Morning State News Briefs: Another person granted immunity on Walker probeWisconsin News
-- A 13th person was granted immunity from prosecution in the two-year-old John Doe probe into Governor Scott Walker’s former Milwaukee County aides.
MILWAUKEE - A 13th person was granted immunity from prosecution in the two-year-old John Doe probe into Governor Scott Walker’s former Milwaukee County aides.
Fran McLaughlin was a spokeswoman for Walker when he was the county executive. She served from 2007 through 2010, when Walker was first elected as governor. McLaughlin stayed in county government after Walker left – and she’s now the chief spokeswoman for Sheriff David Clarke. The Milwaukee County John Doe investigation is two years old and still going. Prosecutors use them to secretly gather evidence and testimony which help them decide whether-or-not to file charges in a particular case. The names of those getting immunity are the only things required to be public records during John Does. Five people have been charged in the Walker probe – three former county aides, an appointee, and a campaign donor.
A suspect is under arrest for the killing of a convenience store clerk in Waukesha. Police Chief Russell Jack said his officers recovered a handgun from a home, and it’s currently being analyzed by the State Crime Lab. The chief did not describe the suspect, where he was arrested, or what led officers to the home where they seized the gun. Jack calls the suspect a person who may have been involved in the murder of 56-year-old Nayyer Rana, a clerk at the Broadway Petro Mart in Waukesha. A customer found Rana’s dead body around 4:20 Tuesday morning and called police. Officials said robbery is being investigated as a possible motive, even though it’s known how much money was taken – if any. Rana moved to Waukesha in 1999 from Pakistan. His family had put up a three-thousand-dollar reward for information about Rana’s killer.
A motorcyclist was killed yesterday when a car hit 10 oncoming bikes north of Fond du Lac on Highway 151. Authorities said four people – including the car driver – were critically injured at last word. And five others were also taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. The motorcyclists were heading home to Michigan after spending time in the Milwaukee area. Sheriff’s deputies said the car crossed the center and struck 10-of-12 oncoming motorcycles that were headed north. All of the bikers were wearing helmets and protective eye-wear. The car driver, a 25-year-old man from Calumet County, had to be extricated from his vehicle. The crash happened around 3 p.m. yesterday in the Fond du Lac County town of Taycheedah, north of where the Highway 151 expressway drops from four lanes to two. The road was closed for over six-and-a-half hours for rescue efforts, investigation, and clean-up. The names of those involved were not immediately released. A probe into the crash continues.
The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has admitted paying suspected pedophile priests to leave the ministry -- and they’re no longer doing it. The admission came after the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests produced a court document which mentioned a proposal to pay $20,000 to quote, “unassignable priests” who leave the ministry. It was at the height of the church sex abuse scandal, and the Survivors Network called it a “pay-off” to child-molesting ministers. In a letter to church members yesterday, the Archbishop’s chief-of-staff wrote that it made sense to move the suspects out of the priesthood as soon as possible, and help with their transition to their new private lives. And Jerry Topczewski told Catholics that the payments have stopped. Survivors Network director Peter Isely wondered if the stopping of the payments is quote, “a clear admission that they were wrong in the first place.” But church spokeswoman Julie Wolf said it was a form of severance pay to the priests who left. She said the church has a responsibility not only to abuse victims, but to the priests involved. In her words, “It’s our calling as Christians to be forgiving.” She said the final payments were made 2-to-3 years ago.
A 75-year-old man was arrested in the shooting death of a 13-year-old neighbor on Milwaukee’s south side. The victim’s mother told WTMJ-TV that someone broke into the alleged shooter’s house this week – and he was telling neighbors that her son did it. A neighbor quoted the 13-year-old’s mother as saying her son was taking out the garbage yesterday morning when the elderly man confronted him and shot him for no reason. The woman said her son was shot twice. Another neighbor said the shooting suspect complained about the way the city handled previous crimes and harassment against him. The man had installed surveillance cameras on the outside of his house. Alderman Bob Donovan said he’s known the suspect for years, and he’s been a crime victim a number of times. Donovan said the man had three-thousand-dollars worth of shotguns stolen in a break-in this week – and on top of that, he’s dying from lung cancer. Police say they’re investigating what may have led to the teen’s shooting death. But they have to talk with a number of people before reaching any conclusions.
