WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: County medical examiner jailed for stealing body parts
RHINELANDER - A former medical examiner in two northern Wisconsin counties will spend a year in jail with work release privileges, for stealing body parts from autopsies.
47-year-old Traci England was arrested just over two years ago, after a detective overheard her talking about taking body parts home to train a cadaver dog. She struck a plea deal that convicted her of two charges of misconduct in public office. Forest County Circuit Judge Leon Stenz rejected a request for a 10-day jail term, saying the crimes were aggravated. England must also pay over five-thousand-dollars in restitution, and perform 300 hours of community service. Victims' relatives spoke for almost two hours at yesterday's sentencing. One man said he could not think about his dead son without being reminded of quote, "the horrible acts committed by Traci England." His family has filed a civil suit against England. She apologized for her crimes. England was the medical examiner in both Oneida and Forest counties before she resigned around the time of her arrest.
An 85-year-old woman killed when a milk truck collided with a car in Dodge County were identified today as Ruth Dede of Watertown. The crash happened last Friday on Highway 60 in Rubicon. Authorities said the car failed to yield, and collided with the milk truck at a corner. Ruth Dede was pronounced dead at the scene, and her 87-year-old husband -- who drove the car -- had non-life-threatening injuries. The milk truck driver and a passenger were not hurt. The mishap is still being investigated.
Over 74,000 Wisconsinites were caught driving while their licenses were suspended last year. That's according to the Appleton Post-Crescent, which also found that 14-thousand motorists were caught driving with revoked licenses. Jason Weber of the Menasha town police department says it's not much of a deterrent to drive with a suspended license. In general, he says offenders only get caught if they're stopped for a violation -- or they get in an accident. Weber calls it a "slap in the face" to those who follow the rules -- and many people believe it's their right to drive while in reality, it's a privilege. Licenses can be suspended-and-revoked for a number of reasons -- like driving drunk, committing too many violations within a year, or driving with canceled auto insurance. Menasha town Judge Len Kachinsky says a suspension can last as little as 30 days by staying off the road and paying a license reinstatement fee. He says the typical fines are 124-dollars for driving with a suspended license. and up to 25-hundred dollars and possible jail time for driving under revocation.
Almost twice as many Wisconsin high school students are taking college Advanced Placement exams than 10 years ago -- and they're scoring better. The College Board said 22-percent of last year's Wisconsin high school grads took an AP exam and scored at least three-or-higher on a five-point scale. That's two-percent higher than the national average -- and it's more than double the state's AP achievement rate of 10-percent in 2003. The College Board said over 19,000 of Wisconsin's college-bound students took Advanced Placement exams last year. That's up from 11,000 a decade before. The College Board says students who take AP classes and tests often perform better in college -- and they're more likely to get degrees.
Propane fuel is a little cheaper in Wisconsin -- but the average price is still $3.83-a-gallon, third-highest on record due to the recent fuel shortages. The state energy office said yesterday the average propane price dropped by 32-cents over the past week -- but it's still over $1.70 higher than the late December price of $es -- including Wisconsin and 23 other states. Enterprise said it began diverting fuel to the Midwest and Northeast yesterday -- and it will keep doing so for two weeks, twice as long as the federal order of one week. Enterprise said it would continue the special propane shipments through February 21st and it will quote, "satisfy fully the concerns raised" by propane shippers. Also yesterday, Governor Scott Walker said the state's Housing-and-Economic Development Authority would expand a three-million dollar loan guarantee program started last week. It helps small businesses buy propane fuel or related equipment.
The propane fuel shortage has customers seeing blue -- the color of a natural gas flame. The Wisconsin Public Service utility has received calls from rural propane customers, asking how much it would cost to hook up to the utility's natural gas lines. Meanwhile, We Energies said it got requests from nine communities to install gas service between Eau Claire and Tomah. The utility had already asked the state to expand its gas laterals in that area, in part to serve dozens of new frac-sand mines in west central Wisconsin. The utility has been considering an 85-mile project at a cost of up to $170-million -- and it's been looking for new customers along that line, long before the propane shortage hit.
