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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: House explosion in Milwaukee damages neighborhood

MILWAUKEE - Authorities in Milwaukee are investigating a house explosion from early yesterday on the city's northwest side.  The blast and a resulting fire destroyed the home and caused significant damage to two neighboring houses.  

Officials said there were no serious injuries, but they did not have an immediate word on the conditions of the people living in the house where the blast originated.  It was engulfed in flames when fire-fighters arrived about 1:30 yesterday morning.  Five people moved out of the neighboring homes because they were damaged so badly.  According to WTMJ, first responders found natural gas spewing from a line -- and the blast destroyed the gas meter of the main house.  The station also said the house was in the process of being foreclosed upon.


A man's belt buckle might have saved him from being shot-to-death in Fond du Lac.  Police said an altercation led to four shots being fired early Saturday.  Three of the bullets did not hit anybody, and the other was deflected off the target's belt buckle.  Two men were held, but one was later released.  Officials say the incident remains under investigation.  


This is the coldest morning of what's been an unusually-cold December.  It was 28-below at six o'clock at Siren, Hayward, and Phillips in northern Wisconsin.  In the state's mid-section, Sparta was at minus-22 and Marshfield at minus-20.  In southern Wisconsin, Middleton was at 18-below and Waukesha was at minus-11.  The Great Lakes protected some folks a little bit.  Milwaukee only had minus-six at six o'clock.  Ashland was a few degrees warmer than it was inland, at 18-below.  Many places had no wind early this morning -- but the National Weather Service said wind-chill advisories remain in effect until noon for all of Wisconsin.  Forecasters said it's possible for wind-chills to get down to 35-below in the north, and 25-below in the south.  A high-pressure system brought a new blast of Arctic air into the Badger State.  Forecasters say it won't be as cold tonight, with temperatures getting down to 10-below with a chance for more snow.  However, a cold spell is expected to continue at least until New Year's Day -- when parts of Wisconsin will once again see double-digit temperatures above zero.  


The southern third of Wisconsin could get a lot more snow this week.  The National Weather Service says a low pressure system moving east from the Rockies could collide with a northbound wave of warmer air.  That could produce a prolonged period of light-to-moderate snow from Tuesday afternoon through Thursday.  By then, between 9-and-10 inches of new snow is possible Kenosha and Racine counties -- 8-to-9 inches in Milwaukee County and far south central Wisconsin -- and 3-to-7 inches elsewhere south of a line from La Crosse to Manitowoc.  Meanwhile, it's supposed to stay cold.  Daytime temperatures are predicted to remain in the single-digits until Thursday, when highs will gradually get warmer into the teens.  


A runaway from Eau Claire is in custody in New Mexico, after she and three other teens allegedly stole two mini-vans while heading to California.  Authorities had issued a public alert for 15-year-old Breanna Gomez, a diabetic who left her vital insulin in the first stolen vehicle, which the group abandoned in Colorado.  Gomez was reported as a runaway last Monday.  Authorities said she, her 16-year-old boyfriend Spencer Linville, and two other friends were apparently heading to Riverside California when they out-ran police last Thursday in a chase that went through two counties.  They allegedly abandoned the vehicle before taking another mini-van in Roggen Colorado.  They were captured on Saturday in Raton New Mexico.  Officials said the second mini-van was located in Raton, and the four teens ran away before they were caught after a short pursuit.  Gomez' grandfather, Jerry Carpenter, told ABC News that she had just been released from a juvenile detention center after having numerous run-ins with police and skipping school.  Carpenter said Gomez would have to pay the price for what she did, but her family loves her and they want her to get treatment. 


Authorities urge snowmobilers to stay on marked trails, after another machine fell through the ice on a northern Wisconsin lake.  A suburban Chicago man was hospitalized with symptoms of hypothermia, after his snowmobile fell into Eagle Lake in Vilas County last night.  It happened around 7 p.m.  Sheriff's deputies said the machine was submerged chest-deep.  Rescuers took the man to a hospital.  At least three snowmobile deaths have been reported in Wisconsin this month.  The latest reported mishap was on Friday, when a machine crashed into a tree near Cambria in Columbia County and killed a rider from Michigan.  Also, a 30-year-old suburban Chicago man was found dead on Friday in northwest Wisconsin.  Authorities said Edward Steinhardt died from exposure, after he crawled out of a truck that crashed through Dilly Lake in Washburn County.


It's almost tax time, which brings new opportunities for high-tech thieves.  A Lincoln County woman has already lost $600, after she applied for what appeared to be a loan in advance of her tax refunds. According to authorities, the scammer said she had to get a Green Dot debit card, put money into it for fees, then send it off so she could get her loan processed.  She sent $600 before realizing she was taken.  Sheriff's deputies in Merrill say folks should be wary of anyone asking for Green Dot cards to pay things like loan fees, because they're not traceable once thieves get their "pin" numbers.


Gas prices in Wisconsin have jumped by eight-cents a gallon over the past week -- and you can expect fuel prices to rise even more during the New Year's week.  Analyst Patrick DeHaan of Gas said crude oil prices went back above $100 a barrel last week.  That was due in part to comments about the Federal Reserve reducing its lending.  DeHaan also cites new refinery issues in the Great Lakes region -- plus normal year-end financial house-cleaning by the oil companies which often restricts wholesale supplies.  The Wisconsin Triple-"A" said the average price of regular unleaded is just over $3.23-a-gallon this morning -- exactly the same as it was on this date a year ago, and eight cents higher than it was last Monday.  


