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Walker unveils plans to curb public assistance fraud; Town of Gordon firehall destroyed; More state news briefs

A firefighter sprays water onto a burning fire truck that was pulled from the burning Gordon fire hall Thursday afternoon. The fire hall was destroyed and the department lost six fire trucks and all its personal protection gear. Photos by Steve Kuchera, Duluth News-Tribune.1 / 2
A firefighter walks past the burned out Gordon fire hall Thursday. 2 / 2

Gov. Scott Walker has announced a half dozen policy changes aimed at curbing fraud in Wisconsin's public assistance programs.

The governor ordered yesterday that the Department of Health Services provide stronger oversight. That was after it was learned that regulators don't ask self-employed applicants about all their income in determining eligibility for things like food stamps.

The new policies include a reinstating of asset limits for persons seeking food aid, forcing self-employed people to provide tax returns with their aid applications and sharing more data among state agencies.

Walker said he also wants to create a fraud prevention task force.

Eventually he wants to discuss with federal officials the idea of giving states incentives to sign up as many people on public aid as possible. Wisconsin has been among the national leaders in cashing in on those incentives. Walker said the bonus money should also be based on the amount of individual gain those benefits provide.

Deputy Health Services Secretary Kevin Moore told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the state cannot beef up antifraud efforts on its own since federal funds pay for most public assistance benefits. He also said progress is being made in identifying fraud, and the state has already brought back a work requirement for food stamps similar to what the U.S. House narrowly approved yesterday.


Fire station, trucks lost in north woods blaze

The Douglas County town of Gordon has lost its fire station in the area's second devastating blaze this year.

In May the station was the command post for a massive forest fire in northwest Wisconsin that destroyed 17 homes. Yesterday, the fire station itself went up in flames. Gordon's volunteer firefighters responded around noon only to see their equipment burning. They had to wait for surrounding departments to help.

Gordon Fire Chief Mike Chmielecki said small explosions were heard in the station. When he got there, smoke and flames were already spewing out.

Six fire trucks were destroyed, along with a snowmobile and other emergency vehicles. No injuries were reported.

Gordon Constable George Booth said the cause of the blaze is not known. It started just before a lightning storm got there.

The chief said the surrounding fire departments will continue to serve Gordon for now under a mutual aid agreement. Douglas County officials said the state fire chiefs' association would ask its members for surplus gear that can be provided for Gordon.

The town is located about 35 miles south of Superior.


Officer cleared in hitchhiker’s death

No charges will be filed against a Douglas County sheriff's lieutenant who shot a distraught hitchhiker to death almost nine months ago.

District Attorney Dan Blank said yesterday that Lt. Christopher Hoyt was faced with a deadly threat, and he acted reasonably when he shot and killed Andrew Closson, 21.

Closson was hitchhiking New Year's Day on Hwy. 53 about 40 miles south of Superior. Blank said Hoyt stopped his squad car and told Closson to show his hands. Closson then pointed a deer rifle, and the officer then shot the man three times.

News reports at the time indicated that Closson was distraught over his ex-girlfriend, and he snapped at a New Year's Eve party at his father's house in Gordon because nobody would lend him a car to go see the woman. Reports said Closson fired a couple shots in his dad's house and possibly outside the home. No one was hurt in those shootings.



Trevino trial opens will allegations of jealousy, rage

Prosecutors say the murder of a Wausau area native was all about rage, jealousy and deception by her husband in a marriage that was on the rocks.

Testimony began Thursday in the trial of Jeffrey Trevino, who's charged with killing his wife Kira at their home in St. Paul in February.

Ramsey County prosecutor Andrew Johnson told jurors that Kira wanted to separate, but her husband didn't want to let her go while she was having an affair. Johnson said over 150 small spots of blood evidence were found on the couple's box spring on their bed.

Defense lawyer John Conard said “less than a thimble” of Kira Steger Trevino's blood was found in the house. He said the couple lived in a rental home with dirty and stained carpets throughout.

