Three individuals were arrested last week in connection with the 2018 drug overdose death of 36-year-old Jason Martin of Price County.
Martin was found unresponsive in the bathroom of his Town of Lake home Oct. 29, 2018. Law enforcement responding to the scene found a variety of items normally used for intravenous drug use, including syringes and a belt believed to be used as a tourniquet, and also found bruising on Martin's arm consistent with an injection site, according to a criminal complaint.
Autopsy results from the Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire were released weeks later, revealing the cause of death was positional asphyxia, a condition that occurs when a person's body position prevents them from proper respiration.
The autopsy report also
identified heroin was a factor in Martin's death, according to a criminal complaint.
Since then, local investigators have worked on the case for 17 months, eventually filing criminal complaints in Price County Court just last week, according to online court records.
Arrested April 21 and 22, each facing one count of a Class C felony for first-degree reckless homicide-party to a crime, were Jason L. Williams, 36, of Milwaukee; Alexis D. Boraas-Stueber, 24, of Park Falls; and Jacob D. Koerner, 27, of Butternut.
A Class C felony carries a fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 40 years, or both.
According to statements made in court documents, Boraas-Stueber and Koerner are alleged to have purchased a small amount of heroin from Williams the evening of Oct. 28 in Wausau. Martin is alleged to have purchased some heroin from Boraas-Stueber and Koerner later that evening.
Price County Sheriff Brian Schmidt said the investigation into Martin's death involved a large number of resources, but it's important it comes to a conclusion.
"There was a lot of time spent on this, a lot of personnel hours," Schmidt said. "When you have a drug overdose, if there is a drug nexus to it, you have to work and see if there's someone that's held culpable."
Schmidt said the case is an example of how drugs come into a community.
"We're dealing with two individuals who are local, and a third party ... who has connections beyond Price County. So we can see a path that starts to develop. You don't just go to the pharmacy and get heroin or methamphetamine. These are things that someone has brought to our community."
Price County Judge Kevin Klein set a cash bond for Williams at $30,000. Boraas-Stueber had a cash bond set at $15,000.
Koerner is out of Price County jail on a $500 cash bond and a $4,500 signature bond.
As of Monday, Williams' preliminary hearing was set for 10 a.m. April 30 and Koerner had an initial appearance set for 10 a.m., June 30.
A statement released by the Sheriff 's Office said Koerner, Boraas-Stueber, and Williams may face additional charges related to the investigation. Schmidt also reminded the public those facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A couple of dozen vehicles drove through downtown Phillips April 24, some honking horns and waving flags, in protest of the extension of Gov. Tony Evers' Safer at Home order through May 26.
The demonstration was to coincide with a protest in Madison that occurred the same day, drawing about 1,500 people, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Joe France, a Phillips-area resort owner who took part in the demonstration, said he was doing so because the governor's order was crippling his business.
"It's out of control," he said. "We're allowing a great part of America to work, and the rest of us, very small businesses, have to be shut down — hairdressers, restaurants, bars — people that don't have enough political clout to fight back. It's time for people to stand up and speak for themselves."
France believes northern Wisconsin communities, which currently have limited numbers of known coronavirus cases, are being treated unfairly and that the state needs to allow businesses like his to reopen sooner than later.
"I understand large cities may have trouble protecting bars from overcrowding, but in northern Wisconsin, most of us would be pretty happy if we had 10 people in an establishment all day long. I do believe most business owners would comply with distancing limits and sanitizing measures," he said.
France said his business has been hurt badly by being forced to close.
"I've been severely put out of business," he said.
France said he tried to apply for a portion of the $349 billion passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last month, but found the application process "absolutely ridiculous."
"You better have a full-time accountant if you want to get this application figured out, France said. "If a mom and pop business can figure this out it's a high powered accountant that retired and bought a mom and pop business because I don't understand it."
The first federal Paycheck Protection Program ran out of funding within just a few days but the president signed an additional $484 billion measure April 24, the same day as the protest. This round
of funding contained $60 billion earmarked for small-business loans and grants through the Small Business Administration's disaster aid program.
An economic impact survey conducted by Visions Northwest and other economic development groups statewide concluded 35% of businesses statewide believe they could not be viable after three months under earlier coronavirus restrictions, from April 1-10.
The results also showed 8,795 jobs were lost in the immediate aftermath of the Safer at Home order, along with $126 million in income, $95 million in inventory, $26.6 million in lost wages and productivity income, and nearly $404 million in other impacts.
On Monday, Evers announced additional nonessential businesses would be allowed to open this week, including outdoor recreational rental businesses, car washes, dog groomers, upholsterers, lawnmower repair shops, and others. The order says the businesses must operate without contact with customers
"This order means that every business across our state can do things like deliveries, mailings, curbside pick-up and drop-off, and it's an important step in making sure that while folks are staying safer at home, they can also continue to support small businesses across our state," Evers said.
The order this week builds upon the governor's expansion of business openings with his Safer at Home extension the week prior, which allowed golf courses to open and arts and crafts stores, landscaping and construction businesses, and libraries to offer curbside pick-up.
Yet the debate on exactly when and how to reopen sectors of the economy remains entwined with greater public health concerns.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 6,081 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday. At least 281 people have died in Wisconsin from the coronavirus, adding to the national death toll of over 50,000.
One key to reopening economies nationwide is the ability to test more widely for the virus. Tests by state and private labs are still limited, but access has increased in the last two weeks, according to local health officials.
