WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Storm damage causes state of emergency in Dane County
MADISON - Dane County officials have declared a state-of-emergency in the wake of a reported tornado, strong winds, and torrential rains overnight.
Emergency management officials said they received about 350 reports of storm damage by sunrise. Most of the damage was in Verona and Madison's southwest side. Verona Police said at least 15 homes had severe damage there, and Verona's Country View Elementary School partially collapsed. A roof was torn off a house south of Shorewood Hills section of Madison. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi was touring the damaged areas this morning with the county's emergency management director. The National Weather Service says it will send a team through southwest Wisconsin today to assess the damage, and see what really caused it. Weather service meteorologist Steve Davis said a tornado most likely traveled from Green County northward into Dane County. From what he's seen, Davis said he couldn't imagine it not being a tornado -- and if that's true, it would be the first twister to fall in Wisconsin in 2014.
Other communities plan to gather damage reports, with the possibility of seeking federal disaster aid. Apparent tornado damage also occurred in Green County to the south. Wind damage was also reported in Lafayette and Grant counties -- where five buildings at UW-Platteville had damage at last word. Only essential employees are being allowed there today. The UW said no one was seriously hurt. As of nine this morning, almost 25,000 Wisconsin electric customers were still without power. Most were in the Milwaukee and Muskego areas, as We Energies reported almost 12,500 total customers out throughout eastern Wisconsin. Wisconsin Power-and-Light still had seven-thousand outages, including almost five-thousand in Grant County. Madison Gas-and-Electric reported over three-thousand customers without power. I Just over 2,300 outages were in the Northwoods community of Pelican Lake. Wind gusts surpassed 50-miles-an-hour in several parts of the state between 11 last night and 12:15 this morning. Further east, trees and power lines were downed near West Bend. In northwest Wisconsin, a flash flood hit Maynard in Chippewa County yesterday afternoon, with up to three-feet of water over a town road. Winds gusted to 51-miles-an-hour near Cumberland in Barron County. The storms dumped a lot of rain, and caused tree damage at Eagle and West Bend before leaving the state. Stoughton in southern Dane County had two-point-two inches. Valders in Manitowoc County had one-point-eight inches over the past day.
It was dry throughout Wisconsin at mid-morning, except for lingering showers in Manitowoc. The statewide forecast has a chance for more thunderstorms today, with highs in the 80's in most places. More severe weather could be on the way in the same region.
Wisconsin farmers took advantage of dry weather last week to make lots of hay, and catch up with their crop planting. Almost three-fourths of the state's first hay crop in -- 25-percent more than a week ago, and four-percent more than the average for the past five years. Crop reporters say both the quantity and quality of the hay are good. Some call it the best cutting in years. Ninety-six percent of the Wisconsin corn has been planted, just one point behind the norm. Eighty-two percent of the crop is in good-to-excellent shape. Soybean planting is now ahead of schedule by around two-percent. Officials said 93-percent of the beans are in the ground, and 77-percent are rated good-to-excellent. Eighty-seven percent of Wisconsin's oats are good-to-excellent -- and so is 58-percent of the state's winter wheat.
Same-sex couples in Appleton who bought marriage licenses but could not have weddings will get the entire cost of their licenses refunded. About a half-dozen couples said the Outagamie County clerk sold them licenses, but would not waive the state's normal five-day waiting period to get married. As a result, they couldn't get married before Federal Judge Barbara Crabb re-imposed the state's ban on gay marriage while her ruling that it's unconstitutional is appealed. The Appleton area couples got back the state's share of the $100 marriage license, but the clerk's office kept the county's 45-dollar share. Yesterday, County Executive Tom Nelson's office said it would refund the $45 from its budget. Most county clerks granted waivers from the waiting period, knowing that the window for same-sex marriages would be short.
