A1 A1
Janesville high schools bear brunt of coronavirus effects


New data released by the Janesville School District shows the district’s high schools have been hit hardest by coronavirus infections.

The district Thursday unveiled a new dashboard that shows how many students and staff members have been infected, how many people were in close contact with them, and how many more were not that close but were told to monitor themselves closely for symptoms.

The numbers show 10 high school students with “active cases,” 188 students on quarantine because they had been in close contact with someone with the virus, and 750 students deemed to be “low risk” because their contact was not as close.

In the three middle schools and 12 elementary schools combined, there were five students with active cases in the seven days ending Wednesday, 20 with close contact and 90 at low risk.

District spokesman Patrick Gasper did not know the number of students attending the high schools, so the percentage of students affected is unknown.

Last year, Parker High School had about 1,300 students and Craig about 1,600, but those numbers dropped this fall as students switched to the district’s all-virtual option, ARISE Virtual Academy.

Two schools, Roosevelt Elementary and Craig, suspended in-person classes and went virtual Sept. 16 after three elementary and six high school-age students tested positive.

Plans are to continue the virtual-only schooling at Craig and Roosevelt at least through Friday, Oct. 2.

Gasper said district staff —including principals, assistant principals, deans, social workers and school nurses—are contact-tracing every case. That work typically takes one to two hours per case.

The district Thursday also announced it is considering ways to reduce “in-school, non-classroom interactions, particularly in secondary schools.”

Gasper said officials are just starting to discuss ideas after the Rock County Public Health Department suggested reducing contacts.

“We’re looking at a whole bunch of different options, but I don’t know that anything has been decided yet,” Gasper said.

He said changes in students’ schedules might help. Another step might be reducing the number of desks in classrooms.

“Information on any potential schedule modification will be provided as soon as possible,” according to a district news release.

Among staff, three active cases are reported in the elementary schools, three in high schools and one in middle schools. Gasper said some of the staff might have caught the virus from somewhere outside the schools.

In the news release, Superintendent Steve Pophal suggested more schools might have to shift to virtual schooling if people don’t follow health protocols.

“We need everyone’s help and cooperation to continue to be able to provide face-to-face instruction,” he said. “We’ve already had to pivot to online instruction for two schools, and only by working together, we can minimize the frequency and duration of those pivots while reducing the spread of the COVID-19.”

top story centerpiece
‘Call of my career’: Rock County dispatcher guides lost hikers out of forest


The lost hikers could go north, but there would be a lot more trees.

If Caroline and Arun Israel, who had wandered off the Ice Age Trail northeast of Storrs Lake in the town of Milton, went east, they might run into a swamp.

It had rained recently, so the area was wetter than normal. Caroline said they already had encountered multiple swampy areas.

They would try west, toward the setting sun.

The Cottage Grove couple called 911 at about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13. If they were lost for much longer, their problems would multiply without the help of daylight.

Matt Bender, a dispatch supervisor, took their call. Dispatchers rarely get calls like this, so he said his mind was going “1 million miles per hour.”

“I was way more stressed than he was,” Bender said in an interview this week. “They were completely calm.”

Bender tried to guide the couple west, but the creek they walked toward was not as narrow as it had appeared on the 911 center’s RapidSOS system, which is pretty accurate location technology the center has had for about a year.

“I don’t know how we are going to get out of the woods,” Caroline is heard saying on a recording of the 911 call shared with The Gazette.

Bender consulted with a colleague and decided to try to guide the couple southeast toward a home not far from East Ryan Road. They would have to “be really careful” to avoid marshy areas, he said.

The couple ended up reaching a swamp, but they were able to change their course and avoid it.

Bender guided them along a tree line, and after about an hour from when the couple first called 911, they reached safety.

Minutes after the call ended with the Israels meeting up with a Rock County sheriff’s deputy, Bender emailed the dispatch center’s director and operations manager with the subject line, “Call of my career.”

“It’s easy to guide on a map, but I can’t imagine what it was like walking through those thick woods,” he wrote. “I haven’t felt this good in quite a while, but it was so great to help them to safety.”

