WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State dries out after soggy Monday
Things are starting to dry out in Wisconsin today, after a soggy Monday throughout the state.
A mid-morning check of rain totals still shows Cedar Falls in Dunn County getting the most last night -- three-and-a-quarter inches. A couple more places have reported two-inches-plus, including Neillsville with two-and-a-quarter. Far northern Wisconsin also got some sizable rain totals. Winchester in Vilas County reported one-point-two inches. Parts of west and southwest Wisconsin had hail last night. Power outages don't seem to be a problem today except in Rhinelander, where about 75 Wisconsin Public Service customers were out as of 7:30 a-m. Today, warmer air is pushing into the Badger State. It's supposed to be dry in most areas, with highs in the 70's-and-80's. It was already 65 in Kenosha at seven this morning.
With winter finally over, there's a pent-up demand for Wisconsinites to hit the road. Wisconsin AAA says cabin fever is partially why one-point-one-percent more of us will go at least 50-miles from home this Memorial Day Weekend. The motor club expects just over 700,000 Wisconsinites to hit the road during the holiday period from Thursday through Monday. Nick Jarmusz of the Wisconsin AAA cites growing consumer confidence for spending money -- especially after our cold and snowy winter. Also, today marks the beginning of the annual "Click It or Ticket" seat-belt enforcement campaign. A record number of state law enforcement agencies -- almost 400 -- will keep a special watch for those not buckled up between now and June first. According to a DOT survey, a record 82-percent of motorists were buckling up last year. But deputy department secretary Michael Berg says we can do better. Green Bay Packers' all-time leading receiver Donald Driver again stars in an ad campaign to get us to buckle-up. At least one lawmaker has said the real problem is a small fine for violators -- only $10 -- but there was no real effort to increase that in the two-year legislative session which ended a month-and-a-half ago.
Ten public beaches along Lake Michigan will get life-saving kits this summer, to try and prevent people from drowning due to dangerous currents. The Michigan Sea Grant program said it would install the first such kits. The parent agency of the National Weather Service is expected to put similar equipment on beaches throughout the Great Lakes region over the next two years. The kits will include ring buoys which can reach out to those trapped by strong currents. The Weather Service and the Michigan Sea-Grant put together a database showing that 138 swimmers have drowned in the five Great Lakes over the past dozen years. Exactly half those victims were from Michigan. Officials said dangerous currents are common along the eastern edge of Lake Michigan.
The week before Memorial Day is now "Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week" in Wisconsin. As campers get ready for their holiday trips, they're reminded that the tree-killing beetle travels most extensively in firewood. Therefore, state campgrounds only allow firewood that's purchased no more than ten miles away. Also, no wood can be taken from the quarantined areas where the ash borer has been discovered. Summer visitors might not know that the beetle became more widespread in Wisconsin during the past year -- including near Superior, where some were shocked to find it. It's been confirmed in 20 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. If you think the cold winter would have killed lots of emerald ash borers, you'd be wrong. Donna Gilson of the state Ag Department says their native area goes into Siberia, so they're well accustomed to severe winters. Gilson said the beetle's population in southern Wisconsin appeared to be hardly dented -- even though the region had its share of 20-below days.
For the sixth straight month, Wisconsin milk production is down from the same time a year ago. The USDA said Wisconsin dairy cows pumped out 2.3 billion pounds of milk in April, three-tenths of a percent less than the same month in 2013. Once again, the Badger State bucked the national trend, in which the total milk output of 17.4 billion pounds was up by one-percent. In the 23 major dairy states, production rose one-point-two percent. Six of those states -- including Wisconsin -- saw their numbers drop. In recent months, experts blamed the severe winter for the decline in the Badger State, as evidenced by a drop in output per cow. In April, the average Wisconsin cow made 1,815 pounds of milk. We don't know what the figure was a year ago, because the USDA did not compile it due to the federal budget sequester at the time. Meanwhile, the nation's top milk producer -- California -- continue to increase its output. The Golden State made 3.7 billion pounds in April, up by one-and-a-half percent from the previous year.
