WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Wind chills minus 20 throughout state this morning
Wind-chill factors were in the minus-20's this morning in much of northern Wisconsin, as an early December cold snap was starting to settle in.
Skies finally cleared up last night, allowing the Arctic air to move in. Phillips had the coldest actual temperature at 6 o'clock with 10-below. Much of southern Wisconsin was in the single-digits and teens. Kenosha was the warm spot with 15. Some media reports said the temperatures in northwest Wisconsin would plunge to 25-below over the next few days -- but that must be for the wind-chill, since the actual readings are only supposed to drop to 11-below at the worst. Still, that was cold enough for organizers to cancel a holiday in parade in Wausau that was set for tonight. Today's highs are supposed to be close to 10-above throughout Wisconsin. A slight warm-up is expected on Sunday, when a new storm system is due in. Moderate snow is predicted statewide, with possibly heavy snows along Lake Michigan in eastern Wisconsin. After it leaves, we're supposed to be back in the deep freeze at least until the middle of next week.
An Eau Claire area man will spend 22-and-a-half years in prison for strangling a woman described as his cultural wife. 42-year-old Ying Xiong (zhong) of Altoona was also ordered to spend 15 years under extended supervision when he gets out. He pleaded guilty a reduced charge of second-degree reckless homicide in the death last year of Panhia Vue. Authorities said her body was partially-burned when she was found dead in a shed near the couple's home. An autopsy showed that Vue was suffocated and strangled. Relatives told police that Xiong and Vue had a number of physical confrontations during what they called a cultural marriage.
A rap musician from La Crosse will be sentenced February 11th, after he pleaded guilty to federal charges of selling cocaine and heroin. 33-year-old Eugene Shields entered his pleas yesterday in Madison. A plea agreement recommends 5-to-10 years in prison, with the defense asking for the shorter amount. Officials said Shields sold about two-thousand dollars of heroin and cocaine to a police informant on three occasions in April in La Crosse. Authorities said they seized about 10-thousand dollars worth of drugs and related paraphernalia from his home, and his recording studio.
Wisconsin traffic deaths went up in November, compared to a year ago. Preliminary numbers from the state DOT show that 52 people were killed in crashes last month. That's 16 more than in November of 2012, and it's seven more than the average for the past five years. Officials said 11 people died in traffic mishaps over the Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday night through Sunday. That includes three family members killed in a crash near Janesville. For the year as a whole, Wisconsin traffic deaths are still down from 2012. Over 496 people have died in crashes from January through November -- 72 fewer than a year ago, and 34 less than the five-year average. Once again, Wisconsin police agencies will hold special holiday enforcement campaign aimed at drunk drivers and those who don't buckle up. The annual "Booze and Belts" campaign will run from next Friday through December 21st.
Wisconsin has close to 200 invasive species that can threaten native plants-and-fish. One of the latest species, the phragmite, is causing a real concern. It's a tall, densely-growing, decorative grass that has filled in miles of shorelines along Lake Michigan and the Bay of Green Bay. Now, patches of phragmites are being reported inland, near the Rhinelander airport and at Manitowish Waters near the Trout River. Vilas County invasive species coordinator Ted Ritters says the patches are small, but the phragmites tend to crowd out all the other natural species. Herbicides have been known to control the plant, but Ritters says old-fashioned methods don't seem to work anymore. He says small patches can develop dense, fast-spreading root systems -- and they're virtually impossible to pull up, or dig out. If you see anything like this, you're asked to call your county invasive species' coordinator.
A deadline is coming up quickly for Wisconsin turkey and bear hunters. The DNR says the deadline is next Tuesday to apply for permits for next spring's turkey hunt, and for the bear season that begins around Labor Day. A lottery will be held to select winning applicants for the turkey permits. The drawing will take place late this month or in early January. Any remaining permits will go on sale in late March. A youth turkey hunt is set for April 12th-and-13th. The regular spring turkey season begins on April 16th. A drawing for bear permits will be held after the quota for the next hunt is set in January.
Wisconsin officials say the Justice Department might have broken the whistle-blower protection law for state employees. The Equal Rights office says an administrative law judge should review the case of Dan Bethards, a former drug agent let go in October. He had run-ins with his former boss Jay Smith at a Justice Department field office in Superior that was later closed. Bethards accused Smith of keeping a stolen machine gun, and producing-and-selling unlicensed firearms to police officers. When the Justice Department fired Bethards, the agency told him he lied about Smith having a stolen M-16. However, equal rights officer Gregory Straub said Justice officials never established that Bethards' allegations were false. The Justice Department has not commented. Federal officials investigated Smith, but no charges came from it. Bethards tells the Wisconsin State Journal that the Justice agency never interviewed him about his allegations against Smith. And he said he's finding it impossible to find another job in law enforcement, despite a quarter-century as a justice agent, corrections' officer, and state trooper.
