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Doctor acquitted of 14 sex charges; DNR taking to the sky to spot CWD deer; 9 more state stories

SUPERIOR -- A Douglas County jury on Thursday acquitted an Eau Claire pediatrician of 14 sexual assault-related felonies but failed to agree on two other charges.

The partial verdict came after more than 21 hours of deliberation over three days. Jurors unanimously agreed to verdicts on the 14 charges but remained hung on the final two counts, prompting Judge Michael Schumacher to declare a mistrial on those charges.

Dr. David Van de Loo, 61, a former pediatrician at the Mayo Health Clinic System in Eau Claire, was accused of inappropriately touching the genitals of 15 former patients ranging in age from 9 to 19.

Jurors were unable to determine whether he was guilty of second-degree sexual assault and causing a child to expose his genitals. Those were the original charges brought by prosecutors in October 2012 after a 16-year-old boy complained to the hospital that he was sexually assaulted. The 14 acquittals came on charges that were added to the complaint when additional alleged victims came forward in the wake of Van de Loo’s arrest.

The prosecution could opt to retry the two charges.

An Eau Claire County case, the trial was moved to Superior due to significant media coverage in Eau Claire and Van de Loo’s prominence in the community.

Van de Loo once taught music in the Ellsworth School System before returning to medical school to become a physician.

-- Forum News Service

Obama in Michigan to sign new Farm Bill

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- President Obama will sign the new Farm Bill into law Friday in neighboring Michigan.

He was expected to speak at Michigan State University in East Lansing to explain how strong agriculture improves the nation's economy.

For Wisconsin dairy farmers, the new package replaces government price supports with a new margin insurance program. Payouts will be made when price margins fall below certain levels.

Wisconsin cranberry growers will also find a lot to like. Tom Lochner of the state Cranberry Growers Association cites a crop insurance plan and a continued market assistance program which helps boost cranberry exports.

House Ag Committee chairman Frank Lucas tells the Brownfield Ag News Service he only has one regret; that the Farm Bill was not made permanent instead of being just a five-year package. He said it could be more challenging to pass the next time around, as fewer members of Congress have ties to food producers.

It used to be that Wisconsin's congressional delegation was unified in support of federal farm programs but that declined as food stamps became more entrenched in the Farm Bill and grew to 80 percent of its annual price-tag.

This time, Wisconsin's 10 House and Senate members split their votes on the Farm Bill at five each way. Most opponents said the food stamp spending was either too much or too little.

Walker signs bills to provide more help for mentally ill

MADISON -- Wisconsin will soon have new and improved services to help the mentally ill after Gov. Scott Walker signed seven bills into law Thursday.

At a ceremony in Green Bay, Walker approved $1.5 million to encourage psychiatrists and primary-care doctors to practice in underserved areas.

Other new laws will create a consultation hotline for children and teens with mental health issues, efforts to find more jobs for the mentally ill, training for law enforcement in responding to mental health crises, peer-run respite care centers for mentally-ill people, and community teams to deal with crisis situations.

The measures were suggested by a task force created by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos after a pair of mass shooting incidents in 2012 in Oak Creek and Brookfield.

Vos said lawmakers would keep looking for other possible improvements in the state's mental health system.

He said the goals are to increase access to care, improve coordination of services, and hopefully reduce the stigma that's often tied to mental illness.

Aerial survey in Washburn County region aims to spot CWD risks

SHELL LAKE -- Only one deer in northwest Wisconsin has tested positive for chronic wasting disease and officials will soon find out if there might be more.

The DNR plans to perform an aerial survey in the Shell Lake area, where an antlerless deer tested positive for the fatal brain disease in 2011.

No other deer from the region were known to have CWD, which is heavily prevalent in about the southern third of Wisconsin.

Experts plan to check out 36 square miles where the infected deer was found.

If they see large concentrations of deer, it might indicate a higher risk of spreading the disease.

The survey flights will begin this month and will extend into March.

Search continues for infant snatched from Beloit home

BELOIT -- The search continued overnight for a five-day-old baby who disappeared from a bassinette at her home near Beloit.

A woman identified in media reports as Kayden Powell's aunt was stopped by police in Iowa Thursday while she was driving to her home in Colorado.

She left Kayden's house around 1:30 a.m. Thursday and was taken into custody on an unrelated warrant from Texas. However, Town of Beloit Police Chief Steven Kopp said the woman is not a person of interest in Kayden's disappearance.

The boy's mother, 18-year-old Brianna Marshall, called 9-1-1 early Thursday morning after noticing that her baby was gone.

A broadcast report said around eight people were at the house on Wednesday night, and they've all cooperated with police as have Marshall and the infant's father, Bruce Powell, 23.

Officials said around 40 federal, state and local officers were working on the case as of Thursday night.

There are still no suspects. Kopp said the matter is not thought to be a custody dispute and an Amber Alert was not issued.

Industry reps say postal hike will hurt mailers

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Wisconsin's paper and printing industries say they'll be hurt by a postal rate hike endorsed Thursday by a U.S. Senate committee.

The governmental affairs panel voted to make a temporary two-year postage rate increase permanent. It took effect Jan. 26th, and was designed to cut the massive financial losses in the U.S. Postal Service. It came soon after another rate hike for inflation, making the total increase 6 percent.

