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BRANDON BERG 

Hayden Baughman


SPENCER FLATEN, The Herald 

A Chippewa Falls Police Department player, left, and a Special Olympian teammate are pictured during a fundraiser game Thursday evening at Chippewa Falls Senior High School. It was the 32nd year of the annual matchup between the department and the Chippewa County Special Olympics Basketball Team.


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Hearing set for Stanley woman accused in Dunn County stabbing death

The Stanley woman who admitted to stabbing an Eau Claire man in rural Dunn County has appeared before Judge James Peterson.

Ezra J. McCandless, 20, 36794 25th Ave., Stanley, has been charged with first degree intentional homicide in the March 22 death of 24-year-old Alexander L. Woodworth.

Formerly known as Monica Karlen, McCandless appeared with her attorney, Aaron Nelson of Hudson, before Dunn County Judge James Peterson on Friday morning.

Citing issues with the criminal complaint, Nelson requested the criminal complaint be sealed and a certain paragraph be struck. However, Assistant Attorney General Richard Dufour — who appeared via telephone — noted that since McCandless had signed a waiver of medical records, the information in the complaint should not be removed.

In addition to continuing the $250,000 cash bond on which McCandless is being held, Peterson ruled that the complaint would not be sealed and set a preliminary hearing for April 25.

According to the criminal complaint:

Around 4:15 p.m. on March 22, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office received a call from Don A. Sipple that a young woman had arrived on foot at his residence in the E7600 block of 40th Avenue in the town of Spring Brook. Sipple reported that the woman was bloody, barefoot and muddy.

A deputy responded with a Wisconsin state trooper and the woman was later identified as McCandless. The deputy found her hair to be disheveled and noted blood around her mouth, on her knuckles, left arm and upper right thigh visible through a hole in her pants. Although she appeared to be very upset and crying, the deputy said he didn’t see any visible tears.

When asked by the trooper, McCandless could not provide an address or her name, but gave the name of Jason Mengle, of Eau Claire, as someone they could contact on her behalf.

Followed by the Dunn County deputy, McCandless was taken by ambulance to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. At the hospital, he could see the word “Boy” cut into her left arm and also learned that McCandless had changed her name from Monica Karlen in 2015.

The doctor who examined McCandless on March 22 reported that the angle of the wounds indicate that they could be self-inflicted and the letters carved in her left arm were oriented for her to look at. McCandless admitted to medical staff that she has self-harmed in the past.

The Dunn County deputy reached out to the Eau Claire Police Department for help in finding Mengle. An officer said ECPD earlier the same day, around 12:30 p.m., police contact had been made with McCandless, Mengle and Woodwoth at Woodworth’s home in Eau Claire.

Asked what happened that day, McCandless admitted to being at Woodworth’s home and left to go to Owen Park in the city where she claimed that Woodworth allegedly attacked her and cut “boy” into her arm. For jurisdiction reasons, the investigation was turned over to the ECPD officer.

In an initial review of cameras in the area, the officer could find no evidence of McCandless’s car coming or going from the park, noting that the alleged assault took place near a busy intersection with lots of vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

At that point, an ECPD investigator took over the investigation and observed that a significant amount of time had taken place between the time McCandless was found at Sipple’s residence and the last time she was seen with Woodworth. Concerned for his safety, an unsuccessful search for Woodworth was initiated in the city and county of Eau Claire.

Around 3 p.m. on March 23, the investigators went to Sipple’s residence to interview him a second time. As they drove, they noticed a mud-covered road leading off to the south of 430th Avenue, about a 40-acre parcel east of Sipple’s home.

One of the investigators returned to the dirt road and found a single set of bare footprints in the mud that lacked the ridge detail found in a shoe pattern. He also observed tire tracks leading up the muddy road.

Walking up the side of the road, the detectives located a 2003 Chevy Impala with license plates that later confirmed it as McCandless’s vehicle. The driver’s side rear door was standing open and clothing could be seen lying on the ground outside.

The detectives could see what appeared to be the head and upper body of a person lying partly outside the door. With blood around the car and no signs of life, it was clear the person was deceased. Once they confirmed there were no other victims on the scene, the detectives backed out of the area to preserve the crime scene and called the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office to complete the investigation.

Identifed as Woodworth, the body was taken to the Ramsey County (Minnesota) Medical Examiner’s Office on March 24 for an autopsy. According to the preliminary report, the cause of death was multiple sharp force injuries — 16 in all — and that the manner of death was homicide.

Interviewed by investigators on March 24, McCandless told them she drove to Woodworth’s house to return some things to him. She said they wanted to talk with each other and decided to go to a public place. Initially, she was in the driver’s seat with Woodworth in the passenger’s seat, but later became anxious and had Woodworth drive.