Wisconsin farms have spilled over a million gallons of manure in 2013. It's the most since 2007 -- and it's about five times that of last year's spill total, which was 191,000. The DNR said this year's spills represented only one-percent of all the waste generated by Wisconsin dairy cows. Officials say mishaps are not uncommon, regardless of the precautions that farmers take. The DNR says there's never been a clear trend in the amount of manure spills from year-to-year. However, environmentalists are concerned that we're seeing more spills as the number of so-called mega-dairies grows in the Badger State. There are almost 200 larger dairies, known as concentrated animal feeding operations. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found that more than a-third of the manure spills since 2007 came from those farms. The latest major spill was discovered a week-and-a-half ago. About 300,000 gallons of manure spilled from a broken pipe at a digester in Dane County that converts manure into electricity. Some of the manure spilled into a nearby creek. The DNR said the spill did not appear to kill any fish, but the damage is still being assessed.
Fox Valley police are expanding their use of body cameras, small digital units that record officers' dealings with the public. The Appleton, Neenah, and Fox Valley Metro police have been using the credit-card-sized cameras on a limited basis for several years. Now, Neenah Police plan to buy flex-cameras that can fit onto an officer's hat or ear. The units can run from $150-to-900 each, depending on their quality. Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson tells the Appleton Post-Crescent the public will soon regard body cameras the way they regard squad car video. He says squad videos are so common, that people wonder what officers are hiding when they don't use them. The body cameras are often used when executing search warrants, or taping sobriety tests for suspected drunk drivers. Officials say they often come in handy when people allege misconduct by officers. Fox Valley Metro Police Chief Erik Messelt says most people who allege misconduct drop their complaints when they find out that the officers in question recorded their moves. The American Civil Liberties Union supports the use of officer body cameras -- as long as they're used for catching the bad guys, they way they're intended.
An old advertising jingle said "Sears has everything." Well, it won't have Lands' End clothing anymore. Today, Sears said it will spin off the Dodgeville-based business by distributing stock to the company's share-holders. Sears bought Lands End in 2002. The spin-off is the latest in a series of moves to improve Sears' bottom line, as it faces growing losses. In October, Sears said it would consider separating Lands' End from the rest of the company, as well as Sears Auto Centers. The auto shops were not mentioned in today's announcement. Sears has spun off other businesses over the past two years to raise money, struggling to compete with larger retail chains that have lured customers away in recent years. In 2012, Sears announced a drive to restore its profitability by cutting costs and inventories, selling off some assets, and spinning off others. Those moves reduced Sears' debt by $400-million, while bringing in almost two billion dollars in new capital. It also started a new shopper loyalty program that's gained some popularity. Despite that, Sears keeps losing money. It recently reported larger third quarter losses, as revenues dropped seven-percent from the previous year.
A Plover man is scheduled to go on trial July ninth for allegedly raping and killing his neighbor, and burning her car with her body in it. Portage County court officials have scheduled a week-and-a-half for Jose Flores Aca's possible trial. A hearing on pre-trial requests is set for April 25th. The 33-year-old Flores Aca is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault, and hiding a corpse in the death of 36-year-old Jamie Koch in the apartment building where they were neighbors. Preliminary hearing testimony indicated that Flores Aca was out drinking, and was upset about a fight with his girlfriend when Koch invited him into her apartment. As she took his wrist to lead him inside, officials said Flores Aca got angry and knocked her down, strangled her with her bra, wrapped her in a bed sheet, and drove her to neighboring Waupaca County where her partially-burned car was found. Flores Aca is in jail under a million-dollar bond.
A Wausau man is the first to be charged in a gun store burglary in which stolen weapons were tied to two shooting deaths. 28-year-old Matthew McLeod was charged this week in Marathon County with burglary, criminal damage, and four counts of theft for a break-in at the Condition-One gun shop in Wausau 14 months ago. Police said McLeod and 24-year-old Christian Peterson were involved. Peterson escaped custody while on work release, and was later shot to death by police in Eau Claire while possessing a stolen gun. Authorities said two other stolen firearms were found with 22-year-old Richi Vue of Saint Paul, when he was arrested for killing his 20-year-old girlfriend near Wausau. Police said they never established whether a stolen gun was actually used in the murder. Besides the Wausau break-in, officers said McLeod, Peterson, and another man busted into a gun shop in Lincoln County last fall and took more weapons. No one has been charged in that case, and officials said all the guns from that heist were recovered. A total of 55 guns were taken in the two burglaries. McLeod is due back in court a week from Monday. He's being held on a $7,500 bond.
