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Dead fish wash up on state’s lake shores; ‘Nerf Wars’ charges will be dropped; 16 more state briefs

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In another in a long list of problems cropping up after our brutally icy winter, thousands of dead fish are washing up on the shores on Wisconsin lakes.

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Residents near Lake Petenwell on the Adams-Juneau County border say they're seeing pelicans snap up the dead walleye, carp and other fish.

Resident Jim Kiehl told the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune they normally don't see pelicans. Department of Natural Resources supervisor Justine Hasz says those birds would normally be on Lake Michigan, but their staging grounds are still frozen so they've gone west.

DNR officials say they expect the winter to result in more fish kills in lakes throughout Wisconsin. They expect the worst problems to be in shallow backwaters.

Hasz says the DNR is about to investigate the fish kill on Lake Petenwell. She says nearby Castle Rock Lake may also have been hit hard.

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‘Nerf Wars’ charges will be dropped

Six Wausau West high school students must perform community service before they get their disorderly conduct citations dropped for their recent battle with toy Nerf guns.

The school principal said Monday that the youngsters are getting their $240 tickets dismissed, and they'll have their school activity and athletic privileges restored.

Yesterday, Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel said the youngsters must take part in a video explaining the consequences of the Senior Shootout they were playing. The "Nerf Wars" game is a tradition among seniors at West High, but a resident called police last week after assuming that she saw a real gun battle play out in her neighborhood

Hardel said people need to realize that Wausau has real gun incidents. Despite some criticism, the chief defended his officers' response to what they thought was a high-risk crime scene based on the information they had at the time.

Hardel said the Nerf game has reached an unhealthy level and could result in teens being hurt or killed someday. The chief said he's heard from police departments with similar problems -- including Cincinnati -- since the Wausau case hit the media a week ago.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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Wolf population drops 19% as DNR ‘applies downward pressure’

Two seasons of wolf hunting have resulted in Wisconsin's first major decline in the grey wolf population.

The Department of Natural Resources issued a preliminary report Tuesday showing that Wisconsin had 658-687 wolves late this winter -- down from 809-834 at the same time a year ago.

It's the first major decrease in the Wisconsin wolf numbers since the DNR started tracking the specie’s recovery about 35 years ago. The state had 25 wolves back then.

The DNR's Dave MacFarland told a Wolf Advisory Committee meeting in Wausau Tuesday that last season's goal was to “apply downward pressure” on the wolf population. Last fall, 257 wolves were killed, down from 117 in the inaugural wolf season in late 2012.

In 1999, the DNR set a goal of 350 wolves. The population skyrocketed beyond that. Officials said they want to reduce the wolf numbers to a “biologically and socially acceptable level.”

The state was battling lawsuits to have the federal government keep Upper Midwest wolves as a protected, endangered species. The Obama White House found a way to declassify them 2 1/2 years ago, thus giving the states the right to manage their herds and hold wolf hunts.

The Humane Society of the United States balked at that and has filed suit to restore federal protections. That suit is still pending.

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Rain turns to snow in some areas

Parts of west central Wisconsin had a surprise dose of winter yesterday, while the far north got more snow than expected.

Places along Lake Superior were only planning for an inch or two of the white stuff. But Drummond in Bayfield County had six inches on the ground by last night. Washburn had four inches, and Ashland three.

To the south, Arcadia in Trempealeau County had two inches of snow after rain was forecast. Parts of Taylor and Jackson counties also had light snow.

Buffalo County in west central Wisconsin was heavily rained on. Mondovi had 2.8 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at 7 p.m. yesterday. Other west central and southwest areas had from 1.3 to 1.8 inches of rain.

Moisture is just now soaking into the ground as the winter's heavy underground frost disappears. More rain is predicted statewide at least through tomorrow with snow mixed in at night in the far northwest. Highs will be in the 40's and 50's at least through Sunday. That's well below the normal highs for late April, which are mainly in the 60's.

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Sheriff says high price of walnut spurs tree thefts

A sheriff in southern Wisconsin says loggers have been illegally cutting trees on other people's land to take advantage of the high price of walnut wood.

Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden told the Wisconsin State Journal that property owners confronted loggers near Brodhead earlier this month. The loggers reportedly assumed they were on land owned by a neighbor who hired them.

Brian Knudson said logging thieves cut down up to 20 trees owned by him and a neighbor, and when confronted, they offered $1,000 dollars a tree for him to stay quiet and not call 911.

Knudson then realized what he had, saying it had to be a quality tree for the loggers to offer that much money on the spot. Actually, the offer could have been a low ball. The Department of Natural Resources said a 16-foot quality tree that's 26-inches in diameter can fetch up to $3,000 dollars for the walnut inside.

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Wheelchair ramp in governor’s mansion stays, says board

A state board has said no to removing a wheelchair ramp at the governor's mansion just outside of Madison.

