WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State cheese production up
Wisconsin cheese production has gone up for only the third time in eight months.
According to new federal figures, the Badger State made almost 243-million pounds of cheese in May, up by seven-tenths of a percent from the same month a year ago. Wisconsin's increase was smaller than the national hike of two-point-two percent. Governor Scott Walker recently said that Wisconsin cheese factories have had to bring in more of their milk from outside the state as milk production has struggled due to bad weather and poor feed quality. Things are getting better on the milk front, though, as the state ended a half-year of production declines in May. Wisconsin remains the nation's No. 1 cheese producer, with 38-million more pounds in May than second-place California. Wisconsin made almost three-percent more Italian cheeses in May than the year before. American and cheddar outputs were down.
An improved economy has more Wisconsinites on-the-go. The leisure travel market is back on the rise after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Peggy Fischer, who owns a West Bend travel agency, says a lot more people are venturing out. She says folks appear to be completing items on their bucket lists -- like shark diving in South Africa, or gorilla tracking. Fischer notes that people are still cautious with their money, as most people now pay for their vacations with cash instead of credit cards. Wells Fargo economist Brian Jacobsen tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that travel spending is still seen as a luxury by many folks -- even though it's been going up. He says travel budgets have been helped by median incomes which are eight-percent higher than in 2009. The Triple-"A" said almost 872,000 Wisconsin residents are hitting the road for the Fourth-of-July weekend. That's two-point-two percent more than last Independence Day. Also, there should be great weather for tonight's fireworks shows. A sunny day is in store, with highs in the 70's statewide. Isolated thunderstorms are predicted overnight in northwest Wisconsin, with a chance of rain statewide tomorrow and Sunday.
A federal court in Madison has been asked to let same-sex marriages resume in Wisconsin. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the request yesterday. It accused the state Justice Department of dragging its feet so the current ban on gay marriage can stay in effect for as long as possible. On June sixth, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the ban unconstitutional. A week later, Crabb put her ruling on hold until the state finishes appealing it. As a result, the gay marriage ban went back into effect, after about 550 same-sex couples took advantage of Crabb's original ruling and got married in Wisconsin. The Justice Department says it has plenty of time to file a notice of its appeal. The deadline is July 21st, and the state says it will proceed when it's ready to do so.
A fire at a state office building on May 15th caused a lot more damage than was first reported. The administration department said yesterday that the fire at the Workforce Development and Children-and-Families' departments caused $15-million dollars in damage. The estimate was based on discussions with the state's insurance carrier -- and it's a lot more than the $350,000 in damage originally estimated by the Madison Fire Department. Taxpayers will cover a three-million dollar deductible. Officials said it appeared than an electrical problem caused the fire, but the cause has not been finalized. The higher damage estimate is based on removing soot and smoke damage from the building, removing the smell of smoke from thousands of files, cleaning the ventilation system, replacing furniture and electronics, and relocating about a-thousand employees who had worked in the building. Madison fire officials say their damage estimates normally include the cost of getting a building ready to use again.
A Merrill man convicted of killing his estranged wife and dumping her remains in a swamp will be eligible for a supervised release in 35 years. However, Judge Jay Tlusty made it clear during yesterday's sentencing that he expects 50-year-old Mark Bucki to spend the rest of his life behind bars. A jury had found him guilty of stabbing and strangling 48-year-old Anita Bucki last April, and dumping her body about 20 miles from their home. Lincoln County District Attorney Don Dunphy was making his arguments to the judge when Bucki's son Clint shouted that the DA was lying about statements made during the investigation. Afterward, Dunphy said he would let it "roll off" is back, since Clint had lost both of his parents in the slaying. Bucki said he wished he could say he was sorry, but he still claimed he was innocent.
Three women in Florida have been charged with running a two-million-dollar theft ring of baby formula that stretched to Wisconsin. Authorities said shoplifters stole large amounts of formula from stores in Central Florida. They were reportedly worth up to $45 a can, but were sold for six-dollars to middlemen who then sold them to regional buyers for shipments to distributors in Wisconsin, California, and New York state. An Orlando Sentinel story about the alleged theft ring did not list locations in Wisconsin. 49-year-old Alicia Tondreau-Leve was the alleged ring-leader. She's being held on a $65,000 bond. Tondreau-Leve, Guilyanna Guzman, and Alexis Dattadeen are all charged in federal court with conspiracy to commit racketeering. Authorities said the arrests followed a two-year investigation.
