Love him or revile him, President Donald Trump — with his tweets, take downs, take backs and taunts — has certainly raised our awareness of a dizzying array of issues during his first year in office. And aross the nation and the world, his words and actions have served to generate often heated daily discussions about his latest pronouncements.
Life in Menomonie and Dunn County certainly seems positively tame in comparison. But there was still plenty of local news that had folks talking about the goings-on right here at home. To prove our point, we present our annual year in review. Our list of top 10 conversation starters for 2017 ranges from the sad to the glad — and includes a few stories that even made national and international news.
Here’s the rundown of the top five, with a summary of the remaining stories to appear in our Wednesday, Jan. 3 edition.
A 10-day trial has been set to take place in April 2018 for the Minneapolis man charged in the death of a UW-Stout international student.
Cullen Osburn, 27, was charged on Jan. 12 with felony murder and aggravated battery in an altercation involving Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, a UW-Stout student, that took place outside a pizza restaurant in downtown Menomonie in the early morning hours of Oct. 30, 2016. Alnahdi died in an Eau Claire hospital the following day as a result of traumatic brain injuries.
Arrested during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Osburn was incarcerated at the Hennepin County Jail on a $2 million bond. After initially refusing to be extradited, he arrived at the Dunn County Jail in early February and pleaded not guilty at a hearing in late March.
During a preliminary hearing in April, Menomonie Police Department Investigator Kelly Pollock testified that Alnahdi’s blood was drawn at the hospital, showing a 0.284 percent blood alcohol content.
Pollock said a female witness heading eastbound on Main Street passed between Alnahdi and an unknown white male on sidewalk in front of Topper’s Pizza around 2 a.m. on Oct. 30. She stopped and turned around when she heard yelling behind her, stating that she saw Alnahdi put his hands up in the air in a gesture that indicated he did not want to have any problems, then saw the unknown man hit Alnahdi once and believed he tried to hit Alnahdi a second time.
“She saw him [Alnahdi] fall backwards,” Pollock said. “She saw his head strike the side of the building.”
An autopsy of Alnahdi’s body found that Alnahdi sustained a skull fracture on the right side of the back of his head. The cause of death was determined to be from a traumatic brain injury.
Deonte L. Hughes, Osburn’s brother, testified he was inside Topper’s Pizza with his sister, Mariah Hughes, and two male friends waiting for their order. Wondering where Osburn was, Hughes said he looked out the window saw Osburn outside being grabbed by the collar by Alnahdi and the two men engaged in an altercation.
Osburn’s attorney, Christopher Zipko, claimed it was a matter of self defense and said, “There’s no possible way that my client assaulted Mr. Alnahdi. ... From everything that we’ve looked at, I don’t even think there was an assault.”
A native of Saudi Arabia, Alnahdi was a junior majoring business administration at UW-Stout. The case continues to garner international attention.
County studies CAFOs
Completed in midsummer, a comprehensive study of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) ordered by the Dunn County Board of Supervisors can trace its origins to a September 2016 hearing held by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in the Rock Creek town hall.
More than 200 concerned citizens attended, most of them to urge the agency to deny a nutrient (manure) management plan permit that would allow the proposed expansion — to more than 7,200 animals — of Cranberry Creek Dairy in southern Dunn County.
A CAFO is defined as a farm operation with more than 1,000 animal units. If approved, the dairy was estimated to produce nearly 50 million gallons of liquid manure each year.
The following month, the county Board approved a six-month moratorium on the licensing or expansion by more than 20 percent of large-scale livestock facilities to allow time to study the many facets of the issue. The group appointed included members of county departments, UW Extension, and interested county residents and property owners — at least three of whom are engaged in farming that involves livestock production.
Cranberry Creek’s second attempt at convincing the DNR to reissue the permit was again denied in early May, but the owners were given an opportunity to explain the reasons why irregularities in its current permit have not been met. After nearly a year, the agency conditionally approved the permits needed for the dairy’s expansion.
The following week, the county board received the long-awaited 40-page report compiled by the 24-member Livestock Operations Study Group. The study outlines the impacts that CAFOs have on the county’s resources — specifically its groundwater, surface water, and air quality — and come up with recommendations about their siting and operations.
Chief among them is the adoption of both a countywide livestock operations and a livestock licensing ordinance to protect public health, safety and general welfare as well as to prevent pollution and preserve quality of life and of the environment.
Charged with reckless homicide in the Dec. 2, 2016 fatal shooting of his brother in law, a Town of Weston man was acquitted on July 14 after a week-long trial.
Jared A. Jones, 30, E1746 361st Ave., was accused of shooting 32-year-old Justin Ogden last December in the home the men shared with Ogden’s wife and Jones sister, Joanie Jones, and the couple’s 4-year-old daughter.
During a preliminary hearing in February, Dunn County Sheriff’s Investigator Dennis Rhead testified that when he arrived on the scene of the shooting, Jones told him that he didn’t shoot Ogden to kill him, just to stop him.
