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Postal worker indicted for allegedly embezzling $50,000; Man arrested after road crew finds bodies in suitcases; 17 more state news briefs

A western Wisconsin man has been indicted in federal court in Madison, accused of stealing more than $50,000 in stamp proceeds while working at the Menomonie post office.

A federal indictment has been handed down against Robert Colaizy of Menomonie.

WQOW TV of Eau Claire said Colaizy allegedly falsified records about his stamp inventories in an effort to hide the theft.


Man arrested after road crew finds bodies in suitcases

A 52-year-old West Allis man was arrested yesterday in connection with two bodies found in suitcases along a roadside near Lake Geneva June 5.

Private security officer Steven Zelich is a suspect in the death of Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minn., who was reported missing last November. A television station in Rochester, Minn., said police were trying to find out whether Simonson was murdered there.

The other dead female has not been identified. She's said to be 15 to 35 years old with a heart tattoo on her left abdomen.

Both victims were in suitcases found while a highway crew was cutting grass along a roadside in the Walworth County town of Geneva.

Media reports said Zelich is a former West Allis police officer who ran a website that offered legal advice. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said an Internet classified ad was placed about Simonson's disappearance which said she was mentally disabled and was tortured and enslaved by Zelich. The ad reportedly had a cellphone number for Zelich that was the same as his legal advice site and an e-mail address that was on a master-slave discussion board.

Simonson's father told the Journal Sentinel she had struggled with mental illness since she was a teen. Simonson was a Girl Scout while growing up and was a divorced mother who lost a daughter to an accident in 2013.



Owner accused of cutting flesh and fur from dog

A west central Wisconsin man is free on a signature bond after he was accused of skinning his dog alive.

Charles Weissmiller, 65, of Stanley made an initial appearance in Clark County Circuit Court Wednesday on a felony animal mistreatment charge.

Authorities said a Labrador-shepherd mix named Sammy was severely cut, losing both flesh and fur. Prosecutors said Weissmiller harmed the dog because he no longer wanted him.

Community donations have helped with Sammy treatment. The police chief in nearby Owen, Andrew Schade, has paid over $1,000 to cover several of the dog's surgeries.

Weissmiller is due back in court July 24 when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Niagara man charged with felony for killing his goat at work

A 24-year-old man has been charged with felony animal mistreatment after he allegedly killed his goat in front of his coworkers outside a plant in Sun Prairie.

Phillip Pardee, whose address is listed as Niagara in far northeast Wisconsin, is free on a signature bond. The status of his case is scheduled to be reviewed at a July 21 conference in Dane County Circuit Court.

Media reports said Pardee did not have a place to keep the goat while he was working at the Madison-Kipp Sun Prairie plant, and the animal escaped from a crate inside the building. He reportedly struck the animal's head against a curb, after his bosses told him he could not keep the goat inside the factory.


Board OKs sale of 10,000 acres of public nature lands

A state panel took a major step Wednesday toward scaling back Wisconsin's Stewardship program which preserves nature and recreation lands.

At a meeting in Milwaukee, the Natural Resources Board approved the sale of 10,000 acres of public nature lands to be completed by mid-2017.

Republicans ordered the move as part of the state budget they passed a year ago. Their goal is to reduce the debt incurred by the purchase of Stewardship lands.

It was noted that the 10,000 acres represent only a small share of the 1.8 million acres of state-owned nature lands.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said the 25-year-old program has "done wonders" for the state's natural resources and the new measures are designed to ensure continued new recreation opportunities throughout the state.

Republicans say the program's debt has spun out of control. Democrats fear the cuts will reduce recreational opportunities. Environmental groups lament that nature has become polarized, like much of Wisconsin politics.


Tornado touches down in Green County

Another tornado apparently touched down in southern Wisconsin yesterday afternoon.

The National Weather Service said law enforcement reported a small twister on the ground for about a minute about two miles north of Albany in Green County.

Media reports said a power line had a minor fire, roof shingles blew off, and tree branches broke.

More than a half dozen tornadoes touched down in southwest and south central Wisconsin last Monday and Tuesday -- the first in the state this year in what's been a late-arriving tornado season.

Also yesterday, the Weather Service reported up to 1.25 inch hail in parts of Dane and Sauk counties.

A partly cloudy and dry day is in the statewide forecast for today with highs ranging from the mid-60's to around 80.


DNR: Levels of PCB’s in Lake Michigan fish dropping

It's safer than it used to be to eat coho and chinook salmon from Lake Michigan.

A new study by the state Department of Natural Resources shows that levels of cancer-causing PCB's have dropped from those fish ever since the industrial chemical was banned in the late 1970's.