Anthony Wahl 

Dispatch supervisor Matt Bender works at the Rock County 911 Center. He took a call from a couple lost on the Ice Age Trail and was able to guide them to first responders using RapidSOS, a newer technology that gives dispatchers the location and data from 911 calls made by newer cellphones.

Caroline told The Gazette on Thursday that Bender was “amazing” and patiently led them where they needed to go. When their call got disconnected at one point, she said a little prayer that when they called back they would reconnect with him.

“We are grateful,” she said.

Bender, 41, has been working at the center for 16 years. Dispatchers use the RapidSOS system frequently, he said.

Not every phone has the operating system needed to give a location, but this method gives a more accurate pinpointed reading that can update in real time when compared to the center’s computer-aided dispatch program.

“It’s a great tool,” he said.

“If I wouldn’t have had RapidSOS, I have no idea what I would have done,” he added.

Getting first responders out to the couple’s location would have been much more difficult, Bender said.

It’s not often that people in Bender’s position have such a direct hand in helping 911 callers, he said. Sometimes they move from one call that is a medical need, to a barking dog complaint, to a stolen flowerpot.

This call with the Israels will stay with him, though.

“After this many years, not a lot of stuff sticks,” he said. “This call, you really, really help somebody in their time of need, and without you, who knows what would have happened to them?

“It would be in the top three calls that I’m going to remember when I leave here, probably,” he said.

As Arun and Caroline neared where sheriff’s deputies were waiting for them, Bender had them yell out to confirm they were close.

They could hear each other, and the couple could finally get a ride to their own car.

“Thank you so much,” Arun said.

“All right,” Bender responded. “I’m glad you guys are safe.”

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 25, 2020

Eric R. Anderson

Robert “Bob” Brandt

Barbara C. Hooverson

Nancy C. Knull

Duane G. Kurth

Elaine L. Louden

June Pratt

Judith “Judy” Ryder

Judith A. Slack

Stanley O. Stone

Nancy M. Turner

Eleanore A. Walkowicz

Patricia M. Walkowicz

Kenosha shooter's defense portrays him as 'American patriot'

The way lawyers for Kyle Rittenhouse tell it, he wasn’t just a scared teenager acting in self-defense when he shot to death two protesters in Kenosha last month. He was a courageous defender of liberty, a patriot exercising his right to bear arms amid rioting in the streets.

“A 17-year-old citizen is being sacrificed by politicians, but it’s not Kyle Rittenhouse they are after. Their end game is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities,” says the voice-over at the end of a video released this week by a group tied to Rittenhouse’s legal team.

“Kyle Rittenhouse will go down in American history alongside that brave unknown patriot ... who fired ‘The Shot Heard Round the World,’’’ lead attorney John Pierce wrote this month in a tweet he later deleted. “A Second American Revolution against Tyranny has begun.”

But such dramatic rhetoric that has helped raise nearly $2 million for Rittenhouse’s defense might not work with a jury considering charges that could put the teen in prison for life. Legal experts say there could be big risks in turning a fairly straightforward self-defense case into a fight for freedom that mirrors the law-and-order re-election theme President Donald Trump has struck amid a wave of protests over racial injustice.

“They’re playing to his most negative characteristics and stereotypes, what his critics want to perceive him as—a crazy militia member out to cause harm and start a revolution,” said Robert Barnes, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney.

Rittenhouse’s high-profile defense and fundraising teams, led by Los Angeles-based Pierce and Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, respectively, refused to speak to The Associated Press about their strategy ahead of the teen’s next court appearance Friday, a hearing in Illinois on whether to return him to Wisconsin.

But in a TV appearance and a blizzard of social media posts, they doubled down on the hero theme, describing Kenosha as a “war zone” and the young shooter as an “American patriot” and a “shining symbol of the American fighting spirit.”

“This is the sacred ground in Kenosha where a 17-year old child became a Minuteman and said ‘Not on My Watch,’” Pierce tweeted above a photo of the city where rioters burned and looted just days before.

