WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Costs of electrical fire at Milwaukee courthouse rise to $10 million
MILWAUKEE - Clean-up costs have surpassed $10-million from an electrical fire at the Milwaukee County Courthouse on July 6.
Universal Restoration Services of Menomonee Falls has billed the county $10.2 million. That's mainly for clean-up work, and providing temporary electricity to the courthouse and the adjacent Safety and Criminal Justice buildings. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says more bills are on the way -- including more than a million dollars to design-and-install new electrical components. County administrative services director Don Tyler could not say what the final damages and repair costs might be. He believes they'll be covered by a state insurance fund for local government properties. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Arson has been ruled out. Tyler says other possible causes are being looked into -- including faulty electrical installations, and poor maintenance. If flaws are found, Tyler says insurers would most likely seek reimbursements from contractors involved in the original work. Back in February, a county report said the courthouse electrical system needed major improvements. The last upgrades were made 48 years ago.
The Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker is the latest to support limits of what you can see on the state’s computerized court records. Republican Robin Vos of Burlington tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that people with baseless criminal charges and long-resolved lawsuits should not be quote, “scarlet letters that unfairly dog citizens through life.” The online court system is extremely popular. Over seven-and-a-half million viewers checked out a half-billion court files during the year ending in August. Landlords and journalists are common users. So are people checking out criminal histories of those who want to date them. Vos says he doesn’t want to stop that activity. But he does say that records of those not found guilty should eventually be removed after a period of time. Freshman Assembly Republican Mary Czaja of Irma is drafting a bill on the subject – but it’s not known what it would include. Democrats have a bill to let the general public only see cases in which people were convicted. It’s the only bill that has reached the public hearing stage – but it’s not likely to pass, since no majority Republicans have expressed support. Another, more limited proposal would remove financial judgments from debtor’s online records eight years after they’re paid off. A third bill would let prostitution crimes be removed if the defendants are minors and victims of human trafficking.
___________________Fond du Lac Police say they've found a body believed to be that of a man missing for four weeks. An autopsy is expected to confirm the man's identity, which is said to be Timothy Nance. His wife Eve and Tina Ewell were taken into custody as possible suspects. Both had bond hearings on Wednesday, pending the filing of charges. Circuit Judge Richard Nuss set bond at $100,000 dollars for Eve Nance, and $50,000 for Ewell. Officials have not given more details about the case -- including the spot where the body was found. Police and the district attorney's office plan to say more at a news conference set for Tuesday. Nance and Ewell are due back in court Wednesday, when they could face charges for the first time.___________________
A toddler killed by a hit-and-run driver in Milwaukee has been identified as 18-month-old Ariana Matosek. Police had a 26-year-old man in custody – but they later learned he was not driving the rental truck that hit the girl and her mother. Officials said 21-year-old Cheyenne Jackson was holding Ariana in her arms when they were hit by a truck that had just turned onto the street they were crossing. It happened late Wednesday afternoon on Milwaukee’s south side. Police Lieutenant Mark Stanmeyer said officers have identified another suspect – and that person was still at large as of mid-day on Thanksgiving. Jackson was still hospitalized at last word with non-life-threatening injuries.___________________
The death of a five-year-old boy in Milwaukee is now being investigated as a homicide. Police said yesterday that they arrested a 25-year-old man as a suspect. The boy was found dead in an east side apartment on Wednesday morning. The medical examiner's office was still completing an autopsy at last word. The victim's name has not been released.
Two Chicago men are due back in court next week, for allegedly stealing catalytic converters from vehicles near Appleton. Converter thefts were recently said to be on the rise in the Fox Valley, as thieves sell them to scrap dealers for the precious metals they contained. 29-year-old Quintohn Holmes and 25-year-old Reese Bell were charged in Outagamie County this week with eight felony counts of property damage, and seven charges of misdemeanor theft. Bell was also charged with obstructing police for giving them a fake name. Authorities said the case was cracked last week. A witness told police he saw a man trying to steal his catalytic converter -- and he left in a white van that a detective tracked down with a GPS monitor. Officers then received reports of other catalytic converter thefts, and the van was later found in Fond du Lac with eight stolen converters inside. Both defendants were in jail at last word, under $10,000. Bell is due back in court next Wednesday. Holmes has a preliminary hearing set for next Thursday.
You may not like the new snow in Wisconsin this week, but police say it's been a great investigative tool. On Tuesday, officers in Rhinelander followed snow tracks to catch a burglar at a cell phone store. Yesterday, Sheboygan Police followed foot-prints in the snow to locate a man who drove his car into a storm-water retention pond. Authorities were called around three a-m on Thanksgiving to check out reports of a car that crashed upside down in three-feet of water. Rescuers broke open the front passenger door, as divers looked for a body which wasn't there. Sheboygan Police then found foot-prints that led to a house -- and with the help of his family, officers tracked down the 49-year-old man who was driving the vehicle. No one else was in it. Police said icy roads and alcohol might have been contributing factors in the mishap. They're still investigating.