A former office manager at a northern Wisconsin veterinary clinic has been ordered to stand trial for embezzling more than $30,000. Forty-seven year old Brenda Wigglesworth of Arbor Vitae had a preliminary hearing yesterday in Oneida County on a felony charge of theft from a business. Investigators said she began writing improper checks to herself in 2008, and discrepancies were found on spread-sheets at the Northwoods Animal Hospital in Minocqua. Wigglesworth was employed there until 2013. She's scheduled to enter a plea August fourth. Until then, she's free on a signature bond.
Last month was the second-safest June on Wisconsin highways since 1946. Preliminary numbers from the state DOT show that 49 people died in traffic crashes in the Badger State last month. That's 12 fewer than last June, and nine less than the average for the past five years. For the first half of 2014, Wisconsin recorded 215 traffic deaths -- down eleven from a year ago. DOT safety director David Pabst said he was concerned that motorcycle deaths are up from a year ago. Thirty-five bikers were killed from January-through-June. That's five more than the same period last year, even though it was cold and rainy for most of this spring.
Authorities in Iowa are still trying to find out why a Wisconsin woman was walking in the center of a highway when she was killed by an SUV. Forty-four year old Rochelle Ihander of Marinette died early yesterday on Highway 151 near Walford in eastern Iowa. Linn County sheriff's deputies said Ihander was walking in the middle of the southbound lane, when she was struck by a passing SUV. Ihander died at the scene. The SUV driver, a 53-year-old Walford man, was not hurt.
An Oshkosh man killed in an ultra-light plane crash on Wednesday night has been identified as 57-year-old James Sakowski. Authorities said his craft went down in a field near Omro in Winnebago County. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause.
A state appeals judge says you should not face criminal charges, just for insulting police officers publicly on Facebook. Fourth District appellate judge Paul Lundsten has thrown out a pair of charges against 25-year-old Thomas Smith of Arena in southwest Wisconsin. According to court documents, Smith saw a Facebook post which thanked residents for helping detain two black juveniles who were fleeing officers. In response, Smith posted profane comments which called the Arena officers racists, and compared them male sex organs. Last May, a jury convicted Smith of disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computer. Prosecutors claimed Smith posted "fighting words" against police, which are not protected under the First Amendment. Smith said they could not fighting words, because he did not incite officers face-to-face. Appellate judge Lundsten agreed with Smith and threw out the convictions, citing similar cases around the nation which concluded that fighting words must be uttered face-to-face.
A former Abbotsford high school math teacher has pleaded innocent to having sex with two students, and contacting one of them after he was charged. 25-year-old Andy Follen of Spencer entered his pleas to five Clark County felony charges of sexual assault by a school staffer -- plus later counts of intimidating a victim, and two charges of bail jumping. No further court proceedings were immediately scheduled. Authorities said Follen had sexual relationships with two 17-year-old girls last October, and one was a volleyball player. A month after his original charges, prosecutors said Follen claimed to be with an Eau Claire softball team when he urged the girl to call the DA and ask that his charges be reduced. That resulted in his three latest charges. Follen resigned from Abbotsford in January, while the case was being investigated.
A judge in Walworth County has ordered Steven Zelich to stand trial, for allegedly dumping the remains of two women in suitcases tossed near Lake Geneva. During a preliminary hearing today, sheriff's detective Jeffrey Recknagel quoted the 52-year-old Zelich as saying he met both women in online chat-rooms, had dates with them for sex in hotels, and they then died after bondage sessions. The detective said Zelich claimed to have had rough sex with both -- and that the deaths were accidental. Today's proceeding dealt with Zelich's two charges of hiding a corpse. Prosecutors say homicide charges will be filed in Kenosha and Rochester Minnesota, where the two victims died. However, defense lawyer said both deaths were accidents which might not justify any more charges. Walworth County Circuit Judge Phillip Koss didn't buy that. He said the dumping of the remains along a secluded roadside indicated that Zelich -- a former West Allis police officer -- knew that a crime was committed. Otherwise, Koss said Zelich could have called 9-1-1 immediately after the two deaths. The remains turned up June 5th. Officials said Zelich held one of the victims' bodies for over a year.
Governor Scott Walker says he believes voters will not penalize him for failing to keep his 2010 campaign promise to create a quarter-million private sector jobs. The Republican Walker told reporters in Rhinelander that voters would give him credit for what he called "aiming big." Democrats have said that Walker's record on job creation would be their main point of attack this fall, as the party tries to win back the executive branch it lost to the GOP four years ago. Just over 100,000 private sector jobs were created since Walker took office at the start of 2011. The federal government said Wisconsin had the nation's 37th-slowest job growth during 2013. Walker has often said that he's had to make up for 133,000 jobs lost during Democrat Jim Doyle's eight years in office -- which included the near national financial services collapse and the subsequent Great Recession.
