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Dead birds signal arrival of West Nile virus; ash borer found in 17th Wisconsin county; more state news

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MADISON -- Five dead birds in Wisconsin have tested positive for the West Nile virus. Wisconsin has not had any human cases of the mosquito-borne illness this summer – but officials say bird-and-horse deaths provide a warning for people to take precautions.

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The Wood County Health Department confirmed the state’s latest case Monday. West Nile was diagnosed in a dead blue jay in the southern part of Wood County around Wisconsin Rapids.

Health experts say 80 percent of those infected with West Nile virus do not get sick. The disease can be deadly, though. Four Wisconsinites died from West Nile a year ago, when record human cases occurred throughout the nation’s mid-section.

Fifty-seven Wisconsinites were said to be infected – nine more than in 2002, when West Nile was first reported. At least 32 birds and one horse also died from the virus last year.

Meanwhile the Wisconsin Department of Health says a Milwaukee hospital will take all the necessary precautions, involving a patient diagnosed with a drug-resistant super-bug.

A spokesperson for the department says CRE is a drug-resistant strain of bacteria that’s commonly found in the gut. CRE can spread to the urinary tracts and bloodstream, where it can be deadly.

The Department of Health says common hospital practices, such as hand-washing and isolation, prevent the transfer of bacterial infections – including CRE. The department also says cases of CRE are mainly in patients in constant medical care, but that the deadly bacteria is very rare – only 33 cases in the state since the Department of Health began tracking in 2011.

Mount Sinai Medical Center officials announced Tuesday morning that a patient is infected with CRE but the individual did not contract the infection at their hospital.

Corn crop still running behind but catching up

Wisconsin’s corn crop is catching up, thanks to a dry July. It’s still behind schedule, but officials say the average height is nearly four feet – more than a foot higher than the previous week.

However, the corn height varies greatly, as farms dry out from a waterlogged June. Most crop reporters say they can use some rain.

Sixteen-percent of Wisconsin’s top soil is listed as short-to-very short of moisture – along with 8 percent of subsoil moisture. Almost two-thirds of the Wisconsin corn crop is rated good-to-excellent. Only nine-percent is rated less than fair.

Ninety-three percent of the soybeans are also fair-to-excellent and 13 percent of the beans have bloomed, 11 percent below normal.

Parts of southern Wisconsin had extremely heavy rains late Monday. Oconomowoc recorded more than four inches within two-and-a-half hours. Many roads were closed due to standing water, mostly in construction zones.

A dry day was expected Tuesday with highs in the low 90’s projected for most parts of the state. A major cool-down is not expected until Friday or Saturday.

Milwaukee protests over dead teen parallel response to Zimmerman verdict

MILWAUKEE -- Over 100 people gathered in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis Monday to demand criminal charges in the death of a high school football player. Police said 16-year-old Corey Stingley died last Dec. 29th, two weeks after he was restrained by shoppers who caught him taking merchandise from a food store.

Officers handcuffed Stingley, but removed the cuffs when they saw that he was not breathing. Stingley was black. Some at Monday’s rally compared the death to that of Traevon Martin, the black Florida teen reportedly shot by an Hispanic neighborhood watch captain.

Defendant George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder last Saturday. Milwaukee County prosecutors started a John Doe investigation this month into Stingley’s death. His family has said Stingley returned the items he took from V-J’s Food Mart, and the store clerk agreed not to call the police.

Meanwhile, jurors will start hearing testimony today in the trial of John Spooner, a 76-year-old white man accused of killing a black teen in Milwaukee over guns he thought the boy stole. As the jury was being selected Monday, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner said the case is totally different from that of George Zimmerman.

Wagner asked prospective jurors if they could separate the two cases. A white candidate was let go after telling the judge that the system is “failing,” and black teens are getting arrested for things that whites only get ticketed for.

Prosecutor Mark Williams said he was not pleased that only one of the 14 jurors to hear the trial is black – and he’ll bring up the matter this morning before attorneys make their opening statements.

Prosecutors said Spooner shot a neighbor, 13-year-old Darius Simmons, in May of last year while the youngster was taking out the family garbage. Defense lawyer Franklyn Gimbel says he’ll concede that his client shot Simmons, but will claim that it was not intentional.

He also plans to present evidence showing that Spooner had a mental illness in which he could not judge right-from-wrong. Spooner has pleaded insanity to first-degree intentional homicide.

Swimming accident claims life of 15-year-old boy

KEWAUNEE -- A 15-year-old boy died yesterday after a swimming accident the day before in eastern Wisconsin.

Kewaunee County sheriff’s deputies said Zachary Busch of Green Bay was swimming with friends, when he could not swim back to a platform they were jumping from.

He was underwater for about 15 minutes when rescue divers pulled him out.

Sheriff’s officials said Busch drowned in the incident, which occurred Sunday at Krohns Lake County Park in the Kewaunee County town of Pierce.

