WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Fire danger high in parts of state
Wisconsin seems to be moving directly from the snowy season to the wildfire season. The state DNR says the fire danger is high in about the southwest quarter of the Badger State. Most counties in that region have banned open burning for today, due to rising temperatures and stronger winds.
In the east, Fond du Lac fire officials also held a news conference to alert people to the fire risk. That city had its first grass fire of the season last week. The Fond du Lac Fire Department also showed off a new vehicle to fight brush-and-grass fires -- a six-wheeled ATV with a water tank and equipment that can be used in places where larger trucks can't go. As of two this afternoon, temperatures were in the 40's-and-50's throughout Wisconsin, with gusts of up to 23-miles-an-hour in some spots. Forecasters said highs could reach 70 in parts of the state tomorrow, before a slight cool-down. Our next chance for notable precipitation is on Thursday.
Wisconsin has one flood warning today. The Peshtigo River in Marinette County was about an inch above its banks this morning at Porterfield. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning until further notice. Officials said the Peshtigo River was slowly rising, and there was no immediate word on when it might crest. Forecasters had feared heavy floods in parts of Wisconsin because of the heavy snow this winter. But with a few exceptions, high water has been held down due to cooler-than-normal temperatures for most of the early spring. The Badger State is seeing a warming trend this week. Today's highs are projected to be in the 40's-and-50's. Tomorrow, it's supposed to be in the 50's-and-60's, and some parts of southwest Wisconsin could hit 70. A slight cool-down is forecast for Thursday and Friday. Our next chance of rain is on Saturday, and it's supposed to get colder on Sunday with highs only in the 30's in some places.
The Milwaukee County Board is about to lose its authority over the county's embattled mental health complex. Governor Scott Walker signed a bill today which transfers control of the facility to a group of health professionals, patients, and family members. The move comes after six patients died at the complex since 2012. Walker's office did not immediately comment on the bill. State Assembly Democrat Sandy Pasch of suburban Milwaukee announced the signing of the measure, which passed with near unanimous-support. The new law also calls for an audit into whether the state should take over the operation of Milwaukee County mental health facility. That report is due on Dec. 1.
A 55-year-old man has died in southwest Wisconsin, after his all-terrain vehicle drove off a three-foot retaining wall. Grant County sheriff's deputies said Mark Addison of Lancaster was not wearing protective head-gear when his vehicle fell off the retaining wall. He was thrown from his ATV, and officials said he died from head injuries. Investigators are still trying to figure out why the incident took place. It was reported around 7:45 last evening.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress today he was "greatly troubled" by the bungled ATF storefront sting operations in Milwaukee and elsewhere. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that the head of the federal firearms agency has asked its inspector general to look at the operations. He said it's possible that they'll pursue civil rights violations. It was the second time in a week that top federal officials testified to Congress about the ATF stings, which were intended to go after illegal guns and their buyers. Among other things, the agency said it used mentally-disabled people to promote the storefronts -- and then had those same people arrested. In Milwaukee, the storefront from 2012 was burglarized, and thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen -- including an agent's machine gun.
Wisconsin has become one of the best states in the nation for following the money, and seeing where state tax dollars are spent. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group gave the Badger State an "A"-minus for its disclosure of state government expenses. Wisconsin received an "F" last year, and the big reason for its improvement is the launching in January of the "Open Book-Wisconsin" Web site. The Walker administration said it overcame numerous difficulties in coordinating agency computer systems of various ages and information systems. The administration's Chris Schoenherr said the job turned out to be harder than he expected. Open Book now includes around $25-million expense records and contracts that can be using various types of searches. Bruce Speight of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group said the new site still does not include spending by quasi-public agencies -- but he said it's a lot better than it was before.
The State Claims Board awarded $7,600 dollars today to a Lake Mills man who spent almost 14 months in prison after his sentences ended for three convictions. 52-year-old Robin Gavinski said corrections' workers made him serve back-to-back sentences instead of both at the same time as a judge prescribed. Gavinski had pleaded no contest in Dane County to fleeing police officers in a stolen car a decade ago. He was also was given time for previous convictions. Corrections' lawyers said the state had immunity for claims like Gavinski's. The agency also said that prisoners are responsible to know their release dates. Gavinski, who's a high school dropout, said the state's method for calculating sentences is outdated. The Claims Board asked corrections' officials to update those calculations.
