WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Opening Day for the Wisconsin State Fair
The Wisconsin State Fair opens this morning in West Allis. The eleven-day expo has a tough act to follow, after last year's fair drew more than a million people -- its largest crowds since 1969. It's where young people go to have their animals and other creations judged -- where state businesses show off their progress -- and where folks can get a plethora of entertainment. And it's not just Wisconsinites who look forward to the State Fair. Bryce Alpers tells W-T-M-J Radio that he and his sister drive from Indianapolis each year, in part to enjoy the fair's funnel cake. Others come for the fair's signature cream puffs, which fell just short of selling 400-thousand last year for only the second time since 1924. More of the fair's neighbors also expect to cash in this year. Fewer parking spots are available on the grounds, so more neighbors have prepared their lawns and backyards to handle the overflow. W-T-M-J says they'll charge up to 20-dollars a parking space. Of course, the weather has a lot to do with the State Fair's success. Forecasters say there's a chance of rain each afternoon for the next few days -- and it will diminish each evening. Tonight's main stage act is country singer Phil Vassar.
Both of Wisconsin's U-S attorneys say the state's photo I-D law for voting violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Milwaukee's chief federal prosecutor James Santelle and Madison's John Vaudreuil (voo-dray) filed a brief yesterday with the Seventh Circuit Appellate Court in Chicago. That's where the state Justice Department is challenging Federal Judge Lynn Adelman's recent decision to strike down the voter I-D law passed by state Republicans in 2011. Two civil rights attorneys from the U-S Justice Department also joined in the prosecutors' arguments. They pointed to court records showing that 300-thousand Wisconsinites don't have the photo I-D's they need to vote. That alone, they say, is evidence that the state requirement discriminates against minorities and therefore goes against the national Voting Rights law. State Attorney General J-B Van Hollen contends that the law is constitutional, and it's needed to fight voter fraud. To re-instate it, Van Hollen must win his federal case -- along with two similar Wisconsin cases which will be ruled upon today by the State Supreme Court. The Wisconsin law was only used once in a primary election in February of 2012.
A jury in Madison could decide today whether a Colorado woman is guilty of kidnapping her baby nephew near Beloit, and leaving him in sub-zero cold behind a gas station in Iowa. Testimony ended yesterday in the federal court trial of 31-year-old Kristen Smith. Attorneys will present their closing arguments this morning before jurors begin their deliberations. Smith faces up to life in prison if she's convicted of her single kidnapping charge. She testified yesterday that she took five-day-old Kayden Powell from her mother in February because the boy's family was planning to move in with her near Denver -- and the father suggested that she take him ahead of time. Police stopped Smith after the boy's mother was distraught. Officers said he was gone by then, and Smith claimed she didn't know where he was. Prosecution testimony also indicated that Smith might have tried passing off the baby as her own at one point. The youngster survived 29 hours in a cold bin behind a gas station at West Branch Iowa.
Two brothers from Kentucky were injured when their home-built airplane lost power and crashed. It happened yesterday in Oshkosh, where hundreds of thousands of aviation lovers are attending the E-A-A's Air-Venture Show. Fire officials said both brothers suffered non-life-threatening injuries as their craft was trying to land as it lost power. It went down at a small air-strip south of the Oshkosh Correctional Institution. The National Transportation Safety Board said the craft was a single-engine plane with two seats, built from a kit. Officials are not sure how or why the power outage occurred.
A domestic abuse shelter in Marinette is being re-named in honor of a counselor who was killed by her boyfriend. A memorial plaque was unveiled yesterday at the former Rainbow House, which is now called the Patricia Waschbisch (wash'-bish) Center Against Domestic Violence. The 45-year-old Waschbisch was a long-time advocate for domestic abuse victims. She was stabbed to death in April of last year by 49-year-old Brent Kaempf of Peshtigo, after she said she was going to break up with him. Kaempf was sentenced in January to life in prison with no chance for a supervised release. He had pleaded no contest to first-degree intentional homicide. The newly-named Waschbisch Center provides services for domestic abuse victims in Marinette and Oconto counties in Wisconsin, and Menominee County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese must soon come up with one-and-a-third million dollars to pay lawyers for those who are owed money in the church's bankruptcy case. Federal Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley ruled yesterday that the church must pay around 20-percent of what's owed to the attorneys. The lawyers must file applications for the money by mid-August. Kelley agreed to suspend the payments 17 months ago, to help the ten-county Catholic archdiocese meet its current obligations while re-organizing its finances. Now, she says the attorneys -- who represent mainly 575 victims of sex abuse by priests -- have waited long enough for their compensation. Also yesterday, Kelley told both sides to try for a second time to mediate a final settlement the three-and-a-half-year-old bankruptcy case. The first such effort failed in 2012. The church has a re-organization that would compensate just over a quarter of the sex abuse victims who filed claims in the case. Both sides have four weeks to submit statements to the mediator. Those talks could begin in September.