McCandless said they ended up on a dirt road on 430th Avenue in Spring Brook in Dunn County where they got stuck in the mud. She alleged that Woodworth attacked her in the vehicle and carved the word into her arm. Grabbing the blade side of the knife, she said she was able to take the blade from Woodworth and admitted to stabbing him “anywhere and everywhere.”

McCandless said she thinks she stabbed Woodworth in the genitalia area by his leg, the stomach, neck, back by the ribs and side of his head. She did not respond when asked how the word “Boy” got put onto her arm, but later admitted she put it there after she stabbed Woodworth.

McCandless remains in custody in the Dunn County Jail.


Flynn


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Kowalczyk ready for another four years at Chippewa County sheriff

After more than a decade as the county’s top law enforcement officer, Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk is once again planning to run for fourth term as the sheriff.

The 40-year veteran of the sheriff’s office has taken out the appropriate paperwork needed to file to run for the position, and will once again run as a Democrat.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

When Kowalczyk decided to run for sheriff for the first time just before he began his current tenure in 2006, he was just two years shy of eligibility for retirement.

“You know,” Kowalczyk said, “I was only going to run for one term, and I think I was 51 at that time, and I thought one term would get me past the 53, the magic age of 53, which most law enforcement officers after 25 years can take advantage of full retirement. And it just went from there.”

In his first re-election run Kowalczyk faced off against challenger Kenneth Briggs, who was at that time working with the Cadott Police Department. In the latest bid for re-election, Kowalczyk ran unopposed.

This past March, the sheriff brought to the attention of the Chippewa County board an $8,000 difference in how much he earns per year as compared to Chief Deputy Chad Holum. The board approved a 17 percent increase through 2022, bringing the salary up to $103,000 per year, but the chief deputy’s position is eligible for a 14 percent increase in four years, putting his salary at $111,000. That’s another $8,000 difference.

“I was a little disappointed, and I think rightfully so, because, again, really in any organization, whether it’s private or public, it’s unheard of that the person in command is making less than the second person in command,” Kowalczyk said, adding that the money isn’t what’s motivating him to do his job every day — it’s passion for what he does and has done for 40 years.

Kowalczyk’s resume includes a stint as a patrol officer, two years’ worth of undercover drug work and 16 years as an investigator. More than a decade after taking his position — and choosing to not retire after the first go-around as sheriff — Kowalczyk has overseen a department that has shaken up its shifts, gained its first K9 officer and is now attempting to wrangle a meth epidemic.

“I really, really do love the department. I wouldn’t be here for 40 years plus if I didn’t,” Kowalczyk said, thanking the work of those in the department’s different divisions and his entire family for its own support system. “We’ve gone a long way in 11 years, and as everybody knows, law enforcement changes daily, technology, the drugs of choice, the types of crimes — it changes daily. And again, you have to change with that if you’re going to be successful in serving and protecting the public.”

The past decade

Operations and technology upgrades have marked the last three terms for Kowalczyk.

In 2012, after being the last municipality in the county to have its own dispatch center, Chippewa Falls’ dispatch merged with the county’s to form a solo dispatch unit. All fire, EMS and law enforcement calls are made through that center.

As of March, Emergency Communication Center director Chris Cord announced the dispatch center was fully staff, and following training, the center would be operating under full staff as of July 2018.

The department’s field services division was one of the last on the western side of the state to get laptops in vehicles, Kowalczyk said. All squad cars now have the laptops, something Kowalczyk takes pride in.

Periodically throughout the last year, all divisions in the sheriff’s office — excluding investigations and administration — have begun operate under 12-hour shifts. Under the previous model, deputies and employees might go four or five weeks without a weekend off, Kowalczyk said. The 12-hour shifts, which also includes the jail employees, allows all Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department employees who adhere to those hours have every other weekend off.

The new shifts and starting pay have been attractive to hiring employees to the sheriff’s department, Kowalczyk said. After the passing of Act 10 in Wisconsin in 2011 — which targeted public employees — Kowalczyk said the department struggled with finding candidates to fill positions. But the number of applicants is on the rise, Kowalczyk said.

“So, again, our recruitment has increased as far as eligible candidates or candidates that are applying, and I see those numbers go up every time that we have an opening,” Kowalczyk said.

In 2017, the jail added two positions to its roster, which allowed the jail employees to make that switch to working 12-hours per shift in January 2018, and filled needs within the jail.

Also recent, the department added a K9 to its officer line-up. Max and his handler, deputy Jason Bloom, have been patrolling the county on drug and location calls. Trained in drug detection, Max joins Lake Hallie and Bloomer’s K9s along with the eventual K9s at the Chippewa Falls and Stanley police departments, in a recent countywide surge of police dogs.

Max could soon have another co-worker just like him, Kowalczyk said, as the department has been considering “in the not-so-distant future” adding another K9 to their law enforcement.

