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Mom claims husband didn’t start fire that killed kids; Mining company might not use blasting to sample rock; eight more state stories

A relative has doubts about Sharon Wand’s dramatic recanting of her statement to police which implicated her husband and cousin in last year’s fire in Argyle that killed four of Wand’s children.

Wand, 27, wrote letters to newspapers in Madison and Monroe to say that Armin and Jeremy Wand never set the fire.

But after the letters were made public yesterday, her younger sister – Amy Peterson of Necedah – told the Wisconsin State Journal that Sharon is a gullible domestic violence victim whose husband Armin is controlling her from prison.

Armin was sentenced to three life terms. His brother Jeremy has asked to withdraw his recent guilty pleas in the fire last September that killed three of Armin Wand’s children in the house and an unborn baby as Sharon was fleeing.

Peterson said Sharon recently visited her husband in prison to seek closure with the divorce about to become final. Instead, her sister said, Armin was “lovey-dovey with her” and used the same controlling techniques he used during their marriage to convince her that he was innocent.

“She wanted to believe he didn’t do it when she knows he did,” said Peterson.

Sharon Wand has returned to a mental health facility in Platteville after being away for a few weeks. Peterson said her sister had refused to take her medicines and was not talking to her doctors.

Meanwhile, both convicts are now trying to get their charges dropped in light of Sharon’s recanting. Attorneys on all sides are not commenting.


Mining company may not use blasting to sample rock

Gogebic Taconite now says it might not have to use explosives in the next phase of its preliminary work for its new iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

The company issued a response this week to concerns the state Department of Natural Resources raised almost a month ago about the sampling of underground rock at the site.

The company says it will examine much of the rocks left behind from a 1960 U.S. Steel mining operation. If the review is successful, the firm it would create fewer sampling sites with no need for blasting.

The company said it would create a 300-foot safety perimeter with fencing to keep people away from the heavy equipment and possible blasting.

The DNR had also ordered Gogebic to outline its plans to restore the sampling sites and reestablish vegetation. Much of the land is in the state’s Managed Forest program. That means the public can hunt, fish, hike and cross-country ski on the land, but they cannot bike, camp or drive motor vehicles there.


Army Ranger who lost left hand in war accuses FBI of discrimination

Oak Creek native Justin Slaby is expected to testify today in his discrimination case against the FBI.

It’s the fourth day of a trial in which Slaby, 30, claims he was illegally denied the chance to become an FBI agent in 2011 due to his disability. The former Army Ranger was training for his fourth tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan when he lost his left hand as a faulty grenade blew up.

Yesterday, FBI firearms instructor Nathan Williams testified that Slaby was a top student in firearms classes, but he could not handle a weapon safely enough with the prosthesis on his left hand. Williams admitted that instructors formed opinions about Slaby on the first day he arrived at the FBI’s training academy before they had the chance to see what he could do.

Slaby’s attorneys have been trying to make the case all week that he was unfairly prejudged. After Slaby testifies, the government is expected to make its case. The trial is being held in Alexandria, Va., close to where the training academy is located.


Kind votes against student interest rate package

Wisconsin Democrats Ron Kind and Mark Pocan were among a small minority of U.S. House of Representatives members who rejected a compromise bill on student loan interest rates.

The House voted 392 to 31 Wednesday in favor of a sliding scale of interest costs which rise as the economy gets better. The Senate passed the same measure last week. It now goes to President Obama, who expects to sign it.

Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore joined all five Wisconsin Republicans in voting yes.

Student loan interest automatically doubled last month to 6.8%, and supporters of the new bill say this fall’s students are getting a much better deal at 3.9%. Consumer groups say future students will pay dearly.

La Crosse Democrat Kind said the bill seeks to “balance our federal deficit on the backs of students.” He responded with a new bill in which profits from government student loans would go toward federal Pell grants for low-income students.

The congressional package includes caps that range from 8.25% for undergrads to 10.9% for parents. The Congressional Budget Office said it would be 10 years before the rates get that high.


Legislators look at tougher drunken-driving penalties

Tougher penalties for drunken drivers will be discussed today at the State Capitol.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on three bills proposed by Mequon Republican Jim Ott.

One measure calls for a mandatory prison sentence of at least 10 years for those convicted of homicide by drunken driving. Another bill increases the minimum jail sentence from 30 days to six months for causing an injury in a drunken driving crash. The third bill would make third and fourth OWI offenses felonies instead of misdemeanors.

