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Cold causes delays, dead batteries and delivery cancellations in North Iowa

MASON CITY | Just a few of the things that the cold snap menacing much of the Midwest has affected: schools, deliveries, pipes, furnaces and cars. Lots and lots of cars.

Too cool for school? Mason City Schools announce Tuesday, Wednesday closures

According to Dave Berger of Miller Towing and Recovery there's been 80 to 90 calls since 4:30 am Wednesday morning, most of them from folks needing jump starts. That's caused a backlog of at least two days.

John Katz from Action Towing recounted similar numbers. 

Katz said that his call total is past 100 and that volume's a bit difficult for his operation. "(I'm) just a one-man show, taking them as come."

Most of his calls have been jump starts as well though he's also gotten some diesel trucks gelling up.

The problem for Mason City Auto Sales during this polar vortex has also been with batteries.

Owner DaLayne Germundson said that he and volunteers have been attempting to start most of the automobiles on the lot at 615 N Federal and that maybe "10 percent of them start today."

But area towing companies aren't the only ones dealing with frozen lines and stalling equipment.

When temperatures sink below zero, the likelihood of iced-over pipes increases.

Clausen Plumbing and Heating's Steve Clausen said that he's had at least two-dozen calls to his business since the start of the week.

"Lot of heat calls, a lot of frozen line calls," Clausen said. "Between yesterday and today, 15 heat calls. Most of the frozen lines started today. 10 frozen line calls today."

The company plans to stay open later to account for the higher volume however Clausen still isn't certain he can get to everyone.

So he recommends folks take whatever precautions they can on their own. "I just suggest to people if they have a kitchen sink on an outer wall to open the cabinet doors. Sometimes they can even thaw them with a hairdryer."

Management from both of the Mason City Hy-Vees has also had to adapt with these extreme conditions.

Company wide, grocery deliveries have been halted today.

Sherry Carr, an online manager from Hy-Vee West, said that store shut down grocery deliveries (but not pick ups) for everyday but Tuesday so far to "keep my employees safe."

"We're expecting to resume (Friday)," Carr said. "But if the weather’s still bad, I’ll turn it off then too."

Of course, Hy-Vee isn't the only one in the area to put the kibosh on food services because of the cold. 

Community Kitchen, Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank and Mason City Meals on Wheels have all had to close out of concern for both clientele and volunteers. 

The coldest days in Mason City since 1979

Remember when...? The coldest days in Mason City since 1979

‘The Big Bopper’ documentary premieres in Clear Lake this weekend (with photos)

CLEAR LAKE | A British man is on a mission to get J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Richardson, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were killed on Feb. 3, 1959, in a plane crash near Clear Lake after their Winter Dance Party tour performances at the Surf Ballroom.

Photos: Winter Dance Party 2018

“Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were both inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and J.P. Richardson, ‘The Big Bopper,’ just hasn’t had that privilege,” said John Cumberland, a Big Bopper enthusiast from County Durham, England, Tuesday morning. “So I took it upon myself to try to get him into (it).”

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, based in Cleveland, Ohio, recognizes and archives the “best-known and most influential” artists, producers, engineers and others who’ve had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock ‘n’ roll.

Holly was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, and Valens was inducted in 2001.

“I believe that all three should’ve been inducted together,” Cumberland said.

According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website, the Hall of Fame Foundation’s nominating committee selects the group of artists nominated in the performer category.

Photos: 2019 Winter Dance Party at Surf Ballroom (Updated Friday)

The nominees are then voted upon by historians, music industry members and past Hall of Fame inductees as well as the public.

An artist becomes eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording.

“To people like me, who love rock ‘n’ roll, this is where it all starts because if it weren’t for (Holly, Valens and Richardson), there wouldn’t be any Beatles,” Cumberland said.

Cumberland’s years-long mission has been documented by David Taylor, a director and producer with Glasshouse Media, from Hartlepool, England.

The documentary, “Bopper and Me,” will premiere at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Clear Lake Arts Center, 17 S. Fourth St., as part of the Winter Dance Party that takes place from Wednesday through Saturday.

“It’s a work in progress ... but we wanted to show it for the people who helped, especially the family of The Bopper and to the people who have been really supportive, including the guys here at the Surf,” Taylor said. “Everyone’s welcome to come along.”

He said he’s negotiating with some broadcasting companies in the U.K. in hopes they’ll pick up the documentary. Taylor said it’ll likely show in the U.K. before it’s shown in the U.S. more broadly than Saturday’s premiere.

Cumberland began his “long, expensive, almost divorced” mission more than five years ago after a radio advertisement featuring Richardson’s “Chantilly Lace” became a “great hit” for his scrap metal business.

A new search for a catchy advertisement tune shortly after yielded another Richardson song.

