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BRANDON BERG, Chippewa Herald 

McDonell senior Cory Hoglund first saw the floor for the Macks as a defensive specialist but worked his way into an all-state force.


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'A tragic accident': Eau Claire woman gets two years in jail for fatal crash

An Eau Claire woman who missed a stop sign and crashed her car in May 2017, killing three passengers in her vehicle and a woman in another vehicle, was sentenced Friday to serve two years in the county jail.

Cara Stevens, 25, pleaded no contest in Chippewa County Court in January to homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle and reckless driving-causing great bodily harm.

The crash occurred in the northeast corner of Chippewa County, killing Raven Ellin, 21, Jonathan Jorgensen, 35, and Mikaila Toske, 23, in Stevens’ car, along with Kristine Kummer, 46, who was in another vehicle.

Judge Steve Cray said because people use automobiles every day, they can forget they are dangerous weapon.

“They must use it with a great deal of caution,” Cray said.

Ultimately, Cray said he couldn’t reconcile the fact that Stevens missed several traffic signs before driving through the stop sign. However, he couldn’t find a reason to give Stevens a prison sentence.

Stevens will have Huber work release privileges, and she is not eligible for electronic monitoring. Her driver’s license will be revoked for one year. She must report to jail by Sunday.

Stevens apologized to the victims’ families prior to the sentencing.

“I don’t know how I’ll ever find enough words to say how sorry I am,” she said.

Several of the victims’ family members spoke during the hearing, describing the loss caused by the crash that day.

Shannon Young, Toske’s mother, described the crash as an accident, and said Stevens doesn’t deserve to be incarcerated.

“I know how difficult and hard this is for all of you,” Young said as she turned to Kummer’s family. “There is nobody that is standing up with a voice of reason in all of this. I lost my only daughter that day. I understand how trying and difficult this is. But this was a tragic accident. A stop sign was innocently missed. But two drivers were violating traffic laws that day. But it was just an accident.”

Young said it is insulting the case has focused on the death and loss for the Kummer family, and the other three families who lost loved ones have been ignored.

“There was no exhibition driving. There was no ill-intent,” Young said. “No one was on their cell phone. To signal Cara out, is just one more injustice.”

Young said she is grateful that her daughter was with her boyfriend and best friend at the time of the crash.

Kriste Niznik, one of Kummer’s friends, said she was at the scene moments after the crash occurred.

“I want you to know what I had to go through that day, watching my best friend pass away in front of me,” Niznik told Cray.

The Kummers drive race cars, and were on their way to Rice Lake for an event. She described coming across the crash, and trying unsuccessfully to help Kummer.

“I believe Cara should get five years in prison for what she has done to Kris and Kris’ family,” Niznik said. She described it as “one thoughtless act” that led to the death of four people. “We lost a great part of our family that day.”

Lakyn Kummer, Kristine Kummer’s daughter, said the death and loss of her mother is still as fresh and hurtful today as the day of the crash nearly two years ago.

“I lost everything that day, all because she blew a stop sign,” Lakyn Kummer said.

Maureen McIlligott, Ellin’s grandmother, said that Stevens missed four traffic signs, not just one stop sign. McIlligott said the crash tore her family apart.

“You’ve got to keep your eyes on the road,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a brand-new driver or 60 years old.”

Gabrielle Hodges, Ellin’s sister, said that Stevens showed remorse at her sister’s family. Stevens attended Ellin’s funeral.

“She said she never meant for anything to happen,” Hodges said. “No amount of punishment is going to bring my sister back.”

District attorney Wade Newell recommended that Stevens be placed in prison for two years along with three years of extended supervision, plus one year in jail.

“No one is saying this is an intentional homicide; no one is saying this is a reckless homicide,” Newell told Cray. “She is here for a homicide by criminal negligence.”

Newell said a traffic reconstruction report indicates that Stevens might have had her eyes off the road for eight seconds. He reiterated there were numerous traffic signs that Stevens missed.

“It’s the totality of the circumstances,” Newell said. “You have to decide what is reasonable. She closed her attention to what was going on around her.”

He added that his recommendation factors in the totality of the harm caused.

Stevens’ attorney, Rich White, said the case is “tragic beyond comprehension,” but reiterated that this was an accident. He admits he has ran a stop sign before, and it was just sheer luck that he didn’t cause a crash. He reminded Cray that there was no drug or alcohol use, no texting, and no exhibition driving. Stevens also has no prior criminal record.

“Cara is overwhelmed by this. The tragedy caused to everyone has not been lost on her,” White said. “In her mind, she knows she bares responsibility.”

