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CRIME AND COURT ROUNDUP: Eau Claire man sentenced to two years prison for killing his wife and another woman in a crash

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news Ellsworth, 54011

Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

A 69-year-old Eau Claire man is about to spend two years in a state prison for causing a drunk driving crash that killed his wife and another woman, and injured seven others.  Gerald Larson must also spend four years under extended supervision once he's no longer behind bars.  The crash occurred in September of 2012 in the Chippewa County town of Eagle Point.  Authorities said Larson was driving from a bar to a resort when he drove through a stop sign, and collided with another vehicle at an intersection.  Larson's wife Karen was killed, along with Lori Barger of Altoona.  Three others in Larson's vehicle were hurt, along with four people from Wheeler in the other unit.  The driver's blood alcohol level was point-one-two-nine -- over one-and-a-half times the legal limit.  Larson was originally charged with 18 felonies, but they were bargained down to the point in which prosecutors recommended two years in a county jail.  Circuit Judge James Isaacson rejected that, ordering prison and supervision instead.  His attorney said Larson was very remorseful -- and his cataracts might have been a contributing factor in the mishap.

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A federal appeals court in Chicago will hear arguments today on whether the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese must make 55-million dollars in cemetery funds available to priest sex abuse victims.  Creditors in the archdiocese bankruptcy case say the church has no legal right to protect its cemetery fund.  They also say Federal Judge Rudolph Randa had a conflict of interest when he ruled that the church can keep the money.  That's because he bought plots in the Catholic cemeteries, and has numerous relatives buried there.  Creditors also believe that former Milwaukee Archbishop Tim Dolan created the fund specifically to hide money from the priest abuse victims.  The church says the donations it receives are intended to care for Catholic cemeteries throughout the ten-county Archdiocese in southeast Wisconsin.  Randa said the church fund was protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and the First Amendment's freedom of religion.  Nationally, legal observers call this the first case to be raised about the use of trust funds under the Religious Freedom act.  They expect any decision to be appealed to the U-S Supreme Court -- where the final outcome may affect other cases which involve religion's impact on health care and gay marriage

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A man shot-and-killed during a weekend robbery at a Racine tavern was identified as 47-year-old Joseph Walker.  The Racine man was a customer at the American Legion bar when he was murdered around 1:30 Saturday morning.  Police were still looking for two suspects at last word -- both men, ages 20-to-30.  The tavern is across the street from the Family Fellowship Church.  Pastor Scott Miller tells the Racine Journal Times that people are willing to march for peace -- but they also need to step up, and help catch the offenders.  He says anyone with information on the shooting should come forward.  

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It's been 26 years since Wisconsin has allowed reckless homicide convictions for those who supply the drugs that kill those who overdose.  Now, Gannett Wisconsin Media says a person's chances of being convicted depend on where the offenses take place.  The chain of ten daily newspapers in Wisconsin's mid-section found that prosecutors are generally becoming more aggressive in filing charges under the state's "Len Bias Law."  However, drug suppliers in some counties get a decade or more in prison for overdose deaths -- while suspects in other places never get charged.  Gannett said La Crosse, Fond du Lac, and Waukesha counties are especially aggressive in charging suppliers.  Dodge County D-A Kurt Klomberg said he'd do it more often -- but sometimes, it's hard to prove who supplied the dose that caused a user's death.  Other times, Gannett says authorities don't think to investigate certain deaths as drug-related.  Last year, Wisconsin prosecutors charged 71 people with first-degree reckless homicide in drug overdoses.  That's up from 47 in 2012.  Twenty-one people were convicted last year, and their average sentences were just over six years.  The maximum is 25 years.  Numerous states passed similar laws in the years after basketball prospect Len Bias died from a drug overdose, just before his pro career could begin.  Wisconsin adopted its "Len Bias Law" in 1988.  Last fall, W-I-T-I T-V in Milwaukee found that prosecutors filed almost no charges under the law until heroin became popular again over the last decade.  That review found that Len Bias law prosecutions in southeast Wisconsin grew by over 300-percent since 2008.  

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The family of a Sheboygan teenager struck-and-killed by a city vehicle in 2011 now wants a quarter-million dollars in damages.  Relatives of 18-year-old Jaime Olivas have filed a damage claim to be considered by the Common Council tonight.  If it's rejected, the family can file suit.  Olivas was crossing a street, away from a cross-walk, when he was hit by a Sheboygan public works vehicle.  The family said the city was negligent because it mounted a leaf-collection system in a way that obstructed the driver's vision.  The damage claim also said the driver was negligent because he failed to see Olivas.  The driver had worked for the city for 38 years, and was ten days away from retirement when the incident occurred.  An investigation by the State Patrol showed that the leaf vacuum was a major factor in the mishap, along with the decision by Olivas to walk on the street away from a crosswalk.  Media reports said safety concerns were raised before the death -- and it prompted them to get new leaf-vacuum systems mounted behind city trucks instead of in front.

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A black bear made himself at home during the weekend in the heart of central Wisconsin's largest metro area.  Marathon County sheriff's officials said the confused bear wandered through the east side of Wausau on Saturday morning, before it ended up downtown in the basement parking lot of the courthouse.  An animal control officer subdued the bear with a drugged dart. Sheriff's lieutenant Bill Millhausen said the general public was never threatened -- and the bear did not have a record of harassing anyone, so it was released in a wooded county park outside of Wausau.  Millhausen said his officers recently got training on using his department's new tranquilizer gun.  He Sheriff's lieutenant Mark Wagers said the bear was an unusual sight for Wausau -- but officers have dealt with a variety of animals that get trapped in the courthouse garage.  Deer and owls have ventured there in the past.

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Three men face criminal charges after they allegedly refused to stop for a pedestrian in Madison, and then beat the walker after he slapped the hood of their vehicle.  It happened early Saturday, just after midnight on University Avenue.  Police said a 29-year-old man was crossing an intersection when an S-U-V cut him off.  And when he slapped the vehicle for not yielding, police said the three men inside got out, beat him, and drove away.  The pedestrian suffered a broken nose.  The attackers were found a short time after the incident.  Police said all three face charges of substantial battery.  One of them also faces a charge of possessing cocaine with the intent to deliver.

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