Governor Scott Walker says he will not try to change a new set of deer hunting regulations approved last month by the Natural Resources Board. The governor said over the weekend he will not use his two-year-old power to reject administrative rules -- at least not the ones for the deer hunts. He endorsed the rule package while in the Wausau area for the annual NRA and Wisconsin Firearms Owners' convention. The DNR Board okayed a host of changes suggested by the state's temporary "Deer Czar," James Kroll from Texas. The most controversial change proved to be the ending of in-person deer registrations at bars and gas stations. Many hunters and advocates called those on-site visits a great social opportunity -- but officials said online-and-phone registrations are much more efficient, and they'll save money. A complete conversion to on-line deer sign-ups is due in 2015. The new rules also reduce the numbers of deer management zones, create county committees to advise the DNR on local deer populations, and eliminate exact deer numbers to determine each year's population goals.
Now that the new Farm Bill has become law, what happens next? U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says teams are in place to handle each major title of the five-year package. That includes the dairy segment, where Wisconsin producers will see price supports disappear in favor of a brand-new margin insurance program. Vilsack says the dairy team and the others will identify the rules, regulations, and guidelines for each new-and-modified program in the Farm Bill. Vilsack says another group will set priorities for what needs to be done first -- but legal and budget matters could slow things down. The secretary hopes the new system will keep the implementation moving as quickly as possible. Besides the dairy program, Vilsack says there are slight changes to crop insurance services and revenue protection programs. The voluntary dairy insurance program includes government pay-outs when margins fall below various levels that farmers choose. A UW expert recently said it might be beneficial for dairy farmers to choose the lowest-cost coverage, with margins expected to be high this year -- but each situation is different, and farmers will have to do their homework.
Former Milwaukee County Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch is reportedly being targeted in a second John Doe probe that's indirectly tied to Governor Scott Walker. Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail, after she struck a plea deal on charges from the first John Doe investigation. Now, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says Rindfleisch and Eric O'Keefe of the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth are among five people targeted in the new probe. Earlier today, Club for Growth filed a federal lawsuit seeking that the John Doe be dropped. Media reports said it involves alleged illegal coordination between conservative groups and candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections -- including Governor Scott Walker and other Republicans. Rindfleisch was working in Walker's Milwaukee County Executive office when she allegedly ran GOP campaign activities on taxpayers' time. Rindfleisch is still appealing her first conviction. She wanted thousands of e-mails and other documents kept secret -- but a judge ruled last week that they must be released. Rindfleisch is not appealing that order. She was given 30 days to ask that individual e-mails remain sealed. Her lawyer rejected the offer, saying the time period is too short.
Wisconsin attorney general candidate Jon Richards says he will not defend the state's ban on gay marriage if he's elected in November. The Assembly Democrat from Milwaukee has also posted an online petition, which asks the Justice Department to stop enforcing the ban now. People can sign the petition on his campaign Web site. Outgoing Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has said he would defend the state in a new federal lawsuit which seeks to strike down Wisconsin's 2006 constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions. Republican candidate Brad Schimel says it's the attorney general's job to enforce state laws, without substituting personal opinions. Democratic candidate Ismael Ozanne agreed with Richards and said he would not enforce the gay marriage ban.
The Wisconsin State Senate is scheduled to vote today on a watered-down bill to keep new state laws in place while they're being challenged in higher courts. Last June, the state Assembly approved a Republican measure to keep new state laws in effect until any legal challenges to those laws are exhausted. Right now, laws are suspended while they're being appealed -- and the GOP was upset that measures like the voter ID law have been held up for so long while court challenges drag on. Concerns were raised about whether the state Assembly bill violated the constitutional separation-of-powers between the legislative and judicial branches. So a compromise measure was drafted, in which laws are suspended only with a prompt appeal. The state Senate will take up that measure, and the Assembly would have to ratify it before it comes law. The photo ID law was passed in 2011, but it's only been used once since then due to several lawsuits still going through both the state-and-federal court systems.
It would be harder for a future governor and Legislature to raise state taxes, under a constitutional amendment that's up for a vote in the state Assembly today. The measure calls for a two-thirds majority in each house before sales-and-income taxes could be raised. Republicans passed a law in 2011 which requires the so-called "super-majority" to raise basic state taxes. But it can be always be changed by a future Legislature -- and the proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit that. The amendment would need approval in the current legislative session and the next one, then by the voters in a statewide referendum. Under a "super majority," 66 votes are needed in the Assembly to pass tax increases -- higher than the current majority of 50. In the Senate, it takes 22 votes instead of the normal 17 to approve tax hikes. That does not include user-fee increases.