Senate Republican Alberta Darling of River Hills has proposed the identical bills in her chambers. She and Ott have the spent the last couple years pushing for more jail and prison time for drunk drivers. Their earlier proposals ran into criticism due to the increased cost of housing more prisoners.


Hubertus man now charged with murder, false imprisonment

New charges were filed Wednesday against a Hubertus man accused of killing a 19-year-old woman in Hartford and attacking another woman in Richfield three days earlier.

Daniel Bartelt was already charged in Washington County with attempted homicide for the Richfield incident in which a woman was attacked with a knife on July 12 at the Richfield Historical Nature Park.

Three new charges accuse him of strangling 19-year-old Jessie Blodgett, who was found dead at her parents’ house in Hartford July 15. The new counts are for first-degree intentional homicide, false imprisonment and reckless endangerment.

Bartelt and Blodgett are longtime friends who spent time together the past few months. Investigators said Bartelt denied being involved in Blodgett’s death at first, but his DNA was later found on the victim’s hair and on the rope and electrical tape reportedly used in the strangling.

In court yesterday, a judge raised Bartelt’s bond from $150,000 to $750,000. His attorney also raised concerns about Bartelt’s mental competency. The judge ordered an exam, and the results will be reviewed at the next hearing in the case on Sept. 4.


Weather credited with decline in traffic deaths

Wisconsin traffic deaths are down by about 15% this year, partially because of all the rain and cool temperatures we’ve had.

State Department of Transportation crash analyst Don Lyden said the weather has kept motorcycles at home. As a result, 43 people have been killed this year in Wisconsin motorcycle mishaps as of Tuesday – down from 61 at the same time in 2012.

Overall, the state has had 333 traffic deaths from New Year’s Day through July 30. That’s 52 less than the previous year.

Also, Lyden says we’re not seeing as many multiple victims in crashes as we did in 2012 when one mishap had five people killed.

The main causes of traffic deaths are speeding, alcohol and not wearing seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. Of the 281 deaths this year, the DOT says 60 involved alcohol and 74 involved speeding. Officials said 82 people killed in cars and light trucks were not buckled up and 78 were.

Traffic death totals for July are expected to be out within the next few days.


Software company announces plans to expand

Just months after saying it might have to leave Wisconsin, the educational software company Skyward unveiled plans Wednesday for a new headquarters complex in Stevens Point.

The firm plans to spend up to $30 million on a campus across from its current location in the Portage County Business Park. Company officials say it has the potential to create up to 700 new jobs.

Skyward develops student databases for local school districts. Last year, it lost out on a contract for a single statewide database. The firm appealed the rejection, and said it would move to Texas or Florida if it lost. It didn’t get that far, though, because the state Legislature stepped in and allowed more than one company to supply the new state database – thus keeping Skyward in the loop.

Company officials thanked lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker yesterday for their help. Walker said Skyward is enjoying tremendous growth, and the home-grown Stevens Point firm has showed a strong commitment to remain in Wisconsin.

Skyward has 388 jobs around the country now. The firm expects that number to grow to over 670 employees in five years and over 1,000 in 10 years.


Milwaukee man gets 6-year term for beating toddler to death

A Milwaukee man was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison for beating his ex-girlfriend’s daughter to death.

Desmond Cornelius, 27, was also told to spend seven years under extended supervision. He and the girl’s mother were both on trial when they decided to strike a plea deal and were convicted on reduced charges.

Authorities said Cornelius repeatedly beat two-year-old Adrianna Neal. She died in 2011 after getting three broken ribs, a broken hand, multiple bruises and a perforated intestine.

The girl’s mother, Tammy Silva, 26, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of child neglect causing bodily harm, plus counts of intimidating a victim and a witness. She’ll be sentenced on Aug. 12.

State and Milwaukee County child welfare officials had received a half dozen complaints of maltreatment by Adrianna’s parents. The state ruled that Cornelius repeatedly abused the girl physically, and Silva neglected her.

A state agency was also investigating the alleged neglect of Adrianna’s now five-year-old sister when the death occurred. That case remains open. The sister and two brothers are now in foster care


Couple gives $2 million to Wartburg College

A Door County couple has given $2 million to a Lutheran college in Iowa.

Mike and Marge McCoy of Ellison Bay created an endowment fund for a special faculty member at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. The instructor will be in the school’s religion and philosophy department and part of McCoy Family Distinguished Chair in Lutheran Heritage and Mission.

The McCoys have two children who are Wartburg graduates.

The gift is Wartburg’s largest ever from a person or a couple who made a direct donation instead of leaving it behind in an estate. Wartburg has about 1,750 students. It’s affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.