charged in Buffalo County Court with felony terroristic threats and domestic third-degree assault after the alleged victim reported the incident to a Buffalo County deputy sheriff. Court records indicate that Stice and the woman got into an argument last week at a home. Stice then allegedly threw the woman to the ground and threatened to kill her.

After the woman reported the incident to authorities, deputies tried to contact Stice at his home, but he refused to come to the door. Stice later turned himself in to officers at the Buffalo County Jail.

On Friday, he posted partial bond and was released on the condition that he avoid making contact with the woman.

Stice is scheduled to appear in court in April. If convicted he faces up to five years in prison.

New Trial Granted for Franklin County Man

A June date has been set for the start of a Nebraska man's second trial in the death of his grandson.

Peter Draper, of Naponee, in January was granted a new trial by the Nebraska Supreme Court as it reversed his 2013 convictions in the death of 2-year-old Joseph Rinehart Jr.

The high court unanimously sided with Draper, who had appealed his conviction on the grounds that his wife should not have been allowed to be called as a witness for the prosecution.

Court documents say the second trial is scheduled to begin June 22 with jury selection. The documents say the trial will be held in Adams County District Court in Hastings because the Franklin County District Court courtroom is inadequate.

Fire Claims Two Aurora Homes

Two families were left homeless after a fire broke out an Aurora mobile home park.

It happened Saturday at around 4 p.m. Officials with the Aurora Volunteer Fire Department say a cigarette left on the deck of one of the homes started the fire which then spread to the other mobile home.

Both homes were destroyed. A third had damage to its siding. No injuries were reported. The Red Cross was on scene to help the displaced families.

One family is staying at a hotel temporarily. Memorial Community Care is planning a fundraiser to help out.

Skagway to Close Both Locations

A long-time Grand Island supermarket is closing its doors.

Skagway owner Bill Martin announced Sunday that Skagway intends to close both of its locations in late May. Skagway employs more than 200 people at its two stores. They were notified on Sunday. Local and state officials have also been notified.

Skagway plans to begin a liquidation sale today and have both stores cease operation by May 22. In a letter sent out to employees Sunday, Martin said employees will be able to continue their jobs for 60 days and that any unused, accrued vacation will be paid out to employees at the time of their separation.

Future plans for the two Skagway properties are uncertain. The supermarket has been a part of the Grand Island community since 1939.

Court Issues Stay in Nebraska Same-Sex Marriage Challenge

Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriage will stay in place, at least for now.

A federal appeals court has granted an emergency stay, putting a federal judge's ruling striking down the ban on hold. The ban will remain in effect until an appeal in the case is decided.

Had the appeals court ruled in favor of the lower court, Nebraska would have been ordered to recognize gay marriages and civil unions starting on Monday.

The ACLU of Nebraska said they are disappointed by the 8th Circuit Court's ruling and will continue to challenge the ban.

Kearney Man Accidentally Shoots Himself

A Kearney man is recovering after accidentally shooting himself in the hand Sunday evening.

According to a Kearney Police Department incident report, Dallas Murray was attempting to remove a laser-guide rod from a 9mm handgun, but forgot to remove the magazine and clear the weapon before clearing the jam.

As a result, the weapon discharged striking Murray in the left palm. Murray's injuries were said not to be serious and he's expected to make a full recovery.

Hastings College To Build New Art Center

Hastings College has announced a press conference next week. Constructed in 1908 as the College's library, the current home to Hastings College's Art Department no longer serves the growing program's needs. President Don Jackson and other Hastings College officials are expected to announce the construction of a new art center on campus. The announcement will take place next Tuesday at 4pm at the grey center on the HC campus.

Heineman Grilled at First Testimony Hearing

The chairman of a legislative committee says 162 Nebraska inmates convicted of violent crimes were freed early under a furlough program. The program was revealed at a hearing yesterday as the chairman, Senator Steve Lathrop, questioned Governor Dave Heineman. The Republican governor was subpoenaed to testify under oath as part of an investigation into miscalculated prison sentences and other problems.

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