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‘People are dying’: Residents, community leaders want a safer Highway 12


Sadie Gunnink and her husband, Dennis, have discussed selling their town of La Grange home on Highway 12.

The couple and their children have lived there for only eight months, but a double-fatal car crash that spilled onto their property two weeks ago reinforced their concerns about safety in the area.

“The cars are going by way too fast here. It needs to be slowed down,” Sadie Gunnink said. “People are dying.

“So it almost gives you fear, and I don’t like having that.”

The May 29 head-on crash killed an Elkhorn couple and sent a man and a teen to the hospital. Although it was the most serious, it was not the first crash near the Gunninks’ home.

There have been four other crashes nearby—Gunnink was aware of three of them—one of which resulted in a suspected minor injury in December near Pleasant Lake Road, according to state data that tracks car crashes.

Gunnink is not the first to raise safety concerns about the stretch of Highway 12 that runs between Whitewater and Elkhorn. Walworth County community leaders, citing safety and traffic concerns, have called for the completion of a long-postponed environmental impact study of reconfiguring the highway.

“It makes me think, ‘Did we make a major mistake moving here?’” Gunnink asked.

The human cost

The Gunninks had just returned from a trip to New York, and they had to run out and get groceries.

When they were close to home, they saw the flashing lights.

At 4:27 p.m. May 29, the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a two-car, head-on crash on Highway 12/67 just south of Sterlingworth Drive.

A preliminary investigation showed a 2011 Kia Forte driven by Dennis Hinze, 67, of Elkhorn, was southbound on the highway when he crossed the center line and struck a northbound 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix, driven by Matthew Kilroy, 40, of Fort Atkinson, according to the sheriff’s office.

Hinze and his wife, Joy, 60, were pronounced dead at the scene. Kilroy and the 15-year-old girl he was driving with were taken by helicopter to a trauma center, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

Sheriff’s Capt. Dave Gerber, who oversees the patrol division, said June 5 he had not heard that either Kilroy or the teen had died of their injuries. The news release from May 30 states, “Occupants in both vehicles were found in critical condition.”

After learning the medical examiner had been called to the scene, Gunnink said she and her husband talked about how dangerous the section of road was. The 50 mph speed limit outside their home is too high for a residential area, she said.

Sadie Gunnink 

Two were killed in this crash on Highway 12 near the home of Sadie Gunnink.

In 2017, there were four deaths in three crashes on Highway 12 between Elkhorn and Whitewater, according to state data.

  • Jan. 11, 2017: Ryan Gellings, 21, of Whitewater, died after a head-on crash with a semi-trailer truck on Highway 12 near Clover Valley Road outside of Whitewater.
  • Oct. 6, 2017: Eufemio Jimenez Ferrel, 24, of Round Lake, Illinois, was pronounced dead at the scene of a crash on Highway 12 a little north of County ES in the town of Sugar Creek. Ronald Passfield, 52, of Genoa City died later at an area hospital.
  • Nov. 12, 2017: Brandon Lee Garecht, 28, Janesville, died at the scene just east of County P after his car collided with a pickup truck in the town of Whitewater.

In total, Gerber said, the county saw 24 traffic deaths last year, with three of them being ruled as suicide. Gerber is the chairman of the county Traffic Safety Commission.

Gerber, pointing to the state data, said Highway 12 between Whitewater and Elkhorn does not have a disproportionate number of crashes.

Highway 14 through the southwestern part of the county, for example, saw eight fatal and suspected-serious-injury crashes in 2017, according to the state data. The stretch of Highway 12 saw the same amount, although a few other crashes were reported on other roads near—but not on—Highway 12.

Gerber said the commission cannot make laws, and it can only bring everyone to the table to make requests of lawmakers.

Submitted Photo 

Two people were killed in this Oct. 6 collision on Highway 12 north of County ES in the town of Sugar Creek.

