Thursday State News Briefs: Kenosha County courthouse evacuatedWisconsin News
-- The Kenosha County Courthouse was evacuated late this morning. Sheriff’s deputies said a crew that was doing landscaping work struck a gas line around 10:35 a.m.
KENOSHA - The Kenosha County Courthouse was evacuated late this morning. Sheriff’s deputies said a crew that was doing landscaping work struck a gas line around 10:35 a.m.
Officials said the building was evacuated as a precaution, and fire equipment helped block off public access. Other county government buildings were not affected – even though they’re close to the courthouse. The landscaping was part of a restoration project.
A Milwaukee man is awaiting his punishment, after he pleaded guilty to selling counterfeit Nike shoes. U.S. immigration officials said 37-year-old Davion Briant was among five people arrested in an international sales operation of fake Nikes. Briant entered his plea in Federal Court in Buffalo New York, and there was no immediate word on when he would be sentenced. Officials said Briant purchased about 4,500 bogus Nikes, and resold them at his retail store in Milwaukee back in 2007. Prosecutors said a Chinese couple from New York distributed the shoes, after getting them from a large foreign manufacturer. The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency said the five were among 26 people arrested in an ongoing crackdown on U.S. trademark laws. Officials said Nike was among the most aggressive in protecting its brand from fakes – and that firm works directly with police to nail imposters.
A Milwaukee woman withdrew an insanity plea today, after she was accused of killing a pregnant woman and stealing the fetus, so she could claim to have a baby of her own. 34-year-old Annette Morales-Rodriguez had pleaded innocent-by-insanity on the advice of her previous lawyers. But a court-appointed doctor did not find enough evidence that Morales-Rodriguez was insane at the time of the incident. And a judge said an expert opinion sought by a previous defense lawyer would not stand up to scrutiny. So this morning, Morales-Rodriguez changed her pleas to innocent on two charges of first-degree intentional homicide. Authorities said she killed 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz last October – and the victim’s full-term baby boy died when he was grabbed from the womb by the defendant. Morales-Rodriguez told authorities she was desperate to have a child, because she and her boyfriend could not conceive one. The woman’s trial is scheduled to begin on Monday in Milwaukee County.
The head of the state Assembly’s education committee says he’s cautiously optimistic that his colleagues will provide funding for more comprehensive student tests. State Superintendent Tony Evers is asking for seven-million-dollars in the next state budget to replace the annual Wisconsin Knowledge-and-Concepts Exam. Instead, all juniors would have to take the ACT college entrance exam, plus a career skills test. Evers also wants 9th-and-10th graders to take a pre-ACT test. Republican Education chair Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake said there’s been a general recognition that the current tests are not getting the job done. And he said lawmakers appear to be receptive to something different. Kestell said the requested seven-million in funding might not have been considered two years ago, when the state budget was three-point-six million dollars in the hole. But now, a small surplus is expected – but Kestell says it’s too early to predict whether Evers’ new proposal will be approved by the governor and Legislature next year.
Gogebic Taconite – the firm that scrapped plans to build an iron ore mine in Wisconsin – is now exploring possible sites in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Company president Bill Williams tells Wisconsin Public Radio that his firm has done exploratory drilling in parts of the UP, and it’s now studying those results. He said the effort is in the early stages. And Williams says the firm is running into less opposition, noting that public opinion and the political atmosphere are different across the border. Also, he says he likes the permit process in Michigan because it has definitive time-lines. But Williams says Gogebic Taconite is still leaving the door open to a Wisconsin project. It continues to hold options to lease minerals in the Penokee Range of Ashland and Iron counties – and the largest lease does not expire for another year. Williams says Gogebic Taconite would answer a call from Wisconsin if enough leaders and people come to realize quote, “This isn’t that bad – we can have some economic development and capitalize on our resource development.”