Rhead said that following an altercation with Ogden, Jones told him that following an altercation with Ogden, he barricaded himself in his bedroom, opening the door when his sister knocked and asked to be let in. Ogden reportedly forced his way into the room behind his wife and knocked Jones down. Able to get out of the window, Jones left the house, but returned after an hour. His sister told him that Ogden had beaten her, telling their daughter she wouldn’t have a mommy in the morning.
Jones got a shotgun from a closet and loaded it before he, his sister and niece again barricaded themselves in his bedroom. When Joanie later went into the kitchen, Jones told Rhead he positioned himself by a recliner near his bedroom door. Odgen appeared in the hallway, and Jones told him to stop, but said Ogden came toward him and told him to shoot him.
The two men were 10 to 14 feet away from each other when Jones shot Ogden, aiming for his brother-in-law’s right shoulder. According to the autopsy, Ogden died of massive blood loss as a result of the gunshot wound.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Aaron Nelson of Hudson, told the jury, “It’s his home; your home is your castle. In that home, in that moment, there was a threat.”
Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf told the jury that despite Nelson’s contentions, the case has nothing to do with self defense. But it does, she said, “have everything to do with vigilante justice, a type of justice ... that cannot be tolerated in our society.”
Wrong side of the road
On July 13, reports came in about a black 2004 Mitsubishi Diamante being driven the wrong way on I-94. Witnesses said a driver in the westbound lane lost control of his car and headed across the median into the eastbound lanes, up the Knapp hill. Three minutes later, there was a head-on crash with a 2015 Kia Soul on the shoulder of the interstate.
The three Minnesota, identified as Jeremy A. Berchem, Bryan Rudell, and driver Adam Kendhammer, died in the fiery crash. The wrong way driver was identified as Serghei Kundilovski, 36, of Orangevale, Calif. Injured in the collision, the wrong way driver was transported to an area hospital where he was placed under guard after being charged with three counts each of first degree reckless homicide, knowingly operating while revoked and causing death, and homicide by intoxicated use of vehicle.
A crash scene investigation showed curved tire marks in the eastbound lanes that suggest the Mitsubishi made an abrupt move to the shoulder of the road just before hitting the Kia. Two canned air duster containers were found, one near the front driver’s side tire outside Kundilovski’s vehicle and a second on the front passenger floorboard. A blood sample revealed that 0.022 of ethanol and 1,1 of difluoroethane — both of which are found in aerosol sprays and gas duster products — were present. Difluoroethane is used as a refrigerant and as a propellant for an aerosol spray.
In custody in Dunn County Jail on a $300,000 bond, Kundilovski pleaded guilty on Nov. 30 — a little more than a week before a trial was set to begin — to three charges of homicide by intoxicated use of vehicle as part of a plea agreement. Read into the record and dismissed were three counts each of first degree reckless homicide and knowingly operating while revoked as well as a traffic citation for nonregistration of a vehicle. His driver’s license was revoked in June 2017 after Kundilovski was convicted of operating while intoxicated in Sauk County.
A sentencing hearing has been set for Feb. 5.
Curriculum sparks controversy
Nearly 100 people were in attendance at the April 24 meeting of the Menomonie School Board to discuss an eighth grade English Language Arts (ELA) lesson about Islam.
Stirring up controversy was the Menomonie Middle School’s book unit I Am Malala, the award-winning true story by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb about a young Muslim teenager from Pakistan who was shot in the head for her efforts to promote education for girls. Due to the diverse content of the book, the middle school unit included a Muslim speaker who came to the school to educate the eighth grade class on the background of the culture to further understand the world in which Malala lives in.
While most of the 15 people who addressed the board were in support of educating their children on diversity and other cultures, others expressed concern about how the ELA curriculum was presenting the unit material, such as the eight weeks spent and that there was not a balance of representation of other cultures and religions.
On May 15, a public forum attended by nearly 150 was held at Menomonie High School as part of an action plan proposed by the school board after some parents filed formal complaints regarding how the district is teaching religion in school.
Jason Collins, an ELA teacher at the middle school, said the curriculum includes teaching about different religions, noting that the eighth graders also spent four days reading excerpts from the Bible as part of the unit.
Administration and school board members shared the district’s policy of teaching religion in schools and provided community members with the opportunity to voice their opinions. Superintendent Joe Zydowsky explained that the district had received some formal complaints in response to a speaker from the Islamic Resource Group who spoke to students for approximately 40 minutes about the Muslim culture and Islamic religion. Concerns were also related to curriculum imbalance, parental access to curriculum, and opt-out procedures.
In a subsequent School Crossings Zydowsky noted, “The complaints heard by the school board were not about the book I Am Malala, or whether or not we should be teaching about diversity in our schools. The complaints were centered on whether or not religion should be taught in school — and whether or not an outside speaker was allowed to violate the Establishment Clause by endorsing a particular religion. ... The board determined that the school district did not break the law.”
Reporter Laura Giammattei contributed to this report.