The ramp was put in about ten years ago in the foyer of the Executive Residence in Maple Bluff.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said a foundation headed by First Lady Tonette Walker wrote up plans to remove the ramp to make the building more historically accurate. It would have cost $5,600, and a temporary ramp would have been provided during public events at the mansion.

Monday the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board rejected the proposal. Board member Luther Olsen, a Senate Republican from Ripon, agreed with the governor's wife that the ramp didn't fit, but it would have been too much bother to take it out.

Another board member, Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center, said the removal would have been too much work, and the foyer's walls would have gotten nicked whenever a temporary ramp would be brought in. Schultz also said it would look terrible politically as Walker stands for reelection in just over six months.

“It would be a first-class opportunity to kick the governor for being insensitive to people with disabilities,” said Schultz.

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Hit and run suspect turned in by father

A man charged in a pair of hit and run traffic deaths near Janesville was turned in by his father.

Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said Saroeun Tigh of Park City, Ill., called deputies last Thursday -- five days after his son, Sambath Pal, allegedly drove an SUV into a pair of oncoming motorcycles. Mitchell Vance, 24, and Devin Julius, 18, were killed. They were among five bikers riding on Hwy. 14 on the night of Easter.

Officials said Pal crossed a centerline and struck two of the riders, and then kept going.

Sheriff Spoden said Tigh noticed damage on his son's vehicle, and he wanted to do the right thing by calling authorities. Pal was arrested at his father's home. He's in jail in Waukegan, Ill., awaiting extradition to Rock County to face two felony counts of hit and run, causing death.

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State government’s Web site is more scenic, user-friendly

The state government's main Web site has been given its first upgrade since it debuted about a dozen years ago.

Wisconsin.gov has been redesigned for the first time since Gov. Scott McCallum's administration initially posted it.

Users will notice a host of changes. First of all, it's much more scenic. The home page has a wish-you-were-here photo of a lake with icon motifs inspired by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

It's also more user-friendly for everyday people who can't live and breathe state government. Instead of listing the names of state agencies, it lists common services most people look for -- like how to obtain a birth certificate, election information, even a practice driver's license test.

It has five general sections for residents, visitors, businesses, prospective workers and government data.

Like the old site, the governor's picture is on the new home page, along with Scott Walker's initiatives like growing the economy and education. There are also fun facts like how much cheese is made here along with a chat area and agency links to social media.

Many people use Wisconsin.gov as an entry portal to find the information they're looking for from all three branches of government. It had over 2.9 million unique visitors last year with over six million page views.

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OSHA levels $166,000 in penalties after workers injured in chemical spill

Federal officials have recommended $166,000 in penalties for a suburban Milwaukee plant where a chemical spill injured seven workers.

Cooper Power Systems of South Milwaukee was given six citations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. About 15 gallons of acid spilled from a pressurized hose last October.

OSHA said Cooper Power showed a "complete disregard" for the workers' health and safety by making them clean up a dangerous chemical without required protective gear or training.

Cooper Power makes medium and high voltage electrical equipment and supplies. It's a subsidiary of the Eaton Corporation.

Cooper has 15 days to either pay the fines, challenge the citations or meet with the government on a possible lower penalty. The firm has not commented.

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State vet will help set up national program to fight pig disease

Wisconsin's state veterinarian has been asked to help establish a national program to fight a disease that has killed millions of farm pigs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said earlier this month it would require farmers to report infections of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea. Those farmers would also have to take part in a program to help keep the virus from spreading.

The USDA wants State Veterinarian Paul McGraw to help develop that program. State Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel said McGraw was asked to be involved because he has raised pigs himself, and he has worked to increase biosecurity in Wisconsin.

The state is among two dozen where the PED pig disease has turned up. It was first detected in the U.S. last May. It apparently came from China.

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Wisconsin actors nominated for Broadway performances

Two former TV stars from Wisconsin were given Tony Award nominations yesterday for their performances on the Broadway stage.

Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub was nominated as the best leading actor for his portrayal of playwright George Kaufman in "Act One." Madison native Tyne Daly was nominated as the best leading actress for "Mothers and Sons." Both those shows were also nominated for Best Play.

Also, former Milwaukeean Mark Rylance was given a pair of Tony nominations for Shakespeare performances. One nomination was for a leading role in "Richard III," and the other was for a featured role as a female character in the show "Twelfth Night."

The 68th Tony Awards show will take place June 8 on CBS.

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Man found insane in attack on pregnant woman, daughter

A Milwaukee man was found not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday for a brutal attack on a pregnant neighbor and her ten-year-old daughter.

Prosecutors said Malcolm Wright, 26, busted into a neighbor's house last December with a sledge hammer and a Samurai sword and sliced the woman's arms and broke her ribs, while slashing the face of the young girl. Officials said Wright has a long history of mental illness.

Circuit Judge Timothy Dugan said opinions from two mental health experts convinced him to make the insanity ruling on charges of reckless endangerment and child abuse.

Wright was ordered to be committed for mental treatment. The terms of that commitment will be set at a court hearing May 19.

