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Evan Vucci 

President Donald Trump turns as he talks to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at McAllen International Airport as he prepares to leave after a visit to the southern border, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

'It's taking a toll': Low snow accumulation hurting area businesses in Chippewa Valley

A lack of snow in Wisconsin is taking a hit on both businesses and citizens.

Driving around Chippewa Falls, Menomonie, Bloomer, Colfax, Eau Claire and many other cities in western Wisconsin, you’d be hard-pressed to understand why Wisconsin has such a notorious reputation for horrible winter seasons. You’ll see the occasional ice patch, maybe a few stubborn patches of snow alongside seldom-used roads. For the average Wisconsinite, this might be a pleasant change, but for many it is far from welcome.

Ralph Schneider, a member of the Dunn County Fish and Game Club Board of Directors, said the lack of snow has affected not just the club’s events and activities, but also a home activity he isn’t used to having to cut out of his life.

“I put chains on my four-wheeler and it hasn’t left the shed,” Schneider said. “When my grandkids and neighbor kids are out, I take my four-wheeler and I usually like to pull them in a sled, but now there isn’t any snow to pull them on.”

Snowmobiling and skiing in Wisconsin are among the most popular winter activities in the state. However, outdoor recreation enthusiasts haven’t been able to partake recently, as most trails are closed indefinitely in Dunn County and Chippewa County until much heavier snow accumulation occurs. This is an inconvenience for snowmobilers and skiers, but it’s an even bigger problem for some area businesses.

Brandy Slowiak, president of Chippewa County Sno-Cruisers Snowmobiling Club, said the weather has cut into her club’s activity, and she said she has noticed businesses suffering as well due to the dry Wisconsin winter.

“It has definitely impacted a lot of businesses that rely on ATVs and snowmobiles to keep their businesses running during the winter,” Slowiak said. “As far as people who go riding themselves, it has been much more difficult to get out on the trails and people have to travel farther to go out snowmobiling. It has a drastic effect on everyone. It’s taking a toll.”

Businesses such as Spring Street Sports in Chippewa Falls and Dunham’s Sports in Menomonie rely on customers coming in to buy or rent outdoor gear, snowboards and other outdoor recreational equipment in order to thrive during the winter months. With this customer base sparse due to the lack of snow, these businesses and the local economies they call home are suffering.

Another often overlooked aspect of a milder winter is what it does to ice fishing: make it harder to do and more dangerous. There is likely to be thinner ice on public bodies of water; meanwhile there is no snow provide traction on icy roads and waterways.

Schneider said he has had friends who have been injured during low-snow conditions such as these while ice fishing.

“With no snow the lakes are so treacherous,” Schneider said. “You don’t even want to go out there. A friend of mine fell down a few years ago and he still can’t smell or taste anything because he banged his head so badly. It makes doing everything on the lake so dangerous when there is nothing but ice.”

Schneider said he believes this drought is getting worse and worse every year, and that it is negatively affecting the environment.

“Every year it seems that the snow is coming later and later,” Schneider said. “The rain we got back in December, had that been snow that would’ve been of some value. But now the sun is slowly evaporating any snow we get, so when spring comes around there won’t be anything for the ground whatsoever.”

Slowiak agreed that this year is a particularly bad one for snow accumulation in western Wisconsin.

“This has been the worst it’s been in the last couple of years,” Slowiak said. “I know there was another year, five or six years ago, that was pretty bad as well, but this is definitely one of the latest seasons that I’ve seen. We are just hoping for snow.”

“This is definitely one of the latest seasons that I’ve seen. We are just hoping for snow.” Brandy Slowiak, president of the Chippewa County Sno-Cruisers

A mind-blowing night: Magician Noah Sonie set to perform at Heyde Center

Prepare to have your mind blown by a magical night in one of the Chippewa Valley’s most storied venues.

Minneapolis-based magician Noah Sonie is set to perform at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11, and again at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, performing two sets both nights. Tickets for the event are $35 for adults, $34 for seniors and $31 for youth. Included with the ticket upon reservation is a dinner provided by Karl’s BBQ Express.