A La Crosse man has pleaded innocent to nine federal sex trafficking charges in Utah. Prosecutors said 34-year-old Ontario Lowery and a 17-year-old female accomplice forced two women to travel between Wisconsin and California to engage in acts of prostitution in July of 2011. Officials said the activity occurred in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Nevada, as well as in Wisconsin, California, and Utah. An indictment in the case was unsealed this week in Salt Lake City. It indicated that the 17-year-old La Crosse accomplice was also charged – and she was not in custody at last word.
Beloit Police say masked gunmen shot-and-killed a pit bull after they busted into a home during an attempted robbery on Thanksgiving Eve. The residents were not hurt, and the suspects left before officers could get there. Investigators said it did not appear to be a random act.
A conference will be held in Madison next month to examine the start-up of the Affordable Care Act. Kathleen Falk, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Health-and-Human Services, is expected to be at the December 10th forum. State Health Services deputy secretary Kevin Moore is also scheduled to be on hand, along with other government officials and numerous health care industry leaders. The Wisconsin Health News is putting on the forum, just over three weeks before the start of the so-called "individual mandate" in which people must buy health insurance or face fines. Repairs are still being made to the Web site for the federal purchasing exchange for individuals. On Wednesday, the White House said it would delay until next November the start of an online portal where small businesses can get insurance.
Jewish Wisconsinites took a rare opportunity for an extended observance of Hanukkah. That's because the day fell on Thanksgiving, when most people didn't have to work. In Madison, about a dozen members of the city's Jewish Federation got together at a house last night for a Hanukkah and Thanksgiving potluck dinner. It was the first time since the 19th century that Hanukkah fell on Turkey Day -- and it's not supposed to happen again for another 70-thousand years. Eliza Gepner told the Wisconsin State Journal she didn't have to cram a celebration between the end of the school day and bedtime for her three kids. This year, her family took their time to exchange gifts and light candles before having their Thanksgiving turkey. La Crosse rabbi Saul Prombaum said many non-Jewish people have asked him whether Jews celebrate Thanksgiving -- apparently because Hanukkah can be so close to the secular holiday. Prombaum told the State Journal the convergence gave Jews a chance to show others quote, "We celebrate most all holidays."
Black Friday still figures to be a huge shopping day in Wisconsin, after lots of people gave up family time on Thanksgiving to get bargains. Michelle Pruitt-Franz spent her holiday in line for 10 hours, waiting to buy a pair of Furbys at Toys-R-Us in Milwaukee for her two young daughters. She said she had to make her dollars stretch, and could not pass up the deals. Lisa Jefferson was not happy about missing Thanksgiving dinner at her aunt's house. She got in line at five p-m yesterday at a Target store in Wauwatosa to buy a 50-inch TV and other electronics. Her friend, Jewel Thompson, said she felt worse for the people who had to work on what to be used to be a quiet family holiday filled with food-and-football. However, Thanksgiving came late this year -- which means that the holiday shopping season is shorter. And with more online competition, stores are fighting harder than ever to get their shares. Target spokeswoman Courtney Foster said her company knows that people like to shop on Thanksgiving night -- and to compete with others, they had to open last evening. Some department stores were open all day on Thanksgiving.
A squirrel that was taken from Utah to Wisconsin is back home. It all started when a truck driver lured the rodent into a box trap at a rest stop on Interstate-80 near Utah's border with Wyoming. After she arrived in Madison, the squirrel was given to a family as a pet -- but she was too wild for those people, and they turned the squirrel over to a wildlife sanctuary two months later. The rodent was a Uinta ground squirrel. Sanctuary officials later learned that the species thrives in Utah and Wyoming, and they were afraid the squirrel would not survive in Wisconsin. They were planning to fly the rodent back to Utah, but a former assistant agreed to drive the squirrel back since he was going on a back-packing trip there anyway. The critter is now at the Northern Utah Wildlife Rehab Center in Ogden, where they're getting the squirrel back on a proper diet. Meanwhile, the center is coming up with a name -- and it's taking votes on its Facebook page. They're trying to choose between Amelia and Madison.
Thanksgiving marked the end of a month-long mission for Abby Grahn. The Racine County woman celebrated her 49th birthday yesterday by completing 49 random acts of kindness. Grahn, of Mount Pleasant, said she was dreading her birthday because it always means the start of winter. She tells the Racine Journal Times she was lying in bed one night when she got inspired to start giving back to people, and stop feeling down. On Halloween, Grahn posted her promise on Facebook to do 49 wonderful things for others. They included helping a disabled woman get shopping bags in her car – giving a man six-bucks for gasoline after his tank hit empty – and helping rake an older person’s leaves. Some of Grahn’s Facebook friends helped out, too. One provided 10 McDonald’s gift certificates for her to give out. Grahn said her theme was quote, “Live, Laugh, and Love.”