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Packers have 3:40 deadline to sell playoff tickets; Driver dies after falling through ice on Mississippi River; More state news

The NFL is giving the Packers until 3:40 p.m. today sell 7,500 remaining tickets for Sunday's playoff game -- or else it might not be shown on TV in eastern and north central Wisconsin.

The league's deadline is often extended in most cases. Coach Mike McCarthy said he does not believe there will be a problem getting the sellout. He predicts that Lambeau Field will be “an incredible environment come Sunday ... these are the games are fans live for.”

Yahoo Sports says the high price of attending NFL games is scaring a lot of people off. Thousands of tickets also remain for two other playoff games this weekend at Cincinnati and Indianapolis. That's almost unheard of for playoff games, especially in Green Bay where newborns are put on the season-ticket waiting list with the hopes of getting them long after they've become adults.

The last time the Packers did not sell out a playoff game was in 1983 after a season shortened by a strike. The last regular season game not to sell out at Lambeau was in 1959.

If this one's not sold out, TV stations in Green Bay, Milwaukee and Wausau would have to black it out under NFL rules.

Thousands of Green Bay season ticketholders rejected two chances to buy their seats for Sunday's Wild Card game. Reports said many fans were miffed that the Packers would no longer refund the required advance payments for post-season games not played and the money would simply carry over to next season's tickets. The weather forecast might also be scaring off some fans. It's supposed to be dry on Sunday but only getting up to six above.


Driver dies after falling through ice on Mississippi River

One person was killed early yesterday after driving onto the Mississippi River in La Crosse and falling through the ice.

According to police, a city employee called 9-1-1 after noticing that tire tracks went through a 40-foot high embankment off an intersection at Swift Creek.

Police said the vehicle was still on its tires when it landed on the river ice, and it turned left before falling through and becoming submerged.

The person's body was recovered from the vehicle after a wrecker pulled it from the middle of the creek. That was about 12 hours after the incident was first reported about 1:30 a.m. on New Year's.

An autopsy was scheduled for today on the victim, whose name was not immediately released. La Crosse city and county authorities continue to investigate.


Milwaukee homicides at 8-year high

Milwaukee ended the old year with its largest number of homicides since 2005. Preliminary figures show that Wisconsin's largest city had 106 murders in 2013. The final total could be higher as several death investigations continue.

The latest victim is a man found dead on a northwest side street on New Year's Eve. Details were not immediately released. As of yesterday, no arrests were reported.

Twenty of last year's Milwaukee homicides took place in August, along with 78 non-fatal shootings -- the most since 2006 when Milwaukee officials started keeping track of shootings that in which the victims lived.


Too cold for ‘Polar Plunge’?

Apparently conditions were too polar for many Wisconsinites to take a "Polar Plunge" into Lake Michigan on New Year's Day.

Jacksonport in Door County only had about half its normal number of plungers as the result of record cold temperatures for the event. Kenosha canceled its plunge amid forecasts of heavy lake effect snow. In Milwaukee, hundreds of people did take their New Year's plunge into Lake Michigan, although a sheriff's deputy was trying to encourage people not to.

At Jacksonport, officials said the water temperature was 30 degrees warmer than the air temperature, causing folks to freeze after they left the water. At Bradford Beach in Milwaukee, it was 36 degrees in Lake Michigan while the air temperature was in the single digits. The ice was much thicker than normal, and folks bought axes to break it up.

Nic Stanczyk said it was by the far the coldest of the polar plunges he and his two brothers took over the past 14 years.

The Special Olympics will give folks a second chance to take their winter plunges, this one for a cause. The Special Olympics will hold several fundraising plunges throughout Wisconsin next month.


Warmer temps expected tomorrow

It's about 10 degrees colder than it was yesterday morning in parts of far northern Wisconsin.

Siren had 24 below at 6 a.m. It was minus 23 in both Superior and Hayward. It was a little warmer than yesterday in the state's mid-section -- where Eau Claire was at three below, and Waupaca was actually above zero at plus six.

