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Drive-by shooting near Hammond still unexplained; black-white age gap in Wisconsin grows; 11 more state stories

St. Croix County sheriff's deputies are trying to figure out who fired gunshots at a semi-truck, and why.

The semi was hit nine times last Saturday morning, Aug. 2, on I-94 near Hammond. No one was hurt.

Sheriff John Shilts said someone in an older red-or-maroon car fired a unique style of 10 mm bullets. Deputies hope those bullets will help them find the suspect. Shell casings were recovered where the truck driver first heard the shots.

The trucker told officers he had just passed a car, and then heard a noise that sounded like somebody was knocking rapidly on the semi cab.

He stopped, found a broken window, and then kept going. Another truck flagged him down a short time later, after seeing a fuel leak. Only then did the driver know he had bullet holes in a fuel tank, a tire, the sleeper cab, and other parts of the rig.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's department at 715-381-4320.

Life expectancy gap grows between blacks and whites

Wisconsin is the only state where life expectancy rates for whites and blacks grew further apart since 1990.

In a new study published in the Health Affairs Journal, scientists found that white men in the Badger State lived an average of 7.9 years longer than blacks in 2010. That gap grew from 7.7 years in 1990.

For Wisconsin women, the gap grew even larger. White women lived 6.4 years longer than blacks in 2010, up from 4.9 years two decades ago.

Nationally, life expectancy differences dropped between the races over the 20 years of the study by over 2.5 years for men and 18 months for women.

National life expectancy gaps have been figured for some time but this is the first time that states were examined. The figures were obtained using death certificates and Census data.

UW public health professor Geoffrey Swain said one reason for Wisconsin's gap is that the state is the worst in the country for the general well-being of African-American youngsters. That was according to the annual "Kids Count" survey released last month.

Swain and UW Milwaukee expert David Pate said the gaps could be improved with more study. Pate says Wisconsin needs to have a "real conversation" about this "without pointing fingers."

Walker election coffers are quadruple that of Burke

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker has more than four times as much money campaign money as his Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

New campaign finance reports released Monday show that the Republican Walker had over $7 million banked at the end of July, while Burke had $1.7 million on hand.

Burke continues to raise more than previous gubernatorial challengers, but she's still nowhere near Walker in the money race.

Walker raised over $1.2 million in July, while Burke took in around $500,000. Figures for the other Democrat in next week's primary, Brett Hulsey, were not immediately available. He had reported less than $1,000 at the end of June, and Burke's camp says it's focusing totally on defeating Walker in November.

Meanwhile, Burke is expected to benefit from a large contribution by the state's largest teachers' union. WEAC filed a report showing that it gave $1.3 million to the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee.

No outside groups have run campaign ads in favor of Burke yet. Walker was helped earlier this year with ads from the national Republican Governors Association.

Van Hollen appeals latest voter ID rejection

MADISON -- Wisconsin's attorney general said a federal judge made some mistakes when he struck down the state's photo identification law for voting.

J.B. Van Hollen is appealing Judge Lynn Adelman's finding that the voter law is unconstitutional.

In a brief filed Monday, the attorney general said the judge speculated on a connection between race and the likelihood of having a photo I.D. even though there was no previous testimony that showed such a correlation. Van Hollen also said the judge acknowledged that more than 90 percent of Wisconsin voters have the photo ID's they need.

Adelman ruled that the 2011 ID law placed an unfair burden on minority and low-income voters, thus violating the Constitution's equal protection guarantee. The case is now before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Van Hollen also wants the court to re-impose the voter ID law, to try and use it in November for only the second time since the law was passed. The first was in a February primary in 2012.

Cool weather slowing state's corn; hay doing well

Wisconsin's corn crop is still not maturing as fast as it should, due to relatively dry weather and cooler than normal temperatures.

Officials say the percentages of corn in the silk and dough stages are below the averages for the past five years.

It rained and hailed someplace in Wisconsin almost every day last week but the showers were spotty, and 33 percent of the state's farm fields are short to very short of moisture. That's 10 percent higher than a week ago. Almost two-thirds of the fields have adequate moisture. Only three percent report a surplus.