In the Journal of Great Lakes Research, DNR scientists said PCB's on the skins of coho salmon dropped by 24% from 1975 through 1986, while the contaminant levels fell by 17% in chinook. Since then, the PCB levels have kept dropping, but not nearly as fast.

State resource officials still advise people to limit their intake of coho and chinook salmon to one meal a month. That, too, is better than it was before 2012 when the DNR advised folks to only eat chinook salmon six times a year.


Merrill woman charged with faking cancer to get money

A 19-year-old Merrill woman has pleaded not guilty after she was accused of faking cancer to get donations from her community.

Celina Winchell appeared in Lincoln County Circuit Court yesterday on 17 theft-related charges and one count of obstructing police. All those charges are misdemeanors. She's free on a signature bond. A trial date could be set at a scheduling conference on Aug. 14.

Authorities said Winchell tried pulling off an elaborate scheme on social media and elsewhere to fake third-stage lung cancer. Officials said she placed donation jars at 16 businesses in the Merrill area, supposedly to cover chemotherapy treatments. A benefit pancake breakfast was also in the works.

Winchell also faces a similar theft charge in neighboring Marathon County, along with obstruction. A trial date in that case is set for Aug. 15.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


UW-Platteville tornado damage now estimated at $10 million

The chancellor at UW-Platteville now says it might cost over $10 million to repair the damage from a tornado that hit the campus ten days ago.

Dennis Shields said three dormitories and the engineering building should be repaired by Aug. 15 when students will start moving in for fall classes that begin Sept. 2.

He said the football stadium's artificial surface will have to be replaced, along with some seating areas and light poles. Coaches are confident the stadium can be fixed by mid-September. The Platteville Pioneers are scheduled to play their first home football game Sept. 15, and a few soccer matches might have to be relocated.

Shields was in Beijing, China, on business when the tornado hit late last Monday night. He said insurance would cover most of the damage but not dozens of trees knocked down in a campus park.

About 200 summer school students and hundreds more summer camp participants were on campus when the tornado hit. The chancellor credited dorm staffers and rescuers for keeping them safe. He said nobody got anything worse than bumps and bruises.


New charge filed against woman accused of kidnapping nephew

A Denver area woman would have to spend at least 25 years in prison if she's convicted of kidnapping her five-day-old nephew near Beloit.

Federal prosecutors in Madison filed a new indictment Wednesday against Kristen Smith. It adds a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence because the victim was under 18. The maximum sentence would be life.

Smith is accused of kidnapping young Kayden Powell from his mother's house in the town of Beloit in February. Authorities said Smith left the baby behind an Interstate gas station in Iowa in sub-zero temperatures. He survived despite being left in the cold for over a full day.

Smith is scheduled to go on trial July 28 in federal court in Madison. She also faces Iowa state charges in the incident.


Commission approves 80-mile gas pipeline to serve frac mines

A state panel has approved an 80-mile natural gas pipeline to serve future frac-sand mines in western Wisconsin.

The Public Service Commission voted 2-1 yesterday to let We Energies' Wisconsin Gas division build the new lateral from Tomah to Eau Claire. The utility says the new line will help the region's economy by accommodating the growth of silica-sand mining.

We Energies says it's possible that up to five new mines -- with up to 400 jobs -- could open within six years after the gas line goes in. The project will cost at least $180 million. The PSC says it will add $24 a year to the bills of We Energies' gas customers in most of Wisconsin outside of Metro Milwaukee.

Commissioner Eric Callisto said it's too expensive for the utility customers. He questioned whether the pipeline network would be overbuilt if the projected mines don't open.

The other commissioners said the panel could re-review the project if gas sales don't meet their projections. The new pipeline will start going in next year.


Hispanics now state’s largest ethnic minority

For the first time, Hispanics have become Wisconsin's largest minority group.

The U.S. Census Bureau said Latinos made up 6.34% of the state's population last year. Almost 364-thousand Hispanics now call Wisconsin home, four times more than in 1980.

African-Americans, traditionally the state's largest minority, fell to the second largest. They make up 6.26% of the total population. Whites now make up 82.5% of the state's total.

Overall, the Census Bureau said Wisconsin has just under 1% more people than it did in 2010. The state attracted 53,000 total residents in the past three years, but it has fewer young people.

The statewide total for those 19 and under dropped by 2.2% since 2010. However, Hispanics in that age group grew by 5.7%.

UW-Milwaukee associate professor Enrique Figueroa said Hispanics became the state's largest minority faster than he expected. He said a large part of Wisconsin's workforce will be Hispanic in 20 years, and schools need to beef up their education and training to Latinos now.


Unemployment drops a little

Unemployment went down last month in ten of Wisconsin's 12 metro areas.

