Monday State News Briefs: Woman killed in Oconomowoc fire IDedWisconsin News
-- A woman killed in a fire at an historic building in downtown Oconomowoc was identified today as 45-year-old Sharon Phillips. She lived in one of two apartments above Stapleton Realty in the building which caught fire early yesterday afternoon.
OCONOMOWOC - A woman killed in a fire at an historic building in downtown Oconomowoc was identified today as 45-year-old Sharon Phillips. She lived in one of two apartments above Stapleton Realty in the building which caught fire early yesterday afternoon.
The state Fire Marshal is helping local authorities investigate the cause of the blaze. A passer-by called 911 after seeing flames shoot up the rear of the building – which was in the middle of a block of connected structures, all more than a century old. An Oconomowoc fire-fighter was taken to a Milwaukee hospital with smoke inhalation. Three other fire-fighters were treated at an Oconomowoc hospital for smoke-and-heat conditions, and later released. Those officers were from Oconomowoc, Dousman, and Ashippun.
A 31-year-old man is due in court this afternoon for the weekend beating death of his live-in girlfriend at their apartment in Green Bay. The man faces a possible charge of first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of 26-year-old Wendy Botsford. Police said the man went to a friend’s house, and was crying while saying that he hurt his girlfriend. The friend notified police late Saturday afternoon. Investigators quoted the man as saying he had argued with his girlfriend – and the spat became physical. The victim’s four-year-old son from a previous relationship was at the home at the time. But the suspect told officers the child had not seen the incident, because he locked the youngster in a bathroom.
State and local government employees will not have to worry about losing their traditional pensions. A report released this morning does not recommend any changes to the $77-billion Wisconsin Retirement System. Three state agencies pointed out that the pension plan is in strong financial shape, with its unique risk-sharing features. As a result, Republican Governor Scott Walker said he has no plans to make what he called “substantial” changes to the system in next year’s state budget. But Walker said he wants to make sure the government pension plan stays quote, “fiscally sustainable for both taxpayers and retirees.” The report was written by the Administration Department, along with the Employee Relations and Employee Trust Funds’ offices. It said the state should not move toward an optional defined-contribution plan like a 401-“K,” or let employees opt-out of the system altogether. The State Retirement System serves all Wisconsin public employees except Milwaukee city-and-county workers, which have their own system.
A man killed in Madison over an apparent love triangle was identified this morning as 24-year-old Craig O’Donnell. Charges are pending against a 25-year-old Madison man who turned himself into police yesterday afternoon. The stabbing incident took place Saturday at a mobile home park on Madison’s east side, where the victim lived. Media reports indicated that O’Donnell had dated a woman for about a month, after she ended a nine-year relationship with the murder suspect. The woman lived next door to O’Donnell in the mobile home park. Her mother said the slaying was about “jealousy and rage.”
Foreclosure cases are still on the rise in southeast Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said the numbers of new court cases against those behind on their mortgages rose by six-point-two percent in June, compared to the same month a year ago. There were 887 new foreclosure cases filed last month in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth counties. That’s 52 more than in June of 2011. Lenders are said to be catching up on their foreclosures, after they were stalled a few months ago during negotiations to settle a national lawsuit over alleged improper procedures by the nation’s largest banks. For the first half of this year, new foreclosure cases are up by almost 10-percent in southeast Wisconsin compared to the year before. Just over 5,900 cases were filed from January through June, up from 5,400 the previous year.
A man and a woman were killed, and a third person was in critical condition, after a chain-reaction crash on a Milwaukee freeway caused by a driver going the wrong way. It happened around 1:30 this morning on Highway 41, about a mile north of the Miller Park baseball stadium. Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputies said a man was going south in the northbound lanes – and a total of four vehicles collided. Officials said the person who caused the crash died at the scene. The road was closed for about four hours – but it re-opened in time for this morning’s Milwaukee rush hour. Investigators were not immediately sure whether alcohol or drugs played a role in the mishap.
