'Little Free Libraries' now international; Farmer cites religious beliefs in raw milk case; Janesville native to be brigadier general; more briefsWisconsin News
Investigation into policewomen's murder continues. Longer wait wanted for double-dipping public retirees.‘Little Free Libraries’ go international. Raw milk case drags on.
WAUWATOSA -- Folks in Wauwatosa had heavy hearts on Christmas Day as police pursued what they called “multiple investigative leads” in Monday’s murder of Officer Jennifer Sebena.
She was found shot to death around 5 a.m., two hours after she failed to respond to a radio call from a dispatcher.
The state Department of Justice is heading up the investigation. There were no suspects at last word, and Wauwatosa police have asked for the public’s help.
Until now, the community of 46,000 has never had a police officer killed on duty in the department’s 90-year history.
Sebena would have celebrated her second anniversary on the Wauwatosa police force next month. She had been on solo patrols since July.
Sex offender notice has gotten calmer over the last 15 years
APPLETON -- It’s been 15 years since Wisconsin legally recognized that the public has a right to know where convicted sex offenders are living.
A process that was once marked by tense public meetings has evolved into a much calmer process in which the public can use the Internet to keep closer tabs on sex offenders in their neighborhoods. Officials say there’s been a grudging acceptance by people to the idea that sex offenders have a right to live someplace after they’ve done their prison time.
When the notification law was first passed, residents who were about to become neighbors with sex offenders got into shouting matches with officials at meetings about the offenders’ placements.
Appleton Police Sergeant Polly Olson said very few people now attend such meetings and those attending have gotten a lot quieter.
In many cases meetings are not even held -- schools and neighborhoods get more targeted notifications nowadays while residents use several state Websites to stay informed.
Senator wants longer wait for retired public employees who return to old jobs
GREEN BAY -- Green Bay Senator Rob Cowles wants to reduce the practice of “double dipping” -- in which retirees return to their jobs later and then draw both a pension and a paycheck.
Right now, employees must be retired for at least 30 days before they can come back. Cowles wants to extend the waiting period to between 90 and 120 days. Officials say retirees often come back because it takes longer than expected to hire their replacements.
Cowles says his measure would give agencies more incentives to step up their hiring processes and bring in replacements quicker.
A state audit recently showed that 2,800 state and local public workers retired, came back and then got pensions and paychecks at the same time.
Cowles also says the state needs to have clear policies in place for investigating cases in which employees retired with a promise to be rehired later. Those arrangements are illegal.
Media reports said a former UW-Green Bay official was able to pre-arrange a return after retiring in 2011 in protest of Gov. Scott Walker’s actions to public workers.
One-car crash claims woman’s life in Milwaukee on Christmas night
MILWAUKEE -- Reports of a woman’s death in a one-car crash in Milwaukee on Christmas night were confirmed by the county medical examiner’s office.
Most details were not immediately available, but reports said the woman was a passenger in a vehicle and the driver was taken to a hospital.
Wisconsinites enjoyed sunny Christmas
Kids who got sleds for Christmas had a great opportunity to use them on the holiday. It was sunny throughout Wisconsin with highs ranging from 30 in Shawano to 9 above at New Richmond.
This morning, temperatures vary widely from north to south. It was minus 3 at 6 a.m. at Hayward and Phillips in far northern Wisconsin, while the southern part of the state basked in the 20’s.
Milwaukee and Kenosha were the warm spots with 29 degrees. It’s not supposed to get much warmer in those places today.
The weather is not supposed to change much until Friday when a weak low-pressure system will bring light snow to much of Wisconsin. Slightly colder temperatures are expected for the weekend.
Raw milk case drags on; farmer says religious beliefs forced him to disregard order
LOGANVILLE -- It’s been almost 13 months since a Sauk County farmer was charged with illegally selling raw milk, and it appears that Vernon Hershberger’s case will drag on into 2013.
A trial was set for Jan. 7, but the Loganville dairy farmer has raised a First Amendment issue involving religious freedom.
His lawyer notes that Hershberger’s religious beliefs do not allow taking someone to court so he had to disregard a holding order that the state agriculture department placed on him. Prosecutors say they need time to respond, and a new trial date could be set when the parties meet again on Jan. 4.
Hershberger is charged in Sauk County with three misdemeanor counts of operating food and dairy facilities without a license and violating a hold order placed on his products following a 2010 raid on his property.
The raid occurred around the time that state lawmakers voted to allow raw milk sales with certain conditions, and former Gov. Jim Doyle had vetoed it. Hershberger says he’s not selling anything illegally, claiming his customers are “food club members” and therefore they own the business.
Janesville native about to be promoted to brigadier general
JANESVILLE -- Army Colonel Andrew Poppas, 46, from Janesville, has been nominated by President Obama for promotion to brigadier general.
Poppas has spent the last seven months as the deputy operations commander for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky – a post that’s normally reserved for a brigadier general.
Poppas most recently served abroad in Afghanistan for a one-year tour which ended in May 2011. He’s scheduled to return to Afghanistan in February.
Poppas graduated from Janesville Craig High School in 1984.
At Neenah, kids will eventually play in a spot where police officers once practiced shooting skills
NEENAH -- The city recently voted to spend $75,000 to remove contaminated soil on 12 acres where Neenah police had a shooting range for about 50 years.
