WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Rain keeps Mississippi River levels up
LA CROSSE - Some flood warnings on the Mississippi River are lasting longer than first projected, thanks to the rain we've had this week.
The river dropped below its flood stage in La Crosse this morning, and it dropped its banks at Winona. However, the Mississippi is still almost two-feet above its flood stage at Prairie du Chien, and more than a foot above its banks at Guttenberg, Iowa across from Grant County. In that area, flood warnings continue until Tuesday -- or until further notice. There have been no reports of major floods on the Mississippi, and officials don't expect any. There's at least a small chance of rain showers every day through at least Tuesday in Wisconsin.
Madison officials have removed hand-sanitizing stands from the first floor of the City-County government building -- because alcoholics are getting sick from them. Police lieutenant Dave McCaw tells WIBA Radio that alcohol abusers have learned about the high they can get from hand sanitizers -- and officers seem to deal with somebody every day who's having medical issues from drinking them. Jeffery Lafferty of the city-county health department in Madison says the chemicals in hand sanitizers can easily cause liver, brain, or nervous system damage to someone who drinks them. He said the alcohol content is so high, people can take poisonous doses before they feel the buzz they're seeking. McCaw says the people who do that are "rock bottom ... truly at the bottom."
A Milwaukee roller derby competitor will return to the track tomorrow for the first time since she was robbed and shot last fall. 30-year-old Christina Huth -- who's known as "Sin 'N Innocence" in the Milwaukee Roller Derby League -- was shot in the chest October 27th when she was held up in Milwaukee's south side Bay View neighborhood. Police have still not found the person who did it. Huth said re-building her endurance has been a long road -- and she credits her family, friends, and derby mates for getting her back to a normal life much faster than she otherwise would. Huth learned that a person must always be aware of her-or-his surroundings -- no matter how safe they feel. Huth is a member of the Crazy Eights' team that's going for its fifth city championship. They'll play Maiden Milwaukee tomorrow evening at the U.S. Cellular Arena.
Milwaukee health officials confirmed three more cases of the mumps today, bringing the city's total to seven -- and the statewide figure to at least 30. UW-Milwaukee had three cases, and the other four were in other parts of the city. Also, Marquette University now reports its first suspected case, calling it "highly probable." The city's health agency is working with Marquette to inform students, just like UWM has made its students aware. Specialists with the Milwaukee Health Department say the mumps apparently traveled home with college students from large gatherings at warm spots during their spring break. As campuses hold their final exams, health officials are concerned that the mumps will spread as the students head back to their various home-towns. The highly-contagious mumps are spread by person-to-person contact, or common contact with food or utensils. Symptoms include head-and-body aches and fever. Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medicines normally provide the cure -- but some cases can cause inflammation or worse.
The Wausau Paper Corporation lost more money in the first quarter of 2014 -- but not as much as a year ago. The maker of tissues and paper towels reports a loss of $4.9 million dollars from January through March, a much smaller loss than the 29-and-a-half million reported the year before. Earnings dropped by 10 cents a share in the last quarter, down from 60-cents the previous year. Revenues dropped by around three-quarter million dollars, to $77.5 million. Wausau Paper cited weather-related factors for its loss -- along with cost factors, product pricing, and unfavorable currency exchange rates with Canada. Wausau Paper just went through a management shake-up last month after its largest stockholder -- the Starboard Value hedge fund of New York -- forced the 115-year-old company to sell or close its Wisconsin mills. It has also sought to move Wausau Paper's headquarters out of the state, but they remain at Mosinee.
Milwaukee Police are looking for a person who fired bullets into a north side house and struck a woman who was lying on a couch. It happened around 12:30 this morning. The victim was 24. She was taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries that were not immediately believed to be life-threatening. At last word, officers said they did not have anyone in custody for the incident.
You're supposed to feel good when you help others -- but that's not always the case in a new type of charity stunt in which people dive into cold and rapid waters. Rescuers in the Twin Cities were not amused this week when a man jumped off a highway bridge near Coon Rapids -- and he escaped to shore while authorities risked their lives while looking for him. The man was among those taking part in what's informally called a "cold water challenge." Participants generally have up to 48 hours to record themselves jumping into a lake or river. If they don't post the video online by then, they must donate money to charity -- generally $100. In Wisconsin, a Laconia High School student from Rosendale suffered serious knee damage after jumping into Lake Winnebago. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune points out that such jumps are not supervised -- as opposed to the New Year's and spring dives that occur in places like Milwaukee, Door County, and Lake Superior among others.
A former Milwaukee police officer will not go to jail, at least for now, after he was caught on video slamming a suspect's head against a wall in a booking room. 49-year-old Rodney Lloyd was fined two-thousand dollars today, and was told to perform 250 hours of community service. A 45-day jail sentence was stayed -- but if he doesn't pay the fine or do the community service, he'll do time at the Milwaukee County House of Correction. Authorities said Lloyd had arrested a man for domestic violence last June, and he took the suspect into a booking room where the officer slammed his head into a concrete wall. A jury convicted Lloyd in April of misconduct in office, but they found him innocent of prisoner abuse. Prosecutors wanted jail time. But his lawyer said the 20-year Milwaukee Police veteran suffered enough after he was fired, and the video of the incident was repeatedly shown on TV.
