By Jennifer Eisenbart
It’s been a year of new beginnings, controversy and tragic circumstance in the Burlington area.
The following are the top local news stories of 2016, as determined by the staff of the Burlington Standard Press.
- House explosion ruled murder-suicide
An explosion that demolished a home on Ketterhagen Road May 14 was ruled a homicide in the weeks that followed.
The explosion leveled the home at 29235 Ketterhagen Road. The bodies of Craig Lambert and Nicholas Chaulkin were found and identified, and a tissue sample found in the rubble was ruled to be that of Kimberly Howe, Lambert’s girlfriend.
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling and his department investigated the scene and came to the conclusion that Lambert murdered Howe and Chaulkin, then set the fire that eventually resulted in the explosion.
The crime scene was investigated for more than two weeks, as the sheriff’s department discovered there had been a domestic dispute between Lambert and Howe. Howe’s daughter, Tamara Burgos, said that her mother and brother had left the home following the dispute, and didn’t believe they had returned.
However, the sheriff’s department expressed certainty that it had positively identified the three victims.
“We base our comments on evidence and the totality of the investigation,” Schmaling said. “We have done nothing short of a thorough investigation. There is no doubt we have the remains of those three individuals.”
- City of Burlington approves new community pool
It took more than two years of planning, fundraising and pitching of ideas, but City of Burlington residents approved a referendum Nov. 8 that sets in motion plans for the city’s 50-year-old community pool to be replaced.
The advisory referendum was for a not-to-exceed amount of $5.4 million, to tear out the old pool – failing due to age – and replace it with a modern aquatic park.
Conceptual plans call for a facility with one vessel including a zero-depth entry area and multiple play features, and a second vessel with lap lanes, a diving well, two slides and a climbing wall.
The community pool had been deemed unsalvageable earlier this year following a study of the structure, as repair costs were deemed too high given the age of the structure. Instead, the city chose to work with Ayres and Associates to plan a new pool structure, shelter and layout and present it to the community for consideration.
Costs came in higher than expected, originally at $5.7 million, but the city worked to lower the costs and bring the number down to about $5 million at the present time.
At the Dec. 20 Common Council meeting, aldermen unanimously approved moving forward with the proposed pool management plan and also voted to move forward with the drafting of construction documents.
There were changes made to the pool management document following the Dec. 6 Committee of the Whole meeting, clarifying amounts expected to be covered by fundraising as well as actual costs for training and opening and closing the pool properly each season.
The end result was fundraising money being put into the budget as revenue to offset the added costs, with the pool budget still showing about a $9,000 surplus each year.
The city is still working on finalizing an agreement with the Community Pool Board to run the pool at no cost to the city.
- Facilities at Burlington Area School District studied for referendum
The Burlington Area School District School Board narrowed its options on referendum possibilities to three, plus an Option A, in early November.
The board accepted three plans that allow the district to decide what to do with Karcher Middle School, with an emphasis on grades 5-8 being at the middle school level.
That grade configuration was the recommendation of the administration committee, with a goal to soften grade transition and allow for students to retain elective offerings at the current grade levels.
The grade configuration will also allow students to remain in the Montessori program through sixth grade within the setup that exists.
The three options involve renovating Karcher, building a new middle school or combining new construction with remodeling at Karcher.
The maintenance that needs to be done at the other schools – including adding 21st century learning spaces – is factored into the figures given for all three plans.
Under current estimates, the cost would be roughly $43.3 million to do all renovations including Karcher, $77.2 million to build a new school and $60.2 million to split the difference between the two.
However, still to be factored into the numbers are adding a Montessori wing at the Karcher site in one of the plans, and what the district will do with what will likely be an unneeded fifth elementary school.
Option A involves athletics, arts and elective class-type renovations to be done at the high school, at the cost of about $23 million.
A survey is open for community members to complete through Friday of this week.
In order to get the referendum question on the April ballot, the board will need to make a decision at its general meeting in January.
