Weather Forecast


NR aeronautics firm is among 3 Brightstar maiden grants; law-makers try to wrap up pending bills; 10 more state stories

NR aeronautics firm is among 3 Brightstar maiden grants; law-makers try to wrap up pending bills; 10 more state stories

MILWAUKEE -- The BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Inc. announced Monday that its investment committee has authorized the funding of its first three early stage Wisconsin companies, including a start-up based in New Richmond.

The companies receiving the BrightStar investments are Engineered Propulsion Systems Inc., New Richmond; Stemina Biomarker Discovery Inc., Madison; and 425 Inc., Mount Pleasant. These initial investments total more than $250,000.

The specific grant amount to EPS wasn't specified.

The companies were first screened for their ability to create a sufficient number of quality jobs and then must pass the committee’s investment criteria for their stage of development.

General Aviation News reported last summer that EPS was making “significant technical progress” in the development of its new water-cooled Vision 350 flat V, 350-hp diesel engine for general aviation. The firm has successfully tested new turbochargers, conducted high-altitude tests in Colorado, passed propeller vibration tests, evaluated steel pistons and new materials for its crankcase blocks.

The development of steel pistons will allow increased takeoff horsepower from the twin-turbocharged powerplant. Additional engine strength is provided through the use of engine block halves of high-strength compacted graphite iron, according to company officials.

“Our Vision 350 is new from the ground up,” Michael Fuchs, EPS president and CEO. “The aero-engine industry has been resting on 60-year-old design technology; we think we offer a new and viable alternative in our horsepower range for many airframe types and configurations. And being a diesel, fuel will be more available internationally, whether it is pure kerosene or Jet A. Right now, fuel efficiency is proving out at nearly 30-50 percent better than six-cylinder (aviation) gas engines.”

“Every step we take in development of this engine is deliberate and without undue haste,’’ says Steven Weinzierl, EPS vice-president and chief technology officer. “We want to make sure we progress, not regress, along the path to certification."

Also important to the design of the Vision 350 diesel engine is its ability to accept aluminum propellers, according to company officials.

Another firm receiving a grant -- 425 Inc., manufactures the "Guardian Angel", a small, wearable lighted device, designed to be worn on the shoulder epaulette of an officer’s uniform, and Stemina Biomarker Discovery Inc. Stemina uses metabolomics to map biology and discover biomarkers which can help detect birth defects and other chronic health conditions.

BrightStar is a 501(c)(3)-designated non-profit foundation created to facilitate job creation and increase Wisconsin’s economic activity by deploying donated funds into equity stakes in early stage rapid growth companies. The approach is enabling the formation of new investment capital in Wisconsin through tax-deductable donations to the foundation.

For more information on EPS, visit

Flurry of action expected on bills concerning heroin use, domestic abuse and trophy-poaching

MADISON -- Another busy day is in store at the State Capitol, as lawmakers scramble to act on numerous bills in their final meetings of the two-year session.

The Assembly was scheduled to take final action on Gov. Scott Walker's half-billion-dollar tax cut package. The lower house was also to act on a bill to end the 180-day mandate for Wisconsin public schools, allowing for fewer and longer days to hold their required classroom hours.

Other bills up in the Assembly Tuesday would compensate Robert Stinson of Milwaukee up to $136,000 for his wrongful murder conviction, impose surcharges of up to $10,000 for illegally poaching trophy deer, and exempt shooting ranges from any new local ordinances.

The Senate also has a full calendar as well. It includes initial votes on two more bills to battle the state's growing problem with heroin abuse and penalize family members who help felons hide from the police.

The Assembly voted in February to end the long-time privilege that shields family members from charges of aiding and harboring felons thus allowing them to throw off police investigators and hide evidence.

Lawmakers say the bill applies only to the most serious crimes, like murder.

The Senate was also due to act on a watered-down plan to create a system in which prosecutors throughout the state can share information on domestic abuse suspects. The bill no longer requires police to explain themselves if they don't make arrests during domestic abuse calls. The Senate was also due to take up a drunk driving crackdown which requires at least a 30-day jail for someone who causes an injury while under the influence.

Further delay makes passage of chemo-funding bill more unlikely

MADISON -- A bill to make Wisconsin health insurers cover expensive chemotherapy pills has hit another roadblock.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos transferred the bill from the Health Committee to the insurance panel. It now needs a two-thirds majority to pass, since the bill has not been in its present committee for 21 days.

The Assembly only has two more meetings in the current session -- Tuesday and Thursday. Vos's action, coupled with a delay last week from Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald, appears to put another death knell into the chemo insurance bill.

