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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Oconto bar burns down Christmas morning

OCONTO - The state Fire Marshal is helping local authorities figure out the cause of an early Christmas morning blaze that heavily damaged a bar in downtown Oconto.  

Fire-fighters were called just after midnight to the Log Jam Tavern.  The bar was closed for Christmas Eve.  Nobody was inside, and no one was hurt fighting the blaze.  Officials said the building was over 100 years old.  Oconto Fire Chief Jack Mlarnik said it appeared to have started on the second floor, in an area most recently used for storage.  He said apartments used to be there, but that was no longer the case.  An adjacent furniture store had minor smoke damage.  Total damage was estimated at over $100,000.


A Milwaukee County employee may have thrown away a piece of electrical equipment that might have determined what started the courthouse fire in July.  Two supervisors told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the lost component was discussed during a closed-door meeting of the county's Judiciary Committee last Wednesday.  Board member Khalif Rainey said he saw no need for the secrecy.  Supervisor John Weishan said equipment was thrown out that should have been saved -- and he fears that Milwaukee County will be dragged into civil suits over the courthouse fire.  The blaze resulted in $11-million in clean-up and replacement costs -- and the estimate is expected to keep going up.  Recently, officials said we may never know what started the fire, which began in a complex basement electrical center.  Two insurance companies agreed to cover the damage, and they were planning to go after the makers of the electrical equipment.  Now, the Journal-Sentinel says County Board members are questioning whether they were given the whole truth about the fire and its aftermath.  Administrative services director Don Tyler is not commenting on the latest revelation.


The DNA lab at UW-Madison will determine if human remains are those of a Canadian soldier who could have been mistakenly buried in Germany almost 70 years ago.  28-year-old Private Lawrence Gordon volunteered to serve in France with the U.S. Army during World War II.  He was killed during the Battle-of-Normandy in 1944.  Staff Sergeant David Henry of Viroqua was wounded in that attack, but he made it home.  Henry's grandson Jed tells WISC-TV in Madison he began searching for Gordon in 2011, while filming a documentary about his grandfather.  The London Daily Mail wrote in September that Gordon may have taken a German military jacket from a pile of clothing taken from prisoners-of-war who surrendered.  The report said German officials could have declared Gordon an unknown soldier when they buried him in that country.  His wallet helped eventually identify Gordon.  Henry asked the UW Biotechnology Center to confirm the soldier's identity.  WISC said the French government is performing the initial DNA tests, and the UW will then receive samples to check for a confirmation.  If the tests are positive, Gordon's remains will be sent home to Canada.


A judge in Wausau is expected to decide Monday whether a jury can hear key evidence against a woman accused of torturing-and-killing her ex-boyfriend's dog.  An attorney for 21-year-old Sean Janas of Wausau claims that police illegally obtained a diary, which included hopes that the dog named Mary would die.  It also had details on how the German shepherd-Labrador mix could be forced to take pain pills and drink bleach.  According to prosecutors, the boyfriend's father found the diary while cleaning out a house.  He turned it over to police.  Mary died in June of 2012, and Janas was charged four months later with poisoning and mistreating an animal, and obstructing police.  Her trial has been delayed twice, and she rejected a plea deal along the way.  A four-day trial is now set to begin January 21st.  The case attracted a worldwide following on social media, as animal rights supporters called for a strong penalty.  Hundreds of animal lovers attended a court hearing earlier in the case -- and the judge ended up sealing the defendant's address from online court records.


The Canadian Pacific Railroad's Holiday Train brought in record donations for food banks.  Wisconsinites and others along the train's route gave a total of two-point-one million dollars, plus over 300,000 pounds of food to help feed the hungry.  This was the 15th year of the Holiday Train, filled with holiday lights-and-decorations.  It provided box-car entertainment at all of its 150 stops throughout the U-S and Canada, traveling about six-thousand miles.  The Wisconsin stops were all in early December at Sturtevant, Milwaukee, Hartland, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Mauston, Tomah, Sparta, and La Crosse.  Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison said the Holiday Train has brought in almost $9.5 million dollars, and three-and-a-third million pounds of food over its 15-years of existence.  Feeding America and the Breakfast Club of Canada each received a quarter-million dollars from this year's event for their national food programs.


Wisconsin's commercial truck drivers are being reminded about an important deadline coming up.  CDL-license holders have until January 30th to certify to their state agencies about the categories of deliveries they plan to make in 2014.  And for the first time, CDL interstate drivers must submit copies of medical examiner's certificates -- known informally as the "Fed Med Card" -- to their state driver licensing agencies.  Alison Lebwohl of the Wisconsin DOT said about two-thirds of the state's 300,000 commercial drivers have met the requirements.  She said many truckers are letting their Fed-Med cards expire, so her agency is notifying about 20,000 drivers about the deadline.  Lebwohl said truckers who might have interstate commerce should certify as "Tier One."  Drivers can upload their Fed-Med cards online and through a smartphone app -- and the DOT will remind them when their cards are about to expire.  


