Story about missing canoeists was fabricated; new law would mean prison for 7-time drunks; more state news
EAU CLAIRE -- The kayaker who claimed that two canoeists vanished in the Chippewa River this week made the whole thing up.
The 30-year-old Manitowoc man was arrested on a possible charge of obstructing an officer, police reported Thursday.
Rescuers spent parts of Tuesday and Wednesday looking for the two non-existent canoeists. That was after the suspect said he saw two men clinging from a capsized canoe, and he tried throwing a rope to save them. He then said his kayak tipped over and the canoeists and their boat were swept downstream and disappeared.
A helicopter from Eau Claire's Mayo Health System joined personnel from the state DNR and local law enforcement and fire departments in the search. Officials said they fought high and choppy waters in their search efforts.
Police said Thursday that their investigation showed that the canoe incident was all a hoax.
Eau Claire City Manager Russell Van Gompel wrote on Facebook that he's "extremely disappointed" if that's true. He said the responders put their own well-being at risk during the search.
Van Gompel said some people, quote, "don't appreciate the work of the fine employees who provide public safety for our citizens." He said their service should never be taken for granted.
Tourism officials seize the day to promote May skiing; tough fishing opener up north
Wisconsin tourism officials are promoting a rare cross-country skiing opportunity for May, after up to 18 inches of snow fell in the northwest part of the state since Wednesday.
Most of it was on the ground by mid-morning Thursday but Mellen in Ashland County had almost eight more inches throughout the day for a total of 16.
The State Tourism Department revived its "Snow Condition Report" and said Bayfield County has good cross-country ski conditions for the weekend.
The American Birkebeiner, the nation's largest cross-country ski race, says its trail near Hayward is open - and the skiing conditions should be good at least through Saturday.
Wisconsin's general sport fishing season also opens Saturday the DNR said nearly all lakes In Ashland, Iron, Sawyer, and Price counties still had a lot of ice and it delayed the stocking of trout on dozens of lakes.
Most electric customers in northwest Wisconsin got their power back by late last night. Xcel Energy said up to 16,000 Wisconsin customers lost their power.
Forecasters expect lingering precipitation in much of the Wisconsin Friday, and a return to normal temperatures for the weekend - with a lot of the snow turning to water.
Lawmaker plans last-ditch effort to save software firm
WISCONSIN RAPIDS -- A Republican lawmaker says he'll try to remove funding in the new state budget for a single contractor to provide a statewide database of Wisconsin public school students.
Assembly Republican Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids announced the effort yesterday, after the state's education department rejected an appeal from Skyward of Stevens Point. Skyward said it should have been awarded a contract to build the new database instead of the Minnesota firm of Infinite Campus, saying there were factors that the Department of Public Instruction did not consider.
The DPI said Skyward's complaint lacked merit, and the state acted legally in awarding the contract to another firm.
Assembly Democrat Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point says the DPI's rejection will be appealed to the state Administration Department. Skyward has said it would leave Wisconsin if it doesn't win the contract, and the state would lose hundreds of jobs. Both Skyward and Infinite Campus currently provide student databases to local districts, and Krug is among a group of central Wisconsin lawmakers proposing a bill to allow two vendors to provide the statewide system.
Stevens Point Assembly Democrat Katrina Shankland said the bill was introduced almost two months ago, but the leadership has not scheduled a public hearing on it. Krug says he believes there's enough support among his Assembly colleagues for a two-vendor system.
Larry Lee and Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau
Wisconsin's cheese production grows as others fall
Wisconsin continues to produce more cheese, at a time when the national output is falling.
Officials said the Badger State made almost 250 million pounds of cheese in March, 2.7 percent more than the same month a year ago.
Nationally, production dropped by two-tenths of a percent to $954 million pounds.
Second-place California saw its output decline by 2.4 percent in March, to almost 195 million pounds.
Third-place Idaho and fourth-place New York also produced less.
Almost 1.5 percent more American and Italian cheeses were made in March throughout the country. However, the increases were offset by declines in Swiss and a few specialty cheeses.
Chicago fugitive jailed after Madison manhunt
MADISON -- A fugitive from Chicago is in jail, after a day-long manhunt in Madison.
A police SWAT team arrested 33-year-old Paris Poe just after 7 p.m., Thursday on Hwy. 30, after a tipster saw him and a woman in a car.
The FBI said Poe was wanted for questioning in a federal murder investigation - but officials would not elaborate. WKOW TV said Poe the murder was gang-related, and he shaved his head to change his appearance while in Madison.