Eric Creizman, a former partner at Pierce’s firm, said the heated language in the tweets is not surprising because of his former boss’s tendency toward hyperbole, though he wonders if it will backfire.

“The question really should focus on whether this guy is guilty of what they’re charging him with,” he said, “instead of making it into a political issue.”

One politically charged tactic critics have attacked as a longshot is Pierce’s promise to fight a charge of underage firearm possession, a misdemeanor, by arguing U.S. law allows for an “unorganized militia.” Rittenhouse wielded a semi-automatic rifle.

Some experts have even questioned whether the teenager’s team of four attorneys will feel pressure to hold back from making a plea agreement out of fear of disrupting the patriotic narrative and disappointing donors.

There is a temptation to shape court arguments to “keep the money flowing while the battle is ongoing,” said Richard Cayo, a Milwaukee attorney who helps other lawyers in ethics cases. “It puts lawyers at risk of trying to serve two masters.”

Both Pierce and Wood have ties to Trump’s orbit and his brand of GOP politics, though it’s not clear if that played any role in their involvement in Rittenhouse’s case and how it is being handled. For his part, Trump has made statements appearing to support Rittenhouse’s claim of self-defense, saying the young man “probably would have been killed.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani hired Pierce’s firm late last year when he was reportedly under investigation for possibly breaking lobbying laws for his work in Ukraine for the president, as did Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, former Trump advisers caught up in the Russia investigation.

Wood, a defamation lawyer who represented falsely accused security guard Richard Jewell in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, is also a lawyer for Sean Hannity, the Fox News host with close ties to Trump.

And Wood made headlines recently representing Nicholas Sandmann, the Kentucky teen in the “Make America Great Again” hat, in his lawsuits against news organizations over their coverage of his encounter with an American Indian protester in Washington last year.

Both attorneys moved quickly after Rittenhouse was arrested in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, a day after the Aug. 25 shootings that came amid raucous protests in Kenosha over the police shooting that paralyzed a Black man, Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse, who is white, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of two white protesters and attempted intentional homicide in the wounding of a third.

Pierce flew to Illinois to meet Rittenhouse and his family that next day, according to his tweets, which included appeals for donations to the #FightBack Foundation that was started with Wood a few weeks earlier to fund lawsuits aimed at the “lies” of the “radical left.”

In Pierce’s telling on a Fox News appearance and an 11-minute #FightBack Foundation documentary, the real Rittenhouse is not the wild-eyed vigilante critics have painted him. He is instead portrayed as a model citizen who had just gotten off his shift as lifeguard and was cleaning graffiti from a vandalized high school before he received word from a business owner seeking help to protect what was left of his property after rioters had burned two of his other buildings.

According to prosecutors, Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, after the protester threw a plastic bag at the teenager, missing him.

But to Pierce, the situation was far more dire. Rosenbaum was the head of a “mob that had become enraged” at the sight of Rittenhouse trying to put out a fire set by arsonists and decided to chase after him, “relentlessly hunting him as prey.” Rittenhouse, in Pierce’s telling, fired only after Rosenbaum began to “assault him from behind” and attempted to take his rifle away.

“I just killed somebody,” Rittenhouse says into his cellphone, according to the complaint filed by prosecutors, as he starts running and several people give chase. “Beat him up!” one person in the crowd says. Another yells, “Get him! Get that dude!”

What happened next, as Pierce put it in a statement, were a series of clear signs captured on cellphone video that Rittenhouse was in possible mortal danger.

A man strikes Rittenhouse as he runs down the street, chased by several people trying to stop him. Rittenhouse falls to the ground and another protester kicks him. Back on his feet and a bit farther down the street, he is struck by a skateboard. He shoots, killing the man with the skateboard, Anthony Huber, 26, and wounding a third person holding a handgun, Gaige Grosskreutz, 26.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said he wouldn’t be surprised if the patriotic language that has wooed online donors were eventually abandoned for the most obvious defense, that “Rittenhouse was a confused kid who got in over his head.”

Still, Turley said, those who give the most tend to gravitate to the extremes of the political spectrum.

“There is danger that social media campaigns can alter your narrative,” he said.