Milwaukee's mayor said Monday that officials are fighting gun violence on "every single front." Tom Barrett responded to a rash of shootings the past few days, while the city was observing "Cease-Fire Week." It included forums and a gun buy-back program aimed at getting guns off the streets. Three people were injured in separate shooting incidents in Milwaukee early yesterday. Two men were killed and another was wounded Sunday in an apparent shooting spree near a liquor store. Then last night, a man was hurt in another gunfire incident. Today, Mayor Barrett spelled out a number of strategies Milwaukee is using to reduce gun violence. That includes extra police officers, working with the religious community, and supporting changes in state laws. Barrett said he was lobbying in his words, "to make sure there is certainty in sentencing, for people who have criminal records who commit crimes with guns." Barrett said he visited seven Milwaukee churches yesterday, urging community residents to alert police to where gangs hang out, and where drug deals take place. The mayor said there was no simple solution to the problem.
A man killed after busting into the home of a Portage County sheriff's detective in Plover was identified today as 30-year-old Charles Jameson of Stevens Point. Plover Police said detective Anthony Gischia returned home with another person early Saturday, when the intruder confronted them. Jameson was then shot-and-killed during a scuffle. Officials said the intruder knew Gischia and his companion. Police did not say who fired the fatal shot. That information will apparently come after the state Justice Department completes its investigation. The state was brought in under a new law signed less than a month ago, which requires officer-involved deaths to be probed by an outside agency. The Plover death was among two during the weekend in which state criminal agents were called to investigate. The other one happened early yesterday, when Madison Police killed a woman who reportedly refused to do what officers told her to do.
A former DNR conservation warden is due in court June 11th on eight felony charges. Sauk County prosecutors have charged 45-year-old David Horzewski of Reedsburg with six counts of theft, and two charges of misconduct in public office. Chief Warden Todd Schaller said Horzewski was terminated last July for violating work rules, and officials found evidence of misconduct after that. Media reports have not disclosed the exact nature of the allegations. The State Capitol Police investigated the matter, and the Monroe County district attorney's office is serving as a special prosecutor. The alleged crimes date back to 2003. The DNR said it appears to be the first time since the conservation service was created in 1879 that a state warden has faced felony charges.
A woman shot and killed by Madison Police has been identified as 26-year-old Ashley DiPiazza. The state Justice Department continues to investigate the officers' role in the incident, which occurred early Sunday at the apartment DiPiazza shared with her boyfriend. Officials said the man called 911, saying he left the apartment after his girlfriend threatened him with a handgun. After officers arrived, they said DiPiazza refused to comply with their instructions -- and the officers felt threatened, so at least one of them shot her. An autopsy confirmed that she died from gunshot wounds.
A Janesville man who reportedly claimed that he killed three people in one night has been ordered to stand trial for the non-fatal stabbing of his roommate. 28-year-old Clayton Courtney had a preliminary hearing yesterday in Rock County Circuit Court on felony charges of attempted homicide, reckless endangerment, and arson. He's also charged with three misdemeanors, and he's due back in court Thursday to enter pleas. Courtney's lawyer said the state couldn't prove that his client intended to kill Michael Clark -- who was stabbed in the shoulder and foot earlier this month. A judge ruled there was enough evidence to continue the proceedings. Courtney is also being investigated in the beating death of his girlfriend, 21-year-old Britney Cross. Last week, Janesville Police said they couldn't find proof that Courtney killed three people in one night -- as he reportedly claimed the night of the stabbing. They said they would continue investigating, to see if such deaths occurred during a longer period.
A new state law that requires outside agencies to investigate deaths involving police officers has been used several times in its first month. The state Justice Department has most often been the outside agency of choice -- and one of the main advocates of the new law has some questions about that. Amelia Royko-Maurer, who lost her friend Paul Heenan in an officer's shooting in Madison in 2012, calls the law a step in the right direction. But she does not believe it guarantees that investigations won't be biased. The law has been already used twice in Madison -- most recently yesterday, after a 26-year-old woman was killed when she reportedly failed to cooperate with police. Royko-Maurer tells WKOW-TV in Madison that an independent review board is still needed to oversee investigations when they're done. Lawmakers rejected that concept before approving the final bill this spring. Royko-Maurer also says officers need random drug-and-alcohol tests, to make sure they're in a proper mental state when they fire their weapons. She also wants a standard check-list to improve consistency. Royko-Maurer also said the Justice Department should release the names of agents in charge of officer-involved death cases. She said it would help people know if the investigators are doing what they're supposed to. A justice spokeswoman said the names of lead agents are often available when investigations are finished, by making requests through the Open Records Law.