- New Aurora facility opens to great fanfare
An estimated 3,000 people turned out for a tour of the new Aurora Southern Lakes facility, an autograph session with three former members of the Green Bay Packers, free food and a ribbon cutting for the new facility Oct. 1.
The facility, which officially opened Oct. 17, houses a day surgery center, a Vince Lombardi Cancer Care department, and three floors of specialty departments that include a complete women’s imaging center, ear, nose and throat, rehabilitation and a pain clinic.
The Oct. 1 open house drew dignitaries from around the area, including Aurora President and Chief Executive Officer Nick Turkal, Executive Vice President and president of the medical group Jeff Bailet, numerous government officials including former City of Burlington Mayor Bob Miller, current Mayor Jeannie Hefty, and Sandi and Dave Conrad – a couple whose medical experience with Aurora helped shape their lives.
Both spoke about their experiences – Sandi as a breast cancer survivor and Dave as a cardiac patient – and how the new facility would help them.
“The cancer center is just beautiful,” Sandi said. “I can’t tell you how moved I was when I first saw it.”
Sandi also cut the ribbon at the end of the event.
Numerous members of the staff of the new facility were on hand for the event and earlier in the week for a handful of private tours.
Among the areas of pride for the staff is a private area for the women’s imaging department, where women who are waiting for mammograms have their own area, and where patients’ families can be brought in to discuss any issues.
- Fatalities and crashes lead to bypass fix
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation finally agreed to change the traffic lights on the Burlington bypass intersection at Highway 83 (Pine Street) in July, putting in dedicated turn arrows instead of flashing yellow arrows.
The intersection at Pine Street had been altered once before, following a fatal crash in the fall of 2015. After that incident, flashing yellow turn arrows were added to three of the intersection’s four directions, with a green turn arrow that would turn red added to the fourth.
All four directions now have green turn arrows that will cycle to red and stop turns across oncoming traffic. The same changes – allowing for a green turn arrow going to red and eliminating the flashing yellow arrows – were also made to the bypass at the Highway 11 (Durand Avenue) intersection.
The change came about three weeks following a second fatal crash at the South Pine intersection. On July 8, motorcyclist Jack Shilts, a 57-year-old from Cudahy, died after a semi-trailer truck traveling westbound on the bypass appeared to fail to yield the right of way on a left-hand turn.
Mayor Jeannie Hefty said before the second fatality, there was another crash at that intersection involving a semi-truck and a car. There have been several other crashes at the intersection, but no other fatalities.
- Jeannie Hefty returns as City of Burlington mayor
In 2015, issues between the City of Burlington Fire Department and the Burlington Area Rescue Squad came to a head in the resignation of then-Fire Chief Perry Howard.
Many speculated that Mayor Bob Miller’s ousting in the April election was the result of that conflict, as well as others. Miller’s final year and a half in office had been marked with controversy, including the departure of City Administrator Kevin Lahner and Police Chief Peter Nimmer – both left for jobs elsewhere – as well as Howard.
Stepping back into a familiar role was Hefty, who had previously served as mayor in the 1990s and who pledged to bring everyone back together.
“I feel leadership must be willing to span divisions and bring people and organization together for the common good of the community,” Hefty said.
- Joint facility under review
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said he wants the Racine County building in the City of Burlington demolished by the end of 2017, and the plans are in the works to develop a shared facility featuring a City Hall, county offices, and, possibly, a public library and Burlington Area School District offices.
The city, school district, county and the Burlington Public Library board are working together to determine whether it makes sense to build a facility to house all four entities.
After outlining what the space needs are, the total came to a little more than 56,000 feet.
By way of comparison, Cooper School in Burlington is 58,000 feet, said BASD Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Gary Olsen at a November meeting.
However, that number includes duplicates of space that could be shared, such as bathrooms and conference areas. In total, a consultant estimates the four entities would need about 51,000 square feet of shared space, and once allowing for functional needs taking up an amount of space, the savings could be as much as 7,500 square feet.
At about $150 a square foot in costs, the savings could be more than $1 million.
