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Pew study: Wisconsin has third-best voting system; State’s reading, math scores up; minority students still lagging behind; 11 more state news briefs

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We keep hearing that Wisconsin's voting system is politically tattered and broken -- but a national report says it's still pretty good.

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According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Badger State had the nation's third-best voting system in the 2012 elections, behind only North Dakota and Minnesota. Wisconsin's new ranking is down one place from 2008 when Pew gave the state's election system an 80% voter rating. The new figure is 79%.

Wisconsin was among 40 that improved operations over the four-year period.

The Pew study measured things like voter registration and turnout, waiting times at the polls and how military ballots are handled. It stayed away from the hot-button topics of voter ID and reductions in early voting -- both of which majority Republicans in Wisconsin have been pursuing.

Wisconsin scored well in most areas, including online access to information about upcoming elections and where people can vote. Pew also cited Wisconsin's Election Day voter registration -- which at least some majority Republicans say they want to get rid of.

State Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said he was pleased at the new rankings, and the report will help officials improve the system.

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State’s reading, math scores up; minority students still falling behind

Reading and math scores were generally up from a year ago in the statewide achievement tests given to Wisconsin public school students.

However, minority students kept lagging behind. Because of that, only 49% of students scored in the two highest categories -- proficient and advanced -- in math. Thirty-seven percent were proficient or advanced in reading.

Results are being announced today for the final Knowledge and Concepts Exams that have been given on a yearly basis since 1992. Those tests will be replaced by other yearly exams, and tests that will measure progress much more often during the school year.

The exams are aligned with the state's Common Core standards. Supt. Tony Evers says they should help close racial and ethnic achievement gaps and prepare students better for college and careers.

Evers said the achievement gaps are too large. He appointed a task force to examine that problem. The group will hold its first meeting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, test results will be released later today for youngsters in tax-funded voucher schools. Also, the Department of Public Instruction plans to release district-by-district test results no later than 9:30 this morning at its website.

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Trial begins for man accused of killing wife for insurance money

Testimony begins this morning in the trial of Mark Bucki, the Merrill area man accused of killing his estranged wife and dumping her remains.

Both sides spent most of yesterday choosing 15 potential jurors from a group of almost 90 candidates. Lawyers then presented their opening arguments.

The prosecution said Bucki, 50, hid evidence that he killed his wife, Anita, by cutting a piece of carpet and then hiding her body in a wooded area. The defense attorney said there's no proof that links Bucki to the death.

Investigators claim he stabbed and choked his 48-year-old wife last April and then dumped her remains in a swamp about 20 miles away in Taylor County. Officials said Bucki was seeing another woman, and he stood to gain $150,000 from his wife's life insurance benefits.

Up to 80 witnesses could testify. Seventy of them are on the prosecution's witness list. The trial is scheduled to run through Thursday of next week.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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Madison man pleads guilty to killing son with SUV

A Madison area man struck a plea deal just before he was about to stand trial for killing his two-year-old son with an SUV and stabbing the child’s mother.

Jesus Castillo-Dimas, 32, pleaded no contest yesterday to Dane County charges of reckless homicide and attempted homicide. Another count of reckless homicide was reduced to reckless endangerment, and Castillo-Dimas pleaded no contest to that.

The plea deal let him escape a possible life prison sentence. The defense has agreed to at least a 30-year prison term, and prosecutors can ask for more. Castillo-Dimas will be sentenced June 12.

Authorities said he ran over his two-year-old son Yandel Castillo-Castillo in Fitchburg in the summer of 2012. Officials said he also tried killing the boy's mother and her boyfriend during the incident. Prosecutors said Castillo-Dimas laughed at his ex-girlfriend and then taunted her, saying neither she nor he would have custody of the child.

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Missing Milwaukee woman’s body found

A body found in a cornfield in Jefferson County has been identified as a missing Milwaukee woman.

Sheriff's deputies said Alejandra Guzman-Flores, 23, was last seen by her family last Oct. 5.

A motorist found her body March 29 near a road in the town of Ixonia. Other details have not been released.

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Health care workers urged to sign up to help during emergencies

State officials are looking for health care workers who can provide assistance during natural disasters and public health emergencies.

This is National Volunteer Week, and the state's health agency is promoting the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry. Both present and retired doctors, nurses, EMT's and other health professionals are encouraged to sign up.

The volunteers help organize relief efforts for major emergencies throughout Wisconsin. About 1,400 volunteers are on the 11-year-old state registry. They've helped Wisconsin flood victims -- and when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, they provided health screenings for evacuees who made their way here.

More information is available on the Health Services Department Website at dhs.wisconsin.gov

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Floating ice causes leak in city’s old water tower

A city near Wausau found another victim of the long cold winter after a nearly 70-year-old water tower sprung a leak in Schofield.

Public Works Director Kevin King said the leak was probably caused by a floating piece of ice inside the 75,000 gallon tank. Water is now running down the side of the tower, which is 100 feet tall.

