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Wisconsin roundup: Spring drivers urged to be aware of work zones; state's economy outpacing neighbors; 9 more state news stories

Wisconsin Transportation Department Secretary Dave Ross speaks last week during the kickoff of a state safety campaign. (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Transportation)

MADISON — Now that spring is here, state officials are urging drivers to stay alert in the inevitable construction zones that have started popping up.

Work Zone Awareness Week is just getting started, and the DOT says nine people died and 1,100 were injured last year in traffic crashes within work zones. Officials say there were 2,800 work zone mishaps last year — more than seven per day, on average.

Chatting on hand held cell phones is a major cause of crashes — and the DOT reminds motorists of a new state law banning hand held devices in construction and maintenance zones, with fines of $40 for the first offense.

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Fed: Wis. has largest economic growth in 5 states

CHICAGO — A new report shows Wisconsin's economy grew faster in February than in four other Midwest states.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago says its Midwest Economy Index grew to 0.27 in February — up by 0.26 from January with Wisconsin having the largest share of that increase as 0.12. Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana also had smaller jumps in their economic activity.

Manufacturing has the fastest growth in Wisconsin in February, representing two thirds of the state's total jump in economic activity. Construction and consumer spending in the Badger State had smaller increases, with no change in the service sector.

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More than 40 districts holding referendums Tuesday

Voters will elect a Wisconsin public school superintendent and hundreds of local officials Tuesday.

But the most high-profile items on the ballot are the 65 school referendums in more than 40 districts statewide, totaling more than $500 million in building projects and operational tax hikes. Republicans in Madison will watch the results closely, and Senate Republican Duey Strobel of Saukville has already announced plans for a second straight session to restrict school referendums as the GOP continues to try and hold down taxes statewide.

Verona has the biggest building referendum Tuesday — almost $181 million for renovations and upgrades to various school and athletic facilities. Green Bay has a $68 million building package up for approval, plus $16.5 million above the state's revenue cap for each of the next 10 years — and Burlington has $94 million in projects up for bonding approval.

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Wisconsin GOP women lag behind national numbers

MADISON — Wisconsin lags behind the rest of the country in the percentages of women who are calling the shots in their state legislatures.

The state has 31 female Assembly and Senate members, less than 25 percent of the total — and there are only 12 women in the ironclad Republican majorities in both houses, making up just 9 percent of the Legislature, and no Republican woman has been elected to Congress from the Badger State. The Wisconsin State Journal says female lawmakers and political analysts cite several reasons, including that women are perceived as moderates at a time when the GOP is going to the right.

Also, state GOP leaders have rejected "identity politics" which cater to groups. And the state GOP has not done much to recruit females for state offices, although Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch helped create a national effort.

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Investigation continues into fatal apartment fire

BLACK RIVER FALLS — Foul play is not suspected in a fire that killed one person in an apartment building in Black River Falls.

Firefighters were called around 12:30 a.m. Sunday to a six-unit building where flames appeared to be coming from one of the apartments. Officials say the resident of that unit was not home, but one person was later found dead there. The victim's name was not immediately released. Fire officials say three other units had water damage, and all six had smoke damage. The Red Cross is helping those displaced by the fire.

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Former UW student accused of sex assaults makes court appearance

MADISON — The Dane County district attorney says new charges will be filed against the former UW student accused of sexually assaulting at least 10 women.

Twenty-one-year-old Alec Cook made a court appearance Friday afternoon. DA Ismael Ozanne told the court he was informed by university police the department would be referring additional charges against Cook based on new information. Cook's attorneys say the threat of a new arrest was an effort to sensationalize the case.

Defense attorneys said they wouldn't be ready for trial until next year. A final pre-trial hearing will be held in June.

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Mother arrested after 4-year-old shoots himself

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee woman has been arrested for keeping a gun within reach of her 4-year-old son, who shot himself with the weapon on Sunday.

The youngster sustained a non-life threatening gunshot wound. Police say the accidental shooting happened Sunday afternoon at a home on Milwaukee's northwest side. Names of the victim and his mother were not immediately released. The Milwaukee County district attorney's office plans to consider possible charges this week.

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Service for fire official interrupted by fire

BAILEYS HARBOR — A weekend church service to remember an assistant fire chief in Door County was interrupted when firefighters were called to a house fire.

The service for Baileys Harbor assistant chief Willard Zak was about to begin Saturday when pagers started going off. The Door County Advocate says the fire chief in nearby Ephraim offered to respond — but when Baileys Harbor assistant chief Eric Peil learned it was a house fire, he decided they better go.

The fire was at a home of another Baileys Harbor firefighter, Thomas Pluff, who did not attend the funeral and was not home when fire damage was contained to two rooms with heavy smoke damage; an electrical problem was the apparent cause. The service continued, with some firefighters staying behind with help from Sturgeon Bay and Southern Door firefighters.

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Accused mass shooter dies 10 days after police shoot him

MADISON — A 45-year-old northern Wisconsin man accused of shooting four people to death has died of a gunshot wound.

Nengmy Vang had been shot by police during a standoff after his rampage in the Weston area. The Wisconsin Department of Justice says he died Saturday morning shortly before 1:30 a.m. Investigators say he killed four people at two different crime scenes March 22, including his wife's divorce attorney and a detective with the Everest Metro Police. He was wounded when police forced their way into a Weston apartment where he had barricaded himself in.

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Man sentenced to 15 years for killing bicycle rider

MADISON — A 36-year-old man has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for hitting and killing a bicycle rider last year in Dane County.

Kevin Meister, of Brooklyn, Wis., admitted using heroin before causing the fatal accident. Meister had faced charges of hit and run causing death and second-degree reckless homicide. He had asked the court for probation. Thirty-three-year-old Shelton Berel of Madison died of his injuries. Meister had told investigators he thought he'd hit a deer, but he didn't stop because he was late for work.

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La Crosse man given life sentence in stabbing case

LA CROSSE — A La Crosse County judge has sentenced a 36-year-old man to spend the rest of his life in prison.

A jury found Haron Joyner guilty of first-degree intentional homicide last December. He had been charged with stabbing his wife, Jessica, to death. Joyner does have the possibility of parole after 40 years.

Prosecutors had told the court Joyner stabbed his wife after finding out she wanted a divorce. He had been accused of stabbing her in the neck, face and chest before she ran out of their apartment for help. She died about an hour later.

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