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Rhinelander Police officer and lawmakers work on fighting huffing and drivingSubmitted: 03/01/2013

Lane Kimble
Managing Editor/Anchor
lkimble@wjfw.com


RHINELANDER - It can kill you the first time you try it, but kids and adults seem to be doing it anyway. Inhaling aerosol sprays for a simple high. It's called huffing. But it wasn't illegal in Wisconsin until 2005.

"Having a legal thing that people can do made it more appealing that you can just go to the store and get chemical sprays and dusters and get high off that and not face any consequences," Rhinelander Police Sgt. Kurt Helke said. "At least now there's a consequence to that."

Helke helped lead the charge seven years ago to make huffing a crime. Now it's a class A misdemeanor. But his fight is far from over.

About a month ago, a Rhinelander driver named Matthew Taulbut crashed his car into the curb here, on Baird and Dahl streets near the county courthouse. Police found him slumped over the wheel with aerosol cans in his lap.

But ironically enough, Taulbut, who crashed just a block from where the law is upheld, couldn't be charged criminally with his 4th OWI. Huffing isn't defined as an intoxicant. At least not yet.

State Representative Rob Swearingen is a co-sponsor of this bill making its way around the Capitol. Sergeant Helke contacted him and other lawmakers with hopes of amending the drunk driving laws.

"Essentially what we're going to do is open up the word intoxicant and include the word inhalant, like huffing, and include that so that police actually have some teeth when they try to enforce the law," Swearingen said.

Lawmakers from both sides are coming together to draft the bill. The next stop will be in a legislative committee before heading to a hearing. Swearingen thinks the process should be smooth.

"It's highly likely, depending on any opposition, and I don't know why anyone would oppose this, but pending any opposition, something like this is good, common sense legislation," Swearingen said.

That's good news for Sgt. Helke and police everywhere.

"Unfortunately in most places, they aren't aware or there isn't anything spurned until somebody dies," Helke said. "And we don't want to wait until somebody dies until the awareness is risen."

Awareness and a law, that should make the roads safer.

"I think this is a simple fix, I don't think it's a big deal, but it's something that should get done, needs to get done so they can do their job," Swearingen said.

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 IN OTHER NEWS
What We're Working OnSubmitted: 08/26/2016

- Tonight on Friday Night Blitz we will bring you scores from high school football games all across North Central Wisconsin as well as highlights from the following games:

River Falls vs. Merrill

Rhinelander vs. Wittenberg-Birnamwood

Oconto vs. Antigo

Phillips vs. Tomahawk

That will be tonight on Friday Night Blitz at the end of Newswatch 12 at 10.

We'll bring you this and more tonight on Newswatch 12 - news from where you live.

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ST. GERMAIN - A brand new rental in St. Germain just opened for business last year. 

"I stumbled across the house and noticed it was vacant," said Roger Bauer.

Three years ago, with grass up to his knees, Roger knew he had a lot of work ahead of him. 

"[It was] a complete gut job, down to the bare studs," said Roger.

Starting work on a house that sat vacant for about 20 years didn't make for the most fun work.

"[It was] was miserable because it was 45 below the first night we started doing demo on the how," said Roger.

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RHINELANDER - Rhinelander High School's class of 2020 will come in strong with a class of nearly 175 students.

The student government held a new student orientation to ease some of the first day jitters. 

Most of the incoming class includes students from James Williams Middle School and Nativity. 

The orientation was held for freshman as well as transfer students.

Some of the new students did find some aspects of high school surprising. 

"It's a bigger school than I thought, way bigger than I thought," said incoming freshman Luke Fritz.
The students found the tour extremely helpful.

 Students were able to visit their classes, meet their teachers and learn about new clubs and organizations. 

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MERRILL - An 85-year-old Antigo woman will be in court Friday for the first time in the death of a Lincoln County highway worker last summer..

According to online court records, Mary Robinson is expected to face a charge of Homicide by Negligent use of a Vehicle.

50-year-old Marcus Wydeven was killed July 14, 2015 when he was hit by a car while working on a road construction project.

Wydeven worked on Lincoln County roads for 20 years before being hit and killed.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said Wydeven was flagging southbound traffic with a stop sign when Robinson of Antigo hit him and then rolled her car into a ditch.

Robinson is due in court Friday afternoon.

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MADISON - A new study suggests that Wisconsin's villages have struggled more with economic recovery than larger cities since the big recession of 2008-09.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the study also found the controversial Act 10 that was passed to limit collective bargaining by public workers saved local governments about $100 million, or 1.5 percent of total spending, in 2012.

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FITCHBURG - Investigators will try to determine why a house exploded in Fitchburg, critically injuring a man and causing damage to at least two dozen other homes in the neighborhood.

Authorities say the 57-year-old man has significant injuries as a result of the explosion just before 7 p.m. Thursday. Fire officials say three nearby houses have major structural damage and 23 others have moderate to minor damage. Fire Chief Joe Pulvermacher says debris from the explosion landed about a-half mile from the scene.

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VILAS COUNTY - Police still need to arrest the person who killed a Phelps woman back in May.

Hikers found the body of 47-year-old Luann Beckman on a trail near Noseeum Lake.

Investigators then ruled it a homicide and sent all the evidence to the state crime lab in Madison.

The Vilas County Sheriff told Newswatch 12 they've interviewed dozens of people and have a list of suspects, but they need DNA evidence for an arrest.

"We're waiting for the science to point us in the right direction," said Vilas County Sheriff Joe Fath. "It would be wonderful to develop a DNA profile to lead us to somebody. Or be able to get a full profile to be able to compare to people in the area that we've gotten leads on."

Sheriff Fath told Newswatch investigators had to submit some evidence to the FBI crime lab. He said the state crime lab found a partial DNA profile and needs to send it to a place with more advanced technology.

"I mean we still get calls from the community, but it's not substantive," Fath said. "You know it's, I heard this, I heard that, I think this, I think you might want to talk to this guy, which we do. But we will continue to follow up on those leads."

He said investigators do think the suspect is local and someone Beckman knew.

If you have any information, you can call the anonymous tip line, 1-800-78-CRIME. 

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