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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Cargill closes Milwaukee beef plant, 600 lose jobs

MILWAUKEE - The closing of the Cargill meat packaging plant in Milwaukee leaves 600 workers looking for a job. Others are forced into early retirement. 

The company blames a national beef shortage.  Of Cargill’s 13 operations in Wisconsin, only two were beef packaging facilities.  The company has promised to try to help those workers find a new job, but for those who want to remain in Wisconsin and continue to work for Cargill, the options will be limited.


Both Wisconsin U.S. Senators voted for a bill aimed at helping veterans avoid long waits for health care.  The $16-billion compromise legislation passed the U.S. Senate Thursday night after clearing the House of Representatives.  The measure will fix many of the problems at the scandal-plagued Veterans Administration.  Democrat Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Madison says she is pleased by a provision adding 1,500 graduate medical education residents to the VA Health Service.  The bill will let veterans go to private doctors if they live more than 40 miles from the VA facility, or are told they face a wait of more than 14 days. Also voting for the measure was Oshkosh Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.


A Milwaukee man who is accused of attacking a county lawyer last Monday faces a charge of substantial battery.  Robert E. Baker made a court appearance yesterday.  The 59-year-old Baker was in the courtroom last Monday trying to reopen a civil case.  Witnesses say he became angry when he was told that case wouldn’t be reopened.  Outside the courtroom, Baker allegedly punched a lawyer for the Corporation Counsel Office at least two times and hit him with a metal clipboard.  Mark Grady needed a stitch to close a facial cut.  Baker’s attorney says his client has apologized.  He returns to court August 20th.


The public will partner with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on the tracking of the state’s deer population.  This is the fifth year of the program which gathers information about the Wisconsin deer herd.  Members of the public are being asked to report to the DNR about the number of deer they see each day, from dawn to dusk.  State biologists use the information when making herd management decisions.  Forms can be found on the DNR web site.  You will submit your information there, too.


An Eagle Heights resident has reportedly lost more than $4,300 in a phone scam.  Police say the man was called by a person identifying himself as Jimmy Arthur from the Federal Tax Department.  He was calling from a Delaware number.  The caller said there was a warrant out for the victim’s arrest because he owed $1,320 dollars in state taxes and, if he hung up, Madison authorities would arrest and deport him.  Once he took money out of his bank account to cover that amount, he was told he needed to pay another three-thousand dollars.  Police say they believe the call came from overseas.  Police are reminding people the IRS and other government agencies will never call you and require payment over the phone.


It's been a rough week for weather in Wisconsin.  Hail fell every day someplace in the Badger State.  Friday morning, pea-sized hail fell during the 10 o'clock hour near Port Edwards, close to Wisconsin Rapids.  Last night, hail the size of ping-pong balls fell near Prairie Farm in Barron County.  Nearby Clayton had three-quarter-inch hail.  An unstable weather pattern has stood over Wisconsin since early in the week -- and forecasters say it will stay with us into next week.  That means we'll have a chance of showers and thunderstorms each afternoon and evening, with fog possible into the early morning hours. Temperatures are near normal, with highs close to 80 and lows 50-to-60.  The Weather Service in La Crosse said the average temperature in that city was almost three-degrees below normal in July.  La Crosse also had more rain than normal by about three-quarters of an inch.  Most of it came during a three-inch gully-washer on July 12th.


A Kenosha County couple has filed a wrongful death suit against a baby-sitter who's criminally charged in the death of the couple's baby.  Nathan and Reggan Koopmeiners are also suing, a screening company the couple to find Sarah Gumm of Waukegan Illinois.  Gumm is charged with first-degree murder in the death of three-month-old Rylan Koopmeiners in 2012.  The baby's parents allege that failed to tell them that Gumm had two previous drunk driving convictions -- even though the Koopmeiners paid the company for a background check. said they're saddened by what happened, but they won't comment on ongoing litigation.  According to the wrongful death suit, Gumm had been drinking just before she allegedly caused the baby's fatal head injury.  Gumm's lawyer said he understands why the Koopmeiners would search for justice, but he said the baby-sitter did not cause the infant's death on purpose.  The attorney said he's also trying to arrange a plea deal to avert a trial in the criminal case that's set for September in Lake County, Illinois.