Sonie has made a name for himself performing astounding card tricks, coin tricks, and illusions using dollar bills, and he prides himself on close-up magic. In videos on YouTube and other platforms, Sonie goes up to strangers on the street and performs magic on the spot, captivating both the subject and the viewer.

First will come the dinner portion of the show. Debra Johnson, executive director of the Heyde Center for the Arts, said this is an experience that will use both magic and another show business element to spark a memorable night.

“A lot of magicians also have great comedic timing,” Johnson said. “It’ll be a comedy/magic show. The exciting and interesting thing about the dinner show is while you’re having dinner Noah is going to go from table to table and do tricks that’ll just blow people away. It’s really intimate and up-close magic.”

Following the dinner show, the night will transition to a larger stage show where Sonie will perform grander magical feats and make use of technology, film, music and comedy to further the enjoyment of the crowd, Johnson said.

“It’s a little bit bigger,” Johnson said. “He uses people’s iPhones to do some pretty amazing stuff like put their password into their phone randomly. It’ll be a really fun night and I think everyone is going to really enjoy it.”

In addition to making a name for himself around the Midwest as an emerging magical talent, the Minnesota-based illusionist has also received accolades to add to his resume. In 2016 the Minnesota International Brotherhood of Magicians awarded him first-place trophies in stage magic and close-up magic. On top of that, in 2017 he was voted in to be the new president of the same organization, the youngest in its history.

For more information on the show, you can visit the event page on the Heyde Center’s website.

BRANDON BERG, Chippewa Herald 

Chippewa's Jacob Dirks (16) skates past two Fairbanks players on Dec. 29, 2018 at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.

Sheriff: Jamye Closs found alive

Jayme Closs has been found. Alive.

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said the missing 13-year-old from Barron was found by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.

A suspect is in custody in connection with the case, he said. But no other details are available at this time.

“This is a very fluid and active investigation,” Fitzgerald said in a release.

A press conference has been called for 10 a.m. Friday at the Barron Sheriff’s Department. The FBI and Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations are assisting in the investigation.

Closs had been missing since her parents, James and Denise Closs, were found fatally shot in their Barron home on Oct. 15.

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Man sentenced in connection with Chippewa County homicide

Jesse Lloyd was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the 2016 shooting death of Kenneth Patterson.

Lloyd, 23, was found guilty by a jury in October of being a felon in possession of a firearm and conspiracy to commit armed robbery with force, but cleared of a charge of first-degree intentional homicide.

Judge James Isaacson sentenced Lloyd to five years in prison and five years of extended supervision for the possession of the gun, and 15 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, to be served consecutively.

Matthew LaBrec, who Lloyd was with to rob Patterson, was sentenced in 2017 to 20 years in prison for armed robbery-use of force for the incident.

Lloyd’s sentence was less than the 30 years of prison time the state had been asking for.

Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell argued that while the jury had not found Lloyd guilty of murder, his actions were chosen deliberately and culminated in the death of Patterson.

Newell included displaying a picture of Patterson and also said the crimes Lloyd had been found guilty of warranted the largest sentences.

“If they had not gone out there, Mr. Patterson would not have bled to death in some stranger’s yard,” Newell said. “What conspiracy to commit armed robbery is worse than this?”

LaBrec testified in the trial that he and Lloyd set up a meeting with Patterson on March 13, 2016 near midnight, telling the man it was a drug deal but intending to rob $325 from the man, who ended up getting shot in the encounter.

The defense said that they should not properly consider anything regarding the homicide, since he had been cleared of that charge.

Lloyd’s attorney, Aaron Nelson, argued in the trial that LaBrec had been lying, pulled the trigger himself, then blamed Lloyd.

Nelson referred to the state’s original sentencing request as the result of “sour grapes” over Lloyd’s not being convicted of murder.

In the defense’s request, Lloyd would have ended up with six years in prison and six of extended supervision.

Nelson attempted to convince the judge that Lloyd shouldn’t be judged for anything related to a charge that a jury found him innocent of.

“That makes no moral sense, no logical sense to me,” Nelson said.

Chippewa County's most wanted: A list of those with active warrants out for their arrest
Chippewa County's most wanted: A list of those with active warrants out for their arrest