A man accused of shooting and wounding a Taylor County sheriff's deputy has been ordered to stand trial on six felony charges. 28-year-old Alexander Schneider of Westboro is scheduled to enter pleas December 20th on those counts, plus 10 others that date back to June. Circuit Judge Ann Knox-Bauer found enough evidence to send Schneider to trial for the September 8th shooting incident. Officers were called to Schneider's home for his alleged violation of a restraining order against contacting a 13-year-old girlfriend. Prosecutors said he fired four shots at deputy Chad Kowalczyk. One bullet hit his abdomen, and another landed in his clothing. Schneider was later charged with seven counts in the incident -- including attempted homicide, gun violations, and a misdemeanor charge of violating a restraining order. A pre-trial conference is set for next Thursday, where his last two rounds of charges could be sorted out. Schneider was charged in August with reckless endangerment and intimidating a victim. Earlier in the summer, he was charged with two other endangerment counts, plus two charges of second degree child sexual assault. Five of his 16 charges are for bail jumping.
A yacht builder near Green Bay plans to hire an extra 150 people over the next year, after winning a big contract. Marquis Yachts of Pulaski has agreed to build hundred of yachts for Van Dutch Marine of Holland. The head of Van Dutch America, Chris Holtzheuser, says 420 yachts will be built at first. Marquis says it will hire up to 70 people over the next couple of months, and 150 over the next year. The hirings have already begun. Marquis used to be known as Carver Yachts. The company was formerly owned by Genmar Holdings, before the Great Recession resulted in its bankruptcy in 2009. New owners helped the firm become solvent once the economy recovered.
Republicans are slamming Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke for not paying state income taxes two decades ago. Records show that Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive, did not pay state taxes for 1990, '92, and '93. During that time, her campaign said Burke was working at a start-up company in New York, and then worked for Trek in '91 before going to Europe to head the bicycle firm's European operations. The campaign also said her foreign residence exempted her from paying state taxes at the time. However, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said it's not that clear cut. A Marquette tax specialist told the paper that a state tax obligation hinges on the credits, exclusions and exemptions which are taken. A revenue official said there's also a question of whether foreign income is "sourced" to Wisconsin. Burke has paid at least $100,000 in state taxes in three of the last four years. The Journal-Sentinel said it would be hard to tell whether Burke actually followed the tax rules in the 90's without seeing her actual returns, where the incomes and deductions are listed. State GOP director Joe Fadness says it's quote, "hypocritical that Democrats only want to talk about taxes when it's convenient for them."
For the first time, a Wisconsin wildlife center will try to find out what happens to the eagles and other raptors they treat, after they're sent back to the wild. The Four Lakes Wildlife Center in Madison hopes to put GPS devices on the raptors, to check on their recoveries. Wildlife coordinator Jackie Edmunds tells Wisconsin Public Radio it takes months to help raptors like hawks and eagles heal from conditions like broken wings -- and then when they're released, they can only assume quote, "happily ever after" outcomes. The center is planning to install a $40,000 GPS system which Edmunds said would provide some valuable insight. It would help officials learn what types of injuries have the best chances for recovery, thus helping the center use its resources more effectively.
Wisconsinites are joining the rest of the world in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela. The South African president who brought an end to racial apartheid in his home country died yesterday at age 95. UW-Milwaukee provost and vice-chancellor Johannes Britz is a native of South Africa, and said Mandela's legacy will go far beyond his vision and political agenda. Britz said the moral compass he gave his people, and the imperative to forgive and reconcile, was nothing short of a miracle. Wisconsin United Methodist Church Bishop Hee-Soo Jung said his fellow bishops were in "awe" when they met Mandela at a meeting in Mozambique in 2006. Jung called Mandela a servant leader who led an "extraordinary life." Jung said the entire world would miss his powerful presence and solidarity of spirit. U.S. House Democrat Gwen Moore of Milwaukee said the world has lost a visionary leader, and a hero for human rights. Milwaukee Alderman Joe Davis serves as a Wisconsin honorary consul to South Africa. He called Mandela "a shining example to us all." Davis said Mandela's convictions quote, "were tested beyond the bounds of comprehension, and he emerged from his trials more resolute where lesser men -- many men -- would have given up hope."
Health officials are urging Wisconsinites not to eat "cannibal sandwiches" made of from raw seasoned beef this holiday season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said four people were poisoned with E-coli bacteria, and there were 13 likely cases. Milwaukee historian John Gurda says cannibal sandwiches are appetizers at holiday celebrations and other events. They're most popular with people of Polish and German heritage. Gurda says the sandwiches include raw-and-lean ground beef seasoned with salt-and-pepper, served on rye cocktail bread with sliced raw onions. Health officials discourage folks from eating any meat that's not cooked.
If you wake up at three-in-the-morning and forget a last-minute Christmas gift, Kohl's Department Stores says they'll be ready to help you. The Wisconsin-based chain said yesterday it would open its 1,158 stores for 100 straight hours from Friday, December 20th, through Christmas Eve at 6 p.m. Kohl's, which is based in Menomonee Falls, is trying the overnight hours for the first time. Its stores are in 49 states.