“The guy was a genius,” he said.

Cumberland, and some friends, flew from England to the U.S., where he visited Richardson’s birthplace Sabine Pass, Texas, and other places he’d been before his death in 1959 in Clear Lake.

He’s been attending the Winter Dance Party tribute for the past four years and he plans to do so “for the rest of my days.”

“This is my bucket list,” Cumberland said. “My bucket list is fulfilled. I needn’t go anywhere else.”

For more information about the "Bopper and Me," visit

Photos: Winter Dance Party 2019

Photos: 2019 Winter Dance Party at Surf Ballroom (Updated Friday)

UPDATE: Prosecutors: Sterling Koehn 'unloved, uncared for' before death (PHOTOS)

LE MARS — Items needed to keep Sterling Koehn alive and healthy were found in the Alta Vista apartment where he lived with his parents and older sister, according to sheriff’s investigators.

Sterling was found dead in a maggot-infested swing seat Aug. 30, 2017. An autopsy determined he died of malnutrition, dehydration and infection from diaper rash, according to prosecutors in the trial of his mother, 21-year-old Cheyanne Harris.

Harris is charged with murder and child endangerment causing death, and testimony began Wednesday in the Plymouth County Courthouse in Le Mars, where the trial had been moved on a venue change.

Prosecutor Coleman McAllister told jurors it wasn’t a case of a family that didn’t have the resources or the parental experience to care for a baby.

“Evidence in this case will show Sterling suffered in the last hours and days before his death,” McAllister said. He said the baby had been left “unloved, uncared for, unaided by his mother” who was in the next room.

Defense attorney Nichole Watt said Harris isn’t a monster.

“The monster in this case is mental health. The monster in this case is depression,” Watt told jurors.

Harris’ attorneys filed notification they may use a diminished responsibility defense and have scheduled witnesses that include a psychologist and an expert in postpartum depression.

Chickasaw County sheriff’s deputies said they found everything needed to care for the child inside the small apartment.

Deputy Jason Rosol told jurors he found new diapers, bundled in rubber bands as if received as a gift, in the same room where Sterling died in the urine-soaked swing wearing a diaper that hadn’t been changed in more than a week. A tube of baby ointment, which could be used to treat diaper rash, was also found in the room, Rosol said.

A baby bottle with milk or formula starting to separate was found near the swing, he said.

And, in a kitchen cupboard over the sink, there were two cans of formula.

“The blue Similac up front, I found that to be about three-quarters full, and then the orange one that’s in the back is kind of an off-label for sensitivity, that was more like a third full,” Rosol said.

Rosol said he also found a Hy-Vee supermarket receipt in Harris’ purse showing $123.53 worth of purchases Aug. 26, 2017, four days before the 911 call.

The couple’s almost 2-year-old daughter appeared healthy, according to witnesses at the apartment.

Chief Deputy Reed Palo said he talked briefly with Harris at the scene, and she told him she had fed the baby about 4 ounces the prior night. She said she then fed the daughter and did chores.

He said Harris also told him Sterling hadn’t been to the hospital for a checkup since he was born, and she told him she had been on medication for postpartum depression after her daughter was born but quit taking it because it made her sick.

Palo said Harris was crying but was able to answer questions and didn’t appear to be under the influence of drugs.

Harris left the courtroom sobbing as prosecutors showed jurors photos of the lifeless child in a swing seat. Her tears triggered a break in her trial.

Otherwise, she remained quiet. She kept her head down and in her hands most of the time, and at one point had to be asked to remove her hand so a witness could identify her.

The state’s first witnesses included a nurse who was first on the scene following the 911 call.

Toni Friedrich told jurors she had expected to perform CPR but found the baby was beyond help.

Several witnesses recounted how the apartment smelled, odors of urine and feces and decay that only got worse when they entered the back bedroom.

“In that room, it was like you didn’t want to breathe,” Palo said.

They also talked about finding Sterling’s blanket and swing seat drenched in urine, and noticing maggots in the clothing and on the child and small flies that took to the air when disturbed.

The witnesses described the parents as unemotional.

“There were no tears, there was no emotion,” said Tina Shatek, a mail carrier with first-responder training who followed Friedrich into the apartment. “She should have been crying and screaming and upset.”

She said Harris told her the child was fine when she fed him at 9:30 p.m. the night before. Shatek said she asked Harris if she meant 9:30 “that morning” because a 4-month-old would need to be fed sooner than the night before. Harris didn’t respond, Shatek said.

After law enforcement arrived, Shatek returned to her postal rounds. She said she had to throw up.

“It was so sad. Had I known that child was there, all that time, every day I drove by, I could have done something. And that day, I was just too late,” Shatek said.