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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Body of Wisconsin mountain climber being returned from Argentina

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The bodies of two mountain climbers are being returned to the U.S. after the men died in Argentina almost two months ago.  

A cousin said 22-year-old Jarod VonRueden of Clyman in Dodge County was recovered this week, along with 28-year-old Frank Keenan of Pennsylvania.  The two were just below the summit of Mount Aconcagua when VonRueden activated a rescue beacon on New Year's Eve.  Their bodies were said to be on a rarely-used route, and that's why it took so long to retrieve them.  VonRueden's cousin, Julie Feldman of Saint Paul, said they were descending in snowy weather when they apparently slipped-and-fell in a place with loose rock.  The mountain is located in the Andes range in the Argentine province of Mendoza.  VonRueden graduated from Watertown High School.  His family said he was an avid climber, and he was studying to become an emergency medical technician. 

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Fire crews in Racine were still putting out hot-spots late this morning at Mitchell Elementary School, where the gymnasium was destroyed overnight.  Police responded to a burglar alarm at the school around 1:30 this morning.  Officers called the Fire Department after seeing smoke.  An elementary and middle school are in the same building, and classes for both were called off for today.  The gym was ruined after its roof collapsed.  Officials said fire-fighters were able to prevent the flames from extending to the rest of the building -- but there was still smoke-and-water damage in the school's basement, first floor, and second floor.  A fire-fighter was hurt after slipping on ice.  No other injuries were reported.  Sub-zero wind-chills caused fire equipment to freeze.  Fire-fighters from two other departments were called to help put out the blaze.  Also, a duplex in Racine started on fire less than an hour after the school blaze began.  Two families got out safely.  South Shore units extinguished the house fire, while Racine fire-fighters were busy at the school site.

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A Wisconsin Senate panel unanimously endorsed a bill today to make sure that domestic-and-child abuse suspects turn in their guns when told to do so.  The public safety panel referred the measure to the full Senate, after the Assembly approved it last week.  Those required to turn in weapons would have to fill out questionnaires about their guns -- and they'd be charged with perjury if they lie.  Courts would hold hearings to make sure weapons are turned in.  Federal law requires that people give up their weapons when they're given restraining orders.  However, a Governor's Council study in 2008 showed that 70-percent of Wisconsin counties did not have a system in place to make sure the law is followed.  Also today, the state Senate safety panel unanimously okayed a bill to make judges check police records on those under injunctions before any seized weapons they own can be returned.  The bill seeks to assure that those prohibited from owning guns would not get them back.  

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Minority Democrats want to require universal background checks for all gun purchases in Wisconsin -- and they say more people support the idea.  At a news conference today, Democrats stood with boxes they said had signatures from 16,500 Wisconsinites who support background checks.  Milwaukee Senate Democrat Nikiya Harris said an increase in her city's murder rate is one reason to close what she calls loop-holes in the state's public safety network.  She said that without universal background checks, laws to prevent felons from possessing guns mean nothing.  The bill would require background checks for all gun purchases not only at dealers -- but at gun shows and on the Internet as well.  The U.S. Senate rejected a similar national bill last April.

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A Wisconsin State Senate panel has scheduled a public hearing for next Thursday on a bill that critics say could let politicians decide what school kids should know.  A state Assembly panel delayed a vote on the measure last Thursday, just two days after it was introduced.  Opponents said it would wipe out Wisconsin's Common Core educational standards which are used in 45 states.  Republican Governor Scott Walker said the bill would encourage the state to set its own student performance requirements.  Under last week's measure, a 15-member panel would recommend changes in school standards.  The state superintendent would also make recommendations -- and if they were different, lawmakers would decide which package to go with.  State Superintendent Tony Evers said it would politicize public schools, but the Republican Walker did not believe a scenario for legislative action would get that far.  Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said any new standards written under the bill would be rigorous for students to achieve.  Walker's Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, has come out against the bill.  She says it would waste schools' efforts over the past three years to align their curricula around the Common Core standards.

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All first-time drunk driving offenders would have to appear in court at least once, under a bill endorsed unanimously this morning by a Wisconsin State Senate panel.  The public safety committee sent the measure to the full Senate, after the Assembly approved it last November.  It's among the anti-drunk driving bills authored by Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon.  Wisconsin is the only state where first-time OWI is not a criminal offense.  Civil citations are issued instead -- and they normally let people pay their fines without going to court.  But Ott and others say all OWI offenders should appear before judges, so they can appreciate the seriousness of what they've done.  Under Ott's bill, any drunk driving suspect who doesn't appear in court would automatically be found guilty, face a possible arrest, and be fined an extra 300-dollars on top of other penalties.  