State elections’ officials are reportedly investigating possible fraud in last year’s effort to recall Senate Democrat Dave Hansen of Green Bay. The Government Accountability Board has not confirmed the probe. But the Green Bay Press-Gazette quoted the treasurer of one-of-two recall committees as saying he was subpoenaed and questioned by the Board last week. Chad Fradette said an investigator was looking into reports that forged and fraudulent recall petition signatures were gathered by workers from out-of-state. Fradette said the Board lost interest in his group after learning that it only spent $13 on its effort. And he said he was questioned heavily about the other group, headed by David Vander Leest. He ran against Hansen in the recall election and lost. Vander Leest has not commented. The two groups submitted a total of over 19,000 petition signatures – much more than the almost 13,900 needed to order the recall vote.
The state government’s version of C-Span hopes its new leader will bring in more funding. Jon Henkes has been named the new president of the Wisconsin-Eye cable channel – which broadcasts state legislative proceedings and numerous other public affairs’ programs. Henkes replaces Chris Long, who helped Wisconsin-Eye get on the air in 2007. Henkes most recently served as the head of fund-raising for Augustana College in South Dakota – and he’s a former Wisconsin Eye vice-president. Private donations pay for the channel, and it gets no tax dollars. A year ago, Governor Scott Walker included a state budget item to provide Wisconsin-Eye with five-million-dollars in state loan guarantees. But the head of the channel’s board, Margaret Farrow, said her group rejected the offer because it needed to remain totally independent of government assistance and influence. Wisconsin-Eye lost a reported one-point-one million dollars in the year ending in September of 2010. The year before, it lost $1.4 million.
A Milwaukee teenager reportedly tried to turn himself into state corrections’ officers last June. But the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said the officers refused to take Jimmy Scales into custody. And a month-and-a-half later, he drove a stolen getaway van for two other teens who randomly shot-and-killed a pregnant woman in front of her 13-year-old son. The Journal Sentinel says there are questions about whether the homicide could have been prevented, had two top regional officials in the Corrections Department’s Milwaukee office followed proper procedures. According to the paper, the 17-year-old Scales was supposed to be on electronic monitoring for previous offenses – but he was allowed to roam without supervision. And the two officials – Alfred Beans and Audrian Brown – were later demoted. The Journal-Sentinel said they filed a report without mentioning that Scales tried to turn himself in. And the teen who shot the pregnant woman, Mical Thomas, was also allowed to roam without required supervision. Thomas – who was 16 at the time – was sentenced last Friday to 35 years in prison, plus 10 years of extended supervision for the slaying of Sharon Staples. Co-defendant Malik Merchant, who was 15 at the time, got 17 years behind bars plus two years of supervision. Scales was sentenced to 25 years in prison plus 10 more of supervision.
Today is the deadline to finish a recount of a Wisconsin recall election that could determine the balance of power in the state Senate. Racine incumbent Van Wanggaard last the June 5 contest to Democrat John Lehman by 834 votes. And with only a couple wards yet to be re-counted, Wanggaard has only gained a net of 17 votes – which still gives Lehman a one-percent-plus lead and an apparent victory. But Republicans are talking about going to court to strike down up to 200 votes. That’s because poll workers forgot to make those voters sign poll books under a part of last year’s voter ID law that was allowed to take effect. Reid Magney of the state Government Accountability Board said the votes should not be nullified just because of a poll worker’s administrative error. But Wanggaard campaign attorney Jonathan Strasburg says absentee ballots are not counted if they’re not signed – and poll books should be treated the same way. Strasburg says election officials should not “cherry-pick” the rules they’ll enforce. But a spokesman for the Senate’s Democratic Campaign Committee says Republican allegations are grossly exaggerated – and he said clerical errors are not voter fraud. If Lehman’s victory is upheld, Democrats would control the Senate at least until this fall’s elections. Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller said a GOP lawsuit would be quote, “a desperate political game to maintain power.” And South Milwaukee Senate Democrat Chris Larson says it would continue the same partisan games and political fights that Republicans quote, “supposedly wanted to end.”
