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New Richmond man wins big pumpkin contest – again; Seven die in weekend traffic accidents; More state news briefs

A western Wisconsin man won the pumpkin-growing contest he entered over the weekend, but he failed to take back the world record he lost a year ago.

Chris Stevens of New Richmond entered a pumpkin that weighed 1,784 pounds. That was good enough to win at the Stillwater Harvest Fest in Minnesota, but it was nowhere near Ron Wallace's record of 2,009 pounds.

Wallace, of Rhode Island, grew that pumpkin last fall. It broke Stevens' record gourd from 2011.

Stevens said he lost his first batch of giant pumpkin candidates to frost and snow around Mother's Day. He hopes for better weather next year. His plants begin to grow in mini-greenhouses. In June, Stevens began narrowing down six plants to the one he grew for the Stillwater event.


Seven die in weekend traffic accidents

At least seven people were killed in Wisconsin traffic accidents during the weekend.

The latest report comes from La Crosse County, where a motorcyclist died after colliding with a car in Brice Prairie. Authorities said a 27-year-old Onalaska man was on County Trunk Z approaching a turn to get to Hwy. 35 when he crossed the center and skidded into the path of an oncoming car. The car driver was an 18-year-old Onalaska area woman.

Two elderly Stevens Point residents were killed in a two-car crash Sunday afternoon on Hwy. 10 near Point. Authorities said a car was crossing the eastbound lanes of the four-lane expressway when it collided with a car from the right. An 85-year-old Stevens Point woman died.

A 92-year-old Point woman was taken to a Marshfield hospital.  The State Patrol told WAOW TV in Wausau that she has since died. The other driver, a 26-year-old Minneapolis woman, had non-life threatening injuries. The mishap is still being investigated.

Central Wisconsin had two other traffic deaths early Saturday. Wood County authorities said Nicholas Cain, 23, of Nekoosa died after his car struck a tree.

In Lincoln County, officials said Kevin Eggebrecht, 23, died after his car hit a median, overturned, went airborne and landed on the opposite lanes of the Hwy. 51 freeway.

In southern Wisconsin, Green County authorities said Judy Cary, 52, of Brodhead was killed late Saturday when she drove into a tree near Spring Grove in Green County.

In Dane County, Courtney Weichmann, 24, of Cambridge died after her car hit an oncoming dump truck on Saturday at Cottage Grove.


Legislature to vote on bill to raise interstate speed limit to 70

The Wisconsin Assembly is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a Republican bill to raise the speed limit on rural interstates.

The bill would make it legal to drive 70 mph on the interstate outside of major cities. Over the following year, the Department of Transportation would have to study the safety factors in raising the 65 limit on other four-lane highways.

The original version of the bill spelled out two dozen places where the allowable speed would rise. Assembly Republican Paul Tittl of Manitowoc removed the larger list from the bill, saying he wanted to make things simpler by allowing the higher speed only on the interstates for now.


Attorney challenges online-sex-solicitation penalties

In Wisconsin you get a tougher penalty for soliciting sex online with a minor than for actually having that sex.

A lawyer for a suburban Milwaukee defendant says that's unfair, and he'll challenge the stronger penalty if he's convicted.

James Heidke, 55, worked as a contracted food service director at the Whitnall School District when he allegedly texted and emailed a person he thought was a 15-year-old boy to arrange sex. When they met, the teen was actually a Milwaukee police officer who arrested Heidke for using a computer to facilitate a sex crime.

State lawmakers said they were tired of seeing defendants get probation for those crimes so last year, they required a mandatory five-year prison term as a penalty enhancer for soliciting child sex online.

Heidke's lawyer, Michael Hart, said if his client actually had sex with the youngster, there was a good chance he'd stay out of prison. Therefore, Hart says the penalty for planning sex is higher than for actually doing it, and he wants the penalty enhancer dropped.

Prosecutors justify the higher penalty. They say that soliciting sex is a more calculated and predatory act while the actual sex could come from a moment of human weakness. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Borowski will decide the issue of the penalty-enhancer next month.


Missing man’s body recovered from Baraboo River

Authorities said a body recovered in Sauk County is that of man missing since last Monday.

Rescue divers pulled Frank Shimniok, 57, of rural Rock Springs from the Baraboo River Sunday.

He was last seen walking home from a wedding reception in Rock Springs. Relatives found Shimniok's hat and glasses near the river on opposite sides of a county road. Sauk County authorities are still investigating the death.


Newspaper: Walker administration gave big raises by juggling jobs

At least five state government workers got large pay raises after the Walker administration reportedly tiptoed around state pay limits.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said three officials were moved into phantom jobs with higher pay scales and then brought back to their original posts at the higher pay. Democrats have reportedly done the same thing in the past.

Jay Heck of the watchdog group Common Cause said the state needs to set up a more transparent system for rewarding top performers.

It was reported earlier that Capitol Police Chief David Erwin and his top assistant got big raises with phantom job transfers.