Within the last few weeks, Gerber said they had heard back regarding a request for a traffic light at Highway 12 and ES, near where the October 2017 double-fatal crash took place. He said the state Department of Transportation completed its study and determined the intersection did not warrant a light.

Still, a local group, the Redline Coalition, is calling for action to make Highway 12 safer.

‘We won’t rest’

Highway 12 is four lanes between Genoa City and Elkhorn, but it switches to two lanes in the winding stretch between Elkhorn and Whitewater.

Local officials have signaled the need for a state Department of Transportation environmental impact study of a new Highway 12 route between the two cities mapped out more than 50 years ago, said Jeffery Knight, president and CEO of the Greater Whitewater Committee.

Money had been included in the 2013-15 state budget to complete the study, but it eventually was taken out.

Last year, community and elected officials held the Highway 12 Transportation Forum at Gateway Technical College in Elkhorn.

On top of traffic concerns is that Highway 12 is dangerous, Michael G. Hahn, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said last year.

Between 2011 and 2015, 404 crashes were reported on the stretch of Highway 12, according to Hahn’s presentation. That stretch of road “exceeds the average state crash rate of 74 to 90 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on similar facilities,” the presentation states.

Of those 404, 59 had a fatality or observed injury. About 59 percent of Highway 12 between Elkhorn and Whitewater exceeds the state’s average crash rate of 18 fatal/observed injury crashes per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on similar facilities, according to the presentation.

Also last year, the Redline Coalition sent legislators a petition requesting the study be finished.

Since then?

“Right now, it’s dead,” Knight said of the study.

Knight pointed to other large transportation projects throughout the state that didn’t make it through last session’s budget process, including those in Milwaukee and on the way to the Wisconsin Dells.

Knight also emphasized the impact a congested or dangerous road can have on tourism, business and UW-Whitewater.

“If they are in traffic or don’t feel safe, they will go somewhere else,” Knight said.

He said the group still is promoting the idea to make the road between Elkhorn and Whitewater four lanes.

“This has serious, serious needs,” he said. “And we won’t rest.”

Anthony Wahl 

Sadie Gunnink stands at the end of her driveway on Highway 12. Gunnink is concerned about the number of crashes on the highway. In the eight months her family has lived there, she’s noticed four accidents close to the home.

‘Talk about it’

So the status of the Highway 12 study is, for now, still stalled.

Gunnink said, however, she is motivated to ask the highway commission next month to look at lowering the speed.

She will also ask the town board about a “no engine braking” sign. When trucks drive by, the engine braking rattles her windows, she said.

She did not wait until the latest double-fatal crash to see what could be done to make the road safer. On May 8, she emailed the town of La Grange clerk, asking what could be done.

“It is dangerous and a noise nuisance,” Gunnink wrote.

Gunnink has lived in Walworth County since 2004. She worries about her kids at her new home. Her 17-year-old is driving. Her 7-year-old likes to explore.

“The first thing I felt (after the May 29 accident) was fear for my kids,” she said.

With all the discussions about structural impediments to a safe highway, Gerber emphasized most accidents are caused by driver error.

Drivers should “slow down and pay attention” and follow traffic laws, he said.

“Focus on driving,” Gerber said.

Still, Gunnink is troubled by yet another accident near her property.

“Now is a great time to talk about it,” she said.

Marijuana ordinance on Janesville council agenda


Perhaps it’s best to say what this pot proposal is not.

It’s not a legalization of marijuana.

It’s not going to change what already happens to most people who are arrested on a charge of simple marijuana possession.

What it is going to do is simplify the work of Janesville police officers, said Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore.

The ordinance does not define what amount of marijuana would be an ordinance violation and what amount would be a crime.

Moore said it’s up to the arresting officer to decide, as officers now decide whether a disorderly conduct offense should be an ordinance violation or a criminal misdemeanor.

Possession of a large amount of marijuana would still be arrested as a crime, possession with intent to deliver marijuana, a felony, Moore said.

The penalty for an ordinance violation would be $50 to $500, plus costs of prosecution, or if the fine isn’t paid, up to 90 days in jail.

