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Tuesday's weather yields at least one tornado; skydive mishap claims instructor's life; more state news

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

North central Wisconsin had one tornado, and maybe more Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service said a twister kept going on-and-off the ground near Deerbrook in Langlade County around 4 p.m.

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Authorities said it landed in fields and woods, with no damage except for tree debris. The same storm might have caused tornado damage an hour earlier to the west in Lincoln County. Trees and power lines went down near Irma and Gleason.

Later, funnel clouds were spotted around 6 p.m. near Red-granite in Waushara County, and Lake Poygan in Winnebago County. A mobile home tipped over near Oconto, where a couple homes had minor roof damage.

Marinette had almost 2 inches of rain in two hours last evening. The Wisconsin Public Service utility reports only about 40 customers without power in Menominee County Wednesday morning. About 1,000 customers lost their electricity during the Lincoln County storms.

The storms are now gone, and a dry day is expected with gradual clearing. It’ll also be cooler, with highs in the 70’s statewide.

Local reactions to Gogebic's armed guards is mixed

Local leaders have mixed reactions to Gogebic Taconite’s use of military-style security guards to keep protestors away from its drilling tests for a new iron ore mine.

The mining firm hired an Arizona company called “Bulletproof,” whose guards wear camouflage and carry assault rifles. They were brought in after a mid-June protest that caused $2,000 in damage to mining equipment, and the thefts of a cellphone and a camera.

Hurley Mayor Joe Pinardi, who also chairs the Iron County Board, says the fortified security is justified. He called the protestors “nothing more than a group of terrorists.” Ashland County Board chairman Pete Russo calls the security response “overboard” compared to the threat.

Russo says he’s concerned about conflicts between the armed guards, and the hikers and hunters who use the public land at the mining site.

The two state lawmakers who represent the area have called on Gogebic to get rid of the military-style guards. Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz said the firm has done a great job, and they’re staying.

Critics say the mining firm should use local and less intimidating personnel, like off-duty sheriff’s deputies. Seitz says there are too few of those people in the sparsely-populated area – and if there’s trouble, they could be too far away for an immediate response.

Meanwhile, 26-year-old Katie Kloth of Stevens Point faces a felony robbery charge and three misdemeanors in last month’s disturbance. She’ll make her initial court appearance in Iron County on Monday.

Hearings resume at Milwaukee County Courthouse

MILWAUKEE --The wheels of justice will start turning again in Milwaukee County Wednesday. Court hearings will be held for the first time since an electrical fire last Saturday closed both the courthouse and the adjacent Safety Building in downtown Milwaukee.

Jurors are still being told to stay home. Clean-up crews have installed new carpets – and they cleaned or replaced ceiling panels and hard surfaces throughout the Safety Building. A similar cleanup continues in the courthouse, which is three times as big with a million square feet.

County Executive Chris Abele says the courthouse will not open any sooner than next Monday. Officials said the main concern was removing carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide fumes fueled by the aftermath from Saturday’s blaze, which occurred in an electric sub-station in the courthouse basement.

Insurance will pay for a new sub-station, with the exception of a $75,000 deductible. It’s not still known what the final cost will be for the cleanup and repair work throughout the building.

A consultant’s report from February uncovered numerous problems with electrical and mechanical facilities. Abele says the report will be reviewed.

Skydive instructor dead after plunge into lake

OSHKOSH -- The body of a skydiving instructor from eastern Wisconsin was recovered late Tuesday, five hours after he and a student fell into a lake during a tandem jump.

A witness called 9-1-1 after seeing what was thought to be a flipped kayak on Lake Butte des Morts west of Oshkosh. It was actually a parachute.

Authorities said the skydiving instructor from Omro and his student were blown off course as severe weather was approaching, and both fell into the lake from 10,000 feet in the air. The student safely swam to shore. Rescue divers began searching the lake for the instructor around 1 p.m. His body was found just before 5:25.

The teacher worked for Para-Naut Incorporated of Omro. His name was not immediately released.

Boy drowns while swimming with brother in storm pond

HILBERT -- An 11-year-old boy drowned while he and his brother were swimming in a storm-water retention pond at Hilbert in eastern Wisconsin.

Calumet County rescue divers and by-standers helped search for Jacob Meronek of Hilbert starting around 4 p.m.

Jacob was later found in about 8 feet of water, and he died about an hour later at a hospital in Chilton.

Sheriff’s deputies said the victim and his younger nine-year-old brother were swimming when Jacob went under and never surfaced.

-- Damon Ryan, WOMT, Manitowoc

Researcher expected to plead in academic theft case

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee researcher is expected to plead guilty to a reduced charge today, after he was accused of stealing a potential cancer-fighting chemical.

Authorities said Hua Jun Zhao stole three vials of the compound, plus academic research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Officials said he was planning to introduce both the chemical and the research as his own in China.

The 42-year-old Zhao had earlier pleaded innocent to a federal indictment for tampering with a private computer and lying to a federal agent. He struck a plea deal in which he’ll plead guilty to accessing a computer without authorization.

The thefts occurred in February, when Zhao did research work at the Medical College.

Prosecutors said he wanted to take the materials to China, where he’s listed as an assistant professor at Zhejiang University.

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