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is back at work, after he broke his right hip and dislocated it when he fell at a church festival almost three weeks ago. The Menomonee Falls Republican said he tripped over an electric cable that stretched from a building to a carnival area. It happened August 25th at the Saint Agnes Parish festival in Butler. The next day, Sensenbrenner underwent six hours of surgery on his hip. After the operation, doctors said he could not put much weight on his right foot for 8-to-12 weeks. He says he now gets around with the help of a walker and a wheel-chair. The 69-year-old Sensenbrenner is a 34-year veteran of the U.S. House – and he’s running for re-election in November against Democrat Dave Heaster. Sensenbrenner said his doctors would determine how much time he can spend on the campaign trail this fall. But for now, he said he was happy to make it back to Washington, so he could keep his record intact for not missing a single vote this year. Yesterday, the House voted to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another five years.
The owner of a factory that shut down in Slinger in 2010 said he kept thousands of pounds of chemicals inside, in the hopes of re-opening the plant someday. But Thomas Harju conceded it would never happen. And yesterday, he looked on as an environmental clean-up began. An emergency response team from the federal EPA started counting drums-and-barrels of chemicals at Harju’s former Niphos Coatings plant. Those chemicals will be removed within the next two weeks, under the EPA’s “Super-fund” program. Seventy-seven large barrels were counted by yesterday afternoon, and smaller drums had yet to be tallied. The chemicals were used to coat the industrial metal plates made at the factory. It opened in 1983. Harju told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he kept the plant running with his own money, after customers stopped paying him during the recession in 2008. He thought he could ride out the economic storm, but he filed for bankruptcy in 2010 – and he said the business cost him everything he had.
The latest projections show that Wisconsin farmers will harvest about 13-percent less corn than they did a year ago, and almost 18-percent fewer soybeans. According to the USDA’s latest revised estimates, Wisconsin is expected to produce 448-and-a-half million bushels of corn for the year. That’s down from about 518-million bushels in 2011. The state’s average corn yields per bushel are expected to remain above the national average. A yield of 130 bushels is projected per acre, up from the national estimate of almost 123 bushels. Soybeans yields are expected to be slightly higher than the national norm. Nationally, the USDA says its latest crop estimates reflect the widespread impact of the drought – and the figures are well below the government’s original expectations for the year. A new set of estimates are due out in about a month.
A Milwaukee woman will have a final pretrial hearing today on charges that she killed a pregnant woman, and stole the mother’s fetus in the hopes of getting a baby to raise. 34-year-old Annette Morales-Rodriguez has pleaded insanity to two counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of both the mother and her full-term son. The insanity plea was made by a previous set of defense lawyers. The current defense team for Morales-Rodriguez is expected to announce today whether they’ll keep the insanity plea in place. Her trial is scheduled to begin on Monday. 23-year-old Martiza Ramirez-Cruz was murdered last October, just before her unborn son was sliced out of her womb. Morales-Rodriguez told police she tried stealing the baby because she was desperate to be a mother, and she and her boyfriend could not conceive on their own.
Two by-standers tried but failed to save a man after he jumped into the Milwaukee River in the city’s downtown. But fire-fighters ended up pulling the man from the river – and he died at a hospital almost two hours after that. Police said a man in his 20’s jumped from the Knapp Street Bridge into the Milwaukee River around 2:30 yesterday afternoon. Early reports said rescuers also pulled in the two by-standers who tried to help. But witnesses and police later said the would-be rescuers walked out of the river on their own.
Wisconsinites made a little more money last year – but poverty went up, and so did the percentage of residents without health insurance. A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau said Wisconsin’s median household income was $52,058-dollars last year, up slightly from $51,939-dollars in 2010. The typical Wisconsinite made about two-thousand dollars more than the national average. But the percentage of people living in poverty went up by three percentage points to 13-point-one last year. That was still lower than the national poverty rate of 15-percent. Also, the Census Bureau said 589-thousand Wisconsin residents did not have health insurance last year, or almost 10-and-a-half percent of the state’s population. The numbers of uninsured were about 70,000 higher than in 2010.
Authorities recovered a body from a lake in Washington County yesterday. Several campers on Lake Linwood said they saw a suspicious object about 20-feet from the shore. Rescuers later recovered a man’s body in about five-feet of water. At last word, the body was not identified. It was said to be that of a man in his 30’s-and-40’s.