The ordinance also requires police to seize the marijuana.

As for paraphernalia, materials used for injecting illicit drugs would still be illegal.

What happens now is officers arrest possessors of marijuana or paraphernalia on criminal charges that are referred to the Rock County District Attorney’s Office for a charging decision.

District Attorney David O’Leary does not issue criminal charges on most of these arrests. Instead, he makes them county ordinance violations, similar to the proposed city ordinance violation, Moore said.

Now, officers must take these suspects to either the police department or Rock County Sheriff’s Office for processing.

Under the proposed ordinance, “officers will be able to issue a citation in the field, much like a traffic citation, allowing officers to remain in their patrol areas and better meet the needs of the community,” Moore wrote.

Whether a county or city ordinance violation, the citation is not a crime, so an offender will not have a criminal record. However, Janesville records these non-criminal offenses in the state’s online court records system, popularly known as CCAP, where anyone can see them, Moore said.

Still, an employer might see an ordinance violation as more favorable than a crime when someone applies for a job, the memo notes.

Moore said he discussed the idea with O’Leary, who agreed it’s a good idea.

The ordinance has the potential to affect many. Janesville police arrested people 295 times last year for possession of drug paraphernalia and 171 times for possession of marijuana, Moore said.

Moore rejected the idea the ordinance sends the wrong message.

“It’s just a process issue, an efficiency issue, and really the outcome is the same,” Moore said, because as mentioned above, most simple possession cases now become county ordinance violations.

Moore said officers are encouraged to submit ideas to improve policing, and he credited Officer Shaun Mahaffey and Sgt. Aaron Dammen for this idea.

Scene set for improbable summit


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump flew into this bustling Southeast Asian island nation Sunday, landing hours apart for an improbable summit aimed at resolving a nuclear impasse and ending seven decades of official hostility.

Trump is expected to hold his first meeting with Kim on Tuesday with only translators in the room, leaving advisers to wait outside, a senior administration official said.

Trump’s advisers expect a brief encounter but do not know how long the president, who likes to improvise, will stay alone with Kim, keeping out Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other administration figures.

That part of the summit could be crucial. Trump said Saturday that he believes he will know within the first minute whether Kim is seriously considering eliminating his nuclear arsenal and infrastructure, as the U.S. demands.

Kim landed about 3:30 p.m. and appeared relaxed in the swarm of cameras and glad-handing Singapore government officials at the airport.

Trump arrived five hours later. He waved from the stairs of Air Force One, was warmly greeted by Singapore’s foreign minister, and then disappeared into his limousine.

It was another once-unthinkable scene. Trump had long derided Kim and traded insults with him. Now he is poised to become the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader.

For Kim, the transformation is even more remarkable. The longtime pariah on the global stage basked in the kind of attention—and acceptance—that his family has sought for three generations.

Onlookers clamored to catch a glimpse or a snap cellphone picture of Kim in his black Mercedes limousine as his 20-vehicle motorcade sped from Changi Airport to a protected area at the luxury St. Regis Singapore hotel where he is staying.

Later, Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, ushered Kim around the palace office to shake hands with officials, pose for pictures and chat from regal cream-colored chairs—all broadcast live to the world from a government Facebook account.

“The entire world is watching this historic summit,” Kim told Lee during their welcome meeting. Lee said earlier that Singapore’s government will gladly pay the $20 million it cost to host the summit.

Trump was accompanied by White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton. Pompeo, who planned to brief regional allies after the summit, had his own plane.

The White House sought to dispel multiple reports that Trump has shrugged off briefings and plans to wing his first bid at nuclear diplomacy. “During the flight, the president spent time meeting with his staff, reading materials and preparing for his meetings in Singapore,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

His public schedule Sunday was light. He planned to meet with Lee at noon and then visit with U.S. Embassy staff members who had scrambled to help arrange the visit. Sung Kim, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea now posted to the Philippines, was scheduled to lead a U.S. delegation for a 10 a.m. working group session with a North Korean team at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

The turn toward diplomacy with Kim came directly after Trump upended the normally cordial gathering of close allies at the annual Group of Seven conference—exchanging angry words with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after he left early and refusing to sign a pro forma joint statement.