Cray said a reasonable period of probation and jail time is a better outcome than a prison sentence.

About 60 people packed Cray’s courtroom, including several from Kummer’s family, who all wore identical black race shirts with her name on the front, and reading “In loving memory of mom” on the back.

According to the criminal complaint:

Stevens was northbound on Highway G in the town of Ruby when the crash occurred at 5:02 p.m. May 27, 2017.

Stevens’ Chrysler Pacifica crashed with a westbound Chevrolet Silverado at the intersection of Highway G and Highway 64, halfway between Cornell and Gilman. The Wisconsin State Patrol responded to the crash and handled the investigation.

“Ms. Stevens failed to stop for the stop sign,” the report states. The vehicles collided, entered the ditch, and began to roll.

The driver of the Silverado was David Kummer. Along with the death of Kristine Kummer, other passengers in the vehicle suffered serious injuries. Nicole Ronni suffered a compression fracture, a clavicle fracture, cracked ribs and a punctured lung. Cody Kummer suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery. Two others had minor injuries.

Stevens was taken to HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire. An officer interviewed her there, and Stevens said she and her friends were headed to a rural bar, but she hadn’t been there before. Stevens said she had passed an Amish buggy, and looked at it in her rear-view mirror. When she “looked up,” the Silverado was in front of her, and the vehicles collided.

Blood samples were taken from both Stevens and David Kummer. Kummer had no alcohol or restricted controlled substances in his system; Stevens had morphine and Midazolam in her system, but those were drugs administered to her at the hospital.

“Driver impairment does not appear to be a factor in this crash,” the report states.

After examining the scene, the officer determined that Stevens didn’t attempt to stop before the crash, noting the tire mark “does not appear until after entering the intersection.”

“While the exact reasons for Ms. Stevens’ inattention are not known, it is likely her attention was not focused to the approaching intersection and stop sign,” the criminal complaint concludes.

The criminal complaint doesn’t indicate any cell phone use by either driver while driving.


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'Avengers: Endgame' selling out weeks ahead of time in the Chippewa Valley

The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is building up to be a force at the Chippewa Valley box office.

“Avengers: Endgame,” is the upcoming 22nd entry into the MCU film series which will pair the superhero team The Avengers against Thanos as they look to avenge recent events in the franchise. The film is set to debut on Friday, April 26, but the film is already making waves at box offices around the Chippewa Valley.

It is commonplace for theaters to have a “preview night” for bigger films which come out the night before their scheduled wide opening. Micon Cinemas in Chippewa Falls will generally show these films once or twice Thursday nights and the showings will sell out gradually up until a few hours before the start time. But “Avengers: Endgame,” is defying all expectations and making its Thursday showings on April 25 a once-in-a-generation event.

Micon Cinemas in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire currently have eight showings of “Avengers: Endgame” scheduled (3-D and 2-D combined) for April 25. The four showings at the Eau Claire theater are either completely sold out or 95 percent sold out after 24 hours of going on sale, and the Chippewa Falls show times are nearing capacity as well.

Longtime superhero movie fan Marcus Andrews of Chippewa Falls said he isn’t the movie is selling tickets so fast as “Avengers: Endgame,” the culmination of more than a decade of films so people are understandably excited.

“This really feels like the end, so I think people just don’t want to have the movie spoiled for them,” Andrews said. “Ever since last year people have been talking about this movie, so when you come out with a new trailer and put tickets on sale within hours of each other you can understand why people are clamoring for tickets.”

Micon Cinemas’ website received a large amount of traffic when the tickets when on sale, with many encountering troubles purchasing the ticket as the website was having difficulties handling the large number of visitors. But this phenomenon is not just happening in the Chippewa Valley, as “Avengers: Endgame,” is selling out across the nation.

Popular movie ticket purchasing site Fandango reported Tuesday that “Avengers: Endgame” now holds the single day ticket record in the 19 years of the site. The film bested 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” selling more tickets than any other film on its first day of pre-sale.

Andrews said right after he bought tickets it was evident just how high the demand is to see this movie as early as possible.

“Right after I bought tickets I checked the site and the theater was almost full,” Andrews said. “I keep seeing articles about websites crashing and people reselling tickets online, so I’m grateful I got them when I did. It’s cool to see people still get excited about this sort of thing.”

Now that the movie has set records in pre-sales, there is talk in the movie industry of it being the highest grossing movie of all-time, perhaps being the first to cross the three billion international box office mark.

John Tulius, a Chippewa Falls moviegoer, said he thinks the movie will make a lot at the box office, but isn’t quite sure it will have the staying power to best the currently record holder “Avatar.”