A state Democrat from Milwaukee plans to introduce five bills today to help his city and others still feeling the pain of foreclosures from the Great Recession.  Representative Evan Goyke says he expects majority Republicans to get behind his package.  He said a multi-faceted approach is needed to solve a problem that some lawmakers don't understand.  The numbers of foreclosure suits filed by lenders has dropped this year, but Milwaukee is among the places still ordering dozens of foreclosures for not paying taxes.  The state's largest city acquired almost 750 houses this year due to tax delinquencies.  One bill would give tax-funded incentives to real estate agents who sell foreclosed homes valued at under 50-thousand dollars.  Plaintiffs filing foreclosure actions would have to come up with demolition bonds of at least 15-thousand dollars.  Filing fees would be increased for foreclosure suits.  Local officials and lenders could enter foreclosed houses to deal with problems inside.  And state funds to help Milwaukee deal with its foreclosures would be doubled from two-million-dollars to four-million.


The next presidential election is one-thousand-44 days away -- and yet, the campaign is well underway for two Wisconsin Republicans and almost a dozen others who might run.  The Associated Press is keeping a check-list of the preliminary things that all the candidates are doing while they publicly deny White House aspirations.  Governor Scott Walker and Janesville Congressman Paul Ryan are among 10 Republicans being tracked along with four Democrats.  The AP says they're all getting nationally-known on TV, filling holes in their resumes, making contacts with party leaders and activists, and taking early steps to build campaign organizations.  Both Ryan and Walker have written pre-election books, have had national fund-raisers, and appeared on at least a half-dozen of the Sunday interview shows.  Both have so-called "shadow campaigns" -- including Ryan's Prosperity Action committee and state-and-national strategists for Walker.  They've both been to the early 2016 voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  Both are getting foreign travel experience -- Walker on a trade mission to China as governor, and Ryan in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East.  And both say they're immersed in their present jobs, while voters keep getting asked about their presidential possibilities.  A Marquette poll in October had Walker in the lead with 29-percent of Republican support.  Ryan was second followed by Florida's Marco Rubio.  The poll gave Democrat Hillary Clinton a clear lead so far, with Vice President Joe Biden a distant second.


One of three people accused of cashing a missing relative's Social Security checks for over three decades is expected to settle his case today.  67-year-old Charles Jost of Amherst has an 11 o'clock hearing in Portage County Circuit Court on an apparent plea deal.  He's currently charged with four felony counts of theft-by-fraud, forgery, unauthorized use of somebody's personal documents, and mail fraud.  Jost had pleaded insanity three months ago, but he apparently changed his mind after he was given a mental exam.  Charles Jost is accused of conspiring with his sister Delores Disher and her husband Ronald to cash $175,000 worth of Social Security checks for Marie Jost.  That's after Marie and her son Theodore vanished in the 1980's.  Prosecutors suspected the three defendants of killing the two relatives, but lab tests could not provide a murder link.  Ronald Disher has a three-day trial set for January 29th.  Delores Disher had her four charges dismissed, after she had a stroke and was found to be unfit to stand trial.  


A host of new state laws will take effect around the country on New Year's Day.  They include the approval of "pedal pubs" in Wisconsin -- in which a number of partiers can drink on a bicycle-powered vehicle as they pedal their way from bar-to-bar.  Milwaukee had a pedal pub in the downtown Water Street district until the city said it was against state law.  Legislators spoke up for the partiers -- and by mid-November, both houses had approved pedal pubs in communities that choose to allow them.  Governor Scott Walker later signed the measure.  Meanwhile, neighboring Illinois will become the 20th state legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.  However, it might take more than a year for patients to buy the pot.  State agencies must still write the exact rules, and have a legislative committee approve them.  Wisconsin lawmakers have been asked for years to allow medical marijuana -- but legislatures controlled by both major parties have not seriously considered it. 


Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) now says he might seek an end to the alternative minimum tax in the current legislative session.  Vos said last week he would consider a sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases, as a small tax relief measure for 2014 while larger tax relief is debated in the fall election campaigns.  However, the Republican speaker said any tax relief for the coming year hinges on the state's financial condition -- which will be updated next month.  The alternative minimum tax is charged to those with large amounts of deductions.  The federal tax affects numerous middle-class residents, but the state alternative minimum tax was paid by only 5,900 filers in 2011.  It brought in a total of six-and-a-half million dollars.  The speaker's recent comments revived a proposal for a back-to-school sales tax holiday proposed last February by state Assembly Republican Chad Weininger of Green Bay and state Senate Republican Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac.  Weininger now expects a public hearing on his plan soon.  Lawmakers plan to meet only a few times in 2014, before adjourning their session for good in March or April.  


While the proposed Menominee tribal casino in Kenosha is debated, another tribe in northern Wisconsin is quietly using the Internet to expand its business.  The Lac du Flambeau Chippewa tribe, based in Vilas County, has launched three Internet pay-day lending companies -- two of which went online this month.  They've also been creating the infra-structure for an online casino.  It uses play money now -- but tribal president Tom Maulson tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that a quote, "flip of the switch" could make it use real money when the opportunity presents itself.  It could happen sooner-than-later for Web connections within the tribe's boundaries.   Lac du Flambeau business development director Brent McFarland says the tribe is looking for ways to leverage its sovereignty in a responsible way -- and the Internet provides tremendous opportunities.  The Lac du Flambeau has joined about two dozen other tribes around the country in offering Internet pay-day lending, and the Tribal Internet Gaming Alliance is working to start a multi-tribal casino online.  Maulson's tribe is hoping for a turn-around of its financial fortunes.  Three years ago, the tribe defaulted on a 50-million-dollar bond -- and the move is still being challenged in court.