A judge in Lafayette County set bond at over a million dollars for two brothers from Argyle accused of burning down a family house and killing three children trapped inside. 32-year-old Armin Wand III and his 18-year-old brother Jeremy both made their first court appearances yesterday on a total of 13 charges of homicide, attempted homicide, and arson. State prosecutors said Armin Wand was sick of his financial and marital problems – and he wanted to kill his entire family, burn their down their house, and collect on their life-and-renters’ insurance policies to get a “fresh start.” Authorities said Armin promised to pay his brother $300 of the insurance money to help set last Friday’s blaze. Judge William Johnston set bond at $200,000 for each count. Armin Wand’s attorney said his one-point-four million dollar bond was “unattainable.” Jeremy Wand’s total bond is one-point-two million. Both are due back in court November 13th, when the judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to order a trial. Seven-year-old Allen Wand, five-year-old Jeffrey, and three-year-old Joseph were killed in the fire. Armin’s wife Sharon remains hospitalized in critical condition, after escaping the home with her two-year-old daughter Jessica. Relatives said Sharon was 17-weeks’ pregnant, and the unborn child died as well. Authorities said Armin Wand tried to push Jessica back into the flames – and he faces two attempted homicide charges for allegedly trying to kill her. Also, Armin is being charged as a repeat offender – with longer sentences if he’s convicted – after a misdemeanor battery conviction from 2005. Jeremy Wand is also facing charges filed last month for illegally entering a building and obstructing police.
Wisconsin’s U.S. House members voted along party lines yesterday, in renewing a surveillance law that lets the government monitor phone calls by terrorist suspects and foreign spies. The vote was 301-118 to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another five years. Republicans F. James Sensenbrenner, Tom Petri, Reid Ribble, and Sean Duffy voted yes. Democrats Tammy Baldwin, Gwen Moore, and Ron Kind voted no. Republican Paul Ryan was absent. Supporters say the bill is aimed at stopping terrorist threats against the U.S. from foreigners – and it’s not intended to spy on Americans. The law requires approval from a secret court when Americans are targeted anywhere in the world. Senate Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon has tried unsuccessfully to find out how many Americans have been monitored – and he’s holding up a vote in the Senate for that reason. But the law’s supporters in the House have assured that Americans’ rights are being protected. Intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan says the law’s about keeping tabs on foreigners on foreign soil – and it’s not a dragnet. In a briefing this week about the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, the Obama administration could not say how many times the program inadvertently gathered intelligence on U.S. citizens.
A woman killed in a buggy that collided with a pick-up truck in central Wisconsin has been identified as 73-year-old Mary Beiler of Athens. Her 71-year-old husband, who was driving the buggy, was in critical condition at last word at a Wausau hospital. The crash happened Tuesday night at an intersection near Athens in Marathon County. Sheriff’s deputies said it appeared that the buggy either failed to stop at a stop-sign, or failed to yield after stopping. In either case, the buggy collided with a pick-up truck coming from the side. The 44-year-old truck driver escaped injury. Officials said alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the mishap, which is still being investigated.
Nobody won the Powerball jackpot, so it goes up to $125-million for the next drawing on Saturday night. Wisconsin players did not win any of the big prizes last evening. Seven tickets won $200-dollars by getting the Power Play option, and matching either four regular numbers, or three-plus-the-Powerball. Just over 11-thousand Wisconsin players won something. About half won four-dollars, simply by matching the Powerball. Last night’s numbers were 24, 33, 36, 48, and 56. The Powerball was six. The jackpot is the fifth that’s over 100-million dollars this year. It’s been building since August 15th and has rolled over eight times. Saturday night’s cash option is just over $82-million. In Mega Millions, the jackpot is back at $12-million for tomorrow night. That’s after a ticket sold in California won a $120-million prize on Tuesday night.
Campers at Wisconsin state parks have been learning about the nighttime stars this summer. And those lessons will continue for about the next month-and-a-half. Astronomy experts from UW-Madison have been holding lectures in state parks, in a program called “Universe in the Park.” Park users also ask questions – and they can see the stars through a powerful university telescope. The program runs through the end of October.