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Rice Lake man on crusade to end semi-truck traffic on stretch of Wisconsin Avenue

Semi-truck traffic on Wisconsin Avenue is dangerous and travels too fast, says a homeowner who lives along the stretch between Knapp and Allen streets, and semis should be banned for the sake of safety. But a traffic study concerning the removal of semis from the arterial plus other costs could run the city up to $29,800 and is unwarranted, says the city’s director of streets.

Jay McGowan, who lives at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Allen Street, has appeared before the Rice Lake City Council three times recently to try to persuade it to ban semi-truck traffic on his residential street — and he plans to keep at it even if he’s going against the odds.

“Neighbors have said to me, ‘Jay, we commend you, but we’re telling you right now you’re wasting your time. We’ve been after them for a long time. Other people have gone, and nothing has come of it.’ Well, I won’t have that. I stick with it,” McGowan said.

In his quest to gain support, McGowan said he has obtained 55 signatures from Wisconsin Avenue residents on a petition. Only four people declined to sign for various reasons, he said, and many people have applauded his tenacity and hope the City Council will act this time.

McGowan, who originally hails from Chicago, came to Barron County by way of Florida in 2009 to help his ailing father. He’s happy here and moved into his Wisconsin Avenue home 2½ years ago. He immediately noticed there was too much traffic on the residential street, especially after it became a detour route when the roundabouts were under construction.

“Everybody got use to coming this way,” he said.

McGowan cited the difficulty semis have making turns at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Allen Street, which can force traffic to back up to make way. He’s heard the same happens on the north end of the stretch, and — according to him — some truck drivers have been rude when people call out to them to slow down.

The stretch has no stop signs, which allows traffic to get up to speed in the 25-mph zone, and there are 10 marked cross walks, not including two major crossings at the high school, he said. McGowan equates living on Wisconsin Street with living on Highway 53 because of the noise, number of semis and the speeding.

McGowan feels semis should be routed onto West Street, a 45-mph stretch that marks the border between city and town of Rice Lake limits, and take Allen Street east.

But Streets Director Jim Anderson planned to advise the City Council at its Tuesday, Oct. 26, meeting to put the brakes on McGowan’s request.

Anderson’s brief prepared for the City Council’s meeting cites the cost for the city’s consulting engineers to do a traffic study.

If SEH determines there are truck turning issues at the intersection of Allen Street and Wisconsin Avenue, it would provide an alternate concept design and study alternate signing and warning signals for a total cost of $29,800.

West Avenue does not have safe traffic controls at the Allen Street intersection and southbound trucks have a blind spot when turning east to enter the city, Anderson said. A four-way stop would actually be more dangerous and installing a roundabout would require the participation of the town of Rice Lake and be expensive, he continued.

In addition, the only two Rice Lake streets that intersect West Avenue along that stretch are Augusta and Allen, making it an impractical route for trucks delivering to businesses throughout the city, he said.

Wisconsin Avenue was last reconstructed in 1994 with the intention of evening out the street’s width to accommodate two-way business and truck traffic, Anderson wrote in his brief.

The streets director also noted that a traffic study was performed in 2004 after a child was struck by a school bus at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Carson Street. As a result, bump outs were installed at the intersections of Wisconsin with Carson and Augusta/Messenger streets to slow down traffic and give pedestrians less distance to travel while crossing the street.

Anderson also said in the brief that Rice Lake Police Department Chief Steven Roux determined through a recent analysis that the average speed of traffic along Wisconsin Avenue is 29 mph.

Roux said in an email that he encourages residents to contact the department about perceived safety concerns and he will try to get officers into these areas with the available staffing.

“Our officers have recently enforced violations for speeding and operating while under the influence on Wisconsin Avenue when we have specifically assigned officers to this area,” he said, also noting that the department receives traffic-related complaints throughout the city and directs its attention to these areas to improve safety.

Instead of spending money on a traffic study of Wisconsin Avenue, Anderson planned to recommend that the city work with the Rice Lake Area School District to find funding for two overhead pedestrian-activated LED warning devises at school intersections.

Another recommendation is to buy four electronic LED interactive speed warning devices to place between Highway O and Knapp Street plus another two at the south and north limits of the school zone.

“I have empathy for people who live on arterials,” Anderson said. But he also noted they can’t change traffic patterns based on 28 years of city planning and engineering studies to accommodate one person.

McGowan, on the other hand, wonders why the city needs a study and can’t just enact a truck route ordinance. He and his neighbors feel ignored by the City Council.

“The council has failed us terribly as far as we’re all concerned,” he said.

Editor’s note: An update on this story will be posted online after the Rice Lake City Council’s Tuesday meeting.


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Three more COVID-related deaths reported in Barron County
  • Updated

Barron County Public Health says three more deaths related to COVID-19 have been recorded in the county, and after a steep drop in the number of new cases reported last week, the toll has rebounded slightly.