Majorities in both houses say they support the measure. It would help cancer patients get medication at home with pills, instead of going to hospitals to recieve treatment via IV. It's not known why the leaders are holding it up.

Assembly Finance chair John Nygren of Marinette says the bill is not needed, because Obama-care limits individual out-of-pocket costs to $6,350 this year and cancer patients would pay at least that much for their chemo medicines anyway.

Gov. Scott Walker told reporters Monday he would not be surprised if lawmakers vote on the bill this week. Walker said he does not know enough about the issue to take a stand.

School task force recommendations not likely to address small-school brain-drain

Small-town school leaders say a state task force probably won't go far enough to meet their most critical needs -- like keeping their best teachers. The panel is expected to announce its recommendations in the next month.

Chairman Rob Swearingen says he knows that funding is a severe problem especially in places where voters keep refusing to raise taxes beyond state-mandated revenue limits. But Swearingen, an Assembly Republican from Rhinelander, says special funding for rural schools is not in the cards for now.

He says the group will most likely recommend things like higher state aid for rural busing costs, more access to high-speed Internet service, and incentives like forgiving loans so good teachers can afford to stay in small towns.

Recent media reports said the Act 10 collective bargaining limits have created a system in which smaller school districts set smaller teacher salaries. Royall Superintendent Mark Gruen says it drives away the best and brightest to bigger cities that can afford to pay more. He said the governor and Legislature need to create uniform salaries statewide.

Swearingen expects more substantive action in next year's legislative session.

Protests planned at Milwaukee McDonald's Tuesday

Milwaukee is among 30 U.S. cities where fast-food workers were expected to protest Tuesday against what they call "wage theft."

Organizers are targeting McDonald's, which was sued in three states last week. The accusations including docking paychecks for the cost of employee uniforms and making workers wait to clock-in, so restaurants can maintain a ratio of labor costs to their revenues.

McDonald's says it's investigating the allegations, and will take appropriate action.

Democrats and unions are among those supporting numerous worker protests over the past year -- part of a campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage. President Obama and Wisconsin Democrats are trying to pass bills to jack up the state- and federal minimum wages from $7.25- to $10.10 per hour.

The Wisconsin bill would phase-in the increase over two years -- but from all indications, it will die next month when the state legislative session officially ends.

Path to ice caves now officially closed

CORNUCOPIA -- Those who haven't seen the majestic Lake Superior ice caves by now, you're too late. The National Park Service closed the long ice walkway to the frozen Apostle Islands' sea caves near Bayfield early Monday.

Officials decided that the ice was no longer stable enough for visitors to walk on. This was the first time in five years the ice caves had been open to hikers.

The Park Service said about 138,000 people visited them during the past two months, compared with about 12,000 the last time they were open in 2009.

It was a different world back then, because social media like Facebook were not as immensely popular as they are now. Those sites let folks spread the news about the ice caves and then the traditional news media from the U.S. and abroad chronicled the phenomenon.

Because of that, the Park Service expects more kayakers to paddle to the sea caves this summer. There's also a rough hiking path atop the caves from Meyers Beach, where the ice cave hike began.

Longtime religion teacher, coach accused of child-porn possession

WAUSAU -- A long-time religion teacher, soccer coach and former officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve from Wausau was in jail at last word, accused of possessing child pornography.

Newman Catholic High School has put Michael Switalski, 50, on administrative leave. He appeared in court Monday on eight felony charges of possessing child porn. A $75,000 bond was ordered.

Switalski is due back in Marathon County Circuit Court a week from Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.

Authorities said they were tipped off after a Canadian business was shut down for selling child porn videos, and Switalski was found to be on its customer list. Investigators later seized almost 100 photos and a dozen DVD's.

Newman said none of the images were of any students at the school, where Switalski has coached the boys' soccer team for 20 years. His attorney asked for a signature bond, calling Switalski "a pillar of the community."

Circuit Judge Jill Falstad noted that he lives alone with no family in the area and a high bond was necessary to prevent him from missing future court appearances.

In a prepared statement, Newman officials said Switalski has successfully passed six routine criminal background checks since 2003 and is not suspected of misusing any computer or network connection at the school. School officials pledged to cooperate fully with the police investigation.

Officials with the U.S. Postal Service and the Wausau Police Department assisted in the investigation, according to the Wausau Daily Herald.