“It sounds like it is going to set some records,” Tulius said. “It seems like people are having trouble getting tickets, so I’m guessing it will make quite a bit of money the first weekend its out. I don’t know if it will be the highest selling movie of all-time or anything, but it will definitely be one of them at the very least.”

“Avengers: Endgame” serves as the direct sequel to 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” which saw high amounts of success both critically and commercially across the world. The movie is in the top five grossing films of all-time, with its box office revenue topping over two billion dollars.


STATE BUDGET
GOP budget committee leaders split on Tony Evers' proposed gas-tax increase

JANESVILLE — An Assembly Republican leader said Friday he will consider Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to increase the gas tax, saying transportation could be an area of compromise with the Democratic governor.

But his Senate GOP counterpart pointedly declined to back the plan, underscoring that lawmakers’ budget differences are not strictly partisan. The split suggests persistence of the Assembly-Senate division on transportation funding from two years ago that delayed passage of the most recent state budget by months.

The leaders of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee spoke just before they heard public testimony Friday on the next state budget. About 200 residents attended the hearing, the first of four the committee plans to hold outside Madison.

Most speakers advocated for Evers’ budget plan, with many lauding its $1.4 billion funding increase for K-12 schools. Others called for expanding health care access, while a few urged the committee not to go along with Evers’ plan to cap a tax break for large manufacturers.

Asked before the hearing about Evers’ transportation budget, the co-chairman of the committee, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, called it “an opportunity for us to find common ground.”

Evers’ plan would increase the 32.9-cent-a-gallon gas tax by eight cents, to 40.9 cents, and link future increases to inflation, and increase fees for vehicle titles and heavy trucks. The new revenue would go to reduce borrowing for transportation and boost funding for state and local road upgrades.

Pressed on his view on Evers’ gas-tax increase, Nygren said, “I’m not going to be a hypocrite on this.”

“You know the Assembly has been in favor of funding solutions for transportation. So I’m not going to say no, I’m not going to say yes,” Nygren said.

Speaking to that question, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, co-chairwoman of the committee, said, “I’m not going to go there right now.”

“I’d rather find solutions that don’t increase the burdens on our taxpayers,” Darling said.

Darling did not cite examples of alternative solutions she would consider.

Nygren said some provisions in Evers’ transportation budget, such as reinstating a prevailing wage requirement for public works projects, are nonstarters with Assembly Republicans.

Democratic lawmakers said Evers’ budget addresses funding shortages for transportation and K-12 schools that they said worsened under former Gov. Scott Walker.

Speakers at Friday’s hearings addressed a range of topics including health care, tobacco-use prevention, increasing state aid to municipalities, boosting clean energy use, implementing a nonpartisan redistricting process and ending solitary confinement in state prisons.

Mario Ramirez, a spokesman for the immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, testified in favor of a provision in Evers’ budget that would enable people living in Wisconsin illegally to obtain state IDs including driver’s licenses. The IDs would say that they could not be used to meet the state’s photo ID requirement to vote.

Mitchell Benson, a senior vice president at Janesville-based Prent Corp., testified against Evers’ plan to cap a tax credit for large manufacturers. Prent, which makes plastic trays for medical applications, has expanded its operations in Wisconsin with the help of the credit, Benson said.

If the credit is capped as Evers proposes, Benson said that could influence the international company’s decisions about where to locate or expand.

“Obviously how friendly state government is to manufacturing directly influences where we would invest,” Benson said. “Bottom line, we have choices.”

Evers wants to cap the tax credit and limit for high-earning taxpayers a benefit for capital gains while cutting income taxes for low and middle earners. The result would be a net increase in revenue to the state’s general fund, much of which he would devote to his school-funding increase. Much of that, about $600 million, would go toward special education services, while another $619 million would go to general aid for school districts.

Anna Hauser of Madison, testifying on behalf of herself and her 13-year-old son Zavier Hauser, who has cerebral palsy, advocated for Evers’ special-education funding proposal.

Hauser said Evers’ proposal would significantly reduce the extent to which school districts must tap other funding sources to subsidize special education services like what her son needs. This could result in better educational services for students both with and without special needs, Hauser said.

Zavier Hauser’s medical condition makes him nonverbal, and he needs instruction in devices that enable him to communicate, Anna Hauser said. She said that instruction is something the district sometimes struggles to provide due to funding constraints. She hopes Evers’ plan could change that.

“It means, for him, that he can interact with his peers,” Hauser said.

More Joint Finance budget hearings are planned later this month in Oak Creek, River Falls and Green Bay.


 

John Nygren