WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: State Fair draws over a million patrons
WEST ALLIS - The Wisconsin State Fair that ended yesterday attracted its biggest crowds since 1969. Officials said today that about 1,000,012 people paid to get into the 11-day expo.That’s almost 10-percent higher than last year’s total attendance of 921,000.
State Fair Park CEO Rick Frenette said there are very few fairs in the U.S that attract more than a million people – and it was an honor to reach the landmark. Over 120,000 people went down the yellow Giant Slide on the midway. The Wisconsin Bakers Association sold over 387,000 of the fair’s traditional cream puffs. That’s 12,000 more than a year ago, but it’s just that the 400,000 the group was hoping to sell for only the second time since 1924. The attendance has helped Wisconsin's state fair maintain itself as one top state fairs in the country along with Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, New York, Arizona, New England, North Carolina, Oklahoma, California, Indiana and Ohio.
A health official expects the Milwaukee area to start getting human cases of the West Nile Virus in the next week or two. Paul Biedrzycki of the Milwaukee Health Department says the probability of human cases has just gone up, after mosquitoes in three traps around the city tested positive for West Nile. As of last week, state officials reported only one human case of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus this year. That was in Dane County, and the U-S Centers for Disease Control had not confirmed the case yet. At least 31 birds from throughout the Badger State have died from the virus. About 80-percent of those who get West Nile never feel any symptoms, but one-percent normally becomes severely ill. 2012 was unusually severe for West Nile, with hundreds of deaths in the nation’s mid-section. Wisconsin had four deaths and 53 other illnesses a year ago. That’s the most since officials started tracking West Nile in 2002.
A former fire-fighter in northeast Wisconsin has been convicted of burning three more buildings, bringing his total number of arsons to six. 28-year-old Drew Christensen of Suring pleaded no contest yesterday to a pair of arson charges in Oconto County, plus one Marinette County charge of arson with the intent to defraud. In May, Christensen struck a plea deal in federal court that convicted him of starting fires at the Klondike Community Church, the Jaded Bar in Suring, and the Everbreeze Resort in Mountain, all between 2009-and-2011. Christensen is scheduled to be sentenced in November for all of his state and federal convictions. First, Federal Judge William Griesbach wants to find out how much Christensen takes part in helping prosecute two alleged co-conspirators in his federal cases. 37-year-old Jessica Miller and 32-year-old Donald Halbur, both of Crivitz, are scheduled for federal court trials in early November. They and Christensen were accused of burning down Miller’s home so he could get insurance money. Ten years of prison have been recommended in Christensen’s federal case. It’s not known if additional prison time would be sought for his state convictions. Christensen had spent six years on the Brazeau Fire Department. He was released in 2011 for missing department meetings due to his job.
Twenty-one pedestrians have been killed in Wisconsin this year, three fewer than the same time a year ago. A woman killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a Milwaukee street on Sunday night has been identified as 32-year-old Andrea Barringer – who became engaged just two days earlier. Investigators acted on a tip and arrested a 48-year-old suspect. Police are still investigating, and they have not said much else about the arrest. The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office said Barringer had just left an east side café when she ran across Farwell Avenue while assuming she could beat the traffic. Witnesses said the vehicle that struck Barringer was speeding at the time.
An investigation continues into an eastern Wisconsin highway crash that killed a 20-year-old Kewaunee woman. Tiffany Drouse died at the scene. Kewaunee County authorities said a pick-up truck was towing two farm wagons when it stopped a stop-sign, then collided with a car coming from the right. Drouse was driving the car, and witnesses said she was speeding and drinking just before the mishap. Her female passenger was taken to a Green Bay hospital with serious injuries. The driver of the pick-up truck was not hurt.
Police said a car stolen from Wisconsin struck a 13-year-old boy and drove away. It happened late Saturday afternoon in Duluth, Minnesota. The boy suffered minor injuries, and was not hospitalized. Police said the youngster ran in front of the car, and the vehicle never stopped. Investigators said it was gray-or-green passenger car with a Wisconsin plate that was discovered to be stolen. Two men were in the car when the crash took place.
