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Family believes Isaiah climbed into trunk on his own; Funnel cloud spotted near Augusta; New ticks found in St. Croix County; More state news

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Family believes Isaiah climbed into trunk on his own; Funnel cloud spotted near Augusta; New ticks found in St. Croix County; More state news
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The family of Isaiah Thies – the two-year-old Polk County boy found dead in a car trunk – believes the toddler got into the vehicle on his own.


Their pastor, Rick Van Gundy, said he also believes the family’s theory that Isaiah took the car keys from his dad’s auto repair business at their home, opened the trunk and crawled inside.

Sheriff’s investigators say they’re not ready to accept the idea just yet. Chief Deputy Steve Moe says it’s too early in the probe to reach conclusions, and every possibility remains on the table.

Isaiah was reported missing last Tuesday night. Over 2,400 people searched for him until late Wednesday night when an officer found the dead child in the trunk of a customer’s car after the owner arrived to drive it away.

Preliminary autopsy results show the boy died from an extreme overheating known as hyperthermia. Funeral services for Isaiah Thies will be held tomorrow in St. Croix Falls.


Funnel cloud spotted near Augusta

A funnel cloud was spotted late Monday near Augusta in Eau Claire County, but it never touched the ground.

Another funnel cloud was spotted, but also did not touch down, yesterday near Deerbrook in Langlade County -- the same place where a tornado went through two weeks ago.

One and a half inch hail fell at Summit Lake in Langlade County. Menominee, Shawano, Oconto, Eau Claire and Winnebago counties also reported hail from those storms.

Trees fell along Hwy. 55 north of Keshena in Menominee County. Other storms caused trees to fall in the Beloit area. Nearly two inches of rain fell near Galesville in Trempealeau County.

All the storms have moved out, and forecasters expect a sunny and cooler day statewide with highs in the 70’s. More rain is possible tomorrow. Forecasters say heavier storms are possible on Thursday.


Lone Star ticks found in several Wisconsin counties, including St. Croix

Wisconsin might be getting a new species of ticks. UW-Madison researchers say the Lone Star tick has made its way here from the eastern and southeast U.S.

Entomology Professor Susan Paskewitz said a dozen of the gold ticks have been found in Dane County this summer. Smaller numbers have been spotted in Marathon, Price, Brown, St. Croix, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. Paskewitz says the confirmed sightings seem to indicate that a lot more Lone Star ticks have also entered Wisconsin.

They’ve been known to carry a bacterial pathogen that can cause fever, nausea and muscle aches to those who are bitten. However, officials have not tested Wisconsin’s Lone Star ticks to see if they’re infected.

The advice for dealing with them is the same as that for avoiding Lyme disease from deer ticks – wear long pants outside, carry insect repellent and check for ticks after getting home. Those who believe they’ve picked up Lone Star ticks are asked to send them to the entomology lab at UW-Madison.


Many farm fields short of moisture

It seems hard to believe, but over one-third of Wisconsin farm fields are short of moisture just a month after heavy rains pounded virtually all of the state.

The latest federal crop update shows that 5% of Wisconsin fields were very short on moisture at the end of a weeklong heat wave that climaxed with relatively little rain activity. Only 4% of Wisconsin farm fields have surplus moisture, and 56% are rated adequate.

Meanwhile, the state’s corn crop continues to make up for lost time. It averages 58 inches, nine below the average for the past five years. Sixty-two percent of the corn is good to excellent, and 26% is rated fair.

Thirty-one percent of Wisconsin soybeans are blooming, 14% below the norm. Ninety-one percent of the beans are good to excellent, despite stress from the recent heat and the relative lack of rain.


New UW-Madison chancellor plans to tackle tuition, faculty pay

UW-Madison’s new chancellor says one of her main goals is to create a tuition policy that’s fair for students, while raising faculty pay to keep the best from leaving.

Rebecca Blank spent her first day on campus Monday. The former acting U.S. commerce secretary said a few months ago she was tired of Washington politics.

Now she’s entering a whole new political firestorm stirred by the recent report that the UW built up millions of dollars in surpluses. Lawmakers were surprised, and they responded by freezing the UW’s tuition for two years.

Blank said she had “some sympathy” for politicians who felt they were kept in the dark. Still, she said, she’s not worried that she won’t be able to work effectively with the state government and its bureaucracy. During her first six months, Blank says she’ll listen to all types of campus groups while building relationships among both parties at the Capitol.

Blank said Madison needs to be a place that everyone in Wisconsin can afford, but she said tuition is on the “cheaper end” for out-of-state and graduate students.

“I see no reason to sell a university this good at that price,” she said.