Republican Governor Scott Walker is concerned that the Democratic Obama administration will put a crimp into the Gogebic Taconite mining project for political reasons. Yesterday in Rhinelander, Walker said he hoped the EPA would not step in, and evaluate the environmental effects of the project before other state-and-federal agencies can act on permits for it. Six Chippewa Indian tribes asked the EPA to step in late last week. If it does, the agency could veto other governmental decisions on things like dredging, and digging close to waterways. The nearby Bad River tribe fears that the mine would hurt water supplies on-and-around the reservation near Ashland. Walker said Wisconsin laws offer strong environmental protections, which he and the Legislature weakened a year ago to try and accommodate the mine and boost jobs in the north. Walker says he's committed to a "safe and environmentally sound mining process," and he said the EPA would agree if it bases its decisions on science "as opposed to plain politics."
Governor Scott Walker's main election opponent is trying to clear up a critical comment she made last week about the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine. Democrat Mary Burke told Wisconsin Public Radio she would look at every tool she'd have in considering whether to stop the project, with the goal of protecting natural resources. Yesterday, Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said Burke never indicated that she wants to "put the brakes" on the proposed one-and-a-half billion dollar mine in Ashland and Iron counties. He said Burke wants the state to consider its approval of the project using the rules that were in place before 2013. That was when Republicans relaxed environmental requirements, in order to bring back jobs to the region that have been lost in recent years. Burke told Public Radio the new mining rules weakened the state's environmental regulations against the best interests of northern Wisconsin and the state as a whole. Both the state and federal governments must approve the project before it can begin. Gogebic Taconite is conducting field studies to help determine the environmental impact. Indian tribes which oppose the fine have asked the EPA to do its own review of a mine's possible environmental effects before the state DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers make their final decisions.
A former Walker aide whose home was raided as part of the state's first John Doe investigation has been given a new state government job with a nice pay raise. The Wisconsin State Journal says Cindy Archer has been named as the chief information technology official for the state Public Defender's office. The Madison paper says she's making 31-percent more than her predecessor, at just over $54 an hour. That's almost 12-percent more than the $48 Archer was making each hour as the Public Defender's administrative services director. Archer served under Walker when he was the Milwaukee County executive, and later in the state government. FBI agents raided her Madison home during the probe into illegal campaign activities during Walker's county executive tenure. She was not among those charged in that case.
A central Wisconsin woman will be sentenced Oct. 7, after she admitted causing her second traffic death in as many years. Portage County authorities said 24-year-old Hanna Schacht of Amherst was going 70-miles-an-hour down a country road last September when she struck a car that was leaving a driveway. A passenger in that unit, 51-year-old Daniel Wetzel, was killed and his 31-year-old son was hurt. In a plea deal, Schacht admitted guilt to charges of causing death and injury with a prohibited alcohol content. Two more serious counts of OWI death and injury were dropped. In 2012, Schacht was convicted in Woodstock, Illinois for speeding, after a friend tried stealing marijuana from a drug dealer. The dealer was riding on the roof of the car and fell off. He later died from head injuries.
A Beloit area man was due in court today, for allegedly running a breeding site for cock-fighting roosters. Authorities executed a search warrant this week at the home of 37-year-old Jorge Marquez, west of Beloit in the Rock County town of Newark. It culminated a four-month investigation. Deputies said they found 61 caged roosters, plus items which indicated they were being bred for cock-fighting. Veterinarians examined the roosters, and found that none needed urgent medical care. Sixteen pounds of marijuana were also found during a search of the man's home in 15 separate packages. As of mid-morning, online court records did not list any new charges against Marquez.
A Fox Valley man and his teenage son were burned while working on a lawn mower that exploded. Outagamie County authorities said fuel was ignited, and investigators are trying to find out how and why. The incident happened about 7:30 last night near Leeman in the town of Maine. The father was airlifted to a Madison hospital, and his son was taken to a Neenah facility. Both were said to have significant burns. Their names and conditions were not immediately disclosed.
In about a month-and-a-half, you'll be able to walk or a ride a bicycle for more than 30 miles on a northern Wisconsin nature trail. The Bearskin-Hiawatha State Trail has a missing link of about six miles in the middle. That gap is being closed now, and the state DNR expects to have it finished in about a month. Jim Wise of the Tomahawk Chamber-of-Commerce says a ribbon-cutting event is planned for August 23rd. The trail follows a former railroad bed. The Bearskin segment runs about 18 miles from downtown Minocqua to the south. It opened in the 1970's. The Hiawatha portion runs from Heafford Junction to Tomahawk. It doubles as a snowmobile trail in the winter, which gives communities the chance to promote it as a year-round attraction. Now, Wise is hoping folks will make the Bearskin-Hiawatha a tourist destination, similar to the long-running Elroy-Sparta trail in western Wisconsin.