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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: West Nile virus turns up in La Crosse County

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LA CROSSE - The West Nile virus has turned up in La Crosse County for the first time this year.  A dead crow tested positive for the virus, which is spread by mosquitoes. 

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Most West Nile cases are normally reported in August and September.  La Crosse County health director Doug Mormann says the bird's death indicates that people need to vigilant about protecting themselves from mosquito bites.  As of mid-week, Wisconsin has had six probable human cases of West Nile in Dane, Rock, Walworth, and Eau Claire counties.  None of the human cases have been confirmed by federal health officials yet.  Fifty-three crows have tested positive for West Nile, not including the one from La Crosse County.  This is a proving to be a more normal year for the virus, after four Wisconsinites died and 53 others got sick in a widespread outbreak at this time last year.

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A southwest Wisconsin man was killed early today, when his SUV flipped over.  Lafayette County authorities said 33-year-old Jay Schwartz of Darlington was on a county road when he veered to the right, over-corrected to get back on the roadway, and went off on the left side where his vehicle overturned at least once.  Officials said Schwartz was not wearing a seat-belt.  The crash occurred early this morning on County Trunk "F" in the town of Willow Springs.

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Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) says he and his fellow House Republicans are trying to convince Democrats that it's in their best interest to delay Obamacare.  The House Budget chairman told a business group in Brookfield today that the Affordable Care Act cannot be stopped without the president's support.  Therefore, the only way to do it is to convince other Democrats to slow down the law's implementation.  Ryan has long contended that Obama-care will increase Americans' health costs and hurt the economy.  The requirement that most Americans have health insurance takes effect on Jan. 1 -- along with coverage to those who need it by the federal government's purchasing exchange.  State Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee, a long-time supporter of the Obama health act, calls Ryan's comments quote, "another recitation of mis-information."

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U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) says diplomacy has a "great chance" of succeeding in Syria.  On CNN, Baldwin said President Obama made the world focus on the issue by asking Congress to authorize a military strike.  Baldwin said she could not support a U.S. military action, even if diplomacy fails.  But she said most of the world is quote, "invested in trying to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles" -- and that's why she believes a diplomatic effort will succeed.

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Upper Midwest conservatives may be bullish about cutting spending -- but not when it comes to protecting the Great Lakes.  Wausau area Congressman Sean Duffy (R-Weston) is among a number of Tea Party lawmakers who are big supporters of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  They say it's vital to clean up a century of pollution in order to attract jobs and improve the region's economy.  Former Republican President George W. Bush created a task force in the last decade which identified thousands of local clean-up projects along the Great Lakes.  But Congress never funded it until Democratic President Barack Obama made a big push for it.  Over $1.3 billion have been spent on the program in the last five years.  A House subcommittee voted earlier this year to cut its funding by 80-percent -- and a Republican, David Joyce of Ohio, led the drive to restore most of the money.  Now, the Obama White House is about to work on a package of projects for the next five years of the initiative.  Environmental advocates pressed for an expansion of clean-ups this week, when a number of Great Lakes organizations held their annual joint conference in Milwaukee.

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Seven people pleaded guilty this week to a series of convenience store robberies in Milwaukee almost a year ago -- and we're just learning now that one of the defendants killed a man.  24-year-old Jamere Towns shot his gun into a crowd at a bus stop last November, to get back at someone he fought with earlier on a transit vehicle.  Instead, one of his bullets struck-and-killed 53-year-old Frank Carter, a disabled Navy veteran.  His death was made public at the time.  Towns' admission to it was not disclosed until a federal plea agreement came out.  He and the other six defendants are all due to be sentenced in December for their involvement in nine store hold-ups.  They were arrested in January and were charged in federal court, as part of growing trend of federal prosecutions in robbery cases.  Officials say federal charges carry stronger penalties than state ones.  In this instance, state prosecutors agreed not to charge Towns and another man with Milwaukee County charges if they get at least 40 years in prison in their federal cases.  That's what the defendants agreed to.  

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A Madison man accused of trying to set his wife on fire last summer was sentenced today to eight months in jail on lesser charges.  Prosecutors said 60-year-old Andrew Spear took his wife Mary to his workshop last August, doused her with gasoline, and threatened to burn her body.  He was given credit for time he served in jail while his case was going through the courts.  Spear pleaded guilty to six misdemeanors, while the most serious charges of attempted homicide and false imprisonment were dropped in a plea deal.  Previous media reports said Spear got jealous after apparently seeing e-mails indicating an affair between her and her boss -- former state Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith.  Smith vehemently denied any affair, saying they were nothing more than long-time friends.  

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The first Wisconsin concealed weapons holder to use his gun to break up an armed robbery is now charged with tax fraud.  37-year-old Nazir Al-Mujaahid of Milwaukee made headlines early last year, when he pulled out a pistol to scare off two men robbing a cashier at an Aldi's grocery store.  This morning, Al-Mujaahid appeared in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on charges of theft-by-fraud, and five counts of making claims to get false income tax credits.  If convicted, he might lose his right to carry a weapon.  For now, he's free on a signature bond.  Prosecutors said Al-Mujaahid filed false tax returns on behalf of Damien Sherrer from 2006-through-2011.  Sherrer reportedly left the U-S for Egypt in '06 and never came back.  Prosecutors said Al-Mujaahid placed Sherrer's false tax credits on his debit card, totaling 13-thousand dollars.  The defendant also allegedly claimed Homestead tax benefits on Sherrer's behalf from 2006-to-'09.  He's also accused of filing fake returns on behalf of four other people.  Al-Mujaahid is quoted as telling authorities he sent some of the tax payments to Sherrer in Egypt because he was quote, "hurting for money."  In last year's gun incident, Al-Mujaahid used his weapon in a store where signs prohibited people from carrying guns.  He was never charged.  That incident happened about three months after the state legalized the carrying of concealed weapons to law-abiding citizens with permits.