A Sheboygan County man was charged this week with molesting a nine-year-old boy in Florida 34 years ago. A judge in Volusia County, Florida sent 73-year-old Claude Melanson of Cedar Grove to jail under a 100-thousand dollar bond. A sheriff's official said the victim reported the sexual assault to authorities last year. The man, who's now 43, claimed he was molested at a home near Holly Hill Florida. A sheriff's spokesman said the victim's young age at the time of the incident made the crime a capital offense, and that's why there is not a statute of limitations.
The company that shut down the Kewaunee Nuclear Power plant a year ago is asking for an exemption from federal safety rules for spent fuel rods. But five U.S. senators want the government to say no. Dominion Resources will put the spent fuel rods in storage in 2016 -- and federal rules require a 50-mile emergency protection zone around the storage site. Plant spokesman Mark Kanz tells the Green Bay Press-Gazette that the rule overstates the dangers. He said the spent fuel has been treated for 17 months, and it now shows just a limited impact on the plant's property and no impact off the site. Kanz says Dominion will provide on-site security until the federal government provides a national repository for spent fuel. That's been on the drawing board for years in Nevada, and it's not clear if that project will ever be developed. In the meantime, four Democratic senators and an independent say Dominion's request should be denied -- along with similar requests for closed nuclear plants in Vermont, Florida, and California. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-California), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Bernard Sanders (D-Vermont) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) all say the sites pose too many risks -- including a possible terrorist attack -- and they want the current rules to stay in force.
Two men from Duluth-Superior have struck plea deals which might keep them out of a South Dakota prison, after they were caught transporting drugs. 64-year-old Dennis Krivinchuk of Superior and 66-year-old Richard Ward of Duluth, Minnesota both pleaded guilty. The South Dakota attorney general said the plea deals call for only a small amount of county jail time, but a judge will have the final say on June third. Ward and Krivinchuk were stopped for a traffic violation last November on Interstate-90 near Rapid City South Dakota -- and they were caught with 60 pounds of marijuana and 150 grams of hashish.
It was supposed to be a surprise -- but UW-Madison confirms that the Badger anthem "Jump Around" will be played at the school's graduation on May 17th at Camp Randall Stadium. This is the first time in about 25 years that the UW's flagship campus is holding a single commencement program in the 80-thousand seat football stadium -- instead of four identical ceremonies in the much smaller Kohl Center. Graduates will be not be called to the stage to be recognized individually -- there's too many of them for that -- so the students began an online petition to have "Jump Around" played so they can jump if they can't walk. The House of Pain hit has been a staple at Badger football games at Camp Randall since 1998. UW officials said they were planning for months to play the song -- and they were hoping it would surprise the grads.
Eighty-eight percent of Wisconsin public high school seniors graduated last May -- about a half-percent more than the previous year. The state Department of Public Instruction released the numbers today. Minorities have made gains over the past three years -- but their graduation rates still lag behind white seniors. The report said over 92-percent of white students graduated from high school in 2013 -- but only 74-percent of Hispanics earned their diplomas, as well as almost 65-percent of African-Americans. Still, the black graduation rate was over four-percent higher than in 2010, and about five-percent more Hispanics received diplomas in that time period.
One of three Democrats running for Wisconsin attorney general is not convinced it would be right to make first-time drunk driving a criminal offense. Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ said today that one-time OWI convicts already get sanctions on their driver's licenses and higher insurance premiums. She said that making it criminal would increase caseloads for DA's offices that already short-staffed -- create more litigation -- and cost the court system more money. Happ also noted that a first time drunk driver faces separate criminal charges when someone is hurt or killed in an OWI crash. Happ is running in the August primary against Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne and state Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee. That winner would face Republican DA Brad Schimel of Waukesha County in November, for the right to replace incumbent J.B. Van Hollen -- who's stepping down after this year.
The man charged with killing a Purdue University student from Wisconsin will get a public defender for his upcoming trial. A judge in western Indiana agreed today to let 23-year-old Cody Cousins drop his current defense lawyer, Robert Gevers. Both testified that they don't trust each other. Prosecutors said Cousins shot and stabbed 21-year-old Andrew Boldt of West Bend to death in a classroom on the Purdue campus in January, while was Boldt was helping out during a class in the Electrical Engineering Building. Authorities have not said what the motive was. A trial that was scheduled for late April has been delayed.