An elderly woman from east central Wisconsin is on trial for allegedly mistreating five horses that died. Testimony began yesterday in the case of 72-year-old Barbara Thiry of Clintonville. She's charged in Waupaca County with 15 misdemeanors in the deaths of five horses at a farm where she used to live in Kewaunee County. According to prosecutors, Thiry moved from the farm in 2010 -- and the new owner found some of the horse-heads in the house, which had to be torn down because it was so filthy. The owner also reportedly found horse carcasses in a barn, while removing deep piles of manure. Authorities said the horses were not properly fed, watered, or sheltered -- and they had poor health care. A jury heard testimony from four witnesses in the trial's opening day, and the judge accepted several photos into evidence. The trial is expected to run through tomorrow before Circuit Judge Raymond Huber.
A man who was found shot-to-death in Racine on Tuesday night has been identified as 19-year-old Semar McClain. Police say they're still trying to determine the circumstances which led to the shooting -- and they continue to ask the public for tips. Officials consider the case a homicide. Neighbors said McClain was shot in an alley behind a group of homes. The Racine Journal Times said McClain had ties to the area, and he went to Horlick High School at one point.
For the second day in a row, parts of Wisconsin had hail-storms yesterday. Golf ball-sized hail fell in the late afternoon west of Hayward in Washburn County. Parts of Rusk, Sawyer, Vilas, and Forest counties also had small hail. The National Weather Service said power was knocked out last night in much of Ladysmith, where hail fell for four minutes straight. X-cel Energy said almost everybody had their power restored by seven this morning. Several trees also fell near Ladysmith. Forecasters said a stagnant upper-level low pressure will continue to hang around Wisconsin for at least the next few days. Thunderstorms are possible, generally in the afternoons and early evenings. Temperatures remain a little below normal for this time of year. Afternoon highs are expected to reach close to 80 at least through Monday.
For about a decade, statewide Amber Alerts have helped authorities track down missing-and-abducted children. Starting tomorrow, a similar service begins to help find missing older adults who are at-risk. The Silver Alert program will use the state's Crime Alert Network to send messages to Wisconsin radio and T-V stations. The idea is to quickly get out information that can help find mainly those with dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. The state Legislature unanimously approved the new Silver Alert system, and Governor Scott Walker did the same in April. About 30 states have similar networks in place.
The droughts of 2011-and-2012 hurt the cattle industry so much that there's not enough livestock to support all U-S beef plants. That's what Cargill said yesterday, when it said it would close its Milwaukee beef-processing facility tomorrow. Six-hundred employees can apply for work at other Cargill facilities in the Midwest. The company will hold a job fair next week. Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said many cattle herders are breeding animals instead of selling them -- and as a result, the nation's beef cattle herd at its lowest since 1951. The company said the Milwaukee closure comes after an 18-month review of cattle supplies. The plant is one of Cargill's smallest, processing around 14-hundred cattle per day. Some jobs were cut yesterday, according to a notice filed with the state Department of Workforce Development. Normally, plants must file 60-day advance notices of closures and major layoffs, except in emergency situations. Cargill says it will give all affected employees 60 days of pay after the plant shuts down. The move does not affect another plant on the same site where 200 people process ground beef. Another ground beef in suburban Butler will also stay open.
There's a major ownership change involving Wisconsin's largest media company. Journal Communications of Milwaukee and the Scripps Company of Cincinnati have agreed to merge their radio-and-T-V operations -- while spinning off their 14 newspapers into a separate public entity. The newspaper branch will be called the Journal Media Group, and will be based in Milwaukee where the state's largest newspaper -- the Journal Sentinel -- is located. The paper's community and digital products will be part of the new group, along with Scripps products which include the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Scripps will control the broadcast side from Cincinnati. That group will include W-T-M-J Radio and T-V in Milwaukee, plus other stations in 26 U-S markets. It will become the nation's fifth-largest T-V group. Journal C-E-O Steve Smith will stay on as the non-executive chairman of Journal Media. He says both companies see the move as a great "cultural fit" with great value. Scripps senior vice president Tim Stautberg becomes the C-E-O of Journal Media, as well as a director. Scripps C-E-O Richard Boehne remains in that role. Boards of both companies have okayed the deal. Stockholders and regulators must still give their blessing. Scripps shareholders would get 69-percent of the combined broadcasting group, and 59-percent of Journal Media. Journal stockholders would get the rest. Scripps stockholders also get a total of 60-million dollars in cash dividends. The changes are expected to be finalized next year.
A semi-truck driver was killed in a crash near Beloit that spilled up to 300 gallons of liquid fertilizer. It happened around two yesterday afternoon on Highway 81 in the Rock County town of Newark. According to sheriff's deputies, 75-year-old Willard Trewyn of Janesville was driving a semi that was carrying a bulk tanker trailer, when it rear-ended a car that stopped to turn into a driveway. Officials said the truck rolled over and landed in the right ditch. Trewyn died at the scene. Three elderly women in the car, all in their 70's and 80's, escaped injury. Officials said the fertilizer spill did not create a safety hazard to the public.