Maturity levels for Wisconsin soybeans are ahead of a year ago. Seventy-one percent of the beans are rated good- to excellent while 22 percent of the state's third hay crop is made, which is behind schedule by about six percent. Eighty-four percent of the hay is rated good to excellent.

Same-sex marriage ban is prejudicial, ACLU asserts The American Civil Liberties Union says Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage stigmatizes gay couples, and serves no legitimate purpose for the government. That's what the civil liberties' group wrote in a legal brief submitted Monday to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

That court is being asked to uphold Wisconsin's 2006 gay marriage ban, after Madison District Judge Barbara Crabb struck it down in June.

A similar scenario is playing out in Indiana, and the appellate court has combined the two cases with oral arguments set for Aug. 26. On Tuesday, dozens of Indiana police officers, firefighters, and EMT's were expected to file a brief in support of same-sex marriage. They said the current bans deny gay first responders "the equal dignity and respect they deserve."

At least 20 briefs have been filed in the case, many in support of keeping both bans.

Wisconsin's attorney general argued that there's no fundamental right to same-sex marriage, and Judge Crabb essentially created a new right.

Other gay marriage opponents have cited political theories, the stability of society, and biblical references in their legal briefs. Gay marriage advocates have won legal victories in more than 20 states since last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act which barred the federal government from recognizing gay marriages.

More files to be opened in Doe investigation

CHICAGO -- An additional 34 files will be made public this month from the John Doe investigation into the recall elections of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state senators.

The federal appeals court in Chicago said Monday it would release 34 electronic files on Aug. 19th, barring last-minute motions to keep them secret.

The release is connected with a federal lawsuit from the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which sought to halt the two-year-old John Doe probe while alleging that prosecutors were violating the group's free speech rights.

Milwaukee Federal Judge Rudolph Randa agreed in May, and halted the John Doe. Prosecutors appealed. Last Friday, they again claimed that they were immune from the lawsuit, and therefore the probe should resume.

Randa rejected the immunity argument earlier.

A number of files from the John Doe were released a few weeks ago. They included a prosecutor's theory that Walker and top Republicans illegally coordinated the 2011 and 2012 recall elections with the help of a dozen outside groups. Walker denies any wrongdoing.

July traffic deaths near a low of seven decades ago

MADISON -- Wisconsin traffic deaths were the second-lowest for July since the Department of Transportation started keeping records in 1937.

Officials said 39 people were killed in state crashes last month, 18 fewer than last year at this time, and 19 less than the average for the past five years.

Wisconsin traffic deaths for July have ranged from 34 in 1943, to 140 in 1966 and 1971.

Officials did not cite a reason for the big drop in last month's fatalities. Bad weather could not be blamed, since it got drier and warmer throughout the state. Tighter law enforcement, road improvements, relatively high gas prices, and lower traffic levels have all been cited by various groups in the recent past.

For the year as a whole, 252 people have died in Wisconsin traffic mishaps through July -- 31 fewer than the year before. Starting on Aug. 15, the DOT will begin its annual Labor Day crackdown on drunk driving. The "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign will run through Sept. 1.

Wisconsin State Patrol troopers wrapped up an extended weekend of stepped up enforcement yesterday as part of the national “I-90/94 Challenge” today through Monday (Aug. 1 to 4). Ground units and aircraft were part of the high-visibility effort watching for speeders, unbuckled motorists and other traffic violations along the I-90 and I-94 corridors across Wisconsin. Radio transmissions from a State Patrol aircraft operating in the Eau Claire area Monday afternoon indicated numerous vehicles were being ticketed for speeding.

The Challenge coincided with the start of what is traditionally the deadliest month on Wisconsin roadways. Over the last five years, an average of 62 people died in Wisconsin traffic crashes in August.

Officers back on-duty after fire extinguisher incident GREEN BAY -- Four Green Bay police officers are back at work, after they were exposed to chemicals from a fire extinguisher as they were about to make arrests.

The officers responded to a report of a possible hostage being held at knife-point Monday in an apartment building. Officials said one of the people involved sprayed the extinguisher in a hallway just before the police arrived.