The Wisconsin State Assembly is scheduled to vote today on three bills to spend most of the projected billion-dollar surplus in the current state budget. Majority Republicans in the lower house are expected to pass Governor Scott Walker's $504-million-dollar plan to cut property-and-income taxes, despite reservations in the Senate. Also, a last-minute amendment from De Pere Republican Andre Jacque would give a sales tax break to construction firms when they build schools and churches. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says it would take $20-million from the surplus. A committee was told last week it would only cost six-million. The other two bills would devote $35-million dollars of the surplus for training workers and help the disabled find jobs -- and another $43-million to speed up 11 road-and-bridge projects that were slated to begin in the next fiscal year. Yesterday, Walker's main election opponent -- Democrat Mary Burke -- again called his tax cut plan "irresponsible" and uses money the state doesn't have. Burke said she would spend more to pay down the state's debt. And she would address a Medicaid shortfall and almost a billion-dollars in funding needs for road projects. Walker again said economic growth would wipe out the projected structural deficit in the next budget -- and his projections are quote, "the most conservative of numbers."
Eleven Wisconsin highway projects would be built sooner than expected, under a bill to be considered by the Assembly tomorrow. The measure would spend $43-million dollars from the projected billion-dollar surplus on the road projects. The work would begin before the current fiscal year ends on June 30th, thus creating room for more projects in the following year. The Assembly Transportation Committee endorsed the measure on a 13-2 vote last week. Three Democrats joined all Republicans in supporting the speeded-up highway work. Two Democrats voted no.
The Wisconsin State Assembly will vote next week on spending $175,000 to help Milwaukee Police know when guns are being shot in certain parts of town. A year ago, lawmakers rejected a two-year state grant of 445-thousand to expand the Police Department's Shot-Spotter program. It's designed to help police track down gun criminals, by recording where guns are being shot in a larger part of Milwaukee on a real-time basis. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) announced the upcoming Assembly vote today at a news conference in Milwaukee, where Alderman Bob Donovan proposed several anti-crime measures. They include the addition of 250 police officers over the next four years -- up from the 120 extra officers proposed by Mayor Tom Barrett.
A central Wisconsin man will not have a second trial for allegedly helping his relatives steal $170,000 from a missing relative's Social Security benefits. 72-year-old Ronald Disher of Almond struck a plea deal yesterday, in which he pleaded no contest to a single felony charge of theft-by-fraud. Other counts that include battery by a prisoner were dropped. A Portage County jury recently convicted Disher for reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct -- but jurors could not agree on three charges related to the Social Security fraud. The plea bargain wipes out a new trial in that case, and Disher will be sentenced April 15th. His wife Delores had four charges dropped last year, after she suffered a series of strokes. Her brother Charles Jost has been found innocent-by-insanity. His placement for treatment will be determined by a judge next Monday. All three were accused in the theft of Social Security benefits for Marie Jost -- who's been missing since the early 1980's.
A 20-year-old Manitowoc man is free on a signature bond on charges that he struck a bicyclist, lodged him through his broken windshield, and hit another vehicle. Jamie Hang made his initial court appearance yesterday on felony charges of reckless endangerment and hit-and-run while causing injury -- plus misdemeanor counts of hit-and-run and driving while intoxicated. As part of the bond, Circuit Judge Gary Bendix ordered hang to maintain absolute sobriety, not drive without a valid license, and stay away from the man he allegedly struck. 56-year-old Steven Gove had just finished delivering newspapers in Manitowoc the night of January 18th. Authorities said his three-wheeled delivery bike was hit, and Gove was thrown through the car's windshield -- where he stayed until Hang got home. The victim said he had glass removed from his eyes, and suffered head-and-leg cuts. A judge is scheduled to decide a week from tomorrow whether there's enough evidence to put Hang on trial.
A Milwaukee judge has ordered an insurance company to pay for a big part of a $39-million damage award to the victims of a fallen concrete panel at a downtown parking ramp. Circuit Judge Christopher Foley ruled yesterday that Liberty Insurance must pay for part of the damages awarded by a jury to the families of Jared Kellner, Amy Wosinski, and her son Eric. The 15-year-old Kellner died, and the other two were injured when a 13-ton decorative concrete panel fell on them from the second floor of the O'Donnell Park ramp in June of 2010. Advance Cast Stone of Random Lake installed the panel -- and its insurance covered only $10-million. The judge criticized the insurer's stance that the stone company knew that a bad accident would likely occur, which could negate the insurance coverage. Foley said quote, "I know an accident when I see it -- this was an accident." Foley has yet to rule on whether the insurer must pay for Milwaukee County's costs in repairing the ramp, which totaled around six-million dollars.
