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Poll hints few Wisconsinites think prison system is effective; weekend accidents claim several lives; more state news

MILWAUKEE -- A recent statewide poll gave ammunition to those seeking reforms in Wisconsin prisons.

According to the new Marquette Law School poll, only one of every five registered voters thought the prison system was doing a good or excellent job of turning inmates into productive members of society. WISDOM, a coalition of churches, recently renewed its campaign to encourage putting more prisoners on parole, allowing early releases to elderly inmates and ending solitary confinement.

Rev. Jerry Hancock, who heads a prison ministry project in Madison, tells the Associated Press that the poll reflects a general feeling that the system is failing. However, he admits that those answering the poll probably don't have a strong knowledge of the state's rehabilitation efforts.

Wisconsin prisons have more than 22,000 inmates, but the numbers of repeat offenders in prisons have generally been dropping over the last 20 years.

Corrections' officials have started to work with mental health experts and other states to give inmates in solitary confinement more rehab.

Gov. Scott Walker opposes early release programs, but has said he's willing to consider more alternatives to sending certain offenders to prison.

With primary looming, candidates switch parties to target Duffy

The fall primary elections are two weeks from Tuesday and two candidates have switched parties to try and defeat Wausau House Republican Sean Duffy.

Don Raihala got 15 percent of the primary vote in 2010, when he ran as a Democrat for the Seventh District House seat. He'll face Duffy in the GOP primary on Aug. 12.

Mike Krsiean has run as both a Republican and Libertarian for the north central Wisconsin House seat. This time, he'll run as a Democrat to take on Ashland City Council member Kelly Westlund who's been endorsed by a number of groups including the Sierra Club and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Duffy seeks a third two-year term in the House. He replaced retiring Democrat Dave Obey almost four years ago.

Meanwhile, about 100 motorcyclists joined Gov. Scott Walker on a ride in the southeast third of Wisconsin. Walker has taken previous motorcycle trips throughout the state to promote Milwaukee County when he was the county executive.

This past weekend's truncated version highlighted the Republican governor's re-election campaign. On Saturday, Walker and his supporters rode from Kenosha to Rothschild, near Wausau. On Sunday, they headed south to Fond du Lac, and then to Madison. At Fond du Lac, it was raining heavily when they stopped at the city Harley-Davidson dealership.

Walker said that as he meets voters, he hopes they'll realize the state is better off today than four years ago.

Walker is in a tight re-election battle with Democrat Mary Burke. Last week's Marquette law school poll gave Walker a one-point lead among registered voters, and Burke a one-point lead among likely voters -- although about half of those polled still didn't know enough about the challenger to form an opinion about her.

Improved rail service needed in NE Wisconsin say trade groups

The wood products industry in northern Wisconsin needs more rail service to ship its goods, at a time when railroads have been pulling out of the region.

The pro-business Walker administration does not have many answers on this one.

State Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb says his agency knows the concerns. However, he told the Northwoods Rail Transit Commission in Rhinelander that state dollars are very limited and with new highways and mass transit competing for those dollars, the key is to set priorities that best serve the state as a whole.

Also, Gottlieb says there's not much the state can do to stop railroads from abandoning shorter lines. The Canadian National is seeking federal approval to abandon a rail line from Crandon to Argonne.

Since the railroads were deregulated, Gottlieb says they're investing in more profitable locations. That leaves out much of sparsely-populated northern Wisconsin, and Gottlieb agrees that it's hurting the region's effort to grow its economy.

The Transit Commission is trying to acquire rail cars to make it more feasible for a railroad to operate in the Northwoods. The panel says many wood products' firms would like to ship by rail because it's cheaper than trucking -- and it's less damaging to the highways.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

Storms batter Wisconsin Rapids, pelt Sheboygan with 1-inch hail

Two bands of thunderstorms rumbled through Wisconsin Sunday causing some damage.

The Wisconsin Rapids area received tennis-ball-sized hail early in the day. A storage shed was damaged and some trees fell in Arpin, almost 15 miles northwest of Rapids.

The second band of storms went through Sunday afternoon. Jackson in Washington County had winds close to 50 miles an hour, causing a large tree branch to fall at West Bend.

Sheboygan reported one-inch hail. Parts of far northeast Wisconsin had small hail. Some areas of Wisconsin had more than a half-inch of rain.

After the storms cleared out, cooler air moved in from the north. Parts of northern Wisconsin dropped into the mid-40's as of 4 a.m., Monday.

A dry and pleasant day was in store for most of the Badger State, with highs in the 70's under clear to partly cloudy skies.

Milwaukee urges heightened surveilance on religious sites

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee County sheriff is asking people to watch for criminal activity at local religious sites, in the wake of new hostilities in the Middle East.

On Monday morning, Israeli jets made three air strikes in Gaza, after a rocket was launched at Israel. That broke a period of relative calm in the region, as a major Muslim holiday was getting started and a cease-fire had been called.