Those officers were taken to a hospital where they were treated and later released. Tenants in the apartment building were evacuated, and the Red Cross was called to provide assistance to them.

Police arrested four people. At last word, two were referred to Brown County prosecutors for possible charges.

One dead, one wounded in latest Milwaukee shooting

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Police continue to investigate the shootings of two men in the parking lot of a north side business.

A 23-year-old man was murdered, and a 20-year-old man was wounded early Monday afternoon.

Both were taken to a hospital, where the murder victim died and the younger victim was being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Police were still looking for suspects at last word.

Father, son get probation, revocations, for poisoning wildlife

A father and son who run a large potato farm in northern Wisconsin have been put on probation for the poisoning deaths of two bald eagles and around 70 other wild animals.

Alvin Sowinski and his 46-year-old son Paul of Sugar Camp in Oneida County were found to have used the insecticide Carbofuran to kill the wildlife.

Both men were placed on a year of federal probation. Alvin Sowinski must also spend four months under home confinement, and pay a $30,000 fine and $100,000 in restitution.

Both Sowinskis agreed to pay the same restitution when they struck a plea deal in February. Paul was fined $10,000 and his sporting privileges were taken away for five years. Alvin lost his hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges for seven years.

Federal and state officials started investigating the Sowinskis in 2007, when a warden found numerous dead animals on the site. Authorities said at least two bald eagles were poisoned between 2007 and 2010 along with nine coyotes, a bobcat, and dozens of ravens and other birds.

Officials also said both Sowinskis allowed hunters and trappers to kill predators, to make deer and grouse hunting better for their friends. It all happened on an 8,000-acre potato operation in which half was actively being farmed.

-- Zach Hagenbucher, WSAU, Wausau

Murder trial cancelled after perp pleads guilty SUPERIOR -- An Arizona man has pleaded guilty to killing his ex-girlfriend's fiancee in Superior.

Juan Padilla, 42, of Fort Mohave was supposed to go on trial in two weeks in Douglas County. He decided Monday to plead guilty to his original charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

Padilla will be sentenced to life in prison on Oct. 13, but prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for the possibility of a supervised release after he serves the minimum of 20 years.

Padilla admitted shooting 46-year-old Terrence Luukkonen of Duluth to death in May of 2013 outside of Genesis Attachments -- a manufacturing firm, in Superior.

Police said the victim was engaged to a woman who broke off a relationship with Padilla about a month before the slaying. She told officers that Padilla was upset about the break-up, and he mentioned killing her fiancee.

Scuba accident claims Minnesota man

BLACK RIVER FALLS -- Authorities said the death of a Twin Cities' area man in Wisconsin's deepest inland lake appears to be an accident.

The Jackson County sheriff said Jeffrey Carstensen, 50, of Maple Grove, Minn. was taking scuba diving lessons on Sunday when the incident occurred in Lake Wazee near Black River Falls.

Rescuers said they were called for a medical emergency and they tried to resuscitate Carstensen but he died later at a hospital. An autopsy was performed but results were not yet made public.

Lake Wazee is located in a former iron mining pit-- Wisconsin's last iron mine that closed in the 1980s and subsequently filled with water -- and it's up to 355 feet deep. It's said to be popular among divers because of its overall depth and accessibility.

The scenic lake and popular county park is touted in tourism flyers as "the Midwest's finest scuba diving experience" with "pristine water quality."

LaCrosse man admits to violent assault of neighbor woman

LA CROSSE -- A La Crosse man has admitted to a violent sexual assault of a neighbor.

Jarrett Walch, 22, pleaded guilty in La Crosse County to strangulation and suffocation, and second degree sex assault. Three other felonies, including false imprisonment and burglary, were dropped in a plea deal.

Prosecutors said Walch broke into the neighbor's apartment on March 9 and told the woman, "It's your lucky night -- Your door was unlocked."

Authorities said Walch sexually-assaulted the woman and squeezed her throat until she could grab a can of pepper spray. He then threw her against a wall, punched her, and ran away.

Walch is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 27.