Poe was also wanted for a parole violation, and he's been charged with crossing state lines to avoid custody.
G.B. Jones of the FBI said Poe was spotted Thursday morning at a hotel on the south edge of Madison. Jones said somebody apparently told Poe that officers were on the way, and they missed him by about 10 minutes.
The FBI then released security camera photos and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to Poe's arrest. Meanwhile, two schools in Madison and all schools in nearby Verona were locked down for two to three hours Thursday afternoon.
Poe had been on parole for a 2009 conviction on charges of robbery and aggravated battery. Officials say he will not face any charges in Wisconsin, and he'll stay in the Madison jail until the FBI sends him back to Illinois.
Judge grants change of venue for physician who allegedly abused boy patients
EAU CLAIRE -- If a doctor goes on trial for allegedly molesting 16 patients, it will not happen in his home county of Eau Claire.
Circuit Judge Michael Schumacher ruled Thursday to move the possible trial of Doctor David Van de Loo to another county. The judge agreed there's a "reasonable likelihood" that the 60-year-old Van de Loo cannot get a fair trial in Eau Claire.
That's due to his status in the community, and heavy publicity surrounding both the criminal and civil charges against him.
Van de Loo was charged last fall with 17 criminal counts, all but one involving first-or-second-degree child sexual assault. Authorities said he had sexual contact with male patients while serving as a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire. Some of his former patients have also filed civil lawsuits against him.
The judge and the attorneys in the case will meet on June 4th and a trial date and location are expected to be determined at that time. A defense lawyer says a trial could run for two- to three weeks.
Van de Loo once taught music in the Ellsworth School District before leaving that profession to attend medical school.
Former fed official urges UW students to lobby for fiscal responsibility
MADISON -- College students who face record-high student debt and uncertain job prospects need the federal government to get their fiscal house in order. And a former U.S. comptroller general says those young people need to band together and get their voices heard.
David Walker spoke at a forum at UW Madison last night about the nation's debt crisis. Walker, who served under three presidents, is now the head of the Comeback America Initiative which tries to find fiscal solutions.
He said social media only goes so far in influencing public policy and Walker told the audience "My generation actually used to show up and march ... Your generation needs to do that more."
He said they need to "disproportionately engaged" to make a difference. U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson and Madison House Democrat Mark Pocan also spoke at the forum.
Pocan said the tax code needs to be fairer. He said 18,000 U.S. companies have post office boxes in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes, while virtually all small businesses in south central Wisconsin pay their fair share.
Johnson said he'd scrap the entire tax code, and build a new one that raises revenues without social engineering or economic harm. Organizers urged UW students to sign an online petition to call for economic reforms. That site is at TheCanKicksBack.org.
Bill to lock up chronic drunk drivers advances
MADISON -- A bill to make sure that Wisconsin's most chronic drunk drivers spend time in prison got very little opposition Thursday at a public hearing at the Capitol.
Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon said the bill was needed because a state appeals court last month gave judges the option of sending repeat offenders to prison. That nullified the mandatory sentences which were on the books since 2009 for the worst offenders.
Dave Callender of the Wisconsin Counties Association was the only one to testify against the bill Thursday. He said it would create more expenses for county jails, where a 30-day minimum sentence costs taxpayers $1,500. But Ott said that if judges follow the minimum sentences in his bill, there shouldn't be any major cost increases.
Three-year prison terms would be required for seven-, eight-, and nine-time drunk driving convicts. Those with 10-or-more convictions would get mandatory four-year terms. For the first time, drunk drivers who injure others in crashes would go to jail for at least 30 days.
Democrats on the Assembly Criminal Justice committee wanted Ott to more clearly describe his definition of injuries. He agreed to do so, and the three Democrats on the panel said they would support the bill.
Ongoing bad weather saving lives on state's highways
MADISON -- April was much safer on Wisconsin highways than a year ago, as the extended winter appeared to keep more folks at home.
According to preliminary figures from the DOT, 28 people were killed in crashes on state roads last month - 17 fewer than last April.
Officials said it was the fewest traffic deaths for an April since the end of WWII in the 1940's.
For the year as a whole, 134 people were killed on state highways from January through April. That's 22 fewer than in 2012 - and it's seven less than the average for the past five years.
Machinery accident kills elderly man
APPLETON -- A 67-year-old man was killed late yesterday in a farm machinery accident north of Appleton. Outagamie County authorities were told just before 6 p.m. that a man was missing in the town of Center - and the man was later found dead.
Other details were not immediately released.