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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Reward offered to find hit and run driver in Polk County

BALSAM LAKE - A five-thousand-dollar reward is being offered to help find a hit-and-run driver who struck-and-killed two men last weekend in northwest Wisconsin.  

Polk County sheriff's deputies announced the reward yesterday, for information about the driver who killed 28-year-old Benjamin Juarez of Frederic and 41-year-old Richard Cobenais Junior of Luck.  Authorities said both were fighting at a house in the Round Lake Indian community last Saturday night.  The brawl spilled onto County Trunk "E," where both were hit by a pick-up truck that never stopped.  Authorities now say the vehicle was a black Ford F-150, with a model year between 1997-and-2003.  It had damage to the passenger side's headlight area.


Authorities say a woman was killed in a snowmobile crash in western Wisconsin Wednesday night. The Polk County Sheriff’s office says the 20-year-old woman was a passenger on the snowmobile, when it crashed into an ice fishing shanty on Bone Lake. Authorities say the woman suffered from severe head injuries, even though she was wearing a helmet. She died on the scene. Deputies arrested the driver, a 21-year-old St. Croix Falls man, under suspicion of drunk driving.  He was reportedly uninjured in the crash.


A 60-year-old UW-Madison employee was killed, after she was hit by a delivery truck on a court near the campus Memorial Union.  Authorities said the truck was backing up when it hit the woman, who was walking behind it.  WKOW-TV said the truck's back-up alarm was sounding -- and police are not aware of any reason that the woman might not have heard it.  The victim died at a hospital.  Her name was not immediately released.  The truck is owned by UW-Madison, and the driver was reported to be a man in his 20's.  Madison Police continue to investigate.  


A man killed in a high-speed crash off a Kenosha County freeway was identified yesterday as 25-year-old John Punak of Racine.  Sheriff's deputies said the man's car hit the post of a traffic light at the end of an off-ramp from southbound Interstate-94 at Highway 50 near Kenosha.  It happened around 1:30 Wednesday afternoon.  Officials said there were no skid marks, and no signs that the driver tried to stop before hitting the light-post.  An investigation into the mishap continues. 


The federal government is arming retailers with technical specifics on how a major data breach can happen, like the recent one at Target.  Cyber-security experts prepared a confidential report issued yesterday.  They say the information could help merchants detect and shut-down cyber attacks that may actually be in progress.  Cyber-thieves stole $40-million credit-and-debit card numbers about a month-and-a-half ago from Target shoppers in all of its 1,800 U.S. stores, including 40 in Wisconsin.  The new report says the Target hackers likely used point-of-sale malware to attack individual cash-register terminals.  The hackers also used memory-parsing software to get encrypted data as it traveled through a computer's live memory in the form of plain text.  Officials say the software cannot be detected by anti-virus programs on Windows-based cash registers.  Besides the card data theft, the Minneapolis-based Target said personal data from 70-million customers was lifted during the holiday shopping season.  


The Great Lakes shipping season ended Wednesday after the locks closed at Sault Sainte Marie along the Canadian-and-Upper Michigan border.  Officials estimate that last year's shipping on Lake Superior was 1-to-2 percent higher than in 2012.  Jim Sharrow of the Port Authority at Duluth-Superior predicts higher activity in the New Year, as iron ore shipments -- one of the basic cargoes at the harbor -- will be busier again.  The next shipping season begins when the Soo Locks re-open on March 25th.  In the meantime, Sharrow says crews in the Twin Ports will be working on at least 10 freighters over the next two months in dry dock.  


JC Penney will close five stores in Wisconsin, and 33 nationwide, to try and turn its struggling department store chain around.  The company said yesterday that stores in Wausau, Rhinelander, Rice Lake, Janesville, and Fond du Lac will close by early May.  Over 255 jobs will be eliminated from those stores, which Penney calls "under-performing."   Wisconsin will continue to have 18 other Penney stores statewide.  Company spokesman Joey Thomas says there are no plans to close any of those -- although the firm says it continually reviews its store base.  Wisconsin has the most stores on the national closure list.  The Wausau and Janesville stores will cut 70 jobs each, Fond du Lac 50, Rice Lake 40, and Rhinelander 25.  Remaining inventories will be sold over the next few months at each location.  It's the latest effort to the stop the financial bleeding at JC Penney.  The Plano Texas chain lost $1.4 billion dollars in the first nine months of its latest fiscal year, after losing $985-million in fiscal 2012.  CBL, which owns malls in Wausau and Janesville, says it already has redevelopment plans to fill the store space.  CBL says a number of retailers have expressed an interest in moving in.