An attorney for a conservative group said it was "enormously embarrassing" to prosecutors to have a judge halt their John Doe probe into recall campaign activities. For the second time in three days, Milwaukee Federal Judge Rudolph Randa today ordered a halt to the nearly two-year-old John Doe investigation. Randa said prosecutors filed a frivolous appeal to his previous ruling that the state was not immune from being sued -- and he struck down that appeal, so the John Doe was halted again. The state Justice Department and prosecutors did not immediately comment on today's development. Randa initially halted the probe on Tuesday, saying one of the targets of the investigation -- the Wisconsin Club for Growth -- had its rights to free speech violated. The Doe probe centers on alleged illegal coordination between outside groups and GOP candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections, including Governor Scott Walker. Plaintiff's attorney David Rivkin said he would now seek sworn testimony from prosecutors, to be used in a full-blown appeal which the state is expected to seek to keep the John Doe going. Critics say the Doe is meant to embarrass Walker as he runs for re-election this fall, and perhaps for president in 2016.
A homeless man will spend at least 45 years in prison, for killing a suburban Milwaukee peace activist. Circuit Judge Timothy Dugan gave 26-year-old Nicholas Retzlaff a life prison term today, with the chance to apply for a supervised release when he turns 71. Retzlaff pleaded guilty to choking 65-year-old Peter Holzberger last fall. The victim's body was later found under piles of clutter in his Glendale home. Retzlaff changed his plea to guilty after a second defendant, 29-year-old Robert Christophel, was convicted by a jury of first-degree intentional homicide. He also faces a life prison term when he's sentenced two weeks from tomorrow. Retzlaff's attorney said his client suffered abuse-and-neglect from his parents until they kicked him out of their home in 2004 -- and Holzberger later took him in. Retzlaff reportedly suffers from Asperger's syndrome and does not understand how his actions affect other people. Retzlaff wrote a statement of apology, saying Holzberger was the only person who cared about him.
Democratic state lawmakers say they'll keep putting on the pressure to force more oversight of a massive $139-million government computer upgrade. Four Democrats on the Joint Committee on Information Policy wrote to the Republican co-chairs of the panel, asking for a hearing on the project -- and how much progress it has made. We learned earlier this week that state officials have spent 33-million dollars so far, on a project that will replace dozens of aging computer systems with the goal of improving the state's purchasing, payroll, and other financial records. Officials said the goal is to save up to 100-million dollars in information technology costs. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said the legislative oversight panel has not met since before 2009. The committee Democrats -- Senators Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee and Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, and Assemblymen Peter Barca of Kenosha and Eric Genrich of Green Bay -- said they support the upgrades, but they also see the need for legislative oversight. Co-chair Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls recently said she would seek hearings on the project.
Wisconsin officials say they can no longer enforce a ten-thousand-dollar annual limit on total political contributions from donors to candidates. The state Government Accountability Board made the admission today, as it offered to settle a lawsuit challenging that aggregate. The settlement comes about a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such limits are unconstitutional -- because they restrict the free speech rights of those giving to candidates for Congress. The state agency agreed to settle a suit filed by Fred Young of Racine. The Board said it would pay $5,700 dollars in legal fees to the plaintiff's attorneys from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. Federal Judge Lynn Adelman of Milwaukee is being asked to approve the settlement. If he does, annual donations would still apply to each candidate -- but not on a total basis to all candidates. Donation limits would range from 500-dollars in a state Assembly race to 10-thousand dollars for statewide constitutional officer candidates and State Supreme Court judicial hopefuls.
Privacy advocates are concerned, as Wisconsin is about to add a new way of interpreting DNA samples to look for unknown criminal suspects. The Appleton Post-Crescent says the state Justice Department is double-checking new software to perform what's called "familial" DNA tests. If investigators pick up an unknown person's DNA from a crime scene, they can check the sample with the state's database of DNA left by criminal suspects and convicts. It could turn up a partial match with a relative -- and officers could then interview that person. Brian O'Keefe said the process can be offered to local law enforcement if they've exhausted all leads -- and even if a familial connection turns up, officers would still have to do a lot of leg-work before they could solve a crime. Chris Ahmuty (aa'-muh-tee) of the American Civil Liberties Union's Wisconsin chapter says the process is an unwarranted "fishing expedition." He said the Legislature should have approved it first. California, Texas, and Virginia are among a handful states using it. Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which looks to exonerate the wrongly-convicted, said familial testing could help solve cold cases -- but he'd still be cautious about using it. He tells the Appleton paper that the real question is whether the "narrow benefits trump the social costs."
A utility was planning to close up a muddy hole today, where a 13-year-old boy fell in and had to be rescued last night near Wausau. Authorities said the youngster was helping his brother get out of the hole when he fell in himself, and got stuck. It happened while the two were playing at the Green Acres mobile home park in Weston. Neighbors tried digging to free the trapped teenager -- but every time they sought to pull him up, he sank deeper. A trench team from the South Area Fire District ended up rescuing the child. He was checked out by paramedics, and was then sent home with his mother. Officials said the hole was caused by a broken water main, which caused the muddy conditions. The hole itself was dug earlier yesterday to repair a natural gas leak.