2012 in review: Walworth County’s top 10 news stories
WALWORTH COUNTY What made news here this year? Politics—including a presidential election that put area residents on the map, a publicized court case, weather that had locals scratching their heads, and a small green beetle with a destructive path. Here’s our list of 2012’s newsworthy picks. (Click on the highlighted line in red to read each complete story.)
Politics dominated the news in 2012, in an election year that never seemed to end—certainly for campaign-weary Wisconsin voters, who in November, saw their seventh statewide election in 22 months. Walworth County residents saw a shift in local politics with its longtime district attorney Phil Koss leaving the position to become a judge, and opening the door to a D.A. race that pitted two Republican attorneys: Dan Necci from Elkhorn and Steve Harvey of Delavan, against each other. Necci emerged the winner.
The national spotlight hit Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Janesville), when he was tapped as the vice presidential nominee for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Under the law, Ryan was also allowed to run simultaneously for his 1st Congressional District seat. While Romney lost the election, Ryan retained the district where he’s served for 14 years.
After the warm spring temps in March and April that seemed more suited to Alabama than Wisconsin, the state saw a punishing drought that took its toll on crops, including apples, corn, soybeans, even Christmas trees. The heat spurred the opening of cooling centers this summer, prompted burning bans in area municipalities and cancelled fireworks celebrations for a number of communities.
A tiny Asian beetle, the emerald ash borer, made its way into Walworth County this year, destroying ash trees in its wake. Found for the first time in Wisconsin in 2008, by 2012, the beetle has also been confirmed in Brown, Crawford, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Trempealeau, Vernon, Washington and Waukesha counties, where municipal officials are trying to stem its tide.
A county-owned gun range in LaFayette Township has residents concerned not only over the noise, but for their safety when bullets fly there, leaving spent shell casings too close for comfort. Their complaints have led the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, which trains at and operates the site, to ask for county funding in 2013 to remodel the facility.
With agriculture a big business in Walworth County, prime farm land has always been an asset. Lately concerns are growing over bidding wars for that farmland, and its increasing value, which has caused the rent of crop farmers to spike.
A former Williams Bay High School girls junior varsity basketball coach was charged with repeated sexual assault of a child and possession of child pornography. Shane McKinley, formerly of Delavan, is accused of having a relationship with a then 15-year-old player on his team. His case is pending.
A case in Walworth County courts that’s drawn national attention is the town of Bloomfield couple accused of abusing the town of Bloomfield couple accused of abusing their six adopted children—all from Russia. The felony charges against Martin and Kathleen O’Brien, which prosecutors say began in 2004, include spraying pepper spray into a child’s face, kneeing a child in the groin, and stabbing a child in the hand with a pocket knife. The couple has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and is currently awaiting a judge’s decision on their attorneys’ motion dismissing most of the charges.
The trial of a former president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties is scheduled for April 2013 on charges he repeatedly sexually assaulted two boys he mentored in the program. Rodney Meiller, 51, of Elkhorn, is charged with three counts of first-degree repeated sexual assault of the same child involving two boys ages 11 and 14. Lake Geneva police arrested Meiller in June after one of the boys and his mother reported multiple sexual assaults.
A Town of Lyons man was shot, and eventually died after threatening suicide and then threatening law enforcement officers with a knife in May. John Brown’s mother called Walworth County sheriff’s deputies to her home, where the incident occurred. The deputy who shot Brown returned to duty after Walworth County’s district attorney reviewed the incident.