The death of a black suburban Milwaukee shoplifter who was restrained by three white customers was ruled today as a homicide.  The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office released reports on 16-year-old Corey Stingley of West Allis.  They listed the cause of death as brain damage, caused by a lack of oxygen.  Yesterday, Stingley's father said he approached the U.S. Justice Department to have the incident investigated, saying it was a national issue of quote, "no justice for African-Americans."  Last Friday, local prosecutors said they would not file charges against the three men who restrained Stingley, as he tried to leave with alcohol stolen from VJ's Food Mart in West Allis.  Stingley died in late December of 2012, about two weeks after the incident.  District Attorney John Chisholm said charges were not warranted, because the three men did not intend to harm Stingley by holding him for the authorities -- and they were not aware that their actions could cause great bodily harm.  The medical examiner defines homicide as death at the hands of another.  It does not take into account whether a homicide is intentional or reckless -- standards determined in criminal courts.


A jury in Milwaukee refused to buy a man's claim that his wife killed herself -- and they convicted him of murdering her.  29-year-old Keith Brooks was found guilty yesterday of battery and a reduced charge of reckless homicide in the death of 27-year-old Milwaukee poet Anita Brooks.  She died of a gunshot wound last January 27th at the couple's west side Milwaukee apartment.  Brooks faces up to 45 years in prison when he's sentenced on March seventh.  He claimed that his wife shot herself after he said he was leaving her.  He was discharged from the Army after he tried killing himself in Afghanistan, saying his wife had cheated on him.  The defense lawyer mentioned the alleged infidelity to the jury in his opening argument, but it was not confirmed by witnesses during the week-and-a-half-long trial.  Prosecutors rejected the defense's claim that Anita Brooks was disturbed.  They said she enjoyed her poetry and life with her daughter.  Assistant District Attorney Kevin Shomin said it was possible that Keith Brooks was planning a murder-suicide -- but he couldn't follow through with it.


A Milwaukee man will spend nine months in prison for hurting a woman in a bar fight, running over her with his SUV, and dragging her for 40-feet.  36-year-old Kenneth Smith Junior was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison -- but only nine months were added to an existing prison term for violating a probation in a drug-related case.  His new release date is early in 2017.  Prosecutors said Nikki Brown and her fiancee got into a fight with Smith in a north side bar in 2010.  They took the fight outside, where Smith ran over the woman and dragged her -- causing numerous fractures and eye-and-facial injuries.  Brown said Milwaukee Police refused to investigate, so she complained to the city's Fire-and-Police Commission.  Two officers were later suspended for six days for not adequately investigating.  Smith was charged after that, after Brown investigated on her own and tracked the suspect down.  He struck a plea deal, and was convicted of aggravated battery.  A more severe hit-and-run injury charge was dropped.  Smith was also ordered to pay 37-thousand-dollars in restitution -- and another hearing will determine if he must pay for Brown's out-of-pocket medical costs. 


A third suspect was still being sought at last word in a credit union robbery which caused lock-downs at two nearby schools in suburban Milwaukee.  Brown Deer Police said two men entered the Credit Union Services Center yesterday.  They demanded money, and fled in a getaway car driven by a third person.  Glendale Police tried stopping the vehicle, but two suspects jumped out and ran away.  A foot chase followed.  Officials said two people are now in custody and the third was still at-large.  Cardinal Stritch University and Glendale Nicolet High School locked students-and-staffers inside their buildings as a precaution.  That was soon after the robbery took place around 11:30 yesterday morning.  The arrests were made around 12:50, and the lock-downs ended just after one p.m.


No charges will be filed in the death of a man at a tavern in Rhinelander about an hour into the New Year.  48-year-old James Tanner of Rhinelander died after his sternum broke and punctured his heart, when it was pushed onto the bar by a disc jockey who was trying to break up a fight.  Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek said the 59-year-old DJ was not sure what Tanner would do next -- and that's why he gave Tanner a bear hug and moved him toward the bar area to restrain him.  Schiek said there was a "one in a million" chance that Tanner's sternum would hit the bar the way it did -- and the DJ had no intention of killing the man.  The prosecutor said he looked over the bar area, reviewed autopsy evidence, and conducted almost two dozen interviews before deciding he didn't have enough to convict the DJ of second-degree reckless homicide.  Schiek said a final toxicology report is due in a few days, but it would not change the basic facts of what happened.  