Police in Superior said a tip helped them find a man suspected of beating-and-robbing an 84-year-old woman at her home. Officers said they received multiple tips about the incident – including one who had just spotted a vehicle that was described by police as a possible get-away car. Officers found the car yesterday morning – and when they tried to stop the driver, a short chase ensued. The suspect reportedly hit two parked cars before colliding into TLK Industries. The building received minor damage, while the struck vehicles had moderate-to-major damage. A 47-year-old man was treated at a hospital for minor injuries from the crashes, and was then taken to the Douglas County Jail. Charges are pending. In Sunday’s original incident, the 84-year-old woman answered her door when she was immediately struck in the face. Police said he took money and several other items before driving away.
A 14-year-old Sheboygan boy will find out today how long he’ll have to stay in prison for helping a friend brutally kill his great-grandmother. Nathan Paape will get a mandatory life prison term – and because of his age, Circuit Judge Timothy Van Akkeren must set a mandatory minimum date for a supervised release. A jury convicted Paape of first-degree intentional homicide, for helping 14-year-old Antonio Barbeau kill his 78-year-old great-grandmother Barbara Olson at her Sheboygan Falls home last September. Barbeau struck a plea deal, and was sentenced yesterday to life-in-prison, with a minimum date of 2048 for a supervised release. That’s one year longer than the state requested. Paape tried to convince his jury that he had nothing to do with planning an elaborate scheme to steal money from Olson’s house, and hurt her if necessary. During his testimony, Paape said he struck the victim twice with a hammer, fearing that Barbeau would turn on him if he didn’t. They also took turns striking Olson with a hatchet. They got away with $150 plus jewelry.
An autopsy is scheduled today for a former Wisconsin Rapids police lieutenant who apparently killed himself yesterday while awaiting charges in a child enticement case. 41-year-old Steven Lowe was found dead yesterday in the back of his truck in the Wood County town of Grand Rapids, just east of Wisconsin Rapids. Officials said he suffered a self-inflicted injury. Court records showed that Lowe portrayed himself as a 15-year-old girl online, so he could get teenage boys to send him nude photos of themselves. The National Center for Missing-and-Exploited Children learned about the matter, and the state Justice Department served a warrant at Lowe’s home on July 31st. He posted a $20,000 bond, and charges were still pending at the time of his death.
A cool, dry summer is still causing problems for Wisconsin farmers. The National Ag Statistics Service says the Badger State has had below-normal temperatures for three straight weeks – and crops that were planted late need more heat. A half-dozen tornadoes caused crop damage in northeast Wisconsin last week. Fond du Lac County had one-and-three-quarter inches of rain, but most of the state did not get much rain – if any. Forty-four percent of the top-soil on Wisconsin fields remains short or very-short of moisture. Almost two-thirds of the sub-soils have adequate moisture. Fifty-nine percent of the Badger State’s corn crop is in good-to-excellent condition, and 28-percent is fair. Sixty-percent of the soybeans are good-to-excellent, and 30-percent are fair. Isolated rain showers are in the forecast today in northern Wisconsin. After they clear out, dry weather is predicted statewide at least through the weekend. The mercury might not hit 80 again until Friday.
Damage estimates keep growing in the wake of last week’s tornadoes and thunderstorms in northeast Wisconsin. The Appleton and Hortonville areas were the hardest hit. Yesterday, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said the damage has surpassed 30-million dollars – all but six-million to private homes and businesses. Nelson said every town, village, and city in his county has submitted at least partial damage estimates. He’s not sure when he’ll have the final figures. Nelson expects enough damage to at least file for federal assistance to repair public facilities like roads-and-bridges. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has confirmed a sixth tornado from last Wednesday morning. New maps show that the sixth twister moved from near New London to south of Hortonville. Dozens of homes were damaged in Hortonville, where officials held a public meeting last night to update residents on the cleanup and the status of possible disaster relief. Police Chief Michael Sullivan said volunteer groups have been helping with the cleanup.