Three people have been arrested for an alleged heroin sales ring in Walworth County in far southeast Wisconsin. A 28-year-old Delavan woman, a 24-year-old Lake Geneva man, and a 33-year-old man from Waukegan, Illinois were arrested after a month-long investigation. Sheriff's officials said all three face possible charges of possessing and delivering heroin, and possessing drug paraphernalia.
It might be a week before a Denver woman returns to Wisconsin to face charges in the kidnapping of a relative's baby from the Beloit area. Federal prosecutors in Madison have issued a warrant in which 31-year-old Kristen Smith could be arrested at any time. But local authorities expect Smith to remain in a jail in Tipton Iowa until a federal grand jury hands down an indictment -- and that's expected early next week. Officials said Smith was visiting her half-sister's house in the Town of Beloit early last Thursday when she took young Kayden Powell away. He was just five days old at the time. Authorities said Smith was driving home to Colorado when she was stopped at West Branch, Iowa on Thursday. She denied taking the infant, but police later found Kayden wrapped in blankets in a plastic storage bin behind a gas station. He was later re-united with his parents. Meanwhile, Rock County authorities released a nine-minute 911 call yesterday in which the child's mother did not suspect that Smith had taken the baby. 18-year-old Brianna Marshall was convinced at the time that her half-sister would never do that.
We now know that a $20,000 Powerball ticket was sold near Wausau. Three players won the game's third prize in last Saturday's drawing. One of them bought the Power Play option -- but lottery officials didn't know which one until yesterday. A ticket sold at a Kwik Trip in Schofield won $20,000 -- double the normal prize with a Power Play multiplier of two. The other two winners won $10,000 each. Those tickets were sold at a Speedway convenience store in West Allis, and at Lena's Food Market in Milwaukee. The Powerball jackpot is getting up there again. It's at $284-million dollars for tomorrow night. Tonight's Mega Millions' jackpot is also a big one, at $122-million dollars.
Riders on Amtrak's popular Milwaukee-to-Chicago trains are getting a new chance to get some work done online. Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb announced today that Amtrak has installed Wi-Fi Internet service on the Hiawatha line -- plus six other lines throughout the country. Amtrak's chief marketing officer, Matt Hardison, says free Wi-Fi has helped boost ridership and customer loyalty on other train routes -- and he expects the Hiawatha to be no different. Wisconsin taxpayers spent about 300-thousand dollars as capital costs for the new Wi-Fi on the Hiawatha. Operating costs will run about 86-thousand dollars a year. The Milwaukee-Chicago line has the nation's sixth-highest ridership among Amtrak passenger trains. It attracts around 800-thousand riders per year.
The Menominee Indian tribe has a new leader, as it seeks approval from Governor Scott Walker for a new Hard Rock casino-and-hotel in Kenosha. Tribal lawmakers elected Laurie Boivin yesterday to replace Craig Corn -- who has spent the last two years as the tribe's chairman. It's the Menominee tribe's turn to deliver the annual State-of-the Tribes' address at the State Capitol on Thursday -- and Boivin will deliver that speech, not Corn as was mentioned earlier. Corn said the tribe's constitution calls for an annual election of an Executive Council, and he was grateful for the support he received by lawmakers during his two terms as chair. He'll continue on the tribal Legislature for another three years. Boivin also headed the Menominee tribe in 2010, and has served on its Legislature from 2003 to 2012. That was when Boivin had to step down because tribal law allows members to serve for only three terms in a row.
Over 600 classical music lovers were on their feet last night, when Milwaukee concert-master Frank Almond performed with the recovered Stradivarius violin. The 300-year-old instrument was stolen from Almond in a robbery two weeks before. The Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield had sold only a-third of the tickets for last night's performance, until we learned last week that the rare violin was recovered -- and that Almond would perform with it. Before he began, he thanked law enforcement, plus huge support from others over the past two weeks. Almond tells the Journal Sentinel that the recovered violin was in "amazingly great shape," but he'll need to take care of a few small cosmetic issues. Two men are free on bond as they face charges in the January 27th robbery.