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WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: Patrons injured by ride at Country Fest

CADOTT - Organizers of a country music festival near Chippewa Falls say a 27-foot free-fall attraction will not return next year, after four jumpers were injured.

The ride featured jumpers falling onto a 50-by-50-foot air-bag while the Country Fest crowds cheered them on. Chippewa County Sheriff’s captain Gene Gutsch said one person had a back injury last Saturday, and a man broke his neck last Sunday which required surgery. Two others had broken ankles. General manager Wade Asher said he would have shut down the attraction had he learned about the injuries sooner. He said up to three-thousand people jumped from the platform. Asher told the A-P that the man who broke his neck was doing “crazy flips,” even though jumpers were instructed to land on their backs or their seats. Sheriff’s officials said it was not up to them to shut attraction down. Country Fest ran from last Thursday through Sunday.


Madison’s Freedom from Religion Foundation has told a city in Kentucky to stop opening its City Commission meetings with prayers – but officials say they won’t do that. Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad still believes the prayers are legal, after Foundation attorney Rebecca Markert called them “unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive.” In a letter to the mayor, Markert said it’s “coercive” to call on citizens to pray at a public meeting and it’s quote, “beyond the authority of any government.” Danville city attorney Stephen Dexter said his office has researched the issue, and he’s confident the city has not broken the law. Earlier this year, both the Danville City Commission and the local county’s Fiscal Court decided to keep prayers as part of their meetings – but to no longer mention the name of Jesus. The county says it has not received complaints about its prayers. 


Two brothers and a friend will try to go 80-miles across Lake Michigan on a paddle-board. 23-year-old Craig Masselink, his 19-year-old brother Trent, and their 21-year-old friend Ginny Melby plan to leave Milwaukee on Sunday. One will man the board, while the others will tag along in a 24-foot boat with food and supplies. They expect to take 30 hours to reach the other side of Lake Michigan, to their families’ cottages at Norton Shores Michigan. The Melby and Masselink families have their cottages right next to each other. Ginny lives in Grand Rapids, and has spent her summers getting to know the Masselinks at their cottages. The paddle ride seeks to raise money for Restore International, a group that works to seek justice, restore homes, and otherwise help children in Uganda. 


Milwaukee officials will not abide by a new state law which struck down most of the city’s requirement that all municipal employees live in the city. The Common Council voted 13-2 this afternoon and to continue enforcing Milwaukee’s 75-year-old residency ordinance – and to challenge the new state requirements in court. Both items were separate resolutions. The new state budget which took effect yesterday bans all local residency rules statewide except for police-and-firefighters – who can live within 15 miles of the places they serve. Alderman Michael Murphy supported both measures, saying the city has a responsibility to quote, “stand up for what we believe.” Aldermen Joe Davis and Bob Donovan cast the only no votes. Davis says he supports the old residency rule, but does not agree with the Council’s tactics in opposing it.


The head of a Milwaukee Realtors’ group does not buy the idea that public employees are about to leave the city in droves, and turn good neighborhoods into slums. The new state budget eliminated most of Milwaukee’s 75-year-old residency rule, in which all municipal employees were required to live in the city. Mayor Tom Barrett once said that ending the mandate would turn Milwaukee into Detroit. He has since backed off from that, and Mike Ruzicka of the Milwaukee Association of Realtors sees no real impact at all. He tells WTMJ that he refuses to accept claims by critics that property values will plunge, noting that home prices are going up since the end of the recession. Ruzicka says that if public employees do move, the same types of people will replace them in what he called safe, successful, highly-sought-after neighborhoods. The new state budget allows residency laws only for police and firefighters, making them live within 15 miles of where they serve. 


The state Justice Department and its crime lab are helping Marinette County sheriff’s deputies investigate a series of incidents that led to two men being killed – one by officers. It all started around 10 last night, with a report of armed man entering a home in Pound. A short time later, a vehicle crashed into another house in the same area – and the male driver in his late 20’s died later at a Green Bay hospital. Deputies investigated the crash, and it led them to another vehicle where a man in his late 70’s had two firearms. Officials said the man ignored numerous requests to surrender, and an armored vehicle from the Brown County sheriff’s department helped trap the suspect. After a while, officials said the elderly man pointed a gun toward the deputies – and the deputies shot-and-killed him at the scene. No officers were injured. No names have been released as of mid-afternoon. 