A state prosecutor said former probation agent Kim Hoenisch stole painkillers from friends and relatives, as well as the offenders she supervised. The 41-year-old Hoenisch was sentenced in Wausau yesterday to 18 months in prison plus supervision and probation, after a plea deal which convicted her of four criminal charges. Prosecutor Winn Collins said his pre-sentence investigation included stinging accusations from estranged family members as well as her former clients. Among other things, he said Hoenisch stole medicines from a man who was dying from terminal bone cancer. Hoenisch blamed her behavior on her addiction to painkillers – and she asked to stay out of prison so could get treatment and be with her five-year-old twin boys. Defense lawyer Harry Hertel said the pre-sentence report had significant errors. Among other things, he denied his client was abusing drugs after the state’s investigation began into her activity. Also yesterday, Hoenisch was fined 100-dollars to settle a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a July 16th fight with her sister and the smashing of a phone at their mother’s home north of Wausau.
A judge is expected to set bond today for a man accused of killing a neighbor in central Wisconsin, and leaving her body in a partially-burned vehicle in the next county over. 32-year-old Jose Flores has been arrested in the death of 36-year-old Jamie Koch. He has not been charged yet. Authorities believe Koch may have been strangled last Tuesday or early Wednesday in her apartment in Plover. Her body was later found in a burned vehicle in Waupaca County. No weapon was used.
A retired Catholic priest will talk more today about his work with a whistle-blowers’ group that exposes sex abuse by clergy members. The Reverend James Connell is a former official with the Milwaukee Archdiocese, and a former priest at two parishes in Sheboygan. Now, he’s on the steering committee for the Catholic Whistle-Blowers – a group of former priests and nuns who try to shed light on sex abuse, and the responses by church leaders. Connell has urged the Milwaukee church and other groups to be more open about their handling of sex abuse cases. He’ll talk more about his group today to the Milwaukee Press Club.
A Janesville elementary teacher who was drunk on a school field trip was paid over $18,000 after she resigned. 50-year-old Maria Caya quit a month-and-a-half ago, after she was found to be drunk while supervising fourth-and-fifth graders who went bowling in June. School Board president Greg Ardrey tells WKOW-TV in Madison he does not feel good about the large payment to Caya – but he calls it best solution for everybody. The district said the 18-thousand-plus was in the form of unused sick leave, and she’ll get health-and-dental benefits through this month. In exchange, she agreed not to sue the school district for any reason. Teachers’ union president Dave Parr tells WKOW the deal is consistent with other Janesville teachers who’ve resigned. The union’s contract recently ended due to the state’s Act-10 bargaining limits – and union secretary Wendy Haag said it leaves the value of unpaid sick leave unclear. Caya had spent 14 years in the Janesville school system.
The speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly says he would consider giving Milwaukee a half-million state dollars to add police officers amid a rash of shootings. However, Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said the city would need to do a better job of fighting crime. Last week, Mayor Tom Barrett gave Milwaukee Police an extra half-million in city funds. He asked the state to match it, but Governor Scott Walker said it would only cause more Wisconsin mayors to line up for more money. Vos told the Wisconsin Eye cable channel that Milwaukee Police have made quote, “errors over time.” He said they’ve reduced the numbers of officers to the point in which there are too many one-person squads who need to wait for one-person back-ups while crimes are committed. Yesterday, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn blasted the speaker’s comments, calling them quote, “intentionally misinformed.” Joel Plant, Flynn’s chief-of-staff, said Milwaukee actually has more officers than in 2007 when Flynn first became the police chief. He said the vacancy rate is down, and so is violent crime. Vos also said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett focused too much on keeping city employee residency requirements during the recent budget debate. Had he mentioned safety concerns instead, Vos said he could have helped the mayor. Plant said the recent shootings underscore a need for more specific data-driven strategies to prevent violence. Almost two dozen people have been shot in Milwaukee since Aug. 2nd. Seven of them were murdered.