Blank also vowed to expand the UW’s support for donors, which includes an upcoming campaign. Blank replaces David Ward, who spent two years as an interim chancellor after Biddy Martin left.


Brewer Ryan Braun suspended for violating drug policy

Wisconsin baseball fans are shaking their heads after learning that Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger Ryan Braun was suspended for the rest of the season.

As you might expect, the degree of the fans’ disgust varies widely.

It was announced yesterday that Braun – the 2011 National League MVP – accepted a 65-game suspension for the rest of the season for violating baseball’s drug policy.

ESPN said Braun used a “sophisticated doping regimen” for an extended period after he vehemently denied for almost two years that he took performance-enhancing drugs.

At last night’s Brewers’ game, Josh Martens called it a lost season for the last-place Crew anyway – so Braun’s absence won’t matter in the long run.

Others – like Jeff Fischbach – showed his anger by taping the word “liar” to the back of the Braun jersey he was wearing. He and others said it would have been a lot better had Braun come clean when he was first confronted in late 2011.

Nationally, Braun’s being judged a lot more harshly than by Brewers’ fans, who until now have been generally supportive of the team’s biggest star. Tweets shown from fans on ESPN attacked Braun for dragging others through the mud – like Dino Laurenzi, whom Braun criticized last year for waiting 44 hours to send his drug test to a lab in late 2011. That test spurred a 50-game drug suspension, which was overturned upon the player’s appeal.

Now, Braun is the first of up to 20 players to be punished after they were suspected of buying PED’s from the now-defunct Biogenesis clinic in Miami. He reportedly negotiated his suspension so it does not go into next season.


Walker’s campaign fund growing already

With his next election over a year away, Gov. Scott Walker already has $2.2 million in his campaign fund.

New reports filed Monday show that Walker, a Republican, raised a total of $3.5 million in the first half of this year.

So far, no Democrats have come out to run against Walker. Former state Commerce Secretary Mary Burke and Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris are both considering Democratic bids.

Democratic fundraiser Patrick Guarasci says Walker won’t have as much of a financial edge next year as he did in his first two races.

Republican strategist Mark Graul said it’s remarkable that Walker could raise $3.5 million in a non-election year. Graul says it’s due to a loyal following that is “the envy of elected officials everywhere.”

When Walker was first elected governor in 2010, he raised and spent around $11 million. In last year’s recall vote – when he could raise unlimited funds for a time – the governor took in a record $37 million. That doesn’t take into account pro-Walker ads run by special interest groups.


76-year-old killer sentenced to life in prison

Judge Jeffrey Wagner says there should “never be any light in the tunnel” for John Spooner.

Wagner sentenced the 76-year-old Milwaukee man Monday to life in prison with no chance for a supervised release. That was after Spooner was found guilty last week of intentionally killing his 13-year-old neighbor Darius Simmons in May of last year over four missing guns that Spooner accused the teen of stealing.

Wagner also ordered Spooner to pay $58,000 in restitution to Simmons’ family for what the judge called a “horrific, egregious act.”

Spooner gave dramatic testimony last week in which he called the murder of Simmons “justice.” He claimed he was insane at the time of the slaying, but the jury refused to buy that.

At his sentencing, Spooner said he didn’t know if his actions were right or wrong. He also said he felt sorry for Darius Simmons, and he claimed there was nobody in his life who “loved him enough to teach him to go straight.” That spurred Simmons’ brother to shout out an expletive.

Judge Wagner said the murder was an “evil act,” and he called Spooner “one of the worst of the worst.”


State’s first human case of West Nile reported

Wisconsin has recorded the summer’s first human case of the West Nile virus.

State health officials confirmed Monday that a Dane County resident had the mosquito-borne illness. The patient’s age and gender were not released, and we were not told if the person has recovered.

Ten birds have died from West Nile throughout Wisconsin. Most of those cases were confirmed in the last week, and officials consider them a precursor for human cases.

Last year, four Wisconsinites died and 53 others fell ill to the West Nile virus – the most since officials began tracking the disease in 2002.


Mom who tried to kill kids pleads insanity

A north central Wisconsin woman now claims she was insane when she allegedly tried to kill her four youngest kids so they wouldn’t feel the pain of her impending divorce.

Heidi Mann, 37, of Rib Lake waived a preliminary hearing Monday in Taylor County. She pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to four charges of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

Mann will be examined by a mental health professional to determine if a sanity case has any merit.

Prosecutors said Mann tried to asphyxiate the youngsters by placing them in an SUV for two hours in a closed garage with its engine running. The kids – ages 3, 6, 9 and 12 – all survived and are living with other relatives.

The incident happened in March, but sheriff’s investigators said they were not made aware of it until about a month ago.