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The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese appears to be getting closer to resolving its three-year-old bankruptcy case.  The church has asked Federal Judge Rudolph Randa to delay proceedings for 60 days in a lawsuit by the church against its insurance company.  The two parties have agreed to mediation, amid a legal question of whether church insurance policies can be used to pay victims of sex abuse by former Catholic priests.  The case does not involve the 570 sex abuse victims who've filed for claims in the church bankruptcy.  Michael Finnegan, an attorney for the creditors, says victims should have a place a the mediation table.  At this point, the archdiocese will only say that it's trying to move the bankruptcy case forward.  Finnegan says there needs to be a decision on the use of the insurance proceeds before the overall case can proceed.  The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy three years ago, to keep the church going while it rounds up the millions-of-dollars needed to pay the sex abuse victims.  If insurance cannot be used, the church might be hard-pressed for options.  Randa has already ruled that church cemetery funds must be left alone -- although the creditors are appealing that decision.  Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley has ruled that individual parishes do not have to pay, because they're separate entities. 

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A judge says he cannot strike down a quarter-million dollar limit on malpractice payments by UW-Madison doctors.  However, Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson has urged the State Supreme Court to review the cap that was approved by the Legislature in 1979.  Terri Fiez of Verona was the first to challenge the special malpractice limit for tax-funded doctors.  A jury awarded her one-point-eight million, after finding that a U-W doctor was negligent in treating Fiez' husband Robert.  He died three years ago from blood clots in his lungs.  Judge Markson said he could not change the UW's quarter-million dollar malpractice limit, because Fiez did not show that it was unconstitutional.  However, he does not make sense to limit her damages to just 14-percent of what a jury thought was fair.  Fiez's lawyer says he'll appeal.  And in the meantime, the judge asks to Supreme Court to examine the 34-year-old cap -- saying it would be around 800-thousand of today's dollars.  That's slightly higher than the state's malpractice limit on non-economic damages against private doctors.  That cap is $750,000.

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Authorities in Oshkosh are telling people to use caution, after two children were approached by strangers in the past couple weeks.  Also, three women at UW-Oshkosh reported being pursued by men as they were followed home.  Investigators say the campus and the community incidents do not appear to be related.  On Tuesday, police said an 11-year-old girl was walking home alone when a man came up from behind her.  He squeezed her shoulder because she struck his arm and ran away.  Last week, police said a young boy was walking to school when a vehicle pulled up, and the driver asked the child if he needed a ride.  The boy ignored the man, who then drove away.  Oshkosh Police Chief Scott Greuel said parents should make their own decisions as to whether it's safe for a child to walk to-and-from school alone.  Officials say people should always be aware of their surroundings.  UW-Oshkosh has a "Safe Walk" program in which almost 40 student service officers walk people around during the night-time hours.  Officials say the campus is safe, and there are no reports that two-or-more walkers together have been approached by anyone.

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Construction is starting on a memorial to a fallen fire-fighter in Colby.  For an Eagle Scout project, 15-year-old Jacob Miller of Dorchester has designed a 5-by-12-foot wall to honor Jamison Kampmeyer.  The 34-year-old Kampmeyer was a Colby fire-fighter and Marathon County sheriff's deputy who died a year-and-a-half ago, while battling a blaze at the Abby Theatre in Abbotsford.  Jacob raised about $25,000 in cash and in-kind donations for the new wall, which will stand at the Colby fire station once it's finished in about two months.  The wall is to included bronzed fire-fighter boots, a hat, and axes -- along with replicas of Kampmeyer's sheriff's and fire-fighter badges.  The teenager will supervise the wall's construction.

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The head of the U.S. Navy says he'll do his best to make sure that 52 littoral combat ships get built and placed in service.  That's good news for the growing numbers of employees at Marinette Marine who are making the more refined style of ships.  Navy Secretary Ray Mabus visited the plant yesterday, and saw four littoral combat boats that are currently under construction.  Questions have been raised about the design and performance of the initial ships -- which are designed to operate in shallow waters.  The first ship made at Marinette cost $750-million.  Company CEO Chuck Goddard says it's been a learning process, and he expects the costs of the current boats to be reduced by half.  Mabus says there's always opposition when the Navy changes the style of its equipment.  He defends the current design, saying the littoral ships are quote, "the future of the Navy, and the future of how we fight."  Goddard expects 157 more employees to be added, for a total of more than 1,500 in the next year.

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If you're looking for fall colors this weekend, you'll see some -- but not much.  Travel Wisconsin.com says Trempealeau County in the west has the most color in the state, at 25-percent of its peak.  Eau Claire is at 20-percent.  Beaver Dam in southeast Wisconsin has the next highest fall colors at 15-percent of their peak.  Many communities throughout the state report no red, orange, and yellow leaves yet -- but they're coming.  Peak colors are expected anywhere from late September in parts of the north, to the first three weeks in October in most other parts of the Badger State.  The far south normally is the last to peak, around Halloween.  Now that it's gotten cooler, you might see the colors arrive a little faster.  After nearly a week-long hot spell, overnight lows dropped to the 30's-and-40's in much of the state.  Highs are expected to be in the 60's-and-70's throughout the weekend, with a chance of rain on Sunday.

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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