Public Health said that three more people have died due to COVID-19 but did not reveal any further details on the deaths. This brings the total number of deaths attributed to the illness in the county to 93.

On Monday, Public Health said 170 new cases had been confirmed over the previous week. This stands in contrast to 131 reported on Oct. 18.

So far, 22,846 — or 50% — of county residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Public Health also stated in its weekly report that the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths among fully vaccinated people stands at 528.4 per 100,000 in Wisconsin in September. The number among people who are not fully vaccinated is 2,497.7 per 100,000.

For more information on those who have gotten sick after being vaccinated visit dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/vaccine-status.htm.

Booster doses

In a news release, the state Department of Health Services said it supports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that certain populations who have increased risk of exposure to or transmission of COVID-19 receive a booster shot of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after having received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine, and that individuals age 18 and older who received the J & J COVID-19 vaccine receive a booster dose at least two months after their primary vaccine dose.

“With three COVID-19 booster dose options now available, our national medical experts have given us additional tools to help stop the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant and slow the spread of COVID-19 in communities throughout Wisconsin,” DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said. “We ask that eligible Wisconsinites be patient as it may take time for everyone who needs a booster dose to get one.”

DHS continues to await publication of the CDC clinical guidance for Moderna and J&J booster doses. Once those are published, vaccinators in Wisconsin will be able to begin providing booster doses and ensure they are following the safest protocols.

The CDC also recommended that health care professionals be allowed to provide a different COVID-19 vaccine as a booster than the one initially received, providing flexibility to health care providers and additional options for individuals. This recommendation applies to all three COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States.

To find a nearby COVID-19 vaccine provider visit vaccines.gov.


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Rice Lake man's homicide trial to begin Monday
  • Updated

A Rice Lake man will face a jury trial on a first-degree intentional homicide charge beginning on Nov. 1 in the shooting death of a 24-year-old man in rural Chetek on Sept. 20, 2020.

Andrew J. Brunette, 26, pleaded not guilty on Dec. 9 in the death of Garrett Macone. Brunette’s final pre-trial on Friday before Judge James C. was the last hearing scheduled before the trial is set to begin.

The trial is scheduled to run four days. According to court documents, the prosecution anticipates to conclude with witnesses early Wednesday. The defense believes all of their witnesses will be done early Thursday morning.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Barron County Circuit Court:

Barron County dispatch received a call at 12:51 p.m. on Sept. 20 from a woman who stated she found her son, Garrett Macone, deceased on the front patio of her residence at 1138 27th Street, Chetek.

Responding police found the victim to have two gunshot wounds to the back of his head. A bedroom of the house was in disarray, with blood marks leading from the bedroom to the exterior of the house.

Brunette was quickly identified as a suspect after detectives learned that the victim had entered into a relationship and had been living with Brunette’s wife at 1138 27th Street for several weeks.

On the evening of Sept. 20, the Barron County Sheriff’s Department made contact with police in St. Paul, Minn., and requested that officers attempt to locate Brunette’s vehicle at a local hospital, where one of his children had been admitted.

Police located the vehicle and saw Brunette and his wife about to leave the hospital. Officers conducted a traffic stop, and Brunette stated he had been at the hospital overnight and only left briefly to buy food.

Barron County officers also interviewed Brunette’s parents, who stated he had been at the hospital but returned to their home in Rice Lake on the morning of Sept. 20.

Later that evening, Brunette and his wife arrived at 1138 27th St., where numerous officers were still present investigating Macone’s death. Detectives interviewed Brunette at the scene and determined he was not telling the truth. Brunette was taken into custody.

On the way to jail, Brunette allegedly told officers that he was “ready to tell the truth.”

Detectives conducted a second interview with Brunette at the jail.

Brunette allegedly admitted that he had returned from Minnesota to his parents’ home in Rice Lake on the morning of Sept. 20, retrieved his 9mm handgun and drove to 1138 27th Street.

Brunette parked his vehicle behind an outbuilding at the residence so it couldn’t be seen from the road. He then entered the residence through the front door, which was unlocked, and found the victim asleep in bed. Brunette said at first he aimed his gun at Macone’s head but reconsidered and backed away. But Brunette stated that he ultimately decided to shoot the victim, firing once, then a second time to “make sure he was dead.”

Brunette dragged the victim outside, changed his clothes and drove away. He threw his gun over a bridge into a creek and disposed of the clothes he was wearing while committing the alleged crime by throwing them in a dumpster in Clear Lake.

Police did find the gun in the creek and the clothing in the dumpster, as Brunette described.

If convicted on a first-degree intentional homicide charge, Brunette faces life in prison. He remains in the Barron County Jail.


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