Not only was Trump uninterested in mending fences over the trade dispute with America’s closest traditional allies, he was also eager to get to the talks with Kim.

The trail of excitement following Kim, who has long sought global legitimacy, puts added pressure on Trump to win something more than good feelings from the summit, even if the gains are not immediate.

Worldwide anticipation for Tuesday’s summit between the most unconventional American president in modern times and an autocrat who is perhaps the world’s most isolated leader has grown quickly since the summit was put together at a lightning pace over the past few weeks.

Singapore, famed for its litter-free streets, lush gardens and strict regulations, raced to spruce up. The government asked that skyscrapers remain lighted at night to present a more dazzling skyline, and bouquets of tropical flowers decorated the 60 old cannons at Fort Siloso, near where the two leaders will meet on Sentosa Island, in honor of the summit.

About 2,500 journalists have registered, the largest contingent ever hosted in Singapore, according to the Singapore Straits Times. That’s on par with the most recent Olympics held in South Korea, an event that took years to plan and lasted for weeks.

Network crews have sent their anchors and star reporters, all hoping to capture a moment in history that could reset Asian geopolitics and security after decades of failed attempts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

The trip is also monumental for Kim, the third member of his family to rule, on a personal level.

The flight was only his second out of North Korea since he assumed power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. Kim flew on a Boeing 747 from Air China that radar showed stayed far inland, in Chinese airspace.

The Kim government, which rules by repression and has jailed hundreds of thousands of its citizens, is intensely worried about assassination and coup attempts, making Kim especially anxious when he leaves his rigidly controlled nation.

Two additional North Korean planes were also tracked making their way from Pyongyang, thought to be carrying his entourage, food and other supplies for Kim.

Trump has embraced the hype, saying he’s on a “mission of peace” and “we’re going to be carrying the hearts of millions of people” into the negotiations.

Yet he has conceded that even the most successful one-day summit is unlikely to achieve his ambition of persuading Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal, at least anytime soon.

His early talk of immediate celebrations and Nobel Peace Prize nominations has cooled as he has acknowledged the initial meeting is more likely to determine whether more negotiations can follow.

Trump said Saturday in Canada that he would decide how to handle Kim on the “spur of the moment” after they lay eyes on each other in the Capella Singapore Hotel, the summit site. “This is a leader who really is an unknown personality,” he said.

As a result, pageantry, symbolism and body language are expected to play a central role.

The stakes are sobering given North Korea’s cache of nuclear and biological weapons and its universally condemned human rights record. But normally staid Singapore quickly embraced some of the quirky atmospherics.

Dennis Rodman, the eccentric former NBA player who calls Kim a friend, announced plans to attend while promoting a digital currency for the cannabis industry. One bar offered a special “Bromance” cocktail, at least one street stall hawked a noodle dish in honor of the summit, and cardboard fans and water bottles showed stylized likenesses of Trump and Kim.

Some images of Trump and Kim were even more lifelike.

At a crowded downtown shopping mall here, dozens of people waited in line to take photos and shake hands with Trump and Kim impersonators—for $11.

Singapore authorities were not amused. The Hong Kong-based Kim impersonator, Lee Howard Ho Wun, wrote in a Facebook post that he was questioned at the airport for two hours when he arrived Friday.

Any public gathering without a police permit is illegal in Singapore—making it ideal for a high-security nuclear summit but less so for nudging Kim toward open democracy.

Authorities designated areas around the summit site and the hotels where the two leaders are staying as “special event areas,” where no bullhorns or large flags or banners are allowed.

Matt Slocum 

Milwaukee Brewers' Travis Shaw in action during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, June 10, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)


Dave Moore