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke says there's a potential for vandalism to synagogues, mosques, and temples as a form of protest.

Clarke said residents should call law enforcement if they see any suspicious activity, especially at night or other times when nobody's around to worship.

Interstate 'cycle chase ends in Hudson with apparent crash

Minnesota and Wisconsin authorities are investigating a motorcyclist who led police on a high-speed chase in St. Paul, and later crashed in St. Croix County.

The incident began just after 9 p.m., Sunday when a Minnesota state trooper tried to stop the biker for speeding on I-94, just west of downtown Saint Paul.

A chase ensued at speeds up to 120 mph.

When the biker entered Wisconsin, St. Croix County authorities decided not to continue the chase.

Officers were later called to a motorcycle crash in the city of Hudson and they discovered that the rider was the same one involved in the chase but he apparently escaped on foot.

More details will be posted in a separate story when they become available.

Elderly woman struck, killed by train

WISCONSIN RAPIDS -- Wisconsin Rapids Police want to hear from eyewitnesses who may have seen an elderly woman get struck and killed by a Canadian National freight train.

Officials said the woman was trying to cross the tracks while walking west near the city's downtown about 3:15 Sunday afternoon. She died at the scene.

Police said the crossing had lights and safety arms, and both were working. Also, the train's horn was functional.

The incident remains under investigation. The woman's name has not been released.

Foul play not suspected in woman's death

SHAWANO -- Authorities say there's no evidence of foul play in the death of a missing woman in Shawano County.

Sheriff's deputies found the body of the 44-year-old Green Bay woman Sunday afternoon, north of Shawano near County Trunk Double-"H" in the town of Washington.

She was found in a wooded area near a home where she was staying. The cause of the death remains under investigation. The woman's name was not immediately released.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Distracted driving blamed for cyclist's death

RIPON -- Investigators said driver was looking down toward the radio when his car rear-ended a motorcycle and killed the biker.

The accident occurred about 3:30 a.m., Sunday near Ripon on Highway 44. Both vehicles were southbound.

The motorcyclist, a 35-year-old Ripon man, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The car driver, a 25-year-old Green Lake man, escaped injury.

Fond du Lac County sheriff's deputies continue to investigate.

Drowning claims 56-year-old swimmer

MINOCQUA -- Police in northern Wisconsin say alcohol might have played a role in the weekend drowning of a West Bend man.

Minocqua Police said Russell Steiner, 56, was struggling in Lake Shishebogama, located west of Hwy. 51 near Woodruff, when rescuers were called late Saturday morning.

Family members pulled Steiner from the water when first-responders arrived and performed CPR.

Steiner was taken to an area hospital where he died Sunday morning. An investigation continues.

-- Mike Michalak, WHDG, Rhinelander

Woman dies after she's pinned by overturned lawn mower

JANESVILLE -- A woman may have been trapped for up to 20 minutes under a riding lawn mower before somebody saw and tried freeing her.

The woman died from the weekend mishap, which occurred in the Rock County town of Janesville.

Sheriff's officials said the 65-year-old woman was mowing near a small culvert when she drove too close to the incline, and the machine overturned onto her.

After the witness tried freeing the woman by using a car to push over the mower, rescuers completed the job and took her to a Janesville hospital. She died there a short time later.

The victim's name was not immediately released.

Trial begins fror woman accused of kidnapping, abandoning infant nephew

MADISON -- A federal court trial was scheduled to begin Monday for Kristen Smith, the woman accused of kidnapping her baby nephew near Beloit, and leaving him in a crate behind a gas station in Iowa in sub-zero temperatures.

Prosecutors said Smith kidnapped five-day-old Kayden Powell in February and started driving to her home in Colorado. Officers arrested Smith the same day at an Interstate gas station at West Branch, Iowa.

The infant was not with Smith at the time but he was later found freezing behind another nearby gas station.

The child survived despite being left in the cold for more than a full day. Smith is charged with one federal count of kidnapping.

If convicted, she'll face up to life in prison with a mandatory minimum of 25 years.

EAA show underway at Oshkosh

OSHKOSH -- One of the world's largest aviation conventions got into full swing Monday in Oshkosh.

The Experimental Aircraft Association's week-long Air-Venture Show takes place at Wittman Airport.

On Sunday, a short ceremony was held to honor EAA founder Paul Poberezny, who died a few weeks after last year's show at age 91. Poberezny's story will be featured all week at the EAA Welcome Center for the thousands attending the Air-Venture Show.

The airplanes that circle the parachute team which opens the daily air shows will have a salute to Poberezny -- as well as a dinner Tuesday evening for EAA lifetime members.

This year's highlight is a performance by the Air Force Thunderbirds, who will make their first appearance at Oshkosh thanks to an expansion of the flight zone which they use to perform. The crowd line is also being adjusted to accommodate the Thunderbirds.

For an updated schedule of daily events, visit