Low-income students who go to private schools with tax-funded vouchers did not perform as well as public students on last fall's statewide achievement test. The Department of Public Instruction said today that only 16-percent of youngsters in the Milwaukee school choice program were proficient or advanced in math. That compares to 31-percent of low-income students statewide, and 49-percent of all public school youngsters. This fall, around 500 students throughout the state took part in an expansion of the voucher program. Thirty-three percent of them had proficient or advanced math scores, slightly higher than the state average for low-income kids. Racine's choice program had 21-percent of youngsters in the top two categories in math. In reading, 37-percent of all public school youngsters were proficient or advanced, along with 21-percent of low-income public students. Other reading proficiency rates were 12-percent in the Milwaukee voucher program, 19-percent in Racine, and 33-percent in statewide voucher schools. Officials noted that Milwaukee's performance rates were six-and-a-half percent higher than two years ago in reading, and three-and-a-half percent higher in math.
A suburban Chicago man was charged this morning in the murder of a 14-year-old runaway girl in Racine County in 1997. Online court records show that 36-year-old James Eaton of Palatine, Illinois was charged with felony counts of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse. He's jailed under a million-dollar bond. Eaton was named in the death of young Amber Creek, a ward-of-the-state from Illinois whose body was found in a marsh near Burlington. Officials said she was molested, and was suffocated with a plastic bag. Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said a break in the case occurred February 28th, when Oklahoma investigators told Wisconsin justice officials that Eaton's fingerprints were found on the plastic bag. Also, Schmaling said Eaton's DNA was on a cigarette he dropped while waiting for a train in the Chicago area -- and it matched the D-N-A found on the girl's body. Investigators couldn't identify Amber until a year-and-a-half after her body was found. The TV show "America's Most Wanted" profiled the case in late 1998.
Wisconsin's largest commercial printing company will soon buy-out one of its biggest competitors. Quad/Graphics of Sussex says it will acquire the Brown Printing Company of Waseca, Minnesota, for $100-million in cash and debt. Quad expects Brown to generate about $350-million in revenues in its current fiscal year. Quad/Graphics is the largest printer of catalogs and magazines in north America. Its products include Time, Rolling Stone, In-Style magazine, the L.L. Bean catalog, and much more. Quad has around seven-thousand employees throughout the world. Brown employs about 1,850 people in Minnesota, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. It prints titles like Esquire and Family Circle -- along with the glossy Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's catalogs. Quad/Graphics has made eight acquisitions in the past four years, to consolidate and get stronger in the face of growing competition from digital devices.
A prosecutor who's running for state attorney general is giving a break to certain minority members convicted of child abuse for spanking their kids. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports today on a plan for deferred prosecution agreements outlined in January by Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne. He's one of three Democrats hoping to replace J.B. Van Hollen, who will step down at the end of the year. Deferred prosecutions are granted in a variety of criminal cases in which defendants plead guilty or no contest, and their convictions are dropped or reduced if they meet various conditions over a designated period of time. In cases of spanking abuse, Ozanne offers deferred prosecutions in Dane County if minority defendants use corporal punishment as a quote, "culturally acceptable form of discipline." Ozanne said 54-percent of child abuse cases in Dane County in 2011-and-'12 involved minorities, even though they make up just 15-percent of the population. He said he developed the program to address that disparity. Ozanne's attorney general campaign says it's a mistake to assume that the program goes soft on anyone -- and its goal is to protect children.
The defense is starting to make its case today in the trial of a man arrested in Madison for killing a woman in South Dakota, as part of a plot to assassinate the president. 43-year-old James McVay has pleaded guilty but insane to killing 75-year-old Maybelle Schein in 2011, stealing her car, and driving to Washington to kill President Obama. He never made it to D.C., after being arrested in Madison following a brief police chase. That's where he spelled out his assassination plot to police and a TV reporter. Jurors must decide whether McVay will get the death penalty by lethal injection, or life in prison.