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West Nile cases expected to crop up soon; DNR mulls elk herd expansion, 10 more state stories

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West Nile cases expected to surface soon;

MILWAUKEE -- A health official expects the Milwaukee area to start getting human cases of the West Nile Virus in the next week or two.

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Paul Biedrzycki of the Milwaukee Health Department says the probability of human cases has just gone up, after mosquitoes in three traps around the city tested positive for West Nile.

As of last week, state officials reported only one human case of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus this year. That was in Dane County, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had not confirmed the case yet.

At least 31 birds from throughout the Badger State have died from the virus. About 80 percent of those who get West Nile never feel any symptoms, but one-percent normally becomes severely ill. 2012 was unusually severe for West Nile, with hundreds of deaths in the nation’s mid-section. Wisconsin had four deaths and 53 other illnesses a year ago. That’s the most since officials started tracking West Nile in 2002.

As cool, dry summer plagues farmers, damages tallied on last week's storms The National Ag Statistics Service says the Badger State has had below-normal temperatures for three straight weeks – and crops that were planted late need more heat.

A half-dozen tornadoes caused crop damage in northeast Wisconsin last week. Fond du Lac County had 1.75 inches of rain, but most of the state did not receive any measurable precipitation.

Forty-four percent of the top-soil on Wisconsin fields remains short or very-short of moisture. Almost two-thirds of the sub-soils have adequate moisture. Fifty-nine percent of the Badger State’s corn crop is in good- to excellent condition, and 28 percent is fair. Sixty-percent of the soybeans are good-to-excellent, and 30 percent are fair.

Meanwhile, damage estimates are growing in the wake of last week’s tornadoes and thunderstorms in northeast Wisconsin. The Appleton and Hortonville areas were the hardest hit.

On Monday, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said the damage has surpassed $30 million – all but $6 million to private homes and businesses. Nelson said every town, village, and city in his county has submitted at least partial damage estimates. He’s not sure when he’ll have the final figures.

Nelson expects enough damage to at least file for federal assistance to repair public facilities like roads and bridges. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has confirmed a sixth tornado from last Wednesday morning.

New maps show that the sixth twister moved from near New London to south of Hortonville. Dozens of homes were damaged in Hortonville, where officials held a public meeting last night to update residents on the cleanup and the status of possible disaster relief.

Car-pedestrian accidents down slightly, YOY MADISON -- Twenty-one pedestrians have been killed in Wisconsin this year, three fewer than the same time a year ago.

A woman killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a Milwaukee street on Sunday night has been identified as 32-year-old Andrea Barringer – who became engaged just two days earlier.

Investigators acted on a tip and arrested a 48-year-old suspect. Police are still investigating, and they have not said much else about the arrest.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office said Barringer had just left an east side café when she ran across Farwell Avenue while assuming she could beat the traffic. Witnesses said the vehicle that struck Barringer was speeding at the time.

Citizen tip spurs arrest of man accused of beating 84-year-old SUPERIOR -- Police in Superior said a tip helped them find a man suspected of beating-and-robbing an 84-year-old woman at her home. Officers said they received multiple tips about the incident – including one who had just spotted a vehicle that was described by police as a possible get-away car.

Officers found the car Monday morning – and when they tried to stop the driver, a short chase ensued. The suspect reportedly hit two parked cars before colliding into TLK Industries, just off Hwy. 2. The building received minor damage, while the struck vehicles had moderate-to-major damage.

A 47-year-old man was treated at a hospital for minor injuries from the crashes, and was then taken to the Douglas County Jail. Charges are pending.

In Sunday’s original incident, the 84-year-old woman answered her door when she was immediately struck in the face. Police said he took money and several other items before driving away.

Teen to be sentenced for role in grandmother's death SHEBOYGAN -- A 14-year-old Sheboygan boy will find out Tuesday how long he’ll have to stay in prison for helping a friend brutally kill his great-grandmother.

Nathan Paape will get a mandatory life prison term – and because of his age, Circuit Judge Timothy Van Akkeren must set a mandatory minimum date for a supervised release.

A jury convicted Paape of first-degree intentional homicide, for helping Antonio Barbeau, 14, kill his 78-year-old great grandmother Barbara Olson at her Sheboygan Falls home last September. Barbeau struck a plea deal, and was sentenced Monday to life in-prison, with a minimum date of 2048 for a supervised release. That’s one year longer than the state requested.

Paape tried to convince his jury that he had nothing to do with planning an elaborate scheme to steal money from Olson’s house, and hurt her if necessary. During his testimony, Paape said he struck the victim twice with a hammer, fearing that Barbeau would turn on him if he didn’t. They also took turns striking Olson with a hatchet.

The boys got away with $150 cash and some jewelry.

Former cop accused of child enticement is found dead WISCONSIN RAPIDS -- An autopsy was scheduled Tuesday for a former Wisconsin Rapids police lieutenant who apparently killed himself Monday while awaiting charges in a child enticement case.

Steven Lowe, 41, was found dead Monday back of his truck in the Wood County town of Grand Rapids, just east of Wisconsin Rapids. Officials said he suffered a self-inflicted injury.

Court records showed that Lowe portrayed himself as a 15-year-old girl online, so he could get teenage boys to send him nude photos of themselves. The National Center for Missing-and-Exploited Children learned about the matter, and the state Justice Department served a warrant at Lowe’s home on July 31st.

He posted a $20,000 bond, and charges were still pending at the time of his death.

Former firefighter convicted of arson

A former fire-fighter in northeast Wisconsin has been convicted of burning three more buildings, bringing his total number of arsons to six.

Drew Christensen, 28, of Suring pleaded no contest Monday to a pair of arson charges in Oconto County, plus one Marinette County charge of arson with the intent to defraud.