A new study shows that Wisconsinites are getting sick from viruses found in their drinking water – and the federal EPA has already taken notice. USDA micro-biologists Mark Borchardt and Susan Spencer of Marshfield surveyed drinking water in 14 Wisconsin communities – and about a quarter of the water samples they tested were positive for human viruses. They said the novo-virus was the most common illness to be discovered. And Jill Jonas of the state DNR says the study has already prompted the federal EPA to start a nationwide water sampling program that could result in new national regulations for treating and disinfecting water. The study results were posted online today by the Environmental Health Perspectives journal. In February, the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison found that at least 60 drinking water supplies in the state do not remove contaminants that cause viruses, despite the health risks that have been documented. Borchardt’s previous studies caused state lawmakers and former Governor Jim Doyle to approve a law in the 2009 session that required all Wisconsin communities to disinfect their drinking water. But after the Republicans took control last year, freshman Representative Erik Severson of Star Prairie convinced his colleagues and Governor Scott Walker to repeal the disinfecting mandate. He said it put unnecessary burdens on communities, and the state already has strong water standards.
Dozens of people are speaking on both sides of the issue of ending fluoridation of Milwaukee drinking water. The city has fluoridated its water for nearly 60 years. Speakers at two City Hall news conference presented their positions on whether the process is safe and effective. Alderman Jim Bohl is calling for the practice to end immediately. Supporters say every dollar spent on fluoridation saves 38 dollars in future dental bills. A Common Council committee meeting to discuss Bohl’s suggestion followed the two news conferences earlier today.
One online service ranks Madison’s economy the seventh strongest among U.S. metropolitan areas. That’s the best showing in the last three years. Policom.com bases its rankings on almost two dozen factors over a 20-year period to see how a local economy fares over the long term. Washington, D.C., was ranked number-one for a second year in a row. Des Moines was number-two. Wisconsin cities included Green Bay at number 67 and Milwaukee at number 70. A total of 366 cities were ranked and Janesville was number 344.
The former accountant for a De Pere metal products company faces up to 20 years in prison on his guilty plea to felony theft charges. Ryan Homa will be sentenced in federal court June 27th. Houma apparently admitted he embezzled $1.3 million over a four year period. He used the money to buy real estate and build his children’s college fund. Houma has agreed to repay the money to the Robinson Metal, Incorporated.
The manufacturing economy continued its moderate growth this month in southeast Wisconsin. That’s according to an index from Marquette University and the Milwaukee chapter of the Institute for Supply Management. The seasonally-adjusted index rated the area’s factory climate at 57.7 for May. That’s up from 52-point-nine in April. Anything above 50 indicates general growth, while a rating below 50 shows declines. The report said manufacturing employment kept growing, with a solid index figure of 63 – up from 61.4 last month. Factory orders also had a slightly better showing. The report says some Milwaukee area firms are getting new orders in spurts – and it makes it hard to plan production schedules.
A Madison man was sentenced to four years in prison yesterday for shooting a gun at a car last year near a park with a number of kids nearby. 20-year-old Traycze Rudd struck a plea deal in which he was convicted on lesser charges of reckless endangerment and possessing a firearm as a felon. Prosecutor Michael Finley said Rudd shot at a vehicle that was entered by a man Rudd fought with earlier that day. The shooting occurred last June near Madison’s Penn Park. Finley called it dangerous situation and said it was fortunate that no one was hurt. Dane County Circuit Judge Robert DeChambeau expressed concerns about growing gun violence in Wisconsin’s Capital City. He said there was a time when people in Madison did not have to worry about being hit by a stray bullet – but that’s not the case today. The judge said it’s happening in all areas of town, including the popular State Street between the State Capitol and the UW campus.
Prosecutors said a rural Fond du Lac teenager was driving at over 100-miles-an-hour and flew over a road hump, just before a crash that killed three of her friends. 18-year-old Carly Ottery was charged yesterday with three counts of negligent homicide for a crash on February 4th. Katie Berg, Caitlin Scannell, and Sabrina Stahl were killed, and six other teens including Ottery were injured. All nine were girls’ soccer players at Campbellsport High School – and authorities said they left an overnight sleepover before their SUV went over a hillcrest, hit a bump, and then flipped over in a frozen field. Alcohol was not a factor. Prosecutors from neighboring Winnebago County took four months to investigate, after the district attorney’s office in Fond du Lac County withdrew due to a conflict-of-interest. Ottery is due to make her first court appearance June 19th. Sheriff’s investigators said the SUV was going as fast as 109-miles-an-hour when it started to lose control – and it was going at 81-miles-an-hour when it overturned. Deputies quoted Ottery as saying it was “cool” to drive so fast. The circumstances of the crash were similar to one near Eau Claire last December that killed three teens from the Eleva-Strum area. Authorities said that incident occurred on a road popular for what’s known as “hill jumping” – making cars go airborne by speeding over hillcrests.