Police Lt. Jeff Malcore said it’s a small price to pay, considering all the years that his department was able to use the site for free. The land, recently owned by the late John and Inez Noffke, was donated to the town of Clayton by their estate.
Once the land is cleaned up it will be turned into a public park. Neenah officials have until May of 2014 to remove lead contaminants from the police bullets.
Brown Co. sheriff's deputy cleared of wrongdoing in high-speed chase crash
GREEN BAY -- Brown County prosecutors said a sheriff’s deputy did nothing wrong when he chased down a stolen car at 90 mph and struck another vehicle in which a woman was critically injured.
District Attorney David Lasee said Deputy Rueben Meisner did not commit recklessness or criminal negligence in the July 7 incident on the Hwy. 41 expressway near Green Bay.
Authorities said after stolen car got into a hit-and-run crash in Oconto County, officers chased the vehicle south into Brown County before Meisner’s squad car swerved to avoid spike sticks that another deputy laid on the road to try to stop the offending driver.
The squad car slammed into a vehicle driven by Michelle Lecker, 27, of Milwaukee. Her fiancé had minor injuries. Meisner, who’s 54, returned to duty after being injured.
Reports said Lecker went through several months of rehab and treatments and has filed papers indicating that she may seek her medical payments in a civil lawsuit.
Wabasha OKs permanent frac sand facility with conditions
WABASHA, MINN. -- The planning commission in Wabasha, Minn., has paved the way for a permanent facility to process $40 million worth of Wisconsin frac-sand each year.
The Superior Sand System will store silica sand, and load it onto rail cars for delivery to oil and gas drilling sites where the special frac-sand makes the fuel exploration process easier.
Some residents wanted Wabasha officials to order an environmental assessment, but the planning commission decided that a conditional use permit was enough. Officials imposed several conditions: sand suppliers cannot deliver more than 280 trucks per day to the processing unit, the sand cannot be chemically processed there, and it must follow all noise limits.
The company says a temporarily facility will start operating in a few weeks. At that facility, trucks will load sand directly onto rail cars. A more permanent facility, including storage, is expected to be ready in a few months.
‘Little Free Library,’ started in Hudson three years ago, now in 36 countries
HUDSON -- It started in Hudson three years ago when Todd Bol set up a box called the “Little Free Library” as a tribute to his mother. He filled it with books and invited his neighbors to borrow them. It wasn’t too long before it became a gathering spot for people.
One of Bol’s friends tried the same thing in Madison, it got the same response, and more of the Little Free Libraries popped up.
Now they’ve spread to 36 countries as a number of groups have adopted the book-sharing concept as a way to promote literacy in underdeveloped places.
Bol and his friends run a workshop near Hudson and sell the wooden boxes online. Schools have especially promoted the “take-a-book, return-a-book” concept. Officials say the books are rarely stolen -- and they always seem to come back, as sponsors have seen in a high-crime neighborhood in St. Paul.
Most of Bol’s revenue comes from the sale of little library boxes. He was granted $70,000 from the AARP which encourages seniors to read to children.
Bol said the group wants to stay non-profit and develop stable management systems so it can keep growing.
Some Medicare plans in Wisconsin don't cover pre-transplant treatments
MADISON -- Diabetics are caught in the middle as regional Medicare contractors are split on whether to cover a treatment that could give kidney transplants to more patients in Wisconsin.
One of the state’s largest health insurers, WPS of Madison, is directly involved in the issue.
Susan McInerney, 51, of Michigan has been on dialysis for six years and could not get a kidney transplant because her antibody levels are too high. For almost a year, McInerney was given a treatment to reduce those antibodies, thus making her a better candidate for a transplant.
Medicare covered her treatments until last summer when Michigan changed Medicare contractors. The new one, WPS, said the treatments were experimental and should not be covered by Medicare.
McInerney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it cut off her “saving grace.” The treatments involve higher doses of intravenous immunoglobulin. Some doctors have questioned their effectiveness, and several transplant centers have stopped providing them.
Doctors in Michigan and Indiana who were giving the treatments have asked WPS to reconsider and cover them.
Christmas morning fire claims life in Racine County
MT. PLEASANT -- Authorities in Racine County are trying to determine what caused a house fire that killed a person just after 12:20 a.m. on Christmas morning.
Firefighters were called to a one-story structure in Mount Pleasant with flames and heavy smoke pouring out of it.
It took firefighters about 15 minutes to find the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
South Shore battalion chief Steve Salvo said it was not immediately certain whether the victim occupied the house or had permission to be there.
He said neighbors had indicated that the most recent occupants moved to Texas, even though there was still some furniture inside.
The victim was badly burned, and the person’s name was not immediately released.
Salvo said the blaze did not appear to have been caused by a candle or careless smoking, and there appeared to be some type of extenuating circumstances.
Program makes jail visits easier for kids
MADISON -- Sheriff’s officials know it’s never easy for kids to visit their parents who are behind bars, especially at Christmastime. So in Madison, all children who visit the Dane County Jail have been getting a stuffed animal and a new book as part of a program called “Books and Bears.”
Sgt. Michael Connors said jail visits are especially scary for some youngsters. He said the books and stuffed animals make it more comfortable for the children, giving them a positive encounter with officers, and it brightens the holidays for the families. Community donations provide the funding.