Authorities continue to investigate the death of a man who might have been struck by his own boat in a northern Wisconsin lake.  Vilas County authorities were called to Upper Buckatabon Lake in Conover, where the victim was seen floating in the water near his boat near the lake's western shore.  The man was flown to a Wausau hospital Wednesday afternoon, and he died there yesterday.  His name was not immediately released.


A Waukesha judge ruled today that a 12-year-old girl is not mentally competent to stand trial for stabbing a classmate in order to please the horror character Slender Man.  Circuit Judge Michael Bohren ordered up to a year of mental health treatment for Morgan Geyser.  She'll resume her case once it's determined that she has gained the mental ability to help with her defense.  Geyser and 12-year-old Anissa Weier are charged as adults with attempted homicide, for allegedly stabbing a 12-year-old classmate 19 times at a sleep-over in May.  The victim is recovering at home.  Lawyers for both Geyser and Weier eventually want the cases heard in juvenile court, where commitments are shorter than adult prison -- and more treatment options are available.  Also today, the judge refused to let Weier's attorney see Geyser's mental health records in order to help prepare Weier's defense.  The judge also rejected the prosecution's request for a third mental competency exam for Geyser -- this one to possibly determine the chances of getting an insanity ruling.  The court normally does not allow that type of exam until after a preliminary hearing, which has not been scheduled for either defendant.


Wisconsin's highest court said it was okay for a probation officer to look at a client's computer without a warrant, which resulted in a child pornography conviction.  In a 5-2 ruling today, the State Supreme Court re-instated convictions on four counts of child porn possession against 28-year-old Jeremiah Purtell of Hartford.  An appeals court threw out those verdicts, saying the search of Purtell's computer violated his Fourth Amendment rights. But the Supreme Court said a probation agent can search a computer if there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect contraband.  Purtell was on probation in a Dane County case of animal cruelty.  He had complained to his probation officer that he was not allowed to have a computer, and he admitted having a social media account.  The probation officer looked at it and found images of bestiality, and investigators later found large amounts of child porn. That sent Purtell to prison for 12 years.  The state Justice Department said it was pleased with today's ruling, while Purtell's lawyer said it might lead to more warrantless searches.  Also today, the justices re-instated a conviction against James Hunt of Fort Atkinson, for letting his adopted 12-year-old daughter see cellphone images of a couple having sex.


The type of ignition switch problems that affected General Motors is now turning up in Wisconsin's famous motorcycle brand.  Harley-Davidson of Milwaukee said today it's recalling 45-hundred FXDL Dyna Low-Rider models sold throughout the world.  The company says engine vibrations can move the ignition switches from the "On" position to the one that runs accessories only.  Harley says the problem has the ability to shut off a motorcycle while it's being driven, thus causing a possible crash.  There have been no reported crashes or injuries related to the issue.  The recall includes bikes from the 2014-and-a-half model year, which includes over 33-hundred Dyna Low-Riders sold in the U.S. Harley says an engine-mount bracket can excessively vibrate if the engine is modified to rev at over 56-hundred RPM's.  Harley started notifying owners of the affected bikes late last month.  Dealers are replacing bracket switches and ignition switch knobs at no cost.  


A new Energy Innovation Center in Milwaukee is getting $900,000 in state funding.  The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the state's Housing and Economic Development Authority is providing the funds for the new center.  Construction is expected to begin in September at the site, located at the former Eaton Corporation research lab on Milwaukee's north side.  Business and academic leaders in Milwaukee first brought up the idea of a new lab five years ago.  It's expected to come up with energy and power technology that could help large Wisconsin manufacturers like the makers of electrical equipment.  A study last year by the economic development agency found that electric equipment manufacturing is the state's largest sector in terms of gross product -- and it's a had a solid growth of 31-percent from 2008-2011, right during the Great Recession.  The Obama Administration highlighted the innovation center project earlier this year, when it named the Milwaukee region as an advanced manufacturing center which could be eligible for federal industrial grants.