The Solidarity Singers escaped their almost daily arrests at the State Capitol yesterday, thanks to a permit obtained by an observer. Stephanie Marquis of the Walker administration said David Dexheimer of Monona took out a permit for the space yesterday. He told the AP his permit allowed up three people to use a four-by-10-foot space in the Rotunda’s first-floor gallery – but somehow, the administration agreed to extend it to a much larger group on the ground floor. A federal judge recently upheld most of the administration’s policy on Capitol protests and gatherings – and the Capitol Police have used that ruling to crack down on the anti-Walker singers. Around 200 tickets have been issued in recent weeks. Thirty-three of those arrested plan to seek jury trials. The administration says the permit system is needed to maintain order at the Capitol. The singers say they shouldn’t need government approval to speak out against the government. An organizer for the “Solidarity Sing-Along” at the Capitol rotunda says he’s received 33 citations for gathering without a permit. Brandon Barwick says protests have been “intense” since Capitol police started cracking down on protesters. Attorneys representing some protesters have called the tickets “bogus” and have managed to get them dropped in court, Barwick says he plans to do the same. Meanwhile, the organizer says daily sing-along protests will continue until Governor Walker is out of office and that they are constitutionally protected.
Madison’s Police-and-Fire Commission has refused to drop a complaint filed against officer Stephen Heimsness, who shot a musician to death last November. Heimsness agreed last month to stop patrolling and resign this fall, in exchange for having a complaint dropped that was filed by Police Chief Noble Wray. The new complaint was filed by roommates of 30-year-old Paul Heenan. He mistakenly entered a neighbor’s house while he was drunk last November – and the officer shot Heenan during a scuffle while Heenan allegedly tried to reach for the officer’s weapon. The new complaint said Heimsness used poor judgment and violated the Madison Police policy on using excessive force. The officer tried dropping the complaint on several grounds, but the Police-and-Fire panel approved none of those requests. Both sides will now prepare for a formal hearing.
State and local law enforcement will kick off its annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign on Friday. Wisconsin State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable with the Bureau of Transportation Safety says the goal is to crack-down on impaired driving, a leading and preventable cause of fatal crashes in the state. Major Huxtable says there are programs out there to assist impaired individuals, including state ride programs and a “Drive Sober” application for Android and IPhone users. The application is free and provides a guideline for a user’s blood alcohol level, based on information entered. It also provides a list of public transportation and designated drivers available, based on location. Major Huxtable says the app is available at www-dot-ZEROINWISCONSIN-dot-GOV (www.zeroinwisconsin.gov).
The Wisconsin’s DNR is on the defensive, after an Elkhorn firm decided to build a plant in Arkansas due to long delays in getting approvals to build a facility in Whitewater. The head of DP Electronic Recycling said it only took three months to get the necessary state permits in Arkansas – while Wisconsin officials are taking a year-and-a-half and counting. In the meantime, CEO Dale Helgeson tells the Janesville Gazette his firm is losing a million-dollars in potential revenues with every month of delay. As a result, DP is building its first electronic recycling plant in Arkansas – and it still hopes it can build in Whitewater. DNR official Ed Lynch said his agency approached the permit process with caution because of the toxins involved in the recycling process. Still, he says his agency has not taken an undue amount of time to review the matter. DP plans to use recent technology to convert cathode ray tubes from older TV’s and computer screens into floor tiles. Lynch says Wisconsin’s DNR still has questions about the lead levels in the old tubes, and the agency wants to make sure the tiles are safe. Whitewater officials have waiting for the state’s approval, as well, since the proposed plant would create up to 100 new jobs.
A customer service company plans to add 125 jobs in Greenville, west of Appleton. Convergys offers customer service functions for other businesses – along with technical and sales support. Sales account managers are among the new jobs that are being added.