PSG Inc. and Bray have begun evaluating potential sites for the project.
- Middle school students accused of creating hit list
Two Burlington teenagers could be facing serious consequences after allegedly using Facebook to compile what they called a hit list Dec. 6.
According to a criminal complaint, a 15-year-old girl allegedly gave a list of specific names to her 14-year-old boyfriend through Facebook. The girl’s mother found the messages and went to the school, where Principal Jill Oelslager notified the school resource police officer.
When confronted, the girl allegedly admitted to giving the list to the boyfriend. She also said during the interview that she was having troubling, “dark” thoughts.
The boy reportedly said he only asked for the list to give the girl the feeling “he had her back,” and wouldn’t have killed anyone. However, a large pair of school scissors was found in the boy’s locker, though he said they were for another purpose.
Both have been charged as adults with conspiracy to commit murder.
The school district dealt with a similar incident in the past. That occurred in 1998, when a several Burlington High School students planned on bringing weapons to the school and executing certain students who had taunted them.
There were two other threats this year, both at Burlington High School – a bomb threat in September and a threat left in a bathroom a week after the hit list situation.
- Burlington’s Abraham Lincoln statue knocked down
A Burlington man accused of pulling the city’s Abraham Lincoln statue from its base in January was convicted and sentenced to probation.
Jacob Hinds, 22, pleaded no contest Nov. 11 to a misdemeanor charge of criminal damage to property in the wake of the incident that took place Jan. 30 at triangle intersection of State and Kane streets.
Hinds was originally charged with felony criminal damage to property, and the charge was amended per a plea deal.
According to court records, Hinds was ordered to pay $8,377 in restitution for damage to the statue and the surrounding area when it was pulled from its base. A sentence has been withheld, pending one year of probation where Hinds will use no drugs or alcohol, remain employed and pay for court costs and any assessments or treatment as deemed appropriate.
The eight-foot-tall statue was originally gifted to the city in 1913, and was restored and rededicated in 1995 and 2014.
A ceremony was held Feb. 14 to welcome back the renovated statue following the damage caused by Hinds.
- High school sports teams make state impact
It was a strong year for sports teams at Burlington High School and Catholic Central High School.
In June, the BHS baseball team picked up a pair of victories at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament to advance to the final, where the team met Arrowhead.
The Demons fell into a 4-0 hole, and still trailed 4-2 going into the top of the seventh inning.
There, BHS plated four runs, and then held Arrowhead scoreless in the bottom of the seventh for Burlington’s first-ever state title in the sport.
The Catholic Central boys basketball team, meanwhile, made a triumphant return to the WIAA state tournament for the first time since 2006.
The Hilltoppers upended Barneveld 37-35 in the state semifinals before coming up short in the championship game against McDonell Central of Chippewa Falls.
CCHS was just the No. 3 seed in its half of the sectional bracket, defeating top-seeded Hustisford to make it to state.
In November, the BHS girls volleyball team made an unexpected run to not only the WIAA Division 1 state tournament, but to the state championship game where it lost to Neenah.
- Man who led police on wild chase set to be tried
Andrew Obregon, who was the top news story in Racine and Kenosha counties last year, is finally set to go to trial in January.
Obregon led law enforcement officials on a three-week chase following the death of Tywon Anderson Sept. 21, 2015. Wanted for questioning, Obregon fled from police several times, including two high-speed chases.
Obregon was finally captured on Oct. 13, 2015 after attacking a woman who was checking her father’s home and stealing her car. He was captured by a police dog in Zion, Ill., after authorities used the satellite communications system in the car he stole to disable the vehicle.
Obregon, 33, stands accused of 28 felonies, including first-degree intentional homicide of Anderson. He tried in December to change his public defenders, but the motion was denied by Judge Chad Kerkman.
Court officials expect Obregon’s jury trial to begin Jan. 30.
- Cops disciplined following drunken driving incident
City of Burlington Police Officer Eric Mitchell eventually resigned in November following a drunken driving charge at the end of 2015.