Now, the Journal Sentinel said three others were given similar treatment earlier this year, including state chief Revenue economist John Koskinen. The paper said he received a $14,000 raise after he uncovered problems with job statistics that critics were using to make Walker look bad during last year's recall election against him.

Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said Koskinen has worked under both Republicans and Democrats, and it's vital that the state have correct job numbers.

Koskinen reportedly had another job offer in the private sector, and the state raised his pay to 26% beyond a similar economist in another state agency. Most state employees have just been given their first general pay raises in four years, at 1%.


12-year-old sets record for earning Eagle Scout honor

A 12-year-old boy from suburban Milwaukee has become the youngest African-American ever to be named an Eagle Scout in the United States.

James Hightower III, a seventh grader from Glendale, was honored during a weekend ceremony in Milwaukee.

He achieved the Eagle Scout rank by starting a service project to rebuild deteriorated bleachers at a baseball diamond. He raised money for the work and recruited other scouts to help build the bleachers.

Hightower is among the youngest to receive the Eagle Scout ranking. The average age of an honoree is 17. Only 7% of Boy Scouts achieve the ranking.

Hightower's parents said they're impressed by his drive. He said he hopes to become a lawyer someday.


Work begins on sagging Green Bay bridge

Crews will begin stabilizing the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge in Green Bay today to keep it from sagging further before support piers can be checked and reinforced.

The 51 concrete support piers were not anchored on limestone bedrock underground, and some outside engineers say it might be why the bridge sank two feet Sept. 25.

Department of Transportation project manager Tom Buchholz told the Green Bay Press Gazette that designers do not always require support beams to touch the bedrock if the soil conditions are right.

The bridge was built in 1980, and UW-Green Bay geologist John Luczaj said conditions that were safe then might have gotten worse. He said soil samples at the bridge uncovered loose sand and wet clay.

The DOT points to another problem as a possible cause -- corrosion around the pier that sank which may have caused uncorroded beams to buckle.

DOT regional bridge engineer Dale Weber said his engineers are confident that corrosion is the main cause. Still, he said soil conditions would also be studied and nothing will be left unexamined.

The Leo Frigo bridge in located north of downtown Green Bay on I-43 over the Fox River. It's expected to be closed for at least a few more months.


Assembly plans votes to keep $25 million in federal road dollars

The Wisconsin Assembly is scheduled to vote tomorrow on two bills that prevent the state from losing some of its precious federal highway dollars.

Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon is the lead author of both measures, designed to put Wisconsin in line with federal guidelines. One bill requires knowledge tests for military drivers who apply for commercial licenses in the state. The other modifies how the state handles out-of-service violations for truckers' logs.

Petrowski said the federal government threatens to withhold $25 million a year for states that don't follow federal codes to the letter, and the funding loss could rise to $50 million dollars in the second year of a variance.

Wisconsin is considered to be millions of dollars short of what it needs for new and improved highways. Petrowski said the state can ill afford to lose any federal road-building assistance. His two bills passed the Senate last week.

Another bill going through the Legislature would let multi-axle trucks carry more weight for hauling wood -- something Petrowski says is needed to keep logging competitive in Wisconsin.


Walker calls tribes together to discuss proposed casino

Gov. Scott Walker wants to meet this week with leaders of all 11 Wisconsin tribes about the proposed Menominee Indian casino in Kenosha.

The governor wants to see if there's any way they can all agree to allowing the new casino. That's one of the conditions he has imposed before he'll approve the project.

The issue was placed on Walker's lap after the federal government gave its final approval.

“I'd like to see a win-win,” said Walker. That doesn't appear to be in the cards at least for now.

The Potawatomi Tribe has long opposed a Kenosha casino, fearing it would reduce revenues at the Potawatomi casino in nearby Milwaukee. The Ho-Chunk tribe also opposes the Kenosha project. Tribal president Jon Greendeer sees no way that will change.

The Oneida tribe of Green Bay now says it has not decided on the new Menominee casino even though it was reported earlier that the Oneida was against it.

Last week, the Menominee hired the owners of the Hard Rock Café and casinos to develop and manage the Kenosha complex. Walker has said the Hard Rock's involvement will not influence his final decision.

Besides the other tribes' approval, Walker said the Menominee needs to show community support for its new casino and it will not result in a net increase in gaming. The Walker administration is not saying publicly what that last condition includes.


Escaped mental patient captured

A potentially violent man who escaped from a state mental institution in early July is back in custody.

U.S. Marshals and Fond du Lac Police arrested Graham Stowe, 30, during the weekend. He was taken to the Fond du Lac County Jail Saturday.

Stowe left the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison July 2, and officials said he had a history of violent behavior.

He was found not guilty by insanity for an incident in the Green Bay area in 2004. Authorities said he tried kidnapping his ex-girlfriend, held her brother hostage and tried burning her father with gasoline.