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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Bail for Illinois man charged with first-degree homicide set at a half-million

RACINE -- A half-million dollar bond was set yesterday for a man charged with killing a 14-year-old runaway in Racine County in 1997.  36-year-old James Eaton of Palatine Illinois made his first court appearance on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse.  He's accused of killing Amber Creek, who was also from Palatine.  A prosecutor called the case "chilling."  Amber was beaten, sexually-assaulted, and suffocated with a plastic bag before she was left in a wildlife preserve near Burlington.  Investigators sent evidence to crime labs throughout the country, hoping they'd find a match of the victim's D-N-A with a possible suspect.  In late February, Oklahoma officials said Eaton's fingerprints were on the plastic bag.  Racine County authorities said they then started following Eaton around -- and they found a cigarette butt he dropped at a Chicago area train station which had a match with Amber's D-N-A.  Eaton is due back in Racine County Circuit Court next Wednesday, when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.

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About 700 residents in eastern Wisconsin lost their natural gas service, after a road construction crew broke a gas main in New Holstein.  Police captain Jeff Hebl said a high-pressure line was struck around 3:30 yesterday afternoon.  It did not explode, and nobody was hurt.  Hebl said 30 homes were evacuated as a precaution, and a shelter was set up at New Holstein High School.  The residents were allowed back home around eight last night.  The Wisconsin Public Service utility was working to restore the gas service.

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The luxury automaker Tesla questions the motives of a lawsuit filed this week under Wisconsin's lemon law.  Tesla Motors wrote on its blog that it's doing all it can to fix Robert Montgomery's 2013 Model-"S."  The Franklin doctor hired Milwaukee lemon law attorney Vince Megna to represent him -- and Tesla noted that Megna helped the same client sue Volvo last year for another defective new car.  In that case, Montgomery got a refund.  Tesla questioned Megna's motivations, and the San Francisco area company said it never wants anyone to be unhappy owning a Model-"S."  Megna tells the A-P his client's happiness is not the issue.  He said Tesla is legally required to either fix the defects, or grant a refund.  The new lawsuit said Montgomery asked Tesla for a refund last November and never got a reply.  That was after the car was in a shop for about two months for problems that included the vehicle not starting. The lawsuit said Montgomery took the vehicle four times to service centers in Chicago.  The car cost almost 95-thousand dollars, and Montgomery could get double-damages if he wins his case.

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Wisconsin Power-and-Light has asked state officials for permission to keep freezing its base electric rates for the next two years.  The utility for south central Wisconsin filed a rate proposal yesterday with the state Public Service Commission.  It would continue to give the Madison-based Power-and-Light a return of almost 10-and-a-half percent, which it can invest in power plant improvements.  The company's base electric rates have held steady since 2010, while its natural gas rates have dropped.  W-P-and-L asked the state for the okay to reduce natural gas rates by a net of five-million dollars next year, and then keep them steady in 2016.  Utility president John Larsen said his company has some of the lowest electric and gas rates in Wisconsin -- and it's welcome news for customers after one of the coldest winters in decades.  Customers pay variable amounts for the fuel that's used in producing power.  That charge increased by one-point-six percent in January. 

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The Medical College of Wisconsin plans to start recruiting students this summer for a new doctor training facility in De Pere that's due to open in 2015.  School officials say they're completing a fund-raising effort for the new medical school, and wrapping up the process of getting accredited.  The first class will have 20-to-25 students, who are scheduled to begin classes in the fall of next year.  The goal is to help Wisconsin train enough doctors to treat the expanding senior population caused by the baby boom.  The state's hospital association says Wisconsin is training about 100 fewer doctors than are needed to maintain current staffing levels around the state.  The Medical College said it was responding to the shortage when it announced new training centers in the Green Bay and Wausau areas a couple years ago.  College vice president Joseph Kerschner said mental health would be a major focus of the De Pere school.  He said the school is developing seven mental health residency programs in the Green Bay area.

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Wisconsin gas prices are inching up this week.  The Triple-"A" reports a statewide average of 3.64-a-gallon this morning for regular unleaded.  That's almost a penny higher than yesterday, and a nickel more than both a week ago and a month ago.  Greg Laskoski of Gas Buddy-Dot-Com said part of the increase is due to a recent spike in prices for corn-based ethanol, which is used in the most popular lower grades of fuel.  He said transportation issues might be behind the increase.  Also, refineries are still shifting their inventories to summer grades of gas.  That's expected to completed soon, and Laskoski says prices should then level off. 