While Governor Scott Walker campaigns for re-election, one of the biggest disputes of his 2010 campaign will be fought out in court. Train-maker Talgo says it will file a lawsuit that accuses Gov. Walker of acting in bad faith, when he effectively killed a high-speed rail line for which Talgo had built two trains in Milwaukee. Before it could file suit, the company was required to file a damage claim. Yesterday, the State Claims Board rejected $66-million in damages for Talgo, saying the matter would best be resolved in the court system. Walker's chief legal counsel is on the board, and he abstained from yesterday's vote. Had the board agreed to pay the claim, Walker and his fellow legislative Republicans would have had the final say on it -- most likely making a court case inevitable. Walker made his opposition to the proposed high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison a key issue in 2010, after former Governor Jim Doyle accepted $810-million in federal funds for it. Just before Walker took office, he gave back the money. Meanwhile, Talgo kept building the two trains during 2011. The state officially rejected them at the start of 2012, saying they didn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. By the end of that year, Talgo canceled its contract with the state. State officials said Talgo never completed its manufacturing and testing process for the trains. Talgo has since moved to Seattle.
Wisconsin taxpayers will spend an extra $13-million on new Milwaukee County bus routes, to settle a lawsuit involving a major road-building project there. The Black Health Coalition and the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope filed the lawsuit two years ago. They accused the state DOT of discriminating against urban minority residents, by not adding transit improvements to a major expansion of Milwaukee's Zoo freeway interchange. Last year, Federal Judge Lynn Adelman said the plaintiffs would most likely prevail -- but he allowed the interchange renovation to keep moving forward. The state announced a settlement of the lawsuit yesterday. The DOT said it would spend $11.5 million over four years to ease congestion at the Zoo Interchange, which is the state's busiest -- and to improve the transporting of workers between Milwaukee and its suburbs. Another two-million dollars will be spent to enhance transit services and boost ridership. The court helped provide the mediation which resulted in the settlement.
Police in Saukville now blame a catastrophic machine failure for injuries to seven employees at a foundry. Authorities first said an explosion occurred just after four yesterday afternoon at the Johnson Brass-and-Machine Foundry -- and it caused molten metal to be tossed around. Officials said the workers were pouring molten brass into a cast when the machine failure occurred. Saukville Police told the AP early today that an explosion has been ruled out, the cause remains under investigation, and foul play is not suspected. At last word, four of the seven workers had been sent to the burn unit of a hospital -- and three others were treated at medical facilities. Saukville Fire Chief Gilly Schultz said the molten brass was being poured into a rapidly-spinning centrifuge, heating the brass to 2,100 degrees. Johnson Brass is a fourth-generation, family-owned company located near downtown Saukville in Ozaukee County.
Wisconsin has recorded its first case of the West Nile virus this year in a dead crow found in Dodge County. State health officials say it's a sign that infected mosquitoes are in that area -- and folks are urged to take precautions to make sure they're not the first human victims of the year. People, birds, and horses all get West Nile from mosquito bites. The skeeters get the virus by feeding on infected birds. Last year, Wisconsin had 16 confirmed human cases of West Nile. That was a small number compared to 2012, when cases spiked throughout the nation's mid-section and four Wisconsinites died from the virus. State officials say most West Nile cases don't show up until August or September -- but folks can protect themselves now, by staying away from standing pools of water, and using insect repellent when outdoors.
More Wisconsinites than expected gained tax-funded health coverage than lost it under Governor Scott Walker's Badger-Care changes. Gov. Walker said today that almost 82,000 childless adults below the poverty line signed up for Badger-Care Plus and started receiving it on April first. That number is about what was projected. What was not expected was that almost 63-thousand people -- around 12,000 less than projected -- lost their Badger-Care this spring, and were told to buy coverage through the federal Obamacare health exchange. Those who lost coverage failed to meet tighter new income eligibility requirements which took effect April first. Walker plan's was adopted a year ago as part of the new state budget. He refused to rely on federal Medicaid funds that were promised, saying they could run out at some point and leave the state holding a very expensive bag.