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Teen’s mom asks judge to order son’s killer to pay civil damages

A judge in Milwaukee will be asked today to skip a trial and rule against a convicted killer in a civil lawsuit against him.

John Spooner, 77, was given a life prison term last summer after he shot and killed a 13-year-old neighbor because he thought the boy stole his shotguns.

Darius Simmons was murdered in May of 2012. Now, his mother -- Patricia Larry -- has asked the judge to enter a summary judgment against Spooner for civil damages.

Her attorneys say there's no point in holding a trial because there's no question that Spooner killed the boy. However, Spooner's lawyer says a trial is still necessary because there's a question about his sanity.

Last summer, a jury rejected claims that Spooner was insane when he killed his neighbor. Right after the verdict was announced, Spooner wrote a handwritten note to the Journal Sentinel claiming both his lawyer and Milwaukee police did not do their jobs in the way they handled the case.

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Wisconsin ranks 7th in level of health care

Another study shows that Wisconsin's health system is among the best in the nation.

The Badger State's overall health performance is ranked 7th by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York group that fosters health policy research.

The survey looks at 42 factors, including the cost, outcomes and quality of health care and how easily people can gain access to the system.

Wisconsin improved on 11 of the 42 measures since the group put out its last survey five years ago. Among other things, the state improved its key vaccinations for young children and reduced hospital readmissions for Medicare patients.

The survey said Wisconsin either did worse or had no change in the percentage of obese adults, hospitalizations for pediatric asthma and the numbers of years of potential life lost before age 75.

Minnesota's health system has the highest ranking by the Commonwealth Fund. Mississippi has the lowest.

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Wars’ end means income drop for Oshkosh Corp.

The Oshkosh Corporation continues to suffer from the ending of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The maker of military vehicles reports a 17% drop in its quarterly net income. Oshkosh said yesterday it netted $71.5million in sales from January through March, down from $86 million at the same time a year ago. Earnings slipped from 96 cents a share to 83 cents.

Oshkosh did say its aerial construction equipment sales rose by 6%, but sales of fire and emergency vehicles fell 10%.

Oshkosh CEO Charles Szews told investment analysts that his firm has another extension with the Pentagon to produce a smaller number of heavy tactical trucks. It's also looking to sell military vehicles to foreign governments, and it expects contract announcements over the next two years. Oshkosh is now having one of its vehicle types tested in Saudi Arabia. Szews said the tensions in Russia and the Ukraine provide a potential opportunity.

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Officials ask for evidence that Great Lakes oil pipelines are safe

State officials in Michigan are looking for proof that two crude oil pipelines buried under the Great Lakes are in good condition and maintained properly.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant wrote Enbridge Energy yesterday. The Associated Press obtained the letter, which asked the oil pipeline operator for extensive documentation and answers to a long series of questions.

The 61-year-old pipelines run under the Straits of Mackinaw between Lakes Michigan and Huron. The officials said any failure of those pipelines would cause "catastrophic" effects.

Enbridge said it had not received the letter as of last night. In the past, the company said the pipelines are safe, and they're inspected on a regular basis.

One of the lines runs through northern Wisconsin on its way to the water link between Upper and Lower Michigan. The firm says only light crude flows under the Mackinac Straits.

There's been mounting criticism of the Mackinac pipelines in the wake of a ruptured Enbridge pipeline in 2010 that spilled 843,000 gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River in Lower Michigan. A smaller spill occurred in an Enbridge line in Adams County in 2012.

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Wisconsin leads in cheese production, but still behind California in milk output

The average Wisconsin dairy cow made almost 21,700 pounds of milk last year -- almost 130 pounds less than the national average.

The National Ag Statistics Service has issued its final dairy production numbers for 2013. They show that Wisconsin remains a distant second to California in its milk output. The Badger State made 27.5 billion pounds last year from 1.3 million cows. California pumped out 41 billion pounds, with a 500,000 cows more than Wisconsin had.

However, Wisconsin is still the nation's big cheese, producing 26% of all the cheese made throughout the country. About one of every six dairy plants throughout the U.S. is located in Wisconsin. The state had 203 plants making at least one type of product in 2013. That's three less than the year before.

The nation also had a small decrease in its nearly 1,300 dairy plants. Still, U.S. milk production rose by .3% last year, and cheese production was up 2%.

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Appeals court throws out murder conviction

A man convicted of a murder in Milwaukee could either get a new trial or a plea deal.

The First District Court of Appeals in Milwaukee has thrown out Brandon Burnside's original conviction from 2011.

Burnside, 30, was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting death of Bryan Drake.

In appealing the conviction, Burnside said a jury should have never heard what he told police before he was arrested. He said he consented to a voluntary interview, but he claimed he was actually in custody, and he should have been read his rights but wasn't.

The appellate court agreed. It found nothing to indicate that Burnside was free to leave during his interview.

The case now goes back to Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The State Justice Department says it's considering a possible appeal of today's ruling to the Supreme Court.

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