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Officials aim to control Stillwater bridge lifts to avoid congestion; Passenger dog found after owner dies in semi crash; more briefs

Officials in Stillwater, Minn., hope to avoid traffic congestion in their downtown by putting new limits on the times a lift bridge to Wisconsin can go up and down to accommodate boats.

Under current rules, the Stillwater Lift Bridge can move up to 22 times on weekdays and 21 times on weekends and holidays. Officials say more of those lifts will be required as construction takes place on a new four-lane bridge between Stillwater and Hudson.

Stillwater City Council member Ted Kozlowski is leading an effort by officials and downtown business owners to allow lifts during certain times each morning and afternoon.

However, the Coast Guard says the campaign might not get far. Peter Sambor of the Coast Guard says his agency rarely changes lifting schedules for bridges, and water traffic is the top priority.

He said the Coast Guard does consider requests that appear to be justified. Public hearings are normally held before final decisions are made.

Initial construction work was recently halted on the St. Croix bridge project due to a couple of issues, but the four-lane bridge is still scheduled to open in 2016.


Passenger dog found after owner dies in semi crash

A missing dog has been found safe after riding with its owner who died in the crash of two semi-trucks during last week's snowstorm in western Wisconsin.

John Philipp, 45, of Stacy, Minn., died in the crash, which occurred on eastbound I-94 near Menomonie. His dog Molly escaped and was seen limping after the crash.

A veterinarian treated the pet, and she was taken home during the weekend by Philippi's nephew Andy Anderson.

The trucker's family told Twin Cities TV station KMSP that Philippi was driving to Illinois when he reacted to avoid something ahead. His rig tipped and was hit from behind by the other semi.

Philippi was reportedly on a cell phone with a friend. He told her to hang on because he was going to crash.


Heavy snowfall sparks flood warnings

Some of the heavy snow that fell in northwest Wisconsin last week is now flowing down the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.

That generated flood warnings during the weekend on the Mississippi River at Wabasha, Minn., across from Buffalo County and McGregor, Iowa, near Prairie du Chien.

The Mississippi is about four inches below its flood stage at Wabasha and a foot below its banks at McGregor. Both spots are expected to go above their flood stages around mid-week, with minor floods predicted.

Mellen in Ashland County had the most snow in last week's storm - just over 21 inches in three days.

Minor floods are also taking place on the Menominee River in Marinette County near McAllister. Forecasters expect the river to return below its banks by tomorrow afternoon.

In southern Wisconsin, flood warnings continue on the Rock River in Rock and Jefferson counties and the Fox River in Kenosha County.

Most flooding is expected to disappear throughout the week with mostly dry weather in the forecast. The next chance of rain is from Wednesday through Friday.


USDA purchase helps state's cranberry farmers - but not enough, says Kind

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to reduce an over-supply of cranberry crops by buying $5 million of concentrate for federal nutrition programs.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse announced the purchase, saying it's not nearly as much as he and others on Capitol Hill had wanted. They asked Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to buy 50 million pounds of cranberries worth $30 million.

The lawmakers said record cranberry crops the last two years have put pressure on producer prices as did a 50% jump in Canada's crop.

Kind and the other lawmakers said farm-level prices will be below the cost of production for almost half of all U.S. cranberry growers. Wisconsin made 60% of the nation's cranberry crop a year ago, harvesting a record 4.8 million barrels.


Nine Amish injured in buggy vs. car crash

All but one of the nine people injured in a weekend crash of a car and an Amish buggy in western Wisconsin are home from the hospital.

The La Crosse Tribune says David Wengerd, 37, of Osseo will need more surgery after he suffered lower leg injuries in the mishap. Wengerd, his wife Lydia and their seven children in the buggy were hurt.

The accident happened Friday night east of Whitehall of Hwy. 53. Trempealeau County sheriff's deputies said a 19-year-old car driver from Strum failed to yield for the slow-moving buggy and rear-ended the unit.

Officials said inattentive driving was a factor, and the district attorney's office will consider charges. The car driver was not hurt.


Test shows one in 10 kindergarteners not ready for reading

About one of every 10 kindergarteners in Wisconsin is not ready for reading lessons in the classroom, according to the results of the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening test that was given for the first time last fall.

The test is part of a series of education measures passed in the last session of the Legislature. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, 89% of kindergarteners met early literacy standards like recognizing letters and sounds.

Another version of the test was being given this spring. Schools also had the option of giving mid-winter tests.

The State Journal obtained general results. It said the Department of Public Instruction was not planning to publish the results because the test is meant to be a tool for classroom teaching and it's not meant to provide a comparison of any kind.

The DPI's Patrick Gasper said the main purpose of the test is to identify those who need help with literacy fundamentals. He says teachers can use the results to fine-tune their reading instruction.