Kira's sister, two co-workers and a waitress testified for the prosecution yesterday. They said Kira became unhappy with her marriage late last year, and the waitress said the couple appeared “awkward” when she served them dinner.

Kira went missing in late February. Her body was found in early May in the Mississippi River. Her husband's trial is expected to run for at least two more weeks.


Man accused of molesting children at day care

A northeast Wisconsin man is due back in court Oct. 9 on charges that he molested young children at his mother's child care center.

Forest County prosecutors said William Anderson, 39, of Crandon committed a number of sexual assaults between January and Sept. 11. The victims were reported to be four to six years old.

A $50,000 cash bond was set for Anderson. He's charged with six felony counts of exposure and repeated child sex assaults.


Heavy rains, winds hit southern Wisconsin

It was southern Wisconsin's turn to get hit with severe thunderstorms Thursday.

Major tree damage was reported from Hartford to about three miles southwest of that community.

Nearly 2 1/5 inches of rain fell near La Grange in Walworth County. Madison officially had 1.9 inches, which broke an 82-year-old rainfall record for the date. The National Weather Service said drivers on Madison's west side had flood waters up to their headlights during the late afternoon rush hour.

High winds were reported throughout southern Wisconsin, peaking at 65 mph near Monroe. Trees and power lines fell in Iowa County.

A separate wave of storms at mid-day yesterday caused some damage in Burnett County. A dock with an attached pontoon boat both flipped over on Lower Clam Lake near Siren.

It stayed somewhat muggy overnight. Temperatures were generally in the 60's at 5 a.m. today. Lone Rock had 69.

Lingering showers are moving out today as a cold front moves through. Mostly clear and cooler weather is in the forecast for the weekend. It might not reach 60 tomorrow anywhere in Wisconsin. Frost is expected tomorrow night in central and northeast areas with patchy frost elsewhere. It could be a few degrees warmer on Sunday, rising into the upper 60's.


State’s milk production slows

Milk production kept rising in Wisconsin last month but not as much as elsewhere.

According to the USDA, Wisconsin dairy cows made just over 2.33 billion pounds of milk in August – 1.7% more than the same month a year ago.

The 23 major dairy states saw their output rise by 2.7% to a total of 15.7 billion pounds. California, the nation's top producer, also had a 2.7% jump. The Golden State made almost 3.4 billion pounds of milk in August. Florida had the largest year-to-year increase at 6.9%. New Mexico had the biggest decrease, at 1.2%.


After 39 years in mental wards, man who killed two cops will be released

A man who spent 39 years in mental wards for killing two Waukesha County police officers is expected to be freed today -- 21 years after he could have gone free had he been sent to prison.

A judge tentatively approved Alan Randall's release a month ago, but it was delayed so the state could find housing for him. Randall is now 55.

A jury found him not guilty by insanity in the 1975 killings of Summit police officers Rocky Atkins and Wayne Olson, but doctors later concluded that Randall did not have a mental illness.

Because of the parole rules at the time, Randall could have been freed as early as 1992 had his jury sent him to prison instead of a mental institution. He tried going free in 1989, but the State Supreme Court eventually ruled that he could be held in a mental institution -- even without a mental illness -- if there's a threat that he could kill again.

In Randall's trial, prosecutors never challenged the defense's claim that Randall was a paranoid schizophrenic when he killed the two officers.


State Science Festival starts next week

Organizers are gearing up for the Wisconsin Science Festival which begins next Thursday at UW-Madison.

The four-day event is headquartered at the UW Institutes for Discovery, and a number of activities are planned across the state. You'll find a complete list online at

Live science fiction radio broadcasts will be featured along with a demonstration on the physics of football, a dozen food science activities and much more. Pulitzer Prize-winning mystery author Deborah Blum will be on hand along with Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann and Ira Flatow, the host of "Science Friday" on National Public Radio.

UW-Madison, the Morgridge Institute for Research and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation are the festival's main producers.