A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit from eight tavern owners in Racine, who accused the city of conspiring to drive them out of business.  Milwaukee Judge J.P. Stadtmueller said the complaint was "virtually functionless," since he couldn't tell who was "claiming what against whom."  The judge gave the tavern owners a chance to re-file their lawsuit, and be more precise about their allegations.  He said the general claims were not without merit.  In fact, Stadtmueller said the allegations "suggest a case with serious potential that should proceed."  The plaintiffs alleged that their civil rights were violated, as the city of Racine allegedly conspired to drive minority-owned bars of business since 2006, and penalizing white-owned bars with large numbers of minority customers.  Current and former Racine mayors were listed as defendants along with other officials, Racine's tavern league, and two business groups.  The suit alleged that the city kept minorities from getting or renewing city licenses, and rewarding white Tavern League members with the surrendered liquor licenses or city government jobs.  Stadtmueller said the plaintiffs have voluntary dropped some allegations against certain defendants.  He called it a "vague" effort to scale back their complaint.


A pilot killed near the EAA Air-Venture Show in Oshkosh was identified today as 74-year-old Jim Oeffinger of Versailles, Kentucky.  His passenger was a 21-year-old woman from suburban Chicago.  She was hospitalized in serious condition at last word.  Federal officials said Oeffinger was trying to land his Breezy custom-built aircraft on a runway at Wittman Airport when it bounced, and crashed in a row of trucks -- causing smoke and flames.  The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating a possible cause. Oeffinger was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is holding its annual Air-Venture convention through Sunday in Oshkosh.


Duey Strobel has devoted almost $700,000 of his own money to run for Congress, and he's the money leader in a four-way GOP primary for Rep. Tom Petri's House seat.  According to newly-released financial reports, Strobel -- a state Assembly Republican from Saukville -- took $350,000 from his own checkbook in the first 23 days of July.  Strobel had $263,000 on hand at that point.  Senate Republican Joe Leibham of Sheboygan had 171,000 raising $76,000 last month.  The third state lawmaker in the race, Campbellsport state Senate Republican Glenn Grothman, had $159,000 on hand, after raising $188,000 for the bulk of July.  That included $90,000 of Grothman's own dollars.  A fourth Republican, retiree Tom Denow, lags behind the others in fund-raising.  The winner of the August 12th primary will face Democrat Mark Harris of Oshkosh for the House seat given by up Petri, a Fond du Lac Republican who's retiring after 36 years.  


An Illinois man has admitted killing two motorcyclists with his SUV near Janesville, and then driving away without stopping.  Twenty-four year old Sambath Pal of Park City, Illinois is scheduled to be sentenced October first, after he pleaded guilty to his two original charges of hit-and-run involving death.  The pleas averted a trial, and prosecutors said they did not offer a plea deal.  Rock County authorities said Pal's SUV crossed a center line on Highway 14 on the night of Easter Sunday, hit two motorcycles among a group of five, and kept going.  Twenty-four year old Mitchell Vance and 18-year-old Devin Julius, both of Janesville were killed.  Five days after the crash, Pal's father called sheriff's deputies to report his son, saying it was the right thing to do.  


Milwaukee Police had a suspect fall from the sky while investigating a store burglary. Officers were doing a security check of the building early yesterday, when they noticed that the 24-hour security lights were off -- and the electric meters near the side of the store were disabled.  Officers called a store official, and they saw shoe boxes scattered and merchandise tossed into large bags.  They went on the roof and saw that a hole was cut. Two suspects were found standing in the rafters -- and one dropped through some dry-wall into the store.  Police said they arrested both persons -- a 28-year-old man and a 20-year-old convicted felon.  


Jurors received their instructions yesterday, before they started deciding the case of Kristen Smith.  She's the Denver area woman who's been on trial this week for allegedly kidnapping her baby nephew, and leaving him behind an Iowa gas station in sub-zero cold.  Attorneys delivered their closing arguments in a federal courtroom in Madison.  Prosecutor Stephen Sinnett said the 31-year-old Smith faked a pregnancy, and then stole five-day-old Kayden Powell from his mother in the hopes of passing him off as the defendant's son.  Smith testified that the boy's father wanted her to take the infant with her to her home because his family was planning to move in with her.  Sinnott told jurors not to buy that.  He said no new parents would send their babies away without things like formula and diapers.  The prosecutor also pointed to a filled-out application for a birth certificate found in Smith's home, indicating that she planned to claim Kayden as her son -- who was called Kaysin on the application.  Smith is charged with a single count of kidnapping.  If she's guilty, she faces 25 years to life in prison.