Four people from Boscobel face federal charges for the death of a teenager who overdosed on morphine.  The investigation continues, and Grant County sheriff's deputies say more charges are expected in the death of 18-year-old Jordan Faulkner of Boscobel. 63-year-old Mary Grant, 46-year-old Brent "Tony" Venglish, and 24-year-old Thomas Kussmaul are being held by U.S. Marshals while awaiting their first court appearance on federal counts of distributing a controlled substance.  A fourth suspect, 33-year-old Craig Bellis, is in the Grant County Jail on unrelated charges.  Faulkner died a year ago this past Monday.  The arrests came after a year-long investigation by the state Justice Department, a regional drug task force, and Boscobel Police.


Three men are due in court Feb. 3, after police near Wisconsin Rapids followed tire tracks to nab the men for allegedly stealing metals from a neighbor.  23-year-old Jared Ryan of Nekoosa and 23-year-old Michael Stevens of Friendship are both charged in Wood County with felony burglary and theft.  49-year-old Christopher Allen of Nekoosa faces a theft charge.  All three are free on signature bonds.  According to prosecutors, a resident returned last November from a trip to Florida, and found that somebody stole a motor bike and aluminum semi-trailer stakes.  A sheriff's deputy noticed tire tracks on a matted trail from the victim's house to a neighbor's place.  There, the officer found a power pack and a reciprocating saw.  Ryan reportedly told officers they were trying to cash in by selling the metals they took.  Prosecutors said the aluminum stakes were sold to a salvage yard.  They were said to be worth around $10,000.\


Researchers at UW-Madison have developed a process to create renewable biofuels. One of the research authors of the project says the research team used an organic compound, known as gamma-Valerolactone (or GVL), to break down plants into sugars. Those sugars could then be upgraded into biofuels – including ethanol. Researchers say that because GVL is created from plant materials, it’s both renewable and more affordable than current conversion methods that require expensive chemicals or enzymes. An initial economic report shows the process would be 10-percent cheaper than the current state-of-the-art technologies. With support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the research team will begin scaling up the process later this year. 


An astronomer and a teacher from the Milwaukee area will help collect space data in a pair of NASA flights.  Jean Creighton and Kathy Gustavson will join educators from 10 other states aboard NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.  Creighton is the director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium at UW-Milwaukee. Gustavson is a science teacher at Glendale Nicolet High School.  Creighton tells WUWM Radio on the Milwaukee campus that they'll fly 45-thousand feet in the air, while gathering astronomical data on the world's largest flying observatory of its kind.  Creighton and Gustavson will be trained this spring in California.  They'll then board the space craft for a pair of 10-hour flights.


The state DNR says the replacement of a bridge in southwest Wisconsin might kill some rare frogs -- but not enough to wipe out the species.  Grant County officials want to replace a bridge over the Platte River in the town of Ellenboro.  The endangered northern cricket frog is close by.  The DNR says it could result in the incidental taking of some frogs, and the agency is granting preliminary authorization to allow it for now.  It's taking public comments on the matter through February 11th.  DNR officials say the project will not jeopardize the cricket frog's continued existence or recovery -- and the agency agrees that the new bridge would be a benefit to the public.


Gogebic Taconite was given another license today to drill more exploratory holes at the site of its proposed iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.  The company drilled eight holes last year.  The firm asked for another license to drill 15 more holes, and the DNR announced its approval this afternoon.  The drilling license is not the same as the company's other request for excavating tons of rock from the site to check its mineral content.  The DNR is currently considering excavation and storm-water permits for that phase of the exploratory work.  