A driver killed when his speeding van rear-ended a rental truck in Milwaukee has been identified as 43-year-old Michael Gawlik of Milwaukee. A medical examiner’s report said Gawlik was driving a newspaper delivery van at up to 70-miles-an-hour, and was going erratically when it slammed into the truck stopped at a red-light on Milwaukee’s south side. It happened around 6:30 yesterday morning. The truck driver was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Witnesses said Gawlik appeared to be unconscious at the time of the crash, and an autopsy is pending.
A reward has grown to $10,000 for information leading to the person who shot a seven-year-old girl with an arrow in Campbellsport this month. The reward fund started at $500 – and Fond du Lac County authorities say a number of Campbellsport residents and others throughout Wisconsin have added to the fund. Aryanna Schneeberg was shot-in-the-back by the arrow, while playing with friends outside her house on May 21st. She’s recovering at home, after having surgery that repaired damage to her back, liver, spleen, diaphragm, and lung.
Almost two-thirds of Wisconsin employers plan to hire more people in the next six months – if they can find enough who have the proper training. An annual survey by the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce group shows that 62-percent of companies plan to add workers. That’s up from 53-percent a year ago, and 44-percent the previous December. The state’s largest business group surveyed executives of 182 Wisconsin firms. More than half plan to expand in the Badger State in the next 24 months – and that’s the highest rate in a decade. But in what’s become a familiar problem, 57-percent of employers said they had trouble finding people with the skills-and-training those companies need. Mark Tyler of OEM Fabricators in Woodville calls the “skills gap” the most pressing issue driving the economy. Rising taxes and health care costs were other concerns. And so is the possibility of another economic slowdown. Still, 57-percent of executives in the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce survey expect moderate growth in the business climate over the next six months. All but three-percent planned to give pay raises of at least two-percent. But over half expect to make their employees pay more toward their health care – and a quarter plan to decrease their health benefits.
Wisconsin’s only contestant in the National Spelling Bee did not qualify for today’s semi-finals. 14-year-old Heloise Cheruvalath of Menomonee Falls spelled both her words correctly in yesterday’s second-and-third rounds. But she only got 39-of-50 words right in Tuesday’s computer test. That gave Heloise a total score of 20 – and she had to get at least 23 points to move on. Heloise is an eighth grader at North Middle School in Menomonee Falls. She said she was happy to get as far as she did – but she wishes there were more contestants from Wisconsin. Only the statewide Spelling Bee champion from Wisconsin gets to go – while other states send several youngsters from regional qualifiers. Joanne Lagatta of Clintonville was the last Wisconsinite to win the National Spelling Bee. That was in 1991.
A suburban Milwaukee man who was injured when his house exploded has died. The medical examiner’s office confirmed the death of 88-year-old Marvin Engler of Glendale last night. He and his 78-year-old female caretaker were both injured in last Saturday’s blast. The home was destroyed. An investigation did not determine the cause, but officials said foul play was ruled out. The North Shore Fire Department, Glendale Police, the state Fire Marshal, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives all looked into the incident. Engler’s insurance company, the Travelers, started its own investigation yesterday.
Most Wisconsin drivers know they should watch out for deer during the fall mating season, and around the time of the November gun hunt. But you might not know that June – which starts tomorrow – is one of the worst months for vehicle-deer crashes. The state DOT says female deer are looking for spots to give birth. And fawns often separate from their mothers in June, making them more susceptible to being hit by drivers. Officials say June is either the worst or second-worst month of the year for injuries by motorists due to deer crashes. State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable says motorcyclists should be especially careful in the countryside. That’s because all but one of last year’s five fatal deer crashes involved bikers. Wisconsin had over 18,000 deer crashes with motor vehicles in 2011. Dane County had the most with 846, followed by Shawano County with 762.