A fire in Sparta has destroyed a trucking business.  A truck malfunction is blamed for a blaze and a series of explosions early Thursday at Dutch Mill Trucking Shop.  Sparta Fire Chief Mike Arnold tells WXOW-TV in La Crosse that a number of tires exploded, a sign that nearby oils and lubricants might have triggered the flames.  He said the blasts caused extensive damage in the shop.  The fire started around midnight.  Officials said two fire-fighters were examined for possible heat exhaustion, and they turned out okay.  No one else was hurt.  Dutch Mill is a trucking transport firm which hauls a number of freight items -- including lumber, machinery, and building materials.


The head of the Republican National Committee says his party is committed to attracting more black and minority voters.  Racine native Reince Priebus spoke today at the National Association of Black Journalists' annual convention in Boston.  The former Wisconsin Republican director said the Grand Old Party has created a "full-time engagement program" which seeks to attract black, Hispanic, and Asian voters -- even as he defends voter ID laws that minorities have gone to court to strike down.  Priebus has been the national Republican chair since 2011.  He said the GOP is working to diversify its staff, and admitted the party must have more diversity at its top levels.  Last year, Priebus commissioned a study of why voters didn't go for its presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.  He unveiled some scathing results 16 months ago, showing that the GOP's policies are turning off voters, and alienating minorities and young people.


Four Democratic state lawmakers have asked federal regulators to investigate possible reductions of coal being shipped by trains to Wisconsin power plants. Ashland Assemblywoman Janet Bewley says an increase in the shipping of North Dakota crude oil by railroads is coming at the expense of lower coal shipments.  Bewley and three other northern Wisconsin Democrats want the federal government to make sure the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe can distribute its trains to satisfy all the markets and as she put it, "not simply the one they choose -- which is oil right now."  Bewley fears that a shortage of coal will leave power plants unable to meet their demand for power this winter -- thus creating higher prices like propane users saw during a shortage last winter.  Burlington Northern denies it's putting crude oil customers ahead of its others.  It's also seeing gradual improvements for customers along its northern tier, with more workers and more locomotives in service.


A former La Crosse police lieutenant who stole drug evidence is back in jail -- this time, for drinking alcohol in violation of his electronic monitoring agreement.  Brian Thomson spent three months in jail, and was then put under three months of monitoring as part of a probation.  A judge issued a warrant yesterday for the 44-year-old Thomson, because he wasn't supposed to have alcohol.  He'll stay in jail for about two more months.  Last year, he pleaded guilty to attempted illegal narcotics possession, after he was caught making unauthorized visits to the La Crosse Police Department's evidence storage area.  Last August, he was given a bag of fake evidence to process, and he was arrested after taking drugs from that package.  A later audit showed that 63 packages of drug evidence were tampered with -- resulting in at least a couple of drug defendants going free. 


Wisconsin's Epilepsy Foundation hopes a $50,000 grant will be enough to encourage medical research into cannabidiol.  That's the marijuana derivative credited for helping children eliminate constant seizures -- 100 a day in some cases.  The governor and Legislature approved its use earlier this year.  But at the last minute, senators demanded a requirement that the drug go through the long FDA approval process before it can be legalized.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says a group of mothers in Lancaster $20,000 toward the Epilepsy Foundation's grant, in the hopes of giving an interested Wisconsin researcher a leg up on getting the FDA approval process started.  Children's hospitals in Milwaukee and Madison have said they would not apply for permits to give the drug its necessary trials.  They cited too many question marks.  Meanwhile, a child whose parent pushed for the cannabidiol legislation has died.  Also, the mother of nine-year-old Nic Volker, who had a pioneering genetic sequence treatment, said she would move her son to a state that offers the cannabidiol treatment.


A man who died after he was hit by a train in Marshfield was the brother of a woman killed by her ex-boyfriend almost two years ago.  Police are continuing to investigate George Humphrey's death.  His father, George McCullough, tells the Marshfield News-Herald he believes the 21-year-old Humphrey was walking home while wearing headphones -- and he was trying to beat the train.  It happened early yesterday at a crossing next to the Highway 13 expressway.  Humphrey died at the scene.  His 18-year-old sister, Maisie McCullough, had her throat slit by her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Campos in September of 2012.  Campos was given a life prison term, but he's eligible for a supervised release in about 40 years when he turns 62.  With the train death, George McCullough says he's grieving another tragedy.