Governor Scott Walker and his main Democratic election challenger are trading barbs over the governor's recent pullback of his long-time opposition to gay marriage. In Madison yesterday, the Republican Walker repeated what he said last week -- that he voted for state's constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in 2006, but it's not relevant now because a governor cannot sign or veto a constitutional change. He repeated that the issue is in the courts, and out of his hands. At a separate appearance in Madison, Walker's main challenger Mary Burke accused the governor of waffling. Burke called it a "critical issue," and Wisconsinites want to know where their governor stands. She said she would want to see gay marriages go forward if she's elected. Walker said Burke needs a lesson in what he calls "Government 101" -- and she apparently doesn't understand that a governor cannot "arbitrarily" change the state Constitution. Earlier this month, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. Her ruling is on hold while it's being appealed.
A federal appeals judge has ordered the public release of documents from the John Doe investigation into the state's recall elections. Judge Frank Easterbrook did not say how many documents would have to be released, or what they involved, exactly. He said nobody had opposed the release of at least one batch of records. However, two unnamed clients later asked Easterbrook to change his mind and keep the documents sealed. Prosecutors had asked that various records in the John Doe be released. The probe centers around alleged illegal coordination of fund-raising and other activities between outside groups and Republican candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall contests -- including that of Governor Scott Walker. The investigation is on hold, after Federal Judge Rudolph Randa said one of the targets of the probe had its free-speech rights violated. A number of details have already been released in various court filings about what's supposed to be a secret evidence-gathering investigation, to determine if charges are warranted.
The nation's attorney general is being asked to give federal recognition to the 500-plus same-sex weddings in Wisconsin this month. Among other things, it could give those couples a federal income tax break by letting them file jointly. U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Madison and Wisconsin House Democrats Ron Kind of La Crosse, Gwen Moore of Milwaukee, and Mark Pocan of Madison wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday, asking him to legalize the marriages performed last week. That was after Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the state's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, but before she put her ruling on hold until it's appealed. The four Democrats said Holder previously recognized marriages in Michigan and Utah under similar circumstances. The same-sex couples who got married last week could qualify for Social Security survivor benefits, and can help foreign spouses with immigration issues. And if they're federal employees or military personnel, their spouses could get health, retirement, and other benefits. A spokeswoman for the U-S Justice Department says she's monitoring the Wisconsin developments, and is not commenting further for now.
The head of the Wisconsin State Senate's natural resources committee is leaving now, instead of at the end of the year like he originally planned. Republican Neal Kedzie of Elkhorn resigned yesterday from the upper house. He said he's pursuing a "new opportunity," but he had not said what it is. Kedzie announced a month ago he would retire after 16 years in the Legislature -- four in the Assembly, and the last 12 in the Senate. State Assembly Republican Steve Nass of Whitewater and Democrat Dan Kilkenny are running for Kedzie's seat this fall. It will stay vacant until January. Should any important natural resource issues come up between now and then, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says he'll chair the resources committee in Kedzie's place. Fitzgerald is also taking Kedzie's place on the State Building Commission and a study panel on state-supported programs.
A man accused of holding a McDonald's manager hostage in Wittenberg has pleaded innocent, after he was found mentally competent to stand trial. Twenty-nine year old Travis Keiler of Gillett surrendered after a two-hour long standoff April 22nd at a combined Mickey-"D's" and Shell gas station off Highway 29. Keiler is charged with in Shawano County with taking hostages, failing to comply with officers, disorderly conduct, and illegally carrying a concealed weapon. His next court date has not been set. Keiler told officers he had just quit a job in De Pere, and was driving around with a stolen gun before stopping in Wittenberg. At the time of the incident, officials said Keiler wanted to get into a confrontation with police -- and he gave others a chance to leave before holding the McDonald's manager hostage for an hour. Nobody was hurt.
Bones were dug up late yesterday at a construction site in Milwaukee, and police say they're most likely human. Officers were called to the Cream City Gardens on the west edge of the downtown area about five yesterday afternoon. Police say they'll work with the Milwaukee County medical examiner and the State Crime Lab to identify the bones and a possible cause of death.