Mitchell and City of Burlington Police Lt. Brian Zmudzinski were disciplined following the incident, which involved Mitchell leaving Zmudzinski’s home in Walworth County and smashing into a mailbox and road sign with his vehicle.
Mitchell blew .16 on a portable Breathalyzer, and was arrested for drunken driving and a prohibited alcohol content. He was suspended 20 shifts, unpaid, and a stipulation on his remaining employment with the department was that he maintain a full and unrestricted driver’s license.
Mitchell did, but was found guilty of the drunken driving charge Nov. 1 of this year. He submitted his resignation to the department six days later.
Mitchell pursued an exemption from a court-ordered interlock device – and was given one in order to escape “financial hardship.”
Walworth County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Leusink confirmed Tuesday that the exemption was given so that Mitchell could remain employed.
“It was my understanding the exemption was for his work as a police officer,” Leusink said.
- Amber Creek suspect pleads no contest
Close to 20 years after the body of Amber Creek was discovered in the Karcher Springs State Natural Area near Schaal Road, a suspect in the case pled no contest.
James P. Eaton, who was arrested in April of 2014, pled no contest to amended charges in late October in Racine County Circuit Court.
Eaton’s initial charge of first-degree intentional homicide was changed to read as “party to a crime.” The count of hiding a corpse was dismissed but read in.
Court records over the past month show an investigative interview of a person of interest from 1998 being allowed as evidence, as a “Michael Davis” may have been the second party in the crime.
However, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said Tuesday that Eaton, of Palatine, Ill., remains the only party charged in the case.
Creek – who had been beaten, sexually assaulted and suffocated with a plastic bag, according to investigators at the time – remained unidentified for 16 months after he body was discovered in February of 1997.
According to reports, her body had been posed with an upraised hand and the word “Hi” written on her palm.
- Burlington native murdered; brother-in-law accused
A 1991 Burlington High School graduate was found shot to death in his home at 2:20 a.m. Oct. 25 in Whitewater.
Ken Myszkewicz, 43, was pronounced dead at the scene. Police met later in the day with Myszkewicz’s brother-in-law, Alan Johnson, as well as Myszkewicz’s wife and father-in-law, former Racine County Sheriff Eric Johnson.
Eric Johnson said after learning about Kenneth Myszkewicz’s death, he looked at his .40-caliber ammunition and found that some rounds were missing, according to the complaint.
Later on Oct. 25, Eric Johnson called a detective back to his Rock County residence where Alan Johnson was. When the detective entered the home, Alan Johnson allegedly said, “Arrest me. I killed him,” according to the complaint.
- Alan Babe takes over as city’s new full-time fire chief
City of Burlington officials named Alan Babe, a 21-year veteran of the Raymond Fire and Rescue Department, the city’s new fire chief in June.
Babe “worked his way up through the ranks,” according to a news release issued by the city, serving as a firefighter, captain and assistant chief before leading the Raymond department.
He has also served two terms as the president of the Racine County Fire Chief’s Association.
Babe replaced interim chief Mark Strasser, who succeeded Perry Howard – who resigned right before Christmas in 2015 after numerous personnel conflicts.
The other finalists for the job were Town of Burlington Fire Chief Ed Umnus, Burlington Area Rescue Squad Chief Brian Zwiebel, as well as Scott Kugel and Brian Harbison.
- BASD exceeds expectations in state report cards
While many area school districts function as separate grade school and high school entities, Burlington Area School District is grades 4K through 12.
As a result, the entire district’s state school report card resulted in the district earning the distinction of “exceeds expectations.”
The DPI report cards use three years of standardized test scores to determine student achievement, student growth and “closing the gaps” between students groups.
Schools scoring between 83 and 100 significantly exceeded expectations, between 73 and 82.9 exceeded expectations, 63 to 72.9 met expectations, 53 to 62.9 met few expectations and zero to 52.9 failed to meet expectations.
