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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Death toll rises from accidents due to snowstorm

The death toll has risen to three from traffic crashes that were at least partially blamed on yesterday's snow in southern Wisconsin. 

The latest reported death was in Lafayette County, where 58-year-old Alfred Rott of Monona was killed.  Authorities said he was driving a semi-truck carrying anhydrous ammonia when it was hit by a large tow truck that skidded through an intersection on Highway 11 near Shullsburg.  Both trucks were destroyed.  The load of anhydrous ammonia was able to moved to another truck.  The surviving tow-truck driver was taken to a hospital in Darlington.  His condition was not immediately disclosed.  The other two weather-related crashes were in Dane County.  A 26-year-old female passenger was killed in a car that overturned in Fitchburg.  In Cottage Grove, a pick-up truck driver from Minnesota died after his vehicle was hit by a Deerfield school van that slid into his lane.  There were no students on board at the time.  Southern Wisconsin did not get a lot of snow, but authorities said lots of folks forgot their winter driving skills in what was the first significant snowfall of the season.  New snow totals showed that Platteville had the most, with four-inches. 


The Wisconsin State Supreme Court refused today to require a higher standard for juries that commit defendants to mental health treatment.  A Milwaukee woman lost an appeal of her verdict, in which a six-person jury ordered a six-month commitment on the grounds that she was a danger to herself and-or others.  State law requires that at least five members of six-person jury agree with a mental health commitment before it's imposed in a trial.  The woman said such a commitment was un-constitutional, because 12 jurors must agree unanimously before sex offenders are committed during their trials.  An appellate court ruled that the Milwaukee woman had given up her right to appeal -- but her lawyer convinced the Supreme Court to take the case because she was challenging the law on its face, and the issue had statewide ramifications.  The Supreme Court said it would have upheld her trial and appellate rulings, even if she had not given up her right to appeal.


Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker insists that he never seriously considered planting trouble-makers in the crowds of pro-union protestors at the State Capitol in 2011.  WAOW-TV of Wausau asked the Republican Walker about an apparent discrepancy in his new book "Unintimidated."  Walker said in the book that his office quote "never, never considered putting troublemakers in the crowd."  However, an Associated Press account at the time said Walker indeed thought about it, but declined.  He made that remark during a prank call from a left-leaning Internet writer who was posing as billionaire conservative businessman David Koch.  The writer brought up the subject and suggested that Walker was thinking about quote, "planting some trouble-makers" to rile up the protestors against the Republicans' near-elimination of collective bargaining for most public employee unions.  Walker told Wausau's WAOW, quote, "We implied that."  But he said he went back to his notes about the call, and he concluded that he never seriously considered any plants.  Walker said the prank call opened his eyes, and helped him re-direct his attention to make sure he was not doing things that somehow benefitted himself.


An Eau Claire man is due back in court Jan. 6, after he allegedly sold hunting rights for property that's not his.  25-year-old Andrew Martenson is free on a signature bond, after he appeared in Eau Claire County Circuit Court yesterday on two misdemeanor theft charges.  Prosecutors said a hunter and a friend answered an ad on Craigslist, and paid 500-dollars to hunt deer and turkeys on about 30 acres in Pleasant Valley -- and a second hunter said he and a co-worker paid 15-hundred-dollars to hunt with prospective sales clients on about 120-acres.  Officials said the scheme was unraveled when a neighbor saw an unfamiliar person hunt on Daniel Arneson's property -- and the neighbor knew that Arneson did not allow hunters to hunt on that land.  One of the hunters reportedly claimed to have leased hunting rights from Andy Jacobson -- and police said they later learned that it was really Martenson.


Wisconsin lawmakers are looking to increase the state’s minimum wage. State Senator Nikiya Harris, a Democrat from Milwaukee, says there is widespread public support for an increase, which was last raised in 2009 to 7-25 an hour. Harris says nearly a quarter of Wisconsin families make less than 20-thousand a year, and they deserve a raise. The new minimum wage amount has not been determined, but President Barack Obama called on Congress to increase it to nine-dollars an hour during his State of the Union address in February.


Several conservative and Tea Party groups across the state are urging Governor Scott Walker to dismiss the Common Core education standards. The national initiative calls for a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn for life after the classroom, but critics are calling it weak and a step towards nationalized curriculum. In the letter, signed by 61 people, urges Governor Walker to pass legislation to undo the standards.


Police are looking for a woman who stole a piece of artwork from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus last Wednesday. University Police say the painting, valued at $700, was stolen from Union South. Police are looking for a female suspect caught on surveillance video. She was seen wearing a long black coat, large silver or grey purse, blue scarf and holding a Styrofoam coffee cup. The image of the suspect is posted on the University’s site. Anyone with information on the crime is asked to contact the Madison Police Department at 608-264-COPS.


The Vatican is being asked to do what a U-S judge in Milwaukee refuses to do -- make 50-million-dollars available to victims of sex abuse by Catholic priests.  Creditors in the Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy case wrote a letter to an office in the Vatican that handles sex abuse cases.  It asked top church leaders to revoke an order that allowed former Milwaukee Archbishop Tim Dolan to create a trust fund to maintain cemetery plots for Catholics in the archdiocese.  Federal Judge Rudolph Randa of Milwaukee decided earlier this year to allow the church to protect the cemetery trust funds from the creditors -- almost 600 of whom are victims of sex abuse by priests over a number of decades.  Randa said the trust was protected under the freedom-of-religion clause in the U-S Constitution's First Amendment. 