Just over two-thirds of Wisconsin's 72 counties have been infested with the tree-and-leaf-killing gypsy moth.  State officials say Iowa County in the southwest part of the state will be added to the quarantine list for the pest, starting on March 31st.  Under the quarantine, logs, Christmas trees, and nursery-stock must be certified as being gypsy-moth-free before they can be sent to other areas or states which don't have quarantines.  Like the emerald ash borer, gypsy moths often travel in firewood -- so there are restrictions on the wood's movements.  Also, people in the gypsy moth areas are asked to check things like boats, campers, and patio furniture for egg masses before they're taken someplace.  State officials normally conduct aerial spraying in certain areas each year to try and prevent the gypsy moth from spreading. 


Milwaukee area native John Ridley Jr. was nominated for an Academy Award this morning, for his screenplay in the film "Twelve Years a Slave."  The story of a man bought-and-sold into slavery before the Civil War was also one of nine movies nominated for Best Picture.  Ridley graduated from Mequon Homestead High School.  He has written seven novels including "U-Turn," which was made into a movie.  Ridley also wrote the films "Three Kings," "Red Tails," and "Undercover Brother."  He began his career in TV.  The Oscar telecast is set for March second on ABC.  Ridley was also nominated for a Golden Globe for best screenplay for "12 Years a Slave."  He lost out on that honor last Sunday night.


The Berlin School Board has formed a subcommittee to help decide whether the district should still drop its Indian logo, even though it's no longer required to do so.  Both sides were aired at a board meeting last night.  That was after the governor and state Legislature threw out a 2011 order from the state Department of Public Instruction requiring Berlin to trash its Indians' nickname and logo by July first.  The order was result of a state law passed by Democrats in 2009 -- most of which was thrown out by Republicans last year.  Berlin Superintendent Robert Eidahl says the time constraint has been taken away, and the district can take its time and make its own decision.  Under the new law, it takes a petition to get the state to consider orders to drop an Indian mascot -- and not just a complaint from one person.  The Administration Department will make the call instead of the DPI.  And the new law tossed out the state's previous orders for three districts -- including Berlin -- to drop the Indian monikers. 


UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank took part in a White House summit yesterday on ways to help low-income students go to college.  The Chronicle of Higher Education says about 140 university presidents are attending, mainly from state flagships and elite schools.  All the participants had to commit to specific steps for helping more low-income students start and finish college.  UW-Madison says Blank will devote part of the donations from an upcoming UW Foundation fund-raising campaign to increase financial aid that's based on need.  The Madison campus also plans to create an Institute for Science Education, to advise students on science, technology, engineering, and math-based careers.  The school also says it will expand two other campus programs to boost low-income student enrollments.  Blank -- a former acting commerce secretary in the Obama White House -- says the UW has worked hard to make sure low-income families have access to Madison.  However, she says quote, "There is more we can and should be doing."


Wausau area leaders will find out this afternoon how much support there might be for a county-wide ban on drivers holding cell-phones.  Officials from Wausau, surrounding communities, and Marathon County will meet to test the waters.  Wausau City Attorney Anne Jacobsen created a rough draft of a possible ordinance.  City Council and County Board member Karen Kellbach has been seeking support for a county-wide ban.  Sheriff Scott Parks and some county supervisors endorse the idea.  Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids have had bans against drivers holding cell phones for several years.  But those cities don't have suburbs with nearly as much traffic as the adjoining Wausau communities of Weston, Schofield, and Rib Mountain.  Waupaca County adopted a similar ban in 2008.  Marathon County officials need to discuss whether hands-free devices should be legal.  Amateur radio and C-B communications would be exempt -- and drivers could still use their cell-phones to report hazardous situations or emergencies.  


With such a strong beer heritage, you might be surprised that there are no Wisconsin pubs outside of Milwaukee on a list of the nation's 100-best beer bars.  Three Milwaukee watering holes made Draft Magazine's sixth annual list -- the Palm Tavern and Roman's Pub in the Bay View neighborhood, and the Sugar Maple on Milwaukee's east side.  Draft Magazine said it's no longer enough for bars to have a "zillion taps" to make the Top-100.  Today, a top-notch beer establishment needs "well-cared for, thoughtfully-selected beer in the kind of place you'd want to stay for awhile, delivered by someone who knows their stuff."  Draft Magazine singled out the Palm Tavern as a place that keeps pace with the changes in their neighborhood with an "old meets new feeling."  It says the bar's metal pineapple remains a sign of hospitality, friendship, and the desire of bartenders to offer samples-and-suggestions to their clientele.  Draft also says jazz music from a low-lit room also helps.