Winds are relatively light or nonexistent, but wind-chill advisories continue in many parts of Wisconsin until mid-morning and will resume overnight.

In southeast Wisconsin, where heavy lake-effect snow was falling, Milwaukee and Racine were both at 18 above at 6 a.m. Racine had almost nine inches of snow by late yesterday afternoon, and it was still coming down early today. Kenosha had 6.5 inches last evening with 2 to 4 more inches possible today.

Places to the north have had less. Two Creeks in Manitowoc County picked up 4.5 inches, and Kewaunee had 2.5.

More lake effect snow is expected today in far eastern Wisconsin. It's supposed to be dry in the rest of the state with highs in the single digits and teens. Warmer readings are expected tomorrow, and highs in the 20's are predicted for many spots on Saturday before a new Arctic air mass moves in on Sunday.


Wisconsin wolves straying south to Illinois

Wisconsin wolves are moving southward to Illinois where it might be a while before that state decides what to do about them.

Wisconsin had an estimated 800-plus wolves before the recent hunt dropped that number by about 250. Only a few wolves have been spotted in Illinois, but officials there are starting to draft possible management plans in case a pack ever gets settled there.

Most of Wisconsin's wolves remain in the northern half of the state, but Joe Kath of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says one pack has settled close to the state line near Beloit. Also, lone wolves have been known to roam up to 500 miles in search of mates.

Illinois has had at least five wolf sightings in the last three years. It's a relative pittance compared to Wisconsin, which has had an active reintroduction program since the 1970's.

Still, concerns are raised whenever someone's arrested for killing a wolf in Illinois. Several wolf shootings have occurred in Jo Daviess County in northwest Illinois along the Wisconsin border. One shooting drew attention from federal prosecutors. Another hunter thought he was shooting a coyote.


Man dies after Rhinelander bar fight

An autopsy is planned for today on a 48-year-old man who died after a bar fight in Rhinelander soon after the New Year began.

Police were called around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday to Sackett's Bar, where they found two men injured. One was sent to a hospital, while the other died before he could be hospitalized.

Police were still trying to sort out what happened at last word. They did not say whether the two men were fighting each other or somebody else. Prosecutors have joined Rhinelander police and the Oneida County medical examiner's office in the investigation.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Minong Flowage drawn down for repairs

A drawdown will continue through the winter on the Minong Flowage in far northwest Wisconsin.

The Department of Natural Resources is telling anglers to expect lower water levels as crews from Washburn County are repairing a dam on the flowage. The DNR ordered the drawdown until all the repairs are finished.

Officials urge ice fishers to use extra caution due to reduced water levels and flowing water. The Minong flowage covers about 1,600 acres. Its deepest point is at 21 feet.


Millions of Wisconsinites move to national no-call list

Despite the popularity of the state's do-not-call list, almost 4 million Wisconsin numbers are on the national list.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has analyzed a slew of data from the Federal Trade Commission and found that growing numbers of Badger State residents are getting onto the federal list.

Wisconsin had a 2.8% increase in registrations on the national list in the last fiscal year -- higher than the national increase of 2%.

However, not many of those folks complain about violators. The FTC said there were only 563 Wisconsin complaints for every 100,000 state residents. That's down about three times as much as a national decrease in complaints during 2013. The state's complaint rate is the fourth lowest in the country.

Almost seven of every 10 Wisconsin phone numbers are on the FTC's list, but that's still only the 32nd-highest in the country.

Wisconsin has an extremely popular state no-call list, but many folks are on the national list as well. It's easier to stay on the national list because registrations are permanent while those on the Wisconsin list must re-register at least every two years.

A bill is pending in the state Legislature to eliminate the state list and move everyone to the national no-call list.


Federal law ends production of traditional light bulbs

The New Year could bring a new way for you to light up your home.

The traditional light bulb will soon be hard to get as the federal government requires consumers to start using the more energy-efficient halogen and compact florescent bulbs. The Wisconsin Focus on Energy program is offering customers automatic discounts on the newer bulbs. You'll get it if you buy bulbs with the Focus on Energy sticker on the packaging.