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Commercial boat traffic on the Mississippi River is still not as far north as La Crosse yet.  That's bad news for Wisconsin farmers and businesses which rely on the vessels to keep their shipping costs down.  Normally, the first barges of the spring pass through La Crosse in late March.  But thick ice from the bitter-cold winter is still causing delays.  The Army Corps of Engineers said Lake Pepin still had 22-inches of surface ice yesterday.  Tow operators say won't go through any more than 15-inches of ice, or they'll damage their equipment.  As a result, the Corps said the first river barges were no further north than Guttenberg Iowa yesterday.  Officials said they could get to La Crosse before the week's out, thanks to a recent warming trend.  La Crosse had a high of 69 degrees yesterday, and Zack Taylor of the National Weather Service says it should help the ice melt.  The area expects highs in the 50's-and-60's through Sunday.  Meanwhile, the Weather Service has issued a new flood warning for the Big Rib River at Rib Falls in Marathon County.  The river was just over an inch above its banks overnight.

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A Milwaukee woman will spend nine months in jail and four years on probation, for throwing her toddler face-first onto a concrete sidewalk.  23-year-old Jasmine Oliver had pleaded no contest to child abuse and neglect, after more serious charges were dropped in a plea deal.  Prosecutors said Oliver was talking on a cell phone when she lifted her 16-month-old daughter by her jacket off the sidewalk, and threw her face-first onto the concrete before walking away.  The child was later treated for a concussion and extensive cuts and bruises.  Police quoted Oliver as saying she didn't want the child anymore, because she couldn't handle her.  She'll spend her jail time in the Milwaukee County House of Correction.  If she doesn't follow the terms of her probation, Oliver would be sent to prison for up to four years. 

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The National Weather Service does not expect major flooding on the Mississippi River this spring.  But smaller rivers could get the liquid leftovers from the foot-and-a-half of snow that fell in far northern Wisconsin a week ago.  The Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company of Wausau says flows are higher than normal on the hydro-electric dams it operates along the Wisconsin River.  Manager Peter Hanson says anglers will be tempted to take advantage of good fishing near the dams, where high waters and flows could make things risky.  He said dams need to be respected -- and anglers should pay attention to their surroundings, and be on the alert for official warnings.  Forecasters expect highs in the 50's-and-60's through tomorrow, with a slight cool down and statewide rain showers during the weekend.  Cooler highs in the 40's are predicted for Monday.

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A plant near Appleton that makes envelopes is closing for good.  The Cenveo Corporation said today it would shut down the former National Envelope plant in the town of Grand Chute.  About 150 people will be put out of work.  Cenveo bought the facility last September, after National Envelope had filed for bankruptcy.  However, the company said it could not reach a lease agreement with the building's owner, Spirit Leasing of Arizona.  Cenveo blamed the landlord for what it called a difficult decision to shut the plant down.  Spirit Leasing has not commented.

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A dry start to Wisconsin's wildfire season could run into the weekend.  The National Weather Service says a couple of weak systems could bring limited showers to parts of the state today and tomorrow.  A large low-pressure system is expected to spread showers and thunderstorms statewide both on Saturday and Sunday.  Meanwhile, at least some grass fires have burned out of control due to high winds, low humidity, and suddenly-warmer temperatures.  Last night, authorities said a grass fire near Sparta spread to a nearby forest.  About 100 fire-fighters from five departments finally got the blaze under control late last night, thanks to a shift in the wind.  Going into this week, the D-N-R reported 61 spring wildfires statewide, burning 227 acres at that time.  Officials said the risk of wildfires is high to very-high in the southern half of the state, and low to moderate in the northern half.  A number of counties in the south have canceled burning permits.  Officials say debris-burning is the state's top cause of spring wildfires.

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Fire destroyed a feed mill in western Wisconsin.  Units were called last night to Larson Agri-Services in Whitehall.  No one was in the building at the time, and no one was hurt.  Units from nine fire departments got the blaze under control by midnight.  By then, the building was a total loss -- and there was damage to nearby grain bins.  W-Q-O-W T-V of Eau Claire said a haz-mat team was put on standby, but the building had no hazardous chemicals inside.  The main feed mill structure was more than 100 years old.

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