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A Milwaukee street gang leader was sentenced to 16 years in prison today, for supervising the murder of a rap music artist on New Year's Day of 2013.  28-year-old Victor Stewart ended up helping prosecutors, by testifying against three other suspects in the slaying of 22-year-old Emily Young.  Stewart pleaded guilty to second-degree reckless homicide, after he was given a break for his cooperation.  Young performed under the name "Yung LT."  She was known as Evon Young before she changed genders to become a woman.  Prosecutors said four gang members were looking for marijuana when they went to the home Young shared with their co-defendant Billy Griffin.  A scuffle followed, and Young was later shot.  Ashanti McAlister shot Young three times and strangled her.  Authorities never found her body, after searching a landfull for the remains.  McAlister was sentenced to life in prison, with a possible supervised release date in 2066 when he's 72. 

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A federal court trial is scheduled June 23rd in Madison for a woman accused of kidnapping her half-sister's baby boy and leaving him out-in-the-cold in Iowa.  31-year-old Kristen Smith of suburban Denver has pleaded innocent to a federal kidnapping charge.  Prosecutors said she took Kayden Powell from his 18-year-old mother near Beloit earlier this month, when he was only four days old.  Authorities arrested Smith a few hours later near a gas station in Iowa, where the child was found wrapped in a crate.  Kayden survived despite being in frigid weather for over a full day.

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Taxpayers will spend up to $150,000 to have private lawyers represent prosecutors who are being sued to try-and-stop a John Doe probe.  The Journal Sentinel said Governor Scott Walker approved the hiring of Milwaukee attorneys Randall Crocker and Samuel Lieb.  They'll represent special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm, and two of Chisholm's assistants.  The Wisconsin Club for Growth has sued those officials and others, saying the John Doe violates their federal rights to free speech and equal protection. Media reports have said the investigation is looking into whether the Club for Growth and other conservative groups illegally coordinated with Republican candidates in the 2011-and-'12 state recall elections.  The State Justice Department would normally represent the prosecutors, but the agency declined in this case because it's representing the judge in the John Doe, Gregory Peterson.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says the law firms for Crocker and Lieb will each get $175 an hour, with limits of $75,000 to each firm.

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A Green Bay woman who was previously convicted of embezzlement is now accused of writing worthless checks to a half-dozen Catholic churches.  39-year-old Vicki Patterson is charged with four counts of writing bad checks.  Two felony counts were filed earlier this month, and she's scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on those tomorrow in Brown County Circuit Court.  Online court records also list two misdemeanor bad check charges -- and the status of that case will be reviewed tomorrow.  Patterson is accused of writing almost $5,700 in bad checks to Catholic parishes to buy scrip cards, used by churches to raise funds.  Scrip cards allow buyers to make purchases at local businesses, with the parishes to get part of the proceeds. One church reportedly tried canceling a scrip card once it learned about the bad check -- but Patterson had already reportedly used it.  She was freed from prison last fall, after a three-year term for embezzling $44,000 as an officer at the Green Bay Swim Club.  She was also convicted in 2001 for stealing three-thousand dollars while she was a part-time dance instructor for De Pere's recreation department.

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Scientists at UW-Madison say a newly-discovered tapeworm is what killed a popular young orangutan at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  Five-year-old Mahal died in December of 2012. He touched people's hearts, after the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on how his biological mother rejected him -- and he moved to Milwaukee to live with a surrogate mother. UW epidemiologist Tony Goldberg said today that it's not clear how or when Mahal came down with the parasite, which previously had not been discovered.  Goldberg says that by the time Mahal showed symptoms, the infection had spread too much to save him.  

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Wisconsinites appear to be a happier bunch than a year ago.  The Badger State ranks 14th in the new Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index -- up six spots from last year.  Wisconsin's overall well-being index is 67.7.  That's based on how residents feel about their job satisfaction, personal health, love-and-social relationships, financial security, and community pride.  178-thousand Americans were interviewed about their lives in general -- and how well-off they think they are.  Gallup said Wisconsin had the nation's eighth-largest improvement in its well-being index from three years before, with a one-point jump in its overall index.  That means Wisconsinites are feeling better about themselves than folks in other states.  Well-being throughout the U.S. has been fairly steady since 2008, even while going through the country's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

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