Switalski served for years as the director of campus ministry at Newman, where he has been a teacher for 22 years. He is a retired lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he served as a judge advocate officer. In October 1999, Switalski was honored with a Joint Service Achievement Medal by the Secretary of Defense and Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command, for his role as an international law adviser from October 1992 to March 1998.

A preliminary hearing has been set for March 26.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Major snowfall likely to blanket only the north

SULLIVAN -- Forecasters now say a major snowstorm should be limited to about the northern third of Wisconsin.

The National Weather Service has issued warnings and advisories from Wausau northward. Places along Lake Superior could be hit the hardest, with 8- to 12 inches in the forecast to fall before Wednesday night.

Other parts of the north and northwest can expect 3- to 6 inches. In the northeast, freezing rain could be mixed in, with 2- to 4 inches of snow expected.

The Weather Service said a low pressure system that's building in the Plains brought up to four-inches of snow Monday in parts of far northern Wisconsin and the same system can be blamed for the snow that's supposed to fall through Wednesday.

Phelps in Vilas County had just over four inches by Monday evening while three inches fell at Lake Tomahawk.

In southern Wisconsin, rain was forecast Tuesday, possibly mixed with a little snow on Wednesday.

It's all supposed to clear out by Thursday. A good share of the snow could melt by then, with warmer highs expected statewide in the 30's and 40's.

Woman orchestrated murder-for-hire against ex-, prosecutors allege

BARRON -- Prosecutors said a Rice Lake woman arranged for her lover and another man to kill her ex-husband -- and the two men tried killing him six times before they finally succeeded.

Trista Raven-Hrabak, 29, was charged Monday in Barron County with being a party to first-degree intentional homicide. The same charge was filed against the boyfriend, 34-year-old Ian Skjerly of Rice Lake -- and an alleged hired hit-man, Robert McBain, 37, of Cameron.

All three are charged in last Monday's shooting death of Daniel Raven, 33, at his home near Barron.

According to prosecutors, Skjerly said the woman wanted her ex-husband dead because she had disputes with him over child support. Officials said McBain was offered up to $800 to help Skjerly pull off the murder, and they had tried several times since last November.

Deputies said Raven was shot twice through a window with a deer rifle last Monday night. One bullet struck him in the head and another in the arm.

All three suspects are being held under bonds of $250,000 each. They're due back in court next Monday for preliminary hearings.

Torching mired fish shack isn't suitable removal plan, DNR asserts

It's hard to remove ice fishing shanties from Wisconsin's frozen lakes, but one thing you cannot do is burn them down and walk away.

Two men learned that lesson this past weekend, when a DNR warden cited them for violating burning rules near Merrill on Copper Bay.

Witnesses saw the flames and called authorities on Saturday night. Officials said the suspects' truck got stuck on the ice, so it wasn't hard for wardens to find them.

Monday was the last in a series of deadlines to remove ice fishing shanties in various parts of Wisconsin. They must all be gone by now.

Last month, the Wisconsin DNR said it recognized the problems that anglers had in removing shanties that were stuck to the frozen ice during this brutal winter and they urged people to call the agency if they couldn't remove them on time.

Fitchburg woman killed in rollover at Janesville

JANESVILLE -- A Fitchburg woman killed on an Interstate off-ramp near Janesville has been identified as Shondra Morbley, 36.

The State Patrol said she was one of six passengers in a car that was leaving northbound Interstate 90 when it lost control on a curve at the off-ramp on Highway 14.

The vehicle overturned and landed on its sides. The crash happened around 2:45 a.m., Monday.

A 31-year-old Madison woman who was driving the vehicle had non-life-threatening injuries, along with a 33-year-old Madison woman. Three others in the car were not hurt.

Prison time ordered for woman who tortured, killed dog

WAUSAU -- A Wausau woman will spend just over three months in a state prison and nine months in the Marathon County Jail after she tortured and killed her ex-boyfriend's dog.

Sean Janas, 22, was sentenced Monday to 18 months in a state lock-up, but her term was reduced by the 447 days she spent in jail, while her internationally-reported court case was going through the system. She'll be under extended supervision for two years once she gets out.

Janas blamed heroin abuse for destroying her life, but a prosecutor said it had nothing to do with the diary Janas wrote. She said she enjoyed torturing and poisoning Mary, her ex-boyfriend's four-year-old Labrador and German shepherd mix.

The dog died in 2012 after she was repeatedly stabbed, beaten, and poisoned with drain cleaner and bleach.

On social media, animal lovers from numerous countries demanded the maximum prosecution for Janas. Her jail time resulted from the thefts in other counties, plus a charge dropped in a plea deal that was considered for sentencing purposes.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau