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Steven Horan

Man faces homicide charge


A man accused of beating a 15-month-old Janesville girl who died Monday will be charged with first-degree reckless homicide, police said Tuesday.

Steven M. Horan, 30, of Janesville was caring for the girl while the girl’s mother was out, and he had been drinking “throughout the day,” Lt. Charles Aagaard of the police investigations bureau said at a news conference.

Horan was the mother’s boyfriend for about three months, Aagaard said.

Horan was in a highly emotional state when officers arrived, Aagaard said.

Aagaard declined to say what kind of emotion Horan was expressing.

The girl, who reportedly had been on life support at a Rockford, Illinois, hospital, was pronounced dead Monday, police said.

Police were called to 526 Eisenhower Ave. on the city’s east side at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday. Because of incorrect information sent to their squad car computers, officers thought they were responding to a report of a 51-year-old who had no pulse and was not breathing, Chief Dave Moore said.

Moore said officers usually have a moment to brace themselves in such cases, but in this instance they were not prepared to find a young child who was not breathing, and it was difficult for them.

Officers took over CPR from the mother, who had come home to find her daughter not breathing.

Moore said the girl was beaten. He called the incident a violent assault.

Police have not released the name of the victim or her mother because they have not confirmed that all family members have been notified, Aagaard said after the press conference.

Investigators have no information that an instrument of any kind was used in the assault, Aagaard said.

Moore noted this is the fourth homicide since the start of the year in a city where the 10-year average has been one per year.

“My hope is this is just an anomaly and we can carry on like this community has for many years,” Moore said.

Moore said police will scrutinize the circumstances in all the homicides, looking for commonalities and possible preventive measures, but none has been identified so far.

Aagaard said police still were investigating the assault.

Horan remained in the Rock County Jail on Tuesday on a $10,000 cash bond.

Police said they referred information about Horan, who is the father of two children, to Rock County Child Protective Services “so we can ensure the welfare of the children.”

Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan said in court on Monday that CPS had imposed an order forbidding Horan to have contact with his children.

Prosecutors have not yet charged Horan, who is due back in court Monday.

Rock County Human Services Director Kate Luster spoke at the press conference, saying she could not confirm or deny any CPS action in any case.

Luster called the death rare and very sad.

“As the local child-welfare agency, we are heartbroken at this senseless loss and really just extend our condolences and thoughts and prayers to this family and to the officers and others involved in responding to the scene,” Luster said.

Luster stressed that anyone with even a suspicion of child abuse or neglect can report it, and Child Protective Services will intervene when needed to protect children.

Speaking in general and not about this case, Luster said social isolation and high stress can increase the risk of child abuse.

As a community, we can think about what might help keep children safe, Luster suggested.

“What we know helps prevent abuse is helping parents and families to be as connected as possible socially, helping to reduce stress overall by making sure we have access to affordable housing; good wages; high quality, accessible child care; information and education about child development; supports for parents’ own resilience to help them get their own needs met,” Luster said.

Police officer Craig Klementz described the department’s peer support program that was employed with the officers who responded to the scene.

The process involves specially designed debriefings and ongoing support.

“We’re all monitoring the officers that were involved and making sure that they’re not showing any signs of post-traumatic stress,” Klementz said.

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Town of Fulton approves 440-acre solar farm


A 440-acre solar farm is coming to the town of Fulton after the project was approved unanimously by the town board at its meeting Tuesday.

The town hall was filled Tuesday with residents who raised concerns about the project to Ben Adamich with Geronimo Energy. They asked about fire hazards, safety, environmental impacts and keeping the project local.

Sandy Papendieck said her family moved to a nearby house this summer for the space and nature-filled view. She has concerns about property value.

“If we want to resell our home ... there’s no way we’re going to be able to sell it for what we bought it (for),” Papendieck said.

“And I wouldn’t have bought it had I known I was going to be looking out at this facility. I wouldn’t have paid what I paid,” she said.

Adamich said a “significant” amount of research and case studies on homes near other Midwest solar power plants—complexes larger than this one—show the plants have no impact on property values.

He called solar a “good neighbor.”

Adamich said school district strength and having a view in the country or of nature often are larger drivers of property value. Solar farms prevent large housing developments from taking that, he said.

He said there is almost no noticeable sound that emits from the solar panels, and the only light at night is one at the entrance to the property for security.

Construction is proposed to start in spring 2021 and likely will take eight to 10 months, depending on the weather, Adamich said. The farm will operate for 25 to 35 years before being decommissioned.

A handful of full-time jobs will be added to maintain and run the facility, and about 150 jobs will be created during construction, Adamich estimated.

The panels will be in rows from north to south and rotate for maximum exposure as the sun moves across the sky. The panels’ maximum height will be 12 to 15 feet.

Decommissioning will include the solar modules being dismantled, steel being taken out of the ground and recycled or scrapped and fencing, and gravel roads removed. The company will chisel plow the ground to ensure it is good for rural or agriculture use the next year. Money is put aside at the beginning of the project for decommissioning, he said.

Fences around the property will be 7 feet tall topped with barbed wire to comply with national electric code requirements.

Trees, shrubs, prairie grass and other plants will be planted to shield the fencing from view, Adamich said. The conditional-use permit includes a clause that requires the company to update the town on the growth progress of the plantings.

Multiple residents asked about outsourcing jobs to other countries, but Adamich said construction will be done as locally as possible. The company will contract with as many local contractors as it can, but some of the more specialized workers might need to come from other states.

While she said she recognizes some benefits to solar farms, Papendieck said residents who live near the property should be compensated in some way.

“I’m not saying not in my backyard. Somehow we feel like we need to be compensated or there needs to be some sort of compromise. I think our views of not being happy that this is being put in when we bought this (home) for the view. … I’m sure you’re going to be making money off this, and that’s great. The farmers are going to be making money off of it, that’s great,” Papendieck said.

“But I don’t like that it’s at my cost. I’m losing, whether it’s the beauty that I’m going to be missing out on that I bought the property for or is it the money I’m not going to be making when we fix it up and sell it?”

Evan Sayre, town board president, and Randy Thompson, planning and zoning commission member, thanked residents for their input but said the application was complete and allowable with the conditional-use permit.

“At this time I don’t know of any loose ends that have not been addressed,” Sayre said.

Thompson agreed.

“From my standpoint, this proposal does fit into the AE and AG zoning district in terms of a compatible use, and that’s what’s in our zoning ordinance,” Thompson said.

Silly string hangs from the cap of a Parker graduate Friday, June 8, 2018, at Monterey Stadium in Janesville.

Obituaries and death notices for March 11, 2020

Mary Lea Hamilton

Leona Mildred Jones

William James Melichar

Gloria Moehrke

Sally Ann Natter

Harlan D. Norby

Joseph William Phalin

Frances M. Rahn

Ronald L. “Suds” Schober

Charlotte Dolly Schrader

Keith A. Simmons

Shirley A. Sittler

Ruth Ann Swanson

Jarrett S. Uncapher

Guadalupe S. Wright

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Officials share plans to open Yerkes Observatory as early as late summer


After closing Yerkes Observatory more than a year ago, officials shared Tuesday how they plan to reopen the facility, which documents show could offer public tours as early as late summer.

Representatives from the Yerkes Future Foundation and University of Chicago spoke at a Williams Bay Plan Commission meeting at the village’s high school Tuesday evening.

David Fithian, executive vice president of the university, said they signed a donation agreement with the foundation Feb. 25, “which should clear the way for the university to transfer Yerkes Observatory” to the foundation.

He declined Tuesday or in the future to discuss specific terms of the deal. But he said part of the agreement involves selling some parcels of property and helping the foundation “get off to a good start” by helping fund some early repairs.

“Our hope is to complete this transaction in early May,” Fithian said.

The foundation filed a memo with the village outlining the work needed to bring the observatory back into operating condition as the foundation and university near a completed transfer.

Such work—some of which is already underway—includes enlisting advice from experts, getting permits approved by the village, fundraising, ensuring the building is safe to open and developing a master plan for the future, according to the memo.

“It is a daunting but necessary process so we can identify the needs of the building and associated costs,” the memo states.

Bad weather two weeks ago forced officials to postpone an informational meeting about the facility until Tuesday.

The observatory, which has called itself the “birthplace of modern astrophysics,” closed to the public in October 2018.

Since it opened in 1897, the facility has attracted well-known astrophysicists. It’s where Edwin Hubble and Carl Sagan earned their doctorates and where Albert Einstein visited in 1921.

The observatory has taken pride in its telescopes, including a 40-inch refracting telescope officials have said is the largest of its kind.

Dianna Colman of the Yerkes Future Foundation said the foundation and university in October reached an “agreement in principle” for the transfer of ownership after about 18 months of negotiations.

One element that officials had to work through was negotiating with the descendants of Charles T. Yerkes, who had control over parts of the observatory.

The foundation said it has to examine “everything from electrical panels to telescopes, sewer and water line locations to exterior domes, (and) the jammed library sliding door to artifacts in storage.” The foundation also wrote in the memo about developing a collections policy and profiles for hiring staff.

The foundation plans to begin telescope repairs in late 2020, which is when the observatory will have fewer tours and more “down time,” the memo states. Work on the interior dome can begin at a similar time.

After the transfer agreement is complete, the foundation plans to take about 10 weeks to clean, paint, make office assessments and get up to date on lighting and security, according to the memo.

The memo says the observatory needs 50 parking spaces. It currently has fewer than 20 spaces for visitors and staff.

Fithian of the university said they will apply to rezone some of the land for single-family housing.

More fundraising will be done once permits are approved. Colman said the foundation has had to hold off on some fundraising efforts until negotiations were more complete.

She said the observatory will be on the hook for some taxes, but the exact amount remains to be determined.

The objective is to open the observatory for public tours in late summer, the memo states.

Officials plan to use volunteers “as much as possible to control costs.”

The foundation plans to ask the village for space in a quarterly mailing to provide updates and for a recommendation that residents limit exterior lighting to minimize light pollution.

The foundation’s stated mission is to maintain the observatory as an “architectural treasure,” keep it open to the public and preserve its reputation.

“We remain dedicated to returning Yerkes Observatory to its rightful place as a vibrant educational institution encouraging young and old to explore all aspects of intellectual ideas and discoveries,” the memo states.

The foundation is “considering the possibility” of adding a conference/visitor center on the property’s west side in about five years, but there are no plans yet.

Tuesday’s meeting was informational only. In response to a question about when the public would get to ask questions, Village President Bill Duncan said he could not give an exact date yet because he needs the parties to submit their formal application materials first.

That frustrated the woman who asked the question, and she used the word “gag” in reference to the public’s inability to speak at the meeting. A police officer came and spoke with her as she repeated her question.

If materials are submitted soon, the matter could come up at the village’s April plan commission meeting.