King said the icy ring is two-feet thick and a couple feet wide. It will have to melt, and then all the water must be drained so the tank can be repaired. That could take a few weeks, and officials are not sure how much it will cost.

In the meantime, Schofield is well served by other water supplies. The city has another tower with a larger capacity of 250,000 gallons. It also has an underground water tank.

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Final Four weekend was worst of UW school year for alcohol abuse

UW-Madison police sent ten drinkers to detox centers and cited 13 others for drinking underage at bars and parties for the Badgers' Final Four basketball game.

Spokesman Marc Lovicott said it was worst weekend of the school year for alcohol issues -- on a campus with a national reputation as one of the best party schools.

Seven of those taken to detox were UW students. Two were shipped off before the start of the Wisconsin-Kentucky game just after 8 p.m. Saturday. A 21-year-old Madison student was found unconscious in a restroom at a campus cafeteria with a blood alcohol content of .37 -- which experts said was a near-fatal level. It was about four and a half times the minimum threshold for drunk drivers. One person who was not connected with the UW was arrested for OWI.

However, the crowds spilling onto Madison's State Street were subdued after the Badgers lost to Kentucky by one point in the game's final seconds.

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Deficient sanitation likely caused listeria outbreak linked to cheese

Federal officials say illnesses linked to award-winning Wisconsin cheeses were most likely caused by deficient sanitation in the manufacturing process.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control mentioned last summer's listeria outbreak involving Crave Brothers of Waterloo in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.

The FDA said one person in Minnesota died, and another person had a miscarriage. Five illnesses occurred in four Midwest states but not Wisconsin.

The CDC said an inspection revealed "substantial sanitation deficiencies during the cheese-making process itself after the milk was pasteurized." The report said the problems "likely led to contamination."

The CDC said cheese-making plants should use strict sanitation and microbiologic monitoring whether they use pasteurized milk or not.

Crave Brothers did not comment. It voluntarily stopped cheese production soon after the illnesses came to light and recalled three award-winning cheeses that were linked to the listeria outbreak.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the company was never fined, and checks of court records did not turn up any lawsuits.

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Passerby killed by gunfire in Milwaukee

A motorist was killed in Milwaukee from gunfire that was said to be aimed at a group of people on a street corner.

The victim was a 29-year-old woman. She was shot just before 5 p.m. yesterday at a busy corner on Milwaukee's north side. Police said an 18-year-old man was wounded in the shootings. He was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Police are continuing to investigate, but they believe the woman was not involved with the shooters. As of last evening, no suspects were in custody.

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Authorities say new laws will help heroin abusers get treatment

Wisconsin law enforcement leaders are praising seven new laws to fight growing heroin abuse.

Gov. Scott Walker signed the measures yesterday. All seven were drafted by Assembly Republican John Nygren of Marinette, whose daughter almost died from heroin.

Authorities say the new measures will help abusers get treatment. They also believe it will raise public awareness of the dangers of heroin, instead of just throwing users in jail and burying those who die from overdoses.

Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg said there's a common perception that law enforcement has the "magic bullet" to keeping heroin addiction in check. He said other ways are needed to help users get off the drug.

Among other things, the new laws will create funding for treatment facilities, allow first responders to give out the antidote Narcan, grant limited immunity for reporting heroin overdoses and increase sanctions for parole violators so they can get treatment sooner.

Those steps are all designed to put a dent into a problem that's been growing for almost a decade. State officials said the percentage of drug deaths that involve heroin doubled from 2005 through 2010.

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Illinois man gets 100-year sentence for killing Wisconsin woman

A 24-year-old Illinois man will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing a Janesville area woman while the two were in a vehicle on the Interstate.

Kody Walsh of Rockford was sentenced yesterday to 100 years in prison for homicide plus 10 more years for aggravated restraint. A jury in Rockford convicted Walsh just over a month ago.

He shot and killed 36-year-old Lori Daniels in September of 2012 while the two were riding in a vehicle on I-90 near South Beloit. After the shooting, Walsh shot at the driver, stole the vehicle and led police on a chase until the unit crashed. He then ran off and was captured in Tennessee a week later.

Walsh was sentenced to six years in prison for eluding police, to be served at the same time as his other sentences.

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ER doctor fell to his death in Colorado

Authorities now say a former Wisconsin doctor fell to his death in the Colorado mountains after he got separated from his hiking partners.

A county coroner said yesterday that James McGrogan, 39, died from head trauma and other injuries. It was ruled an accident.

McGrogan was a hospital emergency room physician in Beloit and Stoughton from 2006 until just recently when he moved to Indiana to work in a hospital ER in Mishawaka.

He disappeared March 14 when he drifted away from a group that was hiking to a back-country hut. His party searched for five days but couldn't find him. Skiers found McGrogan's body last Thursday north of Vail, Colo.

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