"Sample kits are still limited, they could do more testing, but there has been an uptick in the amount of testing being done," said Price County Public Health Officer Michelle Edwards, who said previously only patients who were severely ill, or in a high-risk setting were receiving tests. She said even people who are experiencing mild flu-like symptoms should call one of the local health care provider hotlines to see if they qualify for a test.
The Marshfield Clinic line is 877-998-0880, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Aspirus has a line set up at 844-568-0701, staffed Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Businesses and health care needs to work together to reopen," said Edwards. "We have to make sure our healthcare providers have the personal protective equipment and supplies they need to treat patients." She said as the state opens up there's a good chance positive cases continue to increase and that the initial shutdown was meant to give providers time to respond to the pandemic.
"If it's not essential to travel, they shouldn't be doing it," said Edwards. "People that are coming up to a second home, they should be bringing supplies with them and understand that the health care system may not be able to handle," a large influx of patients.
Price County remained at a single confirmed case of COVID-19 on Monday. That individual has already recovered and been released from self-isolation, and another 86 tests have come back negative, with one more pending results as of Monday.
Nearby counties with positive cases as of Monday included: Rusk (4), Sawyer (3), Ashland (2 recovered), Iron (2), Vilas (4 recovered), and Oneida (6). Each of these counties provides a varying degree of information on the number of cases recovered or people under isolation orders.
One positive case each in Iron and Bayfield counties has died due to the virus.
Taylor and Lincoln counties were two of just five counties left without at least one confirmed case Monday.
When an idea for a poem arrives in Scott Schmidt's head, it's as if he's a musky and the idea is a lure he simply can't resist.
Schmidt has been penning poems about fishing, hunting, and other Northwoods tall tales for the better part of three decades, and now, 10 of his poems have been published in a book titled "Lines From Upstream."
For those who are familiar with Schmidt's storytelling prowess, the book is a long time coming.
It all began on Springstead's Charnley Lake in the summer of 1986, when Schmidt — a hardcore musky angler — got caught in a lightning storm in an aluminum rowboat. The charged situation seemed a bit hairy for a few minutes while Schmidt rowed madly for land, but he made it ashore with no shocking experiences.
On the drive home, counting his lucky stars, a rhyme started forming in Schmidt's brain.
This wasn't the first time he'd found words lining up in neat rhyming rows; he grew up reading Doctor Seuss and memorizing the words of poetry. There is something about the lyrical quality of words formulated in this way that sticks easily in Schmidt's brain.
The experience ended up becoming "The Rime of Gus," which is featured in Schmidt's new book, and became the start to a series of poems, often inspired by true events and featuring friends and family — earning him the local nickname of the Musky Poet.
Another Musky Poet classic familiar to those who frequent the Park Falls Gastropub (formerly known as the Chequamegon Canoe Club),
where Schmidt can sometimes be found reciting poetry in exchange for a free pizza, is "The Catch-All."
This one reads like every good fishing story ever swapped over a bar, and tells the tale of Schmidt's fishing buddy, who possessed a lure that never failed to catch a fish. The lure had never caught a musky though — until one day the fishing buddy made the mistake of leaving his rod unattended in the boat with Schmidt. Unable to resist just one cast, Schmidt found a musky on the end of the line instantly — a fishing miracle. The musky was a beauty, but the catch-all lure broke when Schmidt removed it ... and he's never quite lived it down.
Of course, the story had to be memorialized in a poem.
The nature of fishing lends itself well to a writer's brain, with long spells of monotony between actually catching anything. This is the state Schmidt often finds himself in when the first line of a poem drops in his mind.
"I generally get the start of a story in my head and then I start writing it," said Schmidt. "I'm always changing them — I'm never happy with the first draft of anything. Sometimes even changing one word can make a whole difference."
While working as a truck driver, one poem arrived in his mind while traversing the state of Pennsylvania, and every time he stopped at a wayside, he scribbled a few more lines. By the time he left Pennsylvania in his rear view mirror, "The Legend of Todd Franke: Muskie Killer" was on paper.
Although writing poems became second nature for Schmidt over the years, memorializing countless misadventures and caricaturing friends and family, actually publishing a book took time.
Ultimately, it was a promise to his wife, Marie, that encouraged him to go through the laborious process of finding and being accepted by Wisconsin publisher, Orange Hat Publishing.
With a publisher on the line, Schmidt asked former classmate and longtime friend Terri Morgan — another Park Falls resident — to put her artistic skills to the page, bringing his words to life with sketches and paintings.
"It was a fun process," said Morgan. "Scott sent me the poems, I read through them, and came up with designs, and then would go back and forth with Scott."
Although Morgan has created artwork her entire life, occasionally selling portraits on commission or working on contracted art projects, this is the first book she has illustrated.
"Scott's project was one that just found me," she said. "He was so passionate about it, and his poems are so vivid — it was really special to work on it with him. He'd promised his wife he would publish a book of his poems, and now he's done just that."
The book is dedicated to Schmidt's mom and his wife, who passed away last October.
"They were probably the two people who would have been the happiest that I finally made a book," Schmidt said of the dedication.
Schmidt's families are some of his biggest cheerleaders — as he says himself, he comes from a happy jolly family that loves to laugh, and Schmidt's poems could bring a smile to anyone's face.
"I'm pretty sure most of the book sales so far have been all my cousins," he joked. What is no joke however, is the pride his family has taken in his first published book.
While the restrictions on traveling and gathering due to the coronavirus have made marketing the book difficult, it can be purchased online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and is being sold locally by Park Pharmacy in Park Falls and the Seed-N-Feed in Fifield.
And for those who are already hooked on the book — never fear, Schmidt and Morgan are already hard at work creating a second book.