Two of Burlington’s elementary schools, Cooper and Lyons Center, produced the two single highest scores in the area at 90.3 and 86.1, respectively, and Karcher Middle School posted an 84.4.
Overall, the district’s score was 79.9, averaging in a 72.8 from Waller, a 74.5 from Dyer Intermediate and 70.1 score from Burlington High School.
- Former furniture store turned into business site
After a fire gutted the Schuette-Daniels Furniture store in 2014, the question of what would move into the empty site was solved when local businessman Shad Branen purchased the building.
Now, more than two years after the fire, the building – now called “The Merchantile” – is close to opening, which is planned for spring of 2017.
The first floor will be Mercantile Hall, a bridal venue and meeting space that will be run by Wendy Lynch.
Lynch also owns Christy’s Bon Bon Belle, which will take up approximately a third of the second-floor space.
On the second floor, in addition to Bon Bon Belle, additional leases are currently being finalized, Branen said.
The co-working level on the lower floor is also coming together, though Branen said they haven’t started promoting it yet.
- Local businessmen leave legacy after passing
Long-time area grocer Tom Spiegelhoff and insurance specialist Jim Mangold died this year, both leaving behind a lifetime of hard work.
Spiegelhoff, 81, died unexpectedly Aug. 31, leaving behind a legacy of community involvement – both inside of his business and outside of it.
Spiegelhoff’s children worked for him throughout the years – both from when his family grocery store resided on Chestnut Street to its move out to Milwaukee Avenue. He was instrumental in bringing Pick ‘n Save to Burlington.
Mangold died Aug. 28 after an extended illness, leaving behind Mangold Insurance – which started in 1933 as a side business for James Mangold Sr. He ran the insurance company out of his home.
Both men were active not only in their businesses, but within the City of Burlington as well as volunteers and service club members.
- Downtown retail site sold to Core Group
After years of being unable to develop a planned downtown retail site, the City of Burlington agreed to sell the property to Burlington Core Group II.
The group, led by Bill Stone and Tom Stelling, had been trying to purchase the property for the last few years after development ideas stalled.
While the Core Group was asking the city to reimburse it for environmental remediation costs up to the full sale price – $70,000 – Mayor Jeannie Hefty objected, saying it would give the impression of selling land for $1.
The city came under criticism for such deals in the past, and Hefty said she would vote her conscience if that deal was not put back to where it had been. The former contract read that the city would pay $54,800 up front for remediation, with any left over returned to the city.
The site used to be a gas station, and the city is working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to remediate the site.
However, the remaining $15,200 potential credit to the buyers was originally proposed at a 50-50 split – each paying $7,600. Core Group II’s Stelling and Stone asked the city to pay half until it had covered the $70,000, the value of the property, and the contract was renegotiated after last month’s CDA meeting.
However, with Hefty’s objection, Stone agreed that the $7,600 would be the minimum profit for the city.
- Burlington, Catholic Central win state ‘Tommy Awards’
With Burlington High School producing “Anything Goes” and Catholic Central putting on “Grease,” the two schools were recognized for their musical prowess last spring.
Both musicals took part in the Tommy Awards – Wisconsin’s statewide award program for high school musicals.
The two schools combined for 37 different award nominations, with Burlington bringing home 10 awards and Catholic Central three.
BHS won 10 different awards: Sam Jorudd and Leah Zinnen for outstanding lead performance, Everson and Reetz for outstanding direction, Peggy Morgan Strimple for outstanding choreography, Karley Nadolski the school’s Spirit Award, Jeremy Fitch for outstanding scenic design, Tamara Albrecht for outstanding costume design and Robert Thompson for outstanding lighting design.
Everson said he was also proud that BHS picked up an outstanding ensemble award, pointing out that the school doesn’t cut students who audition and want to participate.
The Hilltoppers received nominations for Gregory Sember, Nate Huberty and Bridgette Wright for outstanding lead performer, Sophie Wagner, Logan Cudlip and Hayden Kempken for outstanding supporting performer, Huberty and Wright for outstanding dance performance and Wright for the Spirit Award.