First-class postage rose by 3 cents an ounce to 49 cents.

Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin voted against sending the permanent increase to the full Senate, saying it would hurt the state's paper-makers and magazine printers.

Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson is also on the panel. He voted in favor of the package, saying the rate hikes are needed to avoid a future taxpayer bailout of the Postal Service.

The Quad Graphics printing firm in Sussex says postage now accounts for over half the average cost of a magazine and catalog.

Company CEO Joel Quadracci says the Senate bill will result in lower mail volumes, thus making the financial problems of the Postal Service worse.

Steve Brocker of the Western States Envelope & Label Co. says large corporate mailers will look for other ways to get their messages out.

He says there's no way they could budget for such a large postal increase.

The Senate panel did limit future postage hikes to inflation, and it shot down efforts to end regulatory oversight of the Postal Service.

Former ATF agent alleges peers violated weapon laws

Former state drug agent Dan Bethards reportedly accused his ex-colleagues of illegally modifying their rifles.

The Associated Press said it obtained emails from the Justice Department relating to the former agent, who was fired last October after he accused a supervisor of violating weapons laws.

Last January, Bethards told administrator Dave Matthews that agents were shortening barrels on their personal and state-issued rifles without registering the changes with the federal government.

Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck told the Associated Press that the allegations were investigated and the ATF firearms agency found that one weapon was modified improperly. She said the gun was put into compliance, and nobody was disciplined.

Bethards told the AP he was surprised the ATF let the incident go and wondered if "Joe Citizen would get that same opportunity."

The state Equal Rights office ruled two months ago that the Justice Department might have violated Bethards' protections as a whistle-blower by firing him.

State officials have scheduled a hearing in May on Bethards' complaint that the Justice Department retaliated against him over the allegations against his former boss.

Rare violin found; charges pending against three

MILWAUKEE -- Robbery charges were expected to be filed Friday against one of three people arrested in the theft of a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin in Milwaukee.

District Attorney John Chisholm planned to file a felony complaint after he gets more information from the suspect. He did not say whether the other two people would be charged.

Two men and a woman remained in police custody as of late Thursday. The Stradivarius was stolen Jan. 27 during a robbery in the Wisconsin Lutheran College parking lot, where concertmaster Frank Almond had just performed a concert with it.

Police said they recovered the $5 million instrument Wednesday night after officers were led to the attic of a house where it was found in a suitcase. Officials of the Milwaukee Symphony said the violin appeared to be in good condition.

Police said the main suspect, a 41-year-old Milwaukee man, had also been linked to the theft of a $25,000 statue in 1995.

In a related development, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett learned Thursday that he was once given a haircut by one of three theft suspects.

After the arrests, the mayor said his staff found a picture of Barrett sitting in a barber's chair on the suspect's Facebook page.

The man worked at the barber shop at the time. Barrett told reporters he was walking through a neighborhood, and stopped in the barber shop to say "hi" -- and when asked if he wanted a haircut, Barrett said he would.

One dead, 3 hurt in apartment fire

WEST ALLIS -- One person died and four others were hurt in an apartment fire Thursday in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis.

It was reported just before 3:30 p.m. at an assisted living facility.

Broadcast reports said the fire was contained in one apartment, and the injured survivors are expected to make full recoveries.

West Allis Police said the cause of the blaze is still being investigated.

Driver gets 8 years in death of motorcyclists

FOND DU LAC -- An eastern Wisconsin man will spend eight years in prison for driving his car into 10 motorcycles near Fond du Lac, killing two of those bikers.

Clinton Lovelace, 27, of Hilbert must also spend seven years on probation and 15 years under extended supervision once he's no longer behind bars.

The crash happened in May, 2012 on the two-lane Hwy. 151 north of Fond du Lac. It drew the attention of national motorcycle groups, whose members attended court appearances to show support for the victims.

Prosecutors said Lovelace was under the influence of drugs when his car crossed the center line as a dozen motorcycles were heading toward him. He hit 10 of them.

Doug Yonkers of Muskegon, Mich., was killed, along with Daniel Winsemius of Twin Lake, Mich.

Eight other bikers were hurt. The group was returning from a Bridge Run motorcycle event in Milwaukee.

Lovelace struck a plea deal last September in which he pleaded no contest to two negligent homicide charges. He also entered Alford pleas to three counts of reckless injury, in which he refused to admit guilt but agreed there was enough evidence to convict him.

Motorist charged with newspaper carrier's hit-and-run

MANITOWOC -- A Manitowoc man is due in court Monday on four felony charges, after he allegedly drove into a bicyclist who got lodged in his windshield.

Jamie Hang, 20, was charged Thursday with felony counts of reckless endangerment and causing hit-and-run injuries plus misdemeanor counts of hit and run and causing injury by drunk driving.

Authorities said Steven Gove, 56, was delivering newspapers on his tricycle the night of Jan. 25th when he was struck from behind and got stuck in the car's windshield.

Gove said the motorist kept going until he got home and then walked away. Gove managed to get out.

He walked for about a block until police found him. Gove was not seriously hurt.