A criminal investigation is reportedly taking place involving the foundation run by former Green Bay Packers' star LeRoy Butler.  Gannett Wisconsin Media reports that a federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents connected with the LeRoy Butler Foundation.  Gannett, which owns 10 daily newspapers in northeast and central Wisconsin, first reported this month that the IRS has been investigating the 45-year-old Butler.  At some point, the inquiry reportedly expanded to include federal prosecutors.  Gannett said earlier that Butler's foundation had held charity events throughout Wisconsin over the past decade, but it only filed one required annual return -- that being in 2002.  Gannett said K-Tech Kleening Systems of the Wausau area was subpoenaed in September to provide documents related to its charity work with Butler.  The newspapers said K-Tech ran a number of charity events with Butler for several years -- but the firm cut ties with the ex-Packers' star in 2009 after learning he had not been filing reports with the IRS.  The U.S. Attorney's office refuses to confirm or deny that an investigation is taking place.  Butler's foundation was planning to shut down after a final fund-raising trip in February -- but a travel agent told Gannett that Butler pulled out of the deal over a week ago.


More of Wisconsin's home-grown banks are making money, even though they have not loaned as much to home-and-business owners during the past year.  The FDIC reported today that banks with Wisconsin headquarters made $743-million dollars from January-through-September.  That's 16-percent more than the same period last year.  Less than five-percent of banks lost money in the first three-quarters of 2013, down from around nine-percent last year.  Lending activity was down slightly, to 67-and-a-half billion dollars from January-through-September.  However, banks have fewer bad loans.  Non-current loans and leases total two-point-oh-one percent of combined lending, down from two-point-seven-one percent during the same period of 2012.  Associated Bank, Wisconsin's largest home-grown bank based in Green Bay, had $50-and-a-half million of net income from July-through September.  That's the highest in the state.  Guaranty Bank of Brown Deer had the biggest loss, at $2.3 million.


Fewer Wisconsinites will be heading home for mom's or grandma's Thanksgiving turkey.  The Triple-"A" projects that 873,000 people will make one-way trips of at least 50-miles in the Badger State.  That's down one-and-a-half percent from a year ago.  Gail Weinholzer of the Wisconsin Triple-"A" says many folks are still not too confident about the economy -- and their conservative natures especially show around the holidays, as far as traveling goes.  About 63,000 of the Wisconsin travelers are expected to fly someplace.  The rest will pay much lower gas prices than last Thanksgiving.  Today's statewide average for regular unleaded is 3.16-a-gallon.  That's an almost negligible three-tenths-of-a-cent increase from yesterday, but it's almost a quarter cheaper per gallon than last year's Turkey Day. 


A driver who killed a newly-engaged woman on a busy Milwaukee street and kept going was sentenced this morning to 12 years in prison.  48-year-old Edward Hastings pleaded no contest in September to his original charge of hit-and-run causing death.  Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Stephanie Rothstein heard two hours of testimony before handing down the 12-year sentence, which also includes 10 years of extended supervision when Hastings is no longer behind bars.  Hastings' vehicle struck 32-year-old Andrea Barringer, who was crossing a busy Farwell Avenue with two friends the night of August 11th on Milwaukee's east side.  Hastings told officers he had just bought groceries, and he wanted to go home and talk to his family before he turned himself in the next day.  He claimed the three people darted between cars.  Barringer was a graduate student in art at Mount Mary College. She became engaged two days before her death. 


An Army reservist from Stevens Point took second place in the "Army's Best Warrior" competition.  23-year-old Mitch Fromm is with the Reserve's 428th Engineer Company.  He took part in a host of physical-and-mental performance tests during the recent event at Fort Lee in Virginia, was the runner-up among the soldier contestants.  Fromm graduated from Marathon High School in 2008, and he majors in fitness-and-wellness at UW-Stevens Point.  He's also a volunteer for the Plover Fire Department, and does carpentry work when he has spare time.  Specialist Adam Christensen of Las Vegas won the soldiers' top honors.  Army Reserve Sergeant Jason Manella of Fremont California won the honors for non-commissioned officers. 


Almost a third of Wisconsin counties are now under quarantine for the tree-killing emerald ash borer.  Dane County became the 21st such county today, after a tree contractor found evidence of the invasive beetle in its larval stage under the bark of ash trees at a park in Madison.  The U.S. Agriculture Department confirmed the ash borer's presence last Friday.  All of Dane County is under the quarantine, joining the adjacent Rock, Jefferson, Dodge, and Sauk counties.  Businesses that handle ash products must certify with the state that they're disease-free.  Also, Dane County firewood cannot be transported to counties without quarantines.  Brian Kuhn of the state Agriculture Department says his agency is disappointed with the latest finding -- but it's not surprised, given the earlier presence of the emerald ash borer in southern Wisconsin and the ease of transporting infected beetles.