Five former Wisconsin governors attended a funeral in Milwaukee today for ex-Governor Patrick Lucey. The 96-year-old southwest Wisconsin native died nine days ago. He was remembered as a solid religious-and-family man who helped the state thrive. Former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson credited Lucey with growing the state Democratic party into what he called a "tremendous organization." Current Governor Scott Walker was also on hand at the service, along with ex-governors Jim Doyle, Scott McCallum, and Martin Schreiber. Lucey served in the governor's office from 1971-to-'77. He had a number of major accomplishments, including the merger of the UW and the old Wisconsin State University system. Lucey left office with a year-and-a-half left in his second term to become Jimmy Carter's U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Lucey also ran for vice president with John Anderson on an independent ticket in 1980.
Wisconsin Realtors sold almost 12-percent fewer homes in April than at the same time last year. The state Realtors Association blamed the drop on higher selling prices and mortgage rates -- plus the winter that wouldn't let go. That was especially true in the far north, which had two snowstorms of up to a foot-and-a-half each. All regions of Wisconsin reported smaller home sales last month. Just over 53-hundred existing homes were sold by Realtors statewide, down from about six-thousand in the same month of 2013. Sellers did get more. The median sales price is at $139,900 dollars. Realtors association chairman Steve Lane said it's important to remember that there's a 6-to-8-week lag between the time an offer is accepted, and when the transaction is finalized. Metropolitan counties had a 13-percent drop in home sales last month, compared to seven-percent in rural areas. Lane said one possible reason is a tighter supply in the more populated regions.
Folks in Wausau were not happy that the city cut down a 130-year-old oak tree on a popular sledding hill, without being given a chance to have their say beforehand. Marathon County parks administrator Bill Duncanson tells the Wausau Daily Herald that the tree was in decline -- although it could have lived for awhile. He called it a "tough decision" to take it down, but the city had to weigh the possibility of being liable if a sledder gets hurt striking the tree and files a lawsuit. Folks appear to be less upset about the tree's actual removal, than not being told about it in advance. Jake Stachovak tells the Wausau paper he hopes the city can at least let neighbors know what's going on when they consider cutting down a significant tree in the future.
A UW-La Crosse student was still hospitalized in intensive care today, after he fell from a rooftop. According to police, the 22-year-old man was drinking with friends late Saturday night, when he wanted to show them how to get to the top of a nearby building. Once he got up there, witnesses said he was running around -- and he might have tried to jump to the roof of a neighboring building, when he fell and hit his head. Rescuers said the victim was breathing when they arrived at the scene -- but he was unconscious. He was taken to the Mayo Health System's Franciscan facility in La Crosse.
______________________________Authorities say a pet dog may have saved the lives of four family members who escaped their burning home near Jackson overnight. Washington County sheriff's deputies were called just after 12:30 this morning, apparently after the dog alerted the sleeping family to smoke and flames. The first officer on the scene saw the attached garage engulfed in flames. Fire-fighters quickly put out the fire, and kept it from spreading into the main house. Still, the living quarters of the two-story house received smoke damage. The cause remains under investigation. Authorities said the home did not have working smoke detectors. A local Red Cross chapter is helping the family._______________________________Peace-makers from Israel and Palestine will visit Milwaukee this afternoon. They'll show the groups "Arts at Large" and "Serve to Unite" how they can use the arts to teach young people to be more adept at conflict resolution. "Serve to Unite" was created by the family of Satwant Kaleka after he and five worshippers were killed in 2012 by a white supremacist gunman at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. The group has also teamed up with "Arts at Large" and has student chapters in 10 of Milwaukee's public schools. The U-S State Department's international leadership program is sponsoring today's foreign visitors.______________________________
About 200 Midwest veterans, and female factory workers who filled in during times of war, are enjoying a free trip to Washington to see the national monuments. Eleven buses chartered by the "Vets Roll" organization left Beloit on Sunday. They spent last night in Hagerstown, Maryland, which will be their home base until they start heading back to the Midwest tomorrow. The group consists of World War II and Korean veterans, plus "Rosie the Riveter" factory workers who filled in for service personnel in the 1940's. The Vets Roll group has provided the trips for over 900 veterrans and Rosie members since 2010. Meanwhile, veterans continue to take one-day Honor Flights to see the national monuments from the wars in which they served. Just yesterday, 88 veterans from central Wisconsin took such a journey.