In May, Christensen struck a plea deal in federal court that convicted him of starting fires at the Klondike Community Church, the Jaded Bar in Suring, and the Everbreeze Resort in Mountain, all between 2009 and 2011.

Christensen is to be sentenced in November for all of his state and federal convictions. First, Federal Judge William Griesbach wants to find out how much Christensen takes part in helping prosecute two alleged co-conspirators in his federal cases.

Jessica Miller, 37, and Donald Halbur, 32, both of Crivitz, are scheduled for federal court trials in early November. They and Christensen were accused of burning down Miller’s home so he could get insurance money. Ten years of prison have been recommended in Christensen’s federal case.

Christensen had spent six years on the Brazeau Fire Department. He was released in 2011 for missing department meetings due to his job.

Bond to be set for man accused of murder PLOVER -- A judge was expected to set bond Tuesday for a man accused of killing a neighbor in central Wisconsin, and leaving her body in a partially-burned vehicle in the next county over.

Jose Flores, 32, was arrested in the death of Jamie Koch, age 36. He has not been charged yet. Authorities believe Koch may have been strangled last Tuesday or early Wednesday in her apartment in Plover.

Her body was later found in a burned vehicle in Waupaca County. No weapon was used.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Anchor Bank parent files for bankruptcy protection MADISON -- The parent company of Madison’s Anchor Bank has filed for bankruptcy, so it can get out from under millions in debts, and provide new money to be a major lender again.

Anchor BanCorp said it raised $175 million dollars from numerous investors to re-capitalize Wisconsin’s fourth-largest bank. Holding company official Chris Bauer said the move would save Anchor Bank and its 700 jobs – and it will allow the bank to continue operating as normal.

Anchor has not made a profit in its last five fiscal years, in the wake of commercial loans that went sour during the Great Recession.

If a bankruptcy judge approves, Anchor would wipe out two major debts – $139 million dollars to the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, and $183 million to a group led by U.S. Bank, which Anchor borrowed to buy another bank in Wisconsin.

The TARP loan would be forgiven in exchange for $6 million dollars in new common stock.

Bauer says the U.S. Treasury would sell the stock, and end its ownership in Anchor. He says the U.S. Bank group has agreed to take $49 million dollars to settle its debt.

Observer's generosity allows 'Solidarity Singers' to avoid fines MADISON -- The Solidarity Singers escaped their almost daily arrests at the State Capitol Monday, thanks to a permit obtained by an observer.

Stephanie Marquis of the Walker administration said David Dexheimer of Monona took out a permit for the space Monday. He told the Associated Press his permit allowed up three people to use a four-by-10-foot space in the Rotunda’s first-floor gallery – but somehow, the administration agreed to extend it to a much larger group on the ground floor.

A federal judge recently upheld most of the administration’s policy on Capitol protests and gatherings – and the Capitol Police have used that ruling to crack down on the anti-Walker singers. Around 200 tickets have been issued in recent weeks.

dThirty-three of those arrested plan to seek jury trials. The administration says the permit system is needed to maintain order at the Capitol. The singers say they shouldn’t need government approval to speak out against the government.

Former teacher, who quit over drunkeness, collected $18,000 from benefits JANESVILLE -- A Janesville elementary teacher who was drunk on a school field trip was paid over $18,000 after she resigned.

50-year-old Maria Caya quit six weeks ago, after she was found to be drunk while supervising fourth-and-fifth graders who went bowling in June.

School Board president Greg Ardrey tells WKOW TV in Madison he does not feel good about the large payment to Caya – but he calls it best solution for everybody.

The district said the $18,000-plus was in the form of unused sick leave, and she’ll get health and dental benefits through this month.

In exchange, she agreed not to sue the school district for any reason.

Teachers’ union president Dave Parr tells WKOW the deal is consistent with other Janesville teachers who’ve resigned. The union’s contract recently ended due to the state’s Act 10 bargaining limits – and union secretary Wendy Haag said it leaves the value of unpaid sick leave unclear.

Caya had spent 14 years in the Janesville school system.

Former probation agent gets 18 months for drug thefts WAUSAU -- A state prosecutor said former probation agent Kim Hoenisch stole painkillers from friends and relatives, as well as the offenders she supervised.

The 41-year-old Hoenisch was sentenced in Wausau Monday to 18 months in prison plus supervision and probation, after a plea deal which convicted her of four criminal charges.

Prosecutor Winn Collins said his pre-sentence investigation included stinging accusations from estranged family members as well as her former clients. Among other things, he said Hoenisch stole medicines from a man who was dying from terminal bone cancer.

Hoenisch blamed her behavior on her addiction to painkillers – and she asked to stay out of prison so could get treatment and be with her five-year-old twin boys.

Defense lawyer Harry Hertel said the pre-sentence report had significant errors. Among other things, he denied his client was abusing drugs after the state’s investigation began into her activity.

Also Monday, Hoenisch was fined $100 to settle a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a July 16th fight with her sister and the smashing of a phone at their mother’s home north of Wausau.

DNR board may OK hearings for elk expansion plans BARABOO -- The state Natural Resources Board is expected to order public hearings Wednesday on a plan to create a second elk herd.

DNR officials have talked about acquiring elk from Kentucky to start a new herd near Black River Falls – and to expand the current herd at Clam Lake in far northwest Wisconsin.

The DNR expects to import the first of 50 new elk in 2015. Officials have a total population goal of 390 elk, enough to start a fall hunting season.

Regulations have been drafted to establish a new management zone for an elk hunt. The matter is expected to be discussed further at tomorrow’s DNR Board meeting in Baraboo.

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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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