The tool that is Max’s nose, Kowalczyk said, is something other law enforcement agencies are utilizing as a way to fight what’s being called a meth and drug epidemic that has taken over the state, including Chippewa County.

“Again, law enforcement, it changes on a daily basis. Right now, meth and heroin is unfortunately keeping us gainfully employed. Meth is an epidemic out there,” Kowalczyk said.

Within the last week, meth was found in the Chippewa County Jail, Kowalczyk said, adding that the drug and others are often associated with other crimes, such as burglary and finance and domestic crimes.

Jail updates

The jail has also seen its own upgrades under Kowalczyk’s tenure.

In 2016, an inspection of the jail found 50 violations; this year, the jail only had one.

The jail has also gone virtually paperless, Kowalczyk said, adding kiosks for inmates to communicate with corrections officers and for a recently added limited, monitored email service. Inmates can make requests for canteen, medical or hair services through the kiosks, and the jail’s law library is also available on the kiosks.

The jail also now runs on a visitation schedule, Kowalczyk explained. Walk-ups are available during the set hours, but the new scheduled times creates more structure for both the inmates and the person visiting, Kowalczyak said.

The jail’s most recent project, installing all digital cameras, is also now complete.

Contracting work with outside counties also creates more revenue for the department, Kowalczyk said. On any given day, Kowalczyk said the jail could house 10 to 25 different inmates from outside counties. The jail has done contracted work with Eau Claire, Dunn, Trempealeau and Marathon counties, and charges a standard rate of $42 per day per inmate.

Once the jail adjusts to its new shifts, Kowalczyk said it could also begin contracted work with state prisoners, providing an extra $62 per day per state inmate.

Switching to a different meal provider within the jail, Kowalczyk said, is also creating an extra $90,000 for the department, which utilizes all revenue gained from the jail.

Hoping to stay

As of the Friday, no other candidates have publicly come forward to run against Kowalzyck.

Kowalczyk said he is confident in the work he has been able to do as sheriff, and is also confident in voters’ abilities to hold the department accountable. Without voter approval over his last three terms and the support of the department and his family, Kowalczyk’s employment history may look very different.

“One thing that I would like to compliment, is my administrative staff along with each and every member of the sheriff’s department,” Kowalczyk said. “Any sheriff statewide that says they run the department (solely) and they make all the decisions good, bad or indifferent is only fooling themselves. Without the backing of my most recent hire or the person with the most recent experience — I would have a hard time running the department without their cooperation and expertise.”


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New county administrator plans for new board

Just under two months into his new position as Chippewa County Administrator, Randy Scholz has a new county board to work with.

His first interactions and goals with the new board, Scholz said, include continued communication, budget education and a new strategic plan for the county.

Tuesday’s election resulted in a majority of incumbents retaining their seats, but also saw three new faces win their bids for a supervisor spot on the county board.

Harold “Buck” Steele of District 1 lost his supervisor position by just under 30 votes to John Ewer of Holcombe. Steele, also of Holcombe, received 281 votes, while Ewer was awarded 310. Florian Skwierczynski of Eau Claire in District 11 was edged out with 282 votes by David Eisenhuth of Chippewa Falls, who had 352 votes. And new supervisor-elect Jim Mikelson of Cadott will take over the district 8 seat vacated by board chairman Anson Albarado.

Ewer, Eisenhuth and Mikelson had the potential to join a slew of new faces, but Tuesday’s election saw nine incumbents in contested elections maintain their positions on the board.

As the new board prepares to take command over the county’s decision-making, Scholz said he will continue to meet with supervisors and employees of the county — an action that gained him praise from supervisors and challengers prior to the election.

Taking over the position on Feb. 12, Scholz estimated that he had more than 50 meetings in the first four weeks of his job, taking time for one-on-ones with supervisors and building relationships. Scholz said opening those lines of communication to the new supervisors is vital to success.

“I’ll meet with them, just like I met with each county board member,” Scholz said. “Just be available. That’s a big thing, be available for any questions that they have, try not to overwhelm them, give them the information that they need.”

During the board’s next term, Scholz said, he is planning to provide more education on the budget and set up a new strategic plan for the county.

In his interviews with the county for his position, education was a main point Scholz said he remembers board members bringing up. Through talking with the county’s finance director, Melissa Roach, Scholz said there are plans to discuss terminology and explanations of the budget for the board.

Another plan includes updating the strategic plan for the county, which outlines what areas the board should consider providing resources to while considering funding, mandates and non-mandated services, Scholz said.

Local issues, such as a meth epidemic, Scholz said, will be looked at and considered for the plan through discussions and meetings with the board and department heads.

Scholz is in the beginning of a two-year term with the county after former administrator Frank Pascarella declined to extend his contract in 2017 after being with the county since 2012.


ROD STETZER, The Herald 

Scholz