An aviation student from northern Wisconsin and her flight instructor have completed a trans-continental air race for female pilots. Amy Warbalow of Minocqua attends the University of North Dakota. She and flight instructor Katrina Kugler of Yuma, Arizona finished 18th among 50 entrants in the 2,400-mile Air Race Classic. They also finished sixth among the 13 collegiate teams in the race from Pasco Washington to Fayetteville Arkansas. Warbalow and Kugler were the first team ever to represent North Dakota in the event. 


The U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee will not say whether it’s investigating alleged bankruptcy fraud, in the transfer of $57-million in Catholic church money to a trust fund. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Milwaukee Archdiocese may have committed bankruptcy fraud, by trying to keep church cemetery funds away from sex abuse victims in settlements. The group asked for a federal investigation, and the Milwaukee office refuses to confirm-or-deny such a probe. According to documents released yesterday, former Milwaukee Archbishop Tim Dolan received permission from the Vatican to transfer the money in 2007. It was during the aftermath of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, and four years before the Milwaukee Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy. Dolan wrote about protecting the funds, but both he and the church deny they were trying to hide the money from potential priest abuse settlements.


Wisconsin’s largest company is considering an appeal of an expensive jury ruling in Vermont. Johnson Controls of suburban Milwaukee was ordered to pay $43-million to Dzemila Heco, after a car crash in 2007 left her as a paraplegic. Johnson Controls made a car seat that allegedly collapsed in the mishap. Heco’s lawyers argued that the back of the car seat collapsed when her vehicle was rear-ended, and it caused severe injuries to her spinal cord. Heco was buckled up at the time. The jury’s verdict came after a two-week trial. Johnson Controls said it disagreed with the ruling. The firm said the car seat exceeded all government and industry standards. The Burlington Free Press of Vermont said the 43-million dollar damage award is believed to be the largest for a civil trial in the state’s history.


A new survey ranks Wisconsin fifth in beer consumption per capita – which may be surprising, considering the state’s drinking heritage and brewery production. The Beer Institute said today that the average Wisconsinite 21-and-older drank 36.2 gallons of beer last year. North Dakota is No. 1 at 45.8 gallons. The state has attracted lots of younger workers due to its booming oil extraction industry. New Hampshire is ranks second followed by Montana, South Dakota, and then the Badger State. Wisconsin still has the divisional headquarters for Milwaukee’s Miller Brewing Company. It also has City Brewery, the former Heileman’s in La Crosse, Leinenkuegels in Chippewa Falls, Point Brewery in Stevens Point and the New Glarus Brewery – plus a lot of craft beers made by breweries and brew pubs all over the state.


A Wausau man who’s a person-of-interest in the disappearance of a woman in 2010 will spend the next four years in prison on unrelated charges. 33-year-old Kristopher Torgerson actually got a five-year term for methamphetamine possession and battery. Marathon County Circuit Judge Greg Grau gave him a year’s credit for the time he spent in jail during his court case. Wausau Police said recent tips make them believe that Torgerson knows what happened to Stephanie Low. She was 22 when she vanished in October of 2010, after she abruptly hung up while talking to a friend on the phone. Her mother told reporters at the time that Stephanie was threatened before she disappeared, but she did not say how. The Wausau Daily Herald said over a dozen of Low’s friends-and-relatives attended yesterday’s court hearing wearing T-shirts with Low’s photo and the message “Missing but Not Forgotten.” The judge said Torgerson had 11 previous criminal convictions – including a manslaughter rap in the death of his father in Alabama – and that justified his prison term for possessing meth and the beating of an 18-year-old Wausau jail inmate. Torgerson broke down before the sentencing, saying quote, “You don’t know what I’ve been through.” 


A man killed in a weekend windsurfing accident on Lake Winnebago was identified today as 71-year-old Ronald Sandven of Sheboygan Falls. Authorities said an autopsy was still being completed to determine how he died. Searchers spent two-and-a-half hours looking for Sandven on Saturday, after his board was found washed up on the east shore of Lake Winnebago near Fond du Lac. His body was found about 300-yards from the edge of the water. The state D-N-R said Sandven was windsurfing alone, and he was not wearing a life jacket. The owner of a windsurfing store in Fond du Lac said Sandven was an experienced surfer over a number of years.