WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Zelich makes first appearance in court
KENOSHA - Former West Allis police officer Steven Zelich waived his preliminary hearing today in one of two homicide cases he's facing in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The 52-year-old Zelich was ordered to stand trial in Kenosha County for the 2012 death of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez of Cottage Grove, Oregon. He's scheduled to enter pleas Monday to charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse. Authorities said both Gamez and Laura Simonson of Farmington, Minnesota died after erotic choking games. Their bodies were found June 5th in separate suitcases tossed along a grassy road near Lake Geneva. The defense asked for a new judge to hear the Kenosha case. Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder was named to replace Chad Kerkman. Criminal defendants in Wisconsin are allowed to have one judicial substitution without having a give a reason. Zelich also has a status conference scheduled September 23rd for his Walworth County case involving two counts of hiding a corpse. Charges involving Simonson's death will be heard in Minnesota.
The owners of a small central Wisconsin farm who were fined $464 for spilling over a million gallons of manure might be facing more state actions. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel questioned several officials about the fine given to brothers Patrick and Damian Willcome of rural Spencer. The paper said other environmental farm cases often had fines of $30,000 and more since 2008. The State Justice Department -- which never got involved in the DNR's handling of the case -- says it's reviewing the matter. Justice spokesman Bill Cosh tells the Journal-Sentinel his agency didn't know about the case until this week -- and it plans to see if what he calls "additional options or process changes are available." The DNR defends what it did. Environmental specialist Deborah Dix said the Willcomes responded quickly when alerted to the violation, and they took quick steps to control the spill and prevent further problems. She said the farmers had two manure spreaders broken. The DNR was tipped off about the case in early May. Marathon County officials discovered the manure had been spilling since last fall into a wetland and the Little Eau Pleine River. A top DNR enforcement official told the Journal-Sentinel it would have been hard-pressed to prove in court that a million gallons of manure would have been involved.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking for the shooters of at least two federally-protected birds in far northern Wisconsin. Marge Gibson, who heads the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, said at least one osprey and a barrel owl were shot during the past few weeks, both in Bayfield County. The adult male osprey was shot in a wing, and had to be euthanized. That osprey fathered two chicks, one of which died from starvation -- and the other survived after jumping into a grassy area. Gibson said the mother's body was found decomposing, and she may have been shot as well. She said it's hard to fathom that people would shoot ospreys for no reason. Gibson says it's possible that the shooters believe the birds were going after fish that humans should have the right to catch. Tina Shaw of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking the public to help expose the shooters.
Democratic party nominee for governor Mary Burke took out a new TV ad today attacking Governor Scott Walker's record on jobs. The ad said that "Walker's top-down approach just isn't working." Burke expanded on that during a visit yesterday to Wausome Foods in Wausau, a small start-up company that makes specialty cheese crackers. Burke accused the governor's administration for not putting enough money into small start-ups -- and she said the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is not using all the capital and resources it has available. Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive and state commerce secretary, said red tape needs to be cut, and resources need to go to the places and entrepreneurs who need it most. The Walker campaign accused Burke of trying to "belittle" the state's economic comeback, saying Wisconsin has created 100-thousand jobs and saw its jobless rate drop during the governor's tenure. Burke's new ad again notes that Walker has fallen short of the quarter-million private sector jobs he promised in his four-year term.
Wisconsin's charter schools will share less grant money from the state than a year ago. The Department of Public Instruction says charter schools -- which deal in specialized fields and teaching techniques -- will get a little over eight-million dollars this fall. That's down from almost $13-million the previous year. The DPI says about $1.2 million dollars of this year's grant will help plan and create new charter schools. There were 242 of them throughout Wisconsin in the last school year. Most are run by public school districts. The UW-Milwaukee and Parkside campuses also run charter schools, along with Milwaukee Area Technical College and the city of Milwaukee.
Smokers on the UW-Stevens Point campus might have to walk awhile to get their nicotine fix. Starting August 25th, the school will ban tobacco use on all campus properties -- including sidewalks and parking lots. Stevens Point is one of the top wellness communities in the nation, so a campus-wide smoking ban is no surprise. Health officials at UWSP say they'll help students kick the habit with counseling, free-or-reduced-price nicotine gum and prescriptions, and more. The university says over 700 campuses throughout the U.S. have also banned tobacco use. It will still be allowed over the next year in a designated area at Treehaven, the school's natural resource study facility at Tomahawk. Campus officials say they granted a one-year phase-in to give groups that rent the facility enough time to adjust.
Wisconsin's only free car ferry will be shut down for maintenance on Tuesday. The state DOT says the Merrimac Ferry will be out of service from 9 a-m to 4 p-m on Tuesday for routine work. The ferry is normally open 24/7 except during the winter on the Wisconsin River between Merrimac in Sauk County and Okee in Columbia County. It follows Highway 113.
Authorities in central Wisconsin are investigating an unusual cause of death for a 33-year-old man. A Wood County sheriff's official said the man somehow got into a position in which he couldn't move or breathe. A group of teenagers found the victim's body on Wednesday night on a trail in the town of Port Edwards, near Wisconsin Rapids. Sheriff's Lieutenant Quentin Ellis said the man had been dead for a day or two, and he died from "positional asphyxiation." Officials said alcohol may have been a factor.
Fifty U.S. senators are trying to stop the U.S. Postal Service from closing any more facilities in the next fiscal year. They've written the Senate Appropriations Committee, asking for a one-year moratorium on postal shutdowns as part of a catch-all, year-end spending bill. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Madison helped circulate the letter to her colleagues. That was after the Postal Service said in July it would close the Madison, Wausau, Eau Claire, and La Crosse mail distribution centers by October of 2015. Six Republicans are among the 50 seeking action. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) is not among them. On Monday, the post office announced another quarterly loss of two-billion dollars. It did report a two-percent increase in operating revenues due mainly to a growth in package deliveries. Congress has talked for a long time about reforming the post office, but no legislation has been passed. In the absence of that, the Postal Service has closed 141 processing facilities since 2012. Eighty-two more are on the chopping block for the next year. The four Wisconsin offices on that list had escaped closures in the first round of cuts.
Animal rights activists are stepping up their efforts to shut down a 45-year pig wrestling tradition as part of a church fund-raiser near Appleton. The group SHARK -- Showing Animals Respect and Kindness -- has taken their case to Green Bay's Catholic bishop. The group was not happy that Saint Patrick's Church in Stephensville carried on with its pig-wrestling event last Sunday, even though another group got 62,000 people to sign Internet petitions to halt it -- and almost two dozen people showed up to protest it. The church has denied activists' claims of violence to the pigs. Steve Hindi of the SHARK group had event video which showed one pig limping, and others dropped from several feet. The group said it would pay Bishop David Ricken and other church leaders ten-thousand dollars if they agreed to take the pigs' place next year. The group says it will file a complaint, alleging that the pig wrestling amounts to felony animal cruelty. Outagamie County sheriff's officials were on hand last Sunday. They said they saw nothing criminal take place.
Jonathan Lucroy and some of his Brewer teammates have done it. Aaron Rodgers did it. Now, Governor Scott Walker has dumped a bucket of ice water over his head as part of a fund-raiser to fight Lou Gehrig's disease. The Republican Walker and his wife Tonette both accepted the "Ice Bucket Challenge" from the ALS Foundation. Walker posted the video of both on his Facebook page. Everyone who does it is supposed to nominate three others to record videos of their ice-dumping within 24 hours. Walker has called on U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh to do it -- along with U.S. House Budget chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville, and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus from Racine. Walker's Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, plans to make her ice dumping video tomorrow.