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Wisconsin roundup: U.S. Senate endorsement to take center stage at Wis. GOP convention; more state news stories

U.S. Senate candidates Kevin Nicholson and state Sen. Leah Vukmir are vying for the Republican endorsement, which will be voted on this weekend at the state GOP convention. File photos

It doesn't guarantee a victory, but the endorsement of the party's candidate for U.S. Senate will be the big prize at next weekend's Republican Party Convention.

State Se. Leah Vukmir is favored against Kevin Nicholson. Nicholson is getting a lot of financial support from outside of Wisconsin because he calls himself the kind of political outsider who is needed while the country has a president like Donald Trump. A party endorsement brings with it resources like donor lists, field staffing, and additional funding. The final decision will be made by voters in the Aug. 14 primary.


Tourists spent 3% more money in Wis. during 2017

The Wisconsin Tourism Department reports that tourism represented $20.6 billion in total sales in the state during 2017.

That figure is 3 percent higher than the year before. Gov. Scott Walker is quoted as saying the travel and hospitality industry in Wisconsin is booming. The tourism industry directly or indirectly supports nearly 200,000 Wisconsin jobs. About $2 billion in direct tourist spending was made in Milwaukee County to lead the state. Dane County followed, with Sauk County third.


Arrest made in fatal shooting case

A 31-year-old homicide suspect is expected to make a court appearance in Portage County this week.

He's being held in a fatal shooting reported Saturday night in the town on Almond. Deputies responded to a home after receiving a 911 call at about 6 p.m. Investigators think the alleged shooter and victim were the only two people involved. With a major law enforcement response in the area, the Almond High School prom was temporarily suspended. After the suspect was arrested, the prom resumed with extra officers remaining nearby for security.


Pilot lands plane in farm field after engine failure

Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration say a plane which went down in southern Wisconsin last Friday was on a flight from Oklahoma to Stevens Point.

Forty-nine-year-old pilot Tomas Michael Buchberger set the single-engine craft down in a farm field with only minimal damage done. Buchberger’s plane experienced engine failure and he had to make an emergency landing about 170 miles south of his destination. As part of the FAA investigation, the plane is being taken apart at the scene and removed for closer examination. No injuries were reported.


Chamber cheers American Family Insurance merger

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce is cheering the merger between American Family Insurance and the Main Street America Group.

Chamber President Zach Brandon called it terrific news for American Family. Brandon said in a statement, "we are excited about the deal, its expanded choices for small business owners and the significant potential it represents for the future of one of this region's true community leaders." Officials say Florida-based Main Street America and American Family will continue to operate separately. They will merge their equity, products and services, forming a company with combined policyholder equity of $9 billion.


Judge rescinds permits for western Wis. frac sand plant

A judge has ruled against a proposed frac sand plant in western Wisconsin.

The DNR granted Meteor Timber of Georgia permits to fill 16 acres of wetlands for the $70 million sand processing plant in Monroe County. The permits were challenged by Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation, and on Friday Administrative law Judge Eric Defort ruled the permits were improperly granted.

Defort says the application lacked enough information to determine the environmental impact. The judge said Meteor's mitigation plan wasn't adequate and the project would cause significant adverse impacts.


Feds: Superior explosion started in fluid catalytic cracking unit

Federal inspectors say the first explosion at the Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior started in an area where crude oil is being heated and extracted to create gas and other petroleum-based products.

That started a series of explosions and fires last week which injured at least 20 people. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board says a metallurgical analysis will be made to understand why the fluid catalytic cracking unit failed. The widespread evacuation was ordered because the refinery uses hydrogen fluoride in its processes. Local officials have asked the company to switch to a safer chemical process.


Drug-gang leader given 4-year prison sentence

The accused leader of a large drug ring operating in Eau Claire has been sentenced to four years in prison.

A federal judge made that determination Thursday while saying Blake Handrick is responsible for bringing 300 pounds of marijuana into the area over a four-month period. Handrick was taken into custody after selling 26 pounds of pot to an undercover office in December 2015. Federal investigators say he hired couriers to transport 30- to 50-pound shipments from Washington state to Eau Claire. From there it would be repackaged and sold.


Former UW-Madison employee accused of stealing $114K

Prosecutors say a former employee at the University of Wisconsin-Madison funneled the cash he was taking through fake companies, cashed fraudulent checks and made personal purchases.

The thefts were discovered in March 2017 and 54-year-old Kevin O'Donnell was fired. O'Donnell faces 12 felony and two misdemeanor charges. Investigators say he took the money while he was serving as the purchasing manager for university housing. He had a pretrial hearing last Friday. O'Donnell was freed on a signature bond.