Spokeswoman Sarah Platt says over 1,000 retailers throughout the state sell the discounted bulbs.

A new federal law has ended the production of the traditional 60 and 40-watt light bulbs. An earlier law banned 75 and 100-watt bulbs.

Platt says the new bulbs will cut down on electrical costs in the long run. The new bulbs have a slightly different rating system which measures output in lumens instead of the wattage for how much energy is used. Most packages show comparisons between the two.

--Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander


Whooping cranes near their winter home

Eight Wisconsin baby whooping cranes are just one day away from arriving at their winter migration home in Florida.

Operation Migration said the birds, led by a pair of ultralight pilots, were rained out of their final flight yesterday to St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge. That's where they'll spend the rest of the winter mating with other birds in an ongoing effort to boost populations of the endangered whooping crane in the eastern United States.

This is the 13th year that Operation Migration has conducted the migration flights from Wisconsin to Florida.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership joined the project a couple years ago. That group was planning to have eight additional cranes fly to Florida with the help of other birds that made the trip in the past. However, the group was delayed leaving the Horicon Marsh in the fall.

Three cranes died from the cold, and five others were at various stages of their trips at last word. The Operation Migration group has spent 93 days flying through seven states. They spent a wet New Year's Day in Leon County, Fla.


Prison guard considers suit over pay dispute

A state prison guard from central Wisconsin says he's thinking about filing a lawsuit in a pay dispute.

The head of the state equal rights agency has reversed an earlier ruling and said Redgranite prison officer Paul Mertz should not be paid for the time he checks in at a daily roll call and walks to his guard station before work. State officials cut off that pay in 2012. Equal rights officer Jeffrey Glick ruled in July that his bosses acted wrongly.

Last month, Equal Rights Bureau manager Jim Chiolino reversed the ruling and put the wage cutoff back in place. After the original decision, officers at 10 other state prisons filed suit seeking back pay for what they lost. They're trying to make it a class action suit that demands millions in back pay they lost over two years for the reporting time.

Mertz lost 35 minutes a week due to the prison policy change, which was allowed under the Act 10 law which ended collective bargaining for most state and local public employee unions.

Timothy Scheffler, the attorney for the other officers, said the ruling against Mertz should not affect the outcome of the larger suit, which could end up benefiting 3,000 correctional officers. The state has not commented.


State Journal ends publication of birth announcements

The daily newspaper in Madison has stopped publishing birth announcements after two hospitals in the city stopped providing the information for safety reasons.

Meriter and St. Mary's hospitals said they would no longer release birth information.

The Wisconsin State Journal had already been careful about how it confirms its information for birth announcements. The paper printed listings only from parents who consented to share their news, and the information had to come from the hospitals.

City editor Phil Brinkman said the potential for mischief was too great to take birth information directly from parents over the phone or email.

Kathy Kostrivas of Meriter Hospital said birth announcements make parents become targets for those who might want to steal babies. Kim Sveum of St. Mary's calls it an effort to improve security for families. Both said they acted on advice from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The center's Cathy Nahirny said the world is so different now than it was a quarter century ago, and abductors are using every possible means to select infants as their victims. Almost 300 babies have been abducted in the U.S. over the last 31 years, including 132 from hospitals.


Delta plane make ‘hard landing’ in Milwaukee; no injuries reported

No one was hurt when a Delta Air Lines plane made a hard landing late yesterday afternoon in Milwaukee.

Some other flights were delayed at Mitchell International after Delta Flight 2504 from Minneapolis had a mechanical problem as it landed around 4:15 p.m. The plane turned off a runway onto an adjacent taxiway, but the runway was still closed for about an hour and a half.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sportswriter Michael Hunt was aboard the craft after he covered a Marquette men's basketball game in Omaha on New Year's Eve. He quoted the pilot as saying the brakes locked and two tires were blown out.