WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Former Rhinelander teacher placed on probation for drug convictions
A former Rhinelander High School teacher is spending another month in custody and four years on probation on convictions for thefts-and-illegal drugs. 35-year-old Joshua Juergens is serving his time at a local drug treatment facility, where he has spent the last two months. He struck a plea deal last fall in which he was convicted on four charges -- most of them reduced -- while four others were dropped. Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek said Juergens has a quote, "very significant substance abuse problem." He was arrested last September after a disturbance at his home. Authorities noticed computer equipment missing from Rhinelander High, where Juergens was an English teacher until he was fired after his arrest. He had been an English teacher there since last fall. A search warrant uncovered a marijuana-growing operation with 66 plants, plus illegal prescription drugs and paraphernalia. Juergens also admitted stealing his landlord's pontoon boat and a log splitter, which he sold to support his drug habit. Juergens apologized at his sentencing. After the plea deal, his only felony conviction was for manufacturing marijuana.
Two bodies were pulled yesterday from a car that plunged into the Mississippi River on the Minnesota side at Winona. One victim is identified as 36-year-old Christina Hauser of Winona. The name of the other person, a 30-year-old man, was not immediately released. Winona County sheriff's deputies were told about car tracks heading toward the river about 7:30 yesterday morning. Sheriff Dave Brand said an underwater camera spotted the vehicle, and it was pulled from the water around noon. Both victims were wearing seat belts. Autopsies were planned, as deputies continue to investigate the incident.
Three finalists for the next president of the U-W System will explain their visions for the university today. Each candidate will have his own moderated one-hour public forum, to be shown at 28 locations throughout the state -- mostly at U-W campuses. Robert King, who heads the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education, is up first at 11:30. U-W Colleges-and-Extension chancellor Ray Cross is next at 2:30. And Peter Garland, chief operating officer of Pennsylvania's higher education system, will begin his forum at 3:45. A final candidate is expected to be chosen later this week. The Board of Regents will have a choice between an in-house candidate and an outsider with long academic backgrounds -- or a former New York politician. King spent five years running a state university system. If Wisconsin goes the political route, they'll follow schools in Indiana and California which did the same. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is now the president of Purdue University, while ex-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano now runs a network of 10 University of California campuses. Getting along with State Capitol leaders will most likely be a key priority. Lawmakers got upset last year when U-W campuses were caught with millions-of-dollars in hidden surpluses. Also, the next president will have to deal with ongoing reductions in tax-funded state support, and new online education aimed at non-traditional students. The new leader will replace Kevin Reilly.
Authorities near Wausau say it might take a few months to confirm the identity of a person who died in a mobile home fire a week ago. Everest Metro Police Chief Wally Sparks says relatives of the suspected victim will have to provide their D-N-A samples. He says it will take several months to get all the evidence together from a fire that broke out in Weston, east of Wausau. Sparks says the victim appears to be the mother of two residents of the mobile home -- and the cause of death won't be known until full autopsy and toxicology reports come in. That normally takes a few weeks. Initial reports indicated that one person died in the fire, another escaped with a minor injury, and two other people escaped unharmed.
Wisconsin's larger cities are fighting back against the tree-killing emerald ash borer. Since 2009, Milwaukee and Chicago have used the federally-approved pesticide "Tree-Age" against the invasive beetle. Milwaukee has spent around 950-thousand-dollars a year on the treatment. Officials say it's a lot cheaper than the old procedure of cutting down all of the city's ash trees to keep disease from spreading. In Milwaukee's case, it would have cost 27-million dollars to remove all the trees. Instead, city forestry services manager David Sivyer says Milwaukee is quote, "the envy of most communities that have" the emerald ash borer. Madison is working on a hybrid plan after the beetle was confirmed there in November. Officials plan to cut down trees in bad condition, while treating larger ones. The cost is expected to be one-point-one million dollars a year by 2019. Cost is a real concern in many cities. Michigan State forestry professor Deb McCullough says some cities have a hard time budgeting tax money to protect trees while trying to keep police-and-fire personnel on the job.
It was a year ago yesterday when the Golden Guernsey dairy plant in Waukesha suddenly closed. School districts throughout southeast Wisconsin scrambled during a weekend to find new suppliers for their students' milk. And according to state officials, employees are still owed one-point-six million dollars in pay-and-benefits. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says some of the 112 former employees are owed 25-thousand-dollars or more -- including vacation pay, matches for their pensions, and other pay. The workers did receive final paychecks, but a court is still deciding whether to order other penalties for allegedly violating the state's plant closing law. The law requires a 60-day notice for most closings and major layoffs. Golden Guernsey filed for bankruptcy just days after the plant shut down. In May, a trustee arranged a sale of the company to Lifeway Foods of suburban Chicago. The company had hoped to re-open the plant by the start of the New Year, and bring back at least some of the old Golden Guernsey workers. A public relations firm says the new owner now expects to finish its re-opening preparations by the end of the month.
The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release a long-awaited study today on how to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. One possible idea is to separate water links between the Mississippi River -- where the bloated carp has been a problem for years -- and Lake Michigan, where an electronic barrier is trying to keep those carp away. Wisconsin and some other Midwest states have gone to court in an effort to separate the two basins. However, Chicago area business groups say it would hurt their local economy. Bighead and silver carp were imported from Asia a number of years ago, and they've been infecting the Mississippi River and its tributaries on their journey north. If they reach the Great Lakes, officials in Wisconsin are among those who fear damage to Lake Michigan's multi-billion-dollar fishing industry.
U-S Senator Ron Johnson says he'll file a lawsuit today against a provision in Obama-care, even though one of his fellow Wisconsin Republicans calls it an "unfortunate political stunt." Menomonee Falls Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner said Johnson should not challenge a rule that lets Members-of-Congress and their staffs keep getting the same health benefits as other federal employees. Sensenbrenner takes issue with Johnson's claim that Congress is giving itself special treatment. He says the benefits are no different than what the president and federal employees get. The Affordable Care Act requires House and Senate members and their staffs to buy their health coverage on the Obama-care exchanges. However, taxpayers are still covering about three-fourths of the bill -- and Johnson says that's wrong. Johnson said Congress made a "covenant" with the American people by subjecting themselves to Obama-care -- and he says lawmakers and their staffs should pay for it themselves, just like many of their constituents. Sensenbrenner says that if Johnson wins his suit, quote, "Congress will lose some of its best staff." Johnson says he's quote, "disappointed and puzzled" by Sensenbrenner's position.
The virus that caused a swine flu pandemic in Wisconsin four years ago has made a comeback – but doctors at the Marshfield Clinic say it’s not nearly as prevalent as it was in 2010. Still, Doctor Edward Belongia says the H-1-N-1 virus has become the predominant flu strain in the region this winter. It’s among the strains that are covered in this winter’s flu vaccine. As of last Thursday, Wisconsin has had almost 400 flu-related hospitalizations in the current season. Wood County health nurse Diane Rodd tells Gannett’s Central Wisconsin Sunday newspaper that the flu has disproportionately affected young adults. About 36-percent of the state’s hospitalizations were for 18-to-49-year-olds. That’s been the most of any age group. Thirty cases were so severe, that the patients wound up in intensive care units.