Off-duty fire chief finds, returns cash bag

WAUSAU -- If you can’t trust a fire chief, who can you trust?

Roger James, the fire chief in Kronenwetter near Wausau, turned in a bank bag with thousands of dollars that he found along a highway in Lincoln County.

James said he and his wife were driving to their cabin to do some cleanup work on Sunday, when he saw a bank bag on CTH E in the town of Harding. The bag contained about $2,000 cash and another $2,000 in checks.

The chief took it to the sheriff’s office in Merrill. Deputies tracked down the bag’s owner the same day. The owner said he had not noticed yet that the bag was missing.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

Alleged mining protestor free on bail

ASHLAND -- A Stevens Point woman is free on a signature bond, after making her first court appearance for last month’s disturbance at the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine.

Katie Kloth, 26, waived the state’s time limit for a preliminary hearing on a felony robbery charge in Iron County. She’s also charged with three misdemeanor counts of theft and criminal damage. Her next court date was not set.

The Ironwood Daily Globe said Kloth wore a T-shirt to court Monday which read, “Save the Penokees.” The Penokee Hills is where Gogebic Taconite has been drilling eight exploratory holes over the past month. The firm expects to complete its initial drilling by Friday.

The Iron County district attorney said Kloth was among up to 20 protestors at the mining site on June 11th. The DA said they hid their faces with bandanas as they threw soda cans, shouted obscenities, damaged drilling equipment, and destroyed a worker’s camera and cell phone. The damage totaled $2,400.

Gogebic Taconite responded by hiring a military-style security firm from Arizona – but it was pulled back when it was learned that the firm did not have a state license. Bullet Proof Securities of Arizona said it applied for the license last Friday, and it expects approval within a couple days.

In Watertown Monday, Gov. Scott Walker said he didn’t blame Gogebic for bringing in the camouflaged security guards with assault rifles. The Republican Walker – who supports the mine as a job creator – called the protestors “extremists” who dressed like ninjas. He hoped that “cooler heads will prevail.”

Invasive ash borer confirmed in 17th Wisconsin county

WISCONSIN DELLS -- The tree-killing emerald ash borer has been found at Mirror Lake State Park near Wisconsin Dells. As a result, Sauk County has become the 17th in the Badger State to be quarantined for the invasive pest.

Agriculture officials said a number of adult beetles were caught in one of the purple traps that were set throughout Wisconsin to check for the ash borer. Also, the DNR found other signs of infestation, including immature beetles, when they pulled bark from some of the ash trees near the park’s entrance.

The new quarantine means that people cannot take firewood or other ash products out of Sauk County. Local shippers of ash products must get certifications from the state ag department that their products are pest-free.

It’s the second this month that a quarantine was ordered. The first was in Jefferson County just over a week ago, when the emerald ash borer was spotted just south of the county line at UW Whitewater.

Arizona man pleads innocent to death of ex-girlfriend's fiance

SUPERIOR -- An Arizona man has pleaded innocent to killing the fiancée of his ex-girlfriend in Superior.

Juan Padilla, 41, of Fort Mohave was arraigned Monday in Douglas County Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

He’s accused of killing 46-year-old Terrence Luukkonen, who was found shot and bleeding in his car outside of Genesis Attachments in Superior on May 23rd. Luukkonen died a short time later at a hospital in nearby Duluth Minnesota.

A 9-1-1 caller told police that Luukkonen had committed suicide. Prosecutors said he was engaged to a woman who broke off a relationship with Padilla about a month before the killing. She told police that Padilla was upset about the breakup, and he wanted to kill her fiancée.

A hearing is set for Aug. 14th on the status of the case. A trial date could be set at that time.

Droopy drawers still OK in Titletown

GREEN BAY -- You can still wear saggy pants in Green Bay without breaking the law. The city’s Protection and Welfare Committee voted unanimously Monday night against a proposal from Alderman David Boyce to ban the low-belt bottoms.

Boyce voted against the motion himself, saying it was enough to have it discussed in an open forum. The full Common Council will have the final in about two weeks.

Boyce said he was once assaulted by people with their pants hanging out. He wanted to make it known that Green Bay has standards, and is a decent place to live.

Opponents said the proposed ban would stomp on people’s rights, and reflect poorly on the city. One critic called it a form of racial profiling. Police captain Bill Bongle said such a law would be unenforceable, and the city attorney’s office had constitutional concerns.

A beachside town in New Jersey recently banned saggy pants, with fines of up to $200.

UW's 'Odyssey Program' receives two large grants

MADISON -- The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Program has received a pair of grants to assist 30 new students entering the program.

The grants are from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. for $66,000 and the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment for $28,000.

Entering its eleventh year, the Odyssey Project offers a free college starter course for adults at the poverty level, starting with a two semester evening humanities course.

The director of the program says those students often go on to graduate with a college degree.

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Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
(715) 426-1054
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