A Kenosha man will spend 32 years in prison for killing his girlfriend, and then driving to Chicago where he left the victim's body in the trunk. Forty-one Matthew McDowell must also spend eleven years under extended supervision once he gets out. He was sentenced yesterday in Kenosha County Circuit Court for the death of 30-year-old Erin Ziemendorf of West Allis last October. McDowell told police he accidentally killed Ziemendorf by putting his hands around her neck. He said he heard a cracking sound -- and when he realized his girlfriend was dead, he placed her body in a duffel bag, drove it to Chicago, and left the body and the vehicle at a bus station near the city's downtown Loop. Officials said the argument was about money, their relationship, and an impending trip to Hawaii. McDowell pleaded guilty to charges of reckless homicide and hiding a corpse.
A former state probation officer is paying almost $600 in fines and court costs, for stealing lobsters from a grocery store in Crandon where her grandson used to work. Fifty-five year old Karen Boodry pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in Forest County, and a theft charge was dropped in a plea deal. Authorities said Boodry stole a pair of lobsters from Schaefer's Food Mart in Crandon last year, while her grandson Donald Kilbury looked on. She told officers at the time she did not remember what happened, because she had been drinking. Charges were dropped against Kilbury. State officials said Boodry retired from her corrections' post in late January.
A half-million-dollar bond was set yesterday for a man suspected of car-jacking a taxi in Grant County, putting its driver in the trunk, and killing the victim in a crash at the end of a high-speed police chase near La Crosse. Twenty-five year old Timmy Johnson Junior has been arrested but not charged in the death last week of 79-year-old Merle Forbes. A La Crosse judge found yesterday there was probable cause for charges that include causing death by reckless driving. Also, prosecutors say Johnson could face homicide charges in either La Crosse or Grant counties. His next court appearance is set for Thursday. Officials said he was released from jail just hours before he robbed-and-stabbed Forbes. Police found the stolen cab in downtown La Crosse early last Friday. A chase ensued, and the cab rear-ended another vehicle before flipping over. Forbes died while in the trunk. Three people in the other unit had minor injuries. His lawyer said Johnson had unresolved mental health issues, and did not get his medications while in the Grant County Jail. The La Crosse Tribune said it was not Johnson's first brush with Forbes. Last August, Forbes' cab reportedly drove Johnson from Darlington to Boscobel -- and Johnson skipped out before he could pay the $90 fare.
A motorcyclist is free on a signature bond, after being charged with felony reckless endangerment for driving his motorcycle at up to 146-miles-an-hour. Twenty-three year old Tyler Gese of Lindstrom Minnesota is due back in Polk County Circuit Court July 29th for a preliminary hearing. He was also cited on traffic counts of speeding more than 45-miles-an-hour above the posted limit, and passing into oncoming traffic. According to prosecutors, Gese was spotted going 94-miles-an-hour last Wednesday night when he passed a vehicle with oncoming traffic on Highway Eight. An officer then clocked Gese accelerating from 113-miles-an-hour to 146. The officer called for help, and Gese was later pulled over south of Balsam Lake. He reportedly told officers he was going to see his son, and his speedometer was not working.
A motorcyclist killed in an Interstate crash in southern Minnesota was from Wisconsin. The State Patrol said yesterday that 30-year-old James Verville of Fort Atkinson lost control of his bike and struck a median. He was not wearing a helmet. The crash occurred Sunday evening on Interstate-90 in Fairbault County in south central Minnesota. Verville died at a hospital in Rochester.
Milwaukee Area Technical College appears to be losing its president. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says Michael Burke is expected to be offered the chancellor's post at Riverside Community College in southern California. The Riverside Board of Trustees is scheduled to act on Burke's hiring tonight. He has been the top official at Milwaukee Area Technical College and its four campuses since 2010. MATC serves a total of 43,000 students a year. Riverside serves around 100,000-- including up to 48,000 full-time-equivalent students.