Anti-gay protestors picketed Sunday church services at seven of the Milwaukee area’s largest congregations. But no incidents were reported during the demonstrations by members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. Parishioners at the Oak Creek Assembly of God Church were urged in advance not to speak with the protestors. And church member Linda Leighton said about 20 demonstrators just stood with their picket signs and didn’t do anything. The church honored veterans during a “Celebrate Freedom” service. Kayla Espinoza of the National Guard’s 457th Chemical Company said she and other church members were upset over the way Westboro demonstrators had protested at military funerals and desecrated the American flag. She said quote, “It hurts to know there are people who are against us fighting for their right to do that.” And had she not been in uniform during the service, Espinoza said it would have been hard to keep her composure. The funeral protests resulted in a state law a few years ago, banning picketers within easy eye-shot of all funerals and public visitations.
A former Wisconsin state Assembly speaker and majority leader has died. Private services were held near Milwaukee last week for 90-year-old Robert Marotz, who passed away on June 23rd. Marotz was born in Sheboygan and raised in Shawano. He served in the Marines during World War II, and was in the Legislature as a Republican from 1947-through-’59. After that, Marotz became a lobbyist for the beer industry, and he worked as a tax attorney. Milwaukee Democrat Wayne Whittow said Marotz served during a time when members of both parties set aside their differences and socialized at night. When he retired nine years ago, Whittow wrote a letter of congratulations which said everyone in the Legislature agreed that Marotz was quote, “a man of integrity with an excellent knowledge of how state government functions.” Whittow also called him “one of the most effective lobbyists that ever walked the halls of the State Capitol.”
If you think police no longer catch speeders from the air, think again. Despite the big budget cuts from the past decade, the State Patrol’s aerial team spent over 450 hours in the air last year, finding speeders and alerting ground troopers who gave out three-thousand tickets. Earlier this year, officials said they would employ aerial patrols over construction zones – where many drivers are caught. State Patrol Major Brian Rahn tells Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers that the planes also monitor chain reaction crashes, look for fugitives, and help loved ones search for missing persons. The agency has three planes based in Madison, Green Bay, and Eau Claire – and the aerial program cost around $54,000 last year. John Bowman of the National Motorists Association told Gannett it’s a lot of money to spend just to send a message to drivers that they’re being watched. But Rahn says the costs should be put in perspective – and it’s only a tiny amount of the $80-million the State Patrol spends each year. Former Governor Jim Doyle cut state funding for the aerial patrols in 2003, when one airplane was sold. But the patrols resumed a year later. Neighboring Minnesota and Illinois use planes to catch speeders at least part of the time they’re in the air. Michigan cut out its aerial patrols over 10 years ago.
If you think police no longer catch speeders from the air, think again. Despite the big budget cuts from the past decade, the State Patrol’s aerial team spent over 450 hours in the air last year, finding speeders and alerting ground troopers who gave out three-thousand tickets. Earlier this year, officials said they would employ aerial patrols over construction zones – where many drivers are caught. State Patrol Major Brian Rahn tells Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers that the planes also monitor chain reaction crashes, look for fugitives, and help loved ones search for missing persons. The agency has three planes based in Madison, Green Bay, and Eau Claire – and the aerial program cost around 54-thousand dollars last year. John Bowman of the National Motorists Association told Gannett it’s a lot of money to spend just to send a message to drivers that they’re being watched. But Rahn says the costs should be put in perspective – and it’s only a tiny amount of the 80-million-dollars the State Patrol spends each year. Former Governor Jim Doyle cut state funding for the aerial patrols in 2003, when one airplane was sold. But the patrols resumed a year later. Neighboring Minnesota and Illinois use planes to catch speeders at least part of the time they’re in the air. Michigan cut out its aerial patrols over 10 years ago.
A 25-year-old man turned himself into Madison Police yesterday afternoon, as he was wanted for the murder of another man. Officers were called to the Oak Park Terrace mobile home park on Saturday night, where they found a seriously injured man who died a short time later. Police called the motive a “personal dispute.” The Wisconsin State Journal said it was apparent love triangle. Jean Leman told the paper that her daughter had just ended a nine-year relationship with the alleged killer – and the victim was the daughter’s new boyfriend. Police said the victim’s injuries appeared to be consistent with a stabbing, but they did not release the cause of death as of yesterday afternoon.