If you got a new computer or TV for Christmas, state officials remind you to recycle your old ones.  It's the law -- although most of us don't know it.  The governor and Legislature banned electronics from landfills and incinerators in 2010, so the chemicals from those devices don't seep into our groundwater. The DNR says electronics are the fastest-growing segment of waste.  About 123-million pounds of old computers-and-such have been recycled in Wisconsin in the past four years.  The DNR surveyed people about the subject earlier this year, and found that 6-of-every-10 people didn't know that an electronics recycling law existed.  Seventy-two percent said they had no idea where to take their old computers and TV's for recycling.  More electronic stores have their own recycling programs, and there are almost 450 permanent collection sites around Wisconsin.  You'll find a list of them on the DNR's Web site, accessible at  


Now that Wisconsin's second wolf hunt is in the books, wildlife experts are starting to analyze a host of data to see what it all means.  State DNR wildlife management director Tom Hauge says the wolf population is healthy, and the state wants to keep it that way.  Hauge says anything experts can learn from the harvesting process will help.  Hunters took just over 250 wolves between October 15th and Monday, when the last of six zones reached its quota in northwest Wisconsin.  Every wolf that's shot-or-trapped has a number of samples taken.  Biologists can tell where each animal has been, how old it is, and its overall condition.  Hauge says the DNR is not sure what "normal" is yet.  After all, there have only been two years of wolf hunts, while experts have 50-to-60 years of deer hunting experience to draw from.  Hauge says the method for registering wolves is working well.  Hunters call the DNR within 24 hours of a harvest, allowing the agency to quickly determine when quotas are getting near.  


A Racine County woman is okay, after she went missing earlier this week and collapsed in a grocery store near Chicago.  82-year-old Jean Fox left her home in Caledonia to go shopping on Monday.  Her family never heard from her again until Tuesday afternoon, after she collapsed at a store in Wheaton, Illinois -- and she told employees she thought she was in Racine.  Jean's daughter Myra tells the Racine Journal Times that her mom had early signs of memory loss -- but she didn't notice anything major until now.  The two were planning to go to church on Christmas Eve, but Jean Fox never showed up -- and her daughter did more than just get worried.  She looked at bank records to track her mother's purchases, and found she that bought gas in Waukesha and Roscoe Illinois near Rockford before she was found in the Chicago area.  Myra Fox said her mother was confused, but otherwise okay.  She said Alzheimer's disease runs in her family.


Governor Scott Walker is preparing Wisconsinites for a discussion about tax cuts as he stands for re-election next fall.  He's laying out a host of possibilities for the state budget he would propose in 2015 if he wins a second term.  They include getting rid of the state income tax altogether -- or paying for technical colleges with the state sales tax instead of local property taxes.  Walker's office recently held a recent series of private meetings with business leaders to get their take.  Early next year, the Republican governor plans to involve the rest of us with meetings, an interactive Web site, and more.  Walker tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he does not have any preconceived notions -- he just wants to keep his promise of cutting taxes every year he's in office.  Meanwhile, financial analysts and critics are raising questions about the effects of eliminating the income tax.  Dale Knapp of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says the rich pay a disproportionate share of the income tax -- and they'd get a huge break if the tax is eliminated, while the poor would take a major hit if sales taxes are used to fund the government.  The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the state sales tax would have to jump from five-percent to 13-and-a-half percent -- the highest in the country -- if the income tax is scrapped.  Lawmakers have tried numerous times to get more sales revenue by taking away exemptions that various groups enjoy.  Lobbyists for those groups helped kill every one of them.  State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) says any tax cuts for next year should be modest, depending on the state's revenue picture which we'll know more about in mid-January.  He has mentioned a sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases.


Madison's water utility has asked residents to look for signs of water problems related to the cold-and-snowy weather.  Crews spent much of Christmas Eve repairing at least a half-dozen water mains that broke due to temperatures that fell to 12-below in Madison.  Officials also blame a lack of deep snow cover which normally insulates the ground, and prevents the water pipes from freezing.  Madison residents are being asked to call their water department if they experience a sudden loss of water pressure -- of if they see large puddles of standing water or bubbling through pavement.  Things got warmer on Christmas Day, after a couple of bouts of light snow went through.  It was 15 degrees in Madison at four o'clock this morning.  Racine had 20 degrees.  Superior was the only Wisconsin reporting station below zero at minus-one.  Highs are expected to be in the teens-and-20's throughout Wisconsin today.


An 82-year-old widow who never had children is giving  $100,000 so kids can play at a new park in Middleton.  Lucille Taylor tells the Wisconsin State Journal that she and her late husband Harvey loved watching kids play -- and they decided before he died eight years ago that they'd invest in a new park.  The Taylors were never rich.  She cleaned houses, while he drove trucks and repaired engines.  Wise investing and a relatively-thrifty lifestyle helped build up their nest egg.  Taylor was going to wait until after she died to leave the money, hoping nobody would ever find out who gave it.  But Middleton officials proposed an 11-acre park on land that used to be part of Taylor's family farm -- and she made the donation now to honor her family's name and history.  The new park will be named the "Harvey John and Lucille Taylor Park."  A playground is scheduled to open there next spring.  Future plans call for hiking-and-biking trails, and three football fields.


Somebody got a whopper of a present on Christmas Night, when a Powerball ticket sold in Missouri matched all the numbers to win 71-and-a-half million dollars.  One ticket in Wisconsin won $10,000 by matching four regular numbers plus the Powerball.  The state lottery has not said yet where the ticket was sold.  Just over 68-hundred Wisconsin players won smaller prizes.  Last night's numbers were 23, 28, 38, 39, and 56.  The Powerball was 32.  The jackpot was building since December 11th.  It goes back to $40-million for the next drawing on Saturday night.  In Mega Millions, the top prize is at 35-and-a-half million for tomorrow night.


About 75 Wisconsin runners have completed marathons in all 50 states.  The latest is Sheri Nichols of Trempealeau, north of La Crosse.  She completed the national circuit on December eighth, when she ran in a 26-mile event in Honolulu Hawaii.  The 47-year-old Nichols has been in 53 marathons in all.  She said marathon running has helped her tackle all kinds of things in life -- even large but mundane tasks like doing eight loads of laundry.  Nichols says anything can be accomplished by keeping at it, and never quitting.  The Fifty-States Marathon Club said about 33-hundred people throughout the world have finished marathons in all 50 states.