The proposed state budget includes money to give the test to four-year-old kindergarteners starting next year as well as to first- and second-graders.


Fallen police officers will be added to state memorial

Five Wisconsin police officers killed in the line of duty will be added to the state's Law Enforcement Memorial.

Wauwatosa officer Jennifer Sebena, whose husband is charged with killing her last Christmas Eve, will be honored in a ceremony on Friday. It starts at noon at the memorial site on the State Capitol grounds in Madison.

The national Law Enforcement Memorial was not originally planning to include Sebena, but the group later changed its mind. She'll be honored next Monday in Washington.

Also to be honored at the state ceremony on Friday is Milwaukee County deputy Sergio Aleman. He was driving a vehicle that assists motorists on the freeways when he slammed into a flat-bed truck last July and was killed.

Three other Milwaukee County deputies will be added to the state's memorial after they died on the job almost a century ago. They are officers William Wank, Frank Heup and George Pazik.

Gov. Scott Walker will speak at Friday's ceremony, along with state Attorney General JB Van Hollen and Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber.

Over 260 officers have been killed in the line of duty in Wisconsin since 1844.


Number of state's dairy farms hits new low

Wisconsin's total number of dairy farms has dropped below 11,000. The Wisconsin Ag Connection news service says it's the first time in many generations that the number of active milking herds dropped below that number.

State authorities reported there were 10,915 herds during the first week in May, 600 fewer than the same month a year ago.

But the surviving herds have more cows than ever, totaling 1.27 million animals.

Clark County has 911 herds. That's the most in Wisconsin, but it had more than 1,000 just a few years ago. Forest County has just one dairy herd, and Milwaukee County has three.

Eighty-seven percent of dairy operations are Grade-"A" certified, and 13% are licensed as Grade "B."


GOP takes up battle to help Stevens Point firm

Wisconsin Republicans have gone to bat for a Stevens Point company that says it would have to move out of state if it does not win an appeal of a state contract rejection.

Over the weekend, Portage County GOP chairman Pat Testin convinced his fellow state convention delegates to endorse more than one supplier for a new statewide database of public school students. The measure seeks to help Skyward of Stevens Point, which lost out to a Minnesota firm for the database contract.

The state's education agency last week rejected Skyward's appeal of the contract award. The firm is filing a new appeal with the Walker administration.

Last year, the governor and Legislature endorsed a single vendor for the student database. The GOP state convention passed a resolution this weekend to allow multiple vendors.

A bill from two central Wisconsin Democrats would make the change, but it's been stuck in a committee for two months. Now, Assembly Republican Don Pridemore of Hartford says he's working on a more flexible bill to allow any number of vendors in a free market set-up.

Pridemore lost in April to state Supt. Tony Evers, who supports the single-vendor system. Most schools now use either Skyward or the Minnesota firm of Infinite Campus for their local databases. Schools that use Skyward say they'd have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to change to the Infinite Campus program.


Cambridge woman is finalist for 'Farm Mom' award

A Wisconsin woman is one of five finalists for the national "Farm Mom of the Year" award.

Tina Hinchley of Cambridge represents the Midwest in a contest sponsored by the group America's Farmers.

She told the Brownfield Ag News Service that she milks her family's 105 registered Holsteins because her husband doesn't really enjoy it. The family started doing farm tours 16 years ago, with the idea of creating extra income and keeping the farm safe and tidy.

Also, Hinchley is in her second term on the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. She said she was inspired to do something after seeing young kids in school refuse to drink their milk.

The "Farm Mom" award is being determined in an online vote. The other finalists are from California, Montana, Ohio and Virginia. People can vote by logging onto

The voting ends Saturday, and the winner will be announced on Mother's Day.


Parents of alleged murderer say they told authorities he was delusional

The parents of Jaren Kuester - the Waukesha man suspected of killing three people in Lafayette County - said they warned officials beforehand that their son was delusional.

Jim and Kathleen Kuester told the Wisconsin State Journal that the April 28 murders never would have happened had Jaren been hospitalized in a Waukesha County mental ward as they requested.

An assessment by crisis manager Robert Walker three days before the slayings showed that Kuester did not meet the criteria for being held. Peter Schuler, who heads the Waukesha County mental health agency, said he stands by the assessment - and he felt his department responded as best it could.

Authorities said Kuester killed Gary, Chloe and Dean Thoreson at their South Wayne farm house. Their bodies were found three days after Kuester caused a disturbance at a Waukesha animal shelter following the recent death of his dog, which was run over by a car.

Jim Kuester said officials could have admitted his son to a mental hospital then and didn't. Kathleen said her son was first diagnosed with depression when he was 16, and he got worse after his dog died.

Kuester is in jail under a $3 million bond. Homicide charges are pending. They're expected to be filed by his next court appearance on Friday.