New figures released yesterday show that none of the metros saw their actual unadjusted jobless rates increase. Milwaukee held steady from the previous month at 6%, and Madison's rate stayed the same at 4% -- the state's lowest. Racine had the highest metro jobless rate at 7.5%.

Unemployment also dropped in 69 of the state's 72 counties and remained steady in Dane, Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.

Menominee had the state's highest county jobless rate at 15.1%. Dane and Pierce counties were the lowest at 3.8%.


Judge throws out Utah’s same-sex marriage ban

Wisconsin's same-sex couples scored a legal victory Wednesday when a three-judge federal appellate panel ruled for the first time that states must let gays get married.

Part of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a district judge who threw out Utah's ban on same-sex marriages. The three appellate judges said it's "wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of the love and commitment between same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples."

The panel immediately put its ruling on hold so it can be appealed either to the full 10th Circuit panel or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison threw out Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriages, which -- like Utah's -- had been approved by voters. She, too, put her ruling on hold while it gets appealed. Crabb did not say what would happen to the more than 550 same-sex marriages that took place in the week after she initially ruled the ban was unconstitutional but before she put her ruling on hold.

State attorneys in both Wisconsin and Utah said voters exercised their legal rights to define marriage in their respective states, but gay rights lawyers said voters cannot act in ways that deprive certain people of their rights.

Sixteen federal judges have struck down various gay marriage bans since last year when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out much of the national Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court is not expected to take up the states' gay marriage bans until next year at the earliest.


Group critical of Wisconsin’s beaches

A national environmental group says Wisconsin has the eighth-worst beaches among 30 states that border either oceans or the Great Lakes.

The Natural Resources Defense Council issued a report that rated state beaches according to the bacteria levels from water samples taken a year ago. The report said 14% of Wisconsin's water samples failed to meet EPA standards for safe beach swimming waters.

Nationally, 10% of 3,500 beach samples exceeded new and more stringent EPA limits for E. coli bacteria. The new maximum is 190 E. coli colony-forming units per 100 milliliters in a single sample. The old max was 235 units.

Great Lakes beaches have higher E. coli levels than their ocean counterparts, mainly because the Great Lakes are much smaller and they don't have the water circulation levels that oceans have.


Hospitals must reduce treatment-related complications or face federal penalties

Sixty-five Wisconsin hospitals could get federal penalties if they don't reduce high rates of treatment-related complications, infections and patient injuries.

The Janesville Gazette uncovered the list based on preliminary findings from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

St. Mary's Hospital of Janesville is on the list along with hospitals in virtually all parts of Wisconsin.

A total of 761 U.S. hospitals could lose 1% of their Medicare reimbursements for the year starting in October if their scores don't improve.

Kim Sveum of St. Mary's in Janesville said the final report will consider two years of data from June of 2012 through July of this year. Her hospital remains confident that once the expanded data is considered, its score will improve.

Sveum said small hospitals like St. Mary's could take a real hit with just one treatment-related infection. The penalties are part of the Obama health care law. They're designed to improve patient safety and overall treatments.


Boy who brought pellet gun to school won’t be charged

No charges will be filed against a 15-year-old boy who allegedly took a pellet gun to summer school classes at Green Bay East High School.

Police recommended a disorderly conduct charge against the boy, but Brown County District Attorney David Lasee said he didn't have evidence that the teen threatened anyone with the weapon.

The DA also said he didn't know why the youngster took it to school. A staff member at Green Bay East reported seeing a boy with a gun on Monday morning. A parade of law enforcement officers converged on the school with their guns drawn.

About 200 students were evacuated in waves, and the 15-year-old was arrested along with a girl who was with him.


Report issues dire report on effect of climate change on farming

A new report on climate change has dire predictions for Wisconsin's and other states' ability to keep producing the food we need.

However, one executive says nothing is mentioned about agriculture's traditional ability to adapt. Greg Page, the executive chairman of Cargill, says farmers will adjust their crop plantings, and farmers will work together with the food supply chain to mitigate some of the doomsday scenarios.

The new report, called "Risky Business," says global warming could cause U.S. production of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton to drop 14% by the middle of the century and up to 42% late in the century. It cites extreme heat in the nation's mid-section.

Page served on the advisory committee for the "Risky Business" report, and he spoke to agriculture reporters about the possible effects. It predicts lower crop yields in the Midwest and south due to more drought and floods. At the same time, it says warmer temperatures and carbon fertilization could improve productivity and crop yields in northern states like Wisconsin.


Man dies when car collides with cement truck

A 77-year-old man was killed yesterday after his car collided with a cement truck near Superior.

Raymond Cload of Solon Springs died at the scene.

Douglas County authorities said his car failed to yield to the cement truck coming from his left, and they collided at County Roads E and Z.

The truck driver, a 44-year-old Superior man, escaped injury. State and local authorities continue to investigate.