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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: 08/25/2016

- Tonight on Newswatch 12:

We'll take you to the Oneida County Courthouse for day 2 of the trial of Mark Spietz who is accused of breaking into and stealing items from a home where a double murder occurred in March of 2015.

Snowmobiling will start in just a few months. We'll show you how snowmobile clubs and groomer builders in Vilas County are getting prepared for the season before the snow falls.

And we'll give you a look at one of the oldest resorts Vilas County has to offer.

We'll bring you the details on these stories and more tonight on Newswatch 12 - news from where you live.

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VILAS COUNTY - Soon snow will be falling. In fact, preparation for snowmobile season starts as soon as next month.
Cross Country Cruisers Snowmobile Club President David Assmann and his crew are just about ready to hit the trails, starting in September.

"We cut all the brush and everything that's low to the ground," said Assmann.

His crew spends a lot of volunteered time making sure 93 miles of trails near Arbor Vitae are ready and safe to use in the winter.

"We have at least five guys going out, sometimes twice a day. We do trails in the morning and then trails late at night," said Assmann.

Many people who live here use the Northwoods trails, but so do a lot of tourists during the winter months.
"We are able to go out, get these trails groomed so that the tourists that come up can go on our trails, can get to the different businesses in the area, and that helps the economy up here," said Assmann.

With so many miles of trails in Vilas County, one of the best parts is that there is equipment made to maintain those trails, right in St. Germain.

Arrowhead Groomers has been in Vilas County since 1976. The company builds equipment that levels out the trails.

"We manufacture the snow groomer drags primarily for snowmobile trails. Some of them end up getting used on cross country ski trails as well," said Walker Equipment owner Dave Walker.

Another local snowmobile club, Bo-Boen, uses the Arrowhead Groomers on their trails as well.

"I have 17 drivers on my staff that maintain 100 miles of trails here in St. Germain. We're very cognizant of the fact that we have to do a good job to bring those people here so they can spend their money and keep our economy going," said the trail boss for Bo-Boen snowmobile club Jim Wendt.

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EAGLE RIVER - The Vilas County Sheriff's Office says no one was hurt after a 48-year-old Mark Mayo of Eagle River threatened to hurt himself with a firearm near Eagle River Wednesday night.

Crews responded Wednesday evening near to the area near Deerskin Road north of Eagle River and south of Phelps to reports that a man wanted to hurt himself and was armed with a 9 mm handgun and two magazines. That report came in around 3:55 p.m.

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MADISON - More than a million unregistered voters in Wisconsin may be getting a postcard in the mail soon telling them what to do so they can cast a ballot in the upcoming presidential election.

The state's Elections Commission is working on the mailing that is expected to be sent in about a month. It comes as part of the requirement of Wisconsin joining an inter-state consortium dedicated to assisting with voter registration.

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PELICAN LAKE - Many college students are heading back to campus soon. But for two Northwoods natives who just graduated, they wanted to come back home and start their own business.

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MADISON - Unemployment fell in most of Wisconsin's largest cities and counties last month.

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WASHINGTON - Donald Trump's new Wisconsin women coalition includes some of the most powerful politicians in the state, and two who were caught up in a highly publicized investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's office in his previous position as Milwaukee County executive.

The unveiling of the statewide group Wednesday comes as polls show Trump trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton overall in Wisconsin and among women.

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