The parent company of Madison’s Anchor Bank has filed for bankruptcy, so it can get out from under millions-in-debts, and provide new money to be a major lender again. Anchor BanCorp said it raised $175-million from numerous investors to re-capitalize Wisconsin’s fourth-largest bank. Holding company official Chris Bauer said the move would save Anchor Bank and its 700 jobs – and it will allow the bank to continue operating as normal. Anchor has not made a profit in its last five fiscal years, in the wake of commercial loans that went sour during the Great Recession. If a bankruptcy judge approves, Anchor would wipe out two major debts – $139-million to the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, and $183-million to a group led by U.S. Bank, which Anchor borrowed to buy another bank in Wisconsin. The TARP loan would be forgiven in exchange for six-million dollars in new common stock. Bauer says the U.S. Treasury would sell the stock, and end its ownership in Anchor. He says the U.S Bank group has agreed to take $49-million to settle its debt.
Going to garage sales and thrift sales is a favorite pastime for hundreds-of-thousands of Wisconsinites. That’s why state consumer officials are warning shoppers to watch out for items that might have been recalled. State consumer protection bureau director Michelle Reinen says folks should check on-line recall lists of the things they want to buy, before they venture out. She also says a number of cell-phone apps provide the same info. Reports say that up to half of all recalled items are children’s things. Power tools and lawnmowers are also common recall targets. Wisconsin Rapids police lieutenant Brian Krzykowski says garage sale customers should never take chances when it comes to buying car seats, bicycle helmets, and other safety equipment.
Oshkosh officials are trying to figure out what to do with up to a million federal dollars. The Pentagon said Oshkosh qualifies for at least three-quarter million, in the wake of layoffs to least 950 people this year at the Oshkosh Corporation. The layoffs were caused by a 30-percent drop in the military vehicles made by Oshkosh, due mainly to the near-ending of the Iraq-Afghanistan war. City Manager Mark Rohloff tells the Oshkosh Northwestern he had no idea the area qualified for such federal aid until the military contacted him about it last month. The purpose is to get communities moving again, after they lose at least one-percent of their total workforce to defense cuts. The funds will be spread out over several years. The East Central Regional Planning Commission is trying to get ideas on how best to use the money. Among the possible recipients are Fox Valley Technical College, the Oshkosh industrial development group, and municipal governments.
Two Iraq War veterans from Milwaukee are planning a 2,700-mile walk to Los Angeles, to raise awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder. 30-year-old Anthony Anderson and 29-year-old Tom Voss have both been diagnosed with PTSD within the last seven years. They plan to leave Milwaukee on August 30th, and complete their walking trip in January. Along the way, they hope to raise 100-thousand-dollars for Dry-Hootch, a coffee-house and community support center for veterans on Milwaukee’s trendy east side. Voss was a vice-president of Dry-Hootch from 2010-to-2012. He’s working toward a degree in social work from U-W Milwaukee. Anderson is the director of operations for Dry-Hootch. He wants the walking trip to give him time to reflect on his two tours of duty in Iraq.
New home construction is booming in Wisconsin’s five largest metro areas, compared to a year ago. MTD Marketing Services said today that 408 building permits for new homes were issued last month in Metro Milwaukee, Dane County, Racine-Kenosha, the Fox Valley, and the Green Bay-Door County region. That’s up a whopping 42-percent from July of last year. The largest percentage increase was in the Fox Valley, where 73 building permits were issued last month compared to 46 at the same time in 2012. Dominic Collar of MTD said builders who were “on the sidelines” for the past few years started working again. He also said new builders were coming out of the woodwork, and more established outfits are reporting higher levels of consumer confidence. Collar said Wisconsin’s biggest home-construction markets are in quote, “the early stages of recovery” – and some parts of the business actually have labor shortages at the moment.
A Japanese artist won the third annual U.S. Open Chainsaw Sculpture Championship in Eau Claire during the weekend. Takao Hayashi won the three-thousand-dollar first prize. Curtis Ingvolstad of Minnesota placed second. Many of the wooden sculptures resembled eagles, raccoons, and other wildlife. They were later auctioned off. The artists received half the proceeds, while the rest went to the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum in Eau Claire.