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20 Janesville residents cited in fireworks enforcement push


A Janesville police officer responded to a report of shots fired early Monday morning and found 12 shell casings in a driveway.

No one would admit to firing the rounds.

The officer also found illegal fireworks at the scene on Greenwood Drive on the city’s east side and cited a woman for possessing them.

That was one of about 20 municipal citations issued for fireworks possession over the long holiday weekend.

Police Lt. Mike Blaser said Tuesday he didn’t have comparison figures, but officers thought that was more than usual.

The incidents might seem like harmless fun to some, but officers had to consider that when someone reports illegal fireworks in their neighborhood, they might actually be hearing gunshots, Blaser said.

Second-shift officers responded to 20 fireworks complaints Friday, 50 Saturday and 51 Sunday.

Often, officers were so busy with these and other calls that they arrived after a person’s fireworks had all been used. Other times, ordinance violators scattered as police showed up, leaving no one to cite.

“That’s why our arrest rate isn’t as high as it should be,” Blaser said.

Adults who were cited in Janesville face fines of $263. Those 17 and younger can be fined $100.

No one was reported injured, and no fires were started by fireworks in Janesville, although police were particularly concerned about fires because the current drought conditions have left a lot of fuel lying around, Blaser said.

In one incident on Cherry Street on the west side, a bottle rocket “went out of control” just before midnight Sunday, according to a police report, and broke a neighbor’s window.

The city paid overtime July 1 to 6 so two officers could dedicate their time to fireworks enforcement. Even so, officers were hard pressed, with 88 calls of all kinds during second shift Friday, 144 Saturday and 153 Sunday, Blaser said.

Police announced June 30 they would be cracking down on illegal fireworks.

Second shift had 10 officers on Friday and 11 on Saturday and Sunday, plus the two officers assigned specifically to fireworks, who worked from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

All reports have not been completed, but a police analysis of reports Tuesday showed 20 citations issued from Thursday through Monday. All were men, ranging in age from 23 to 70. The citations peaked at 10 on July 3, with six more July 4.

Each incident represents work that includes finding the offenders, interviewing witnesses, photographing the fireworks and disposing of them before writing reports.

“That’s a lot of hard work by our officers this weekend,” Blaser said.

Blaser said police tried to educate people about the dangers of fireworks, but sometimes they issued tickets. A rule of thumb in Wisconsin: If it explodes or leaves the ground, it’s illegal.

“We try to be reasonable, but at the same time, there are certain safety factors that we just can’t be reasonable with,” Blaser said.

One of those factors is the inebriation level of some holiday revelers police encountered.

“Speaking with those who have been drinking a little bit can be a challenge,” Blaser noted.

Complicating matters, some local fireworks vendors were handing out papers that appeared to be permits to use fireworks. Those “permits” were bogus, Blaser said.

Police confiscated all the illegal fireworks they found and deposited them in a tub of water at the police department, reports indicate.

Blaser said the illegal fireworks ranged widely in the power of their explosions, from bottle rockets and Roman candles to mortars that launch exploding shells high into the air.

Many residents enjoyed the colorful displays, but fireworks upset others.

One Janesvillian wrote his complaint to police: “Residents in this home have been setting off illegal, off-the-ground fireworks around this time of year for years now, and I would like them to stop before they set something on fire. The noise is bothering everyone in the neighborhood as they continue to set them off until midnight some nights.”

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Crash, fire close northbound Interstate 90 in Janesville


A multivehicle crash on Interstate 90/39 closed the roadway and diverted traffic onto Janesville’s city streets for a second straight day.

The northbound lanes of the Interstate were open at about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, but the southbound lanes remained closed, a Rock County Communications Center supervisor said. The supervisor said a Wisconsin State Patrol official told him they hoped the southbound lanes would open by midnight.

Interstate traffic was diverted onto Highway 14 in Janesville after a semitrailer truck and multiple vehicles crashed and started on fire on the Interstate on the north side of Janesville.

State Patrol Sgt. Bret Manke told The Gazette late Tuesday afternoon that the crash involved a semitrailer truck loaded with potatoes and multiple other vehicles. It happened at about 1:40 p.m. in the southbound lanes of the Interstate near the Humes Road exit.

Janesville Fire Department - Dave Sheen Photo 

Emergency crews response a multi-vehicle crash and fire in the southbound lane of Interstate 90/39 on Tuesday afternoon, July 6.

Manke said the state patrol was still investigating what caused the crash. He said three people suffered what he called “non-incapacitating” and “non-life-threatening” injuries.

The crashes resulted in large plumes of thick, dark gray smoke visible from a distance.

A Gazette reporter who viewed the crash scene from a pine tree in the 1800 block of Green Valley Drive said it appeared four cars and a semitrailer truck were involved. Others in the neighborhood viewed the aftermath from trees, as well, because of 12-foot-tall sound barriers along the roadway.

Fire crews worked Tuesday afternoon to extinguish the semitrailer truck that was fully engulfed in flames. A Gazette reporter observed at least two cars in the crash that also were on fire.

Another car had crashed through a concrete barrier in the median, and a fourth car was overturned at the barrier.

Large chunks of burned debris had fallen into yards of homes along the Interstate.

The source of the debris was unclear, but a section of the trailer attached to the burning semi appeared to be melted and smoldering.

At about 2:15 p.m., occasional popping sounds could be heard coming from the crash scene.

The crash remained under investigation Tuesday afternoon. Police said in an alert that traffic likely would be detoured off closed portions of the Interstate’s southbound lanes until at least 7 p.m. Tuesday and possibly as late as 9 p.m.

The Wisconsin State Patrol and local police as of midafternoon had begun routing traffic off I-90/39 between Edgerton and Janesville. Authorities designated a detour that directs traffic off the southbound lanes of I-90/39 at Edgerton. The route continues south on Highway 51 to Highway 14 east through Janesville.

Janesville Fire Department - Dave Sheen Photo 

Emergency crews response a multi-vehicle crash and fire in the southbound lane of Interstate 90/39 on Tuesday afternoon, July 6.

Traffic could reenter I-90/39 at the Racine Street ramp on Janesville’s south end.

Police said local motorists should expect traffic delays in and around Highway 14, Highway 26 and neighborhood streets surrounding those main roads on Janesville’s north side. People should avoid the area if possible.

The current expectation is for the reroute to last four to six hours more.

Cody Schroeder, a maintenance manager of apartments along the east side of Green Valley Drive, told The Gazette that he saw smoke coming from the Interstate and heard and saw what he said seemed like “fireworks” exploding in the air near the crash site.

Then chunks of charred, papery material began blowing off the Interstate and raining down into yards nearby, Schroeder said.

Schroeder said at one point, he heard a single car horn blaring on the highway.

Janesville Fire Department - Dave Sheen Photo 

Emergency crews response a multi-vehicle crash and fire in the southbound lane of Interstate 90/39 on Tuesday afternoon, July 6.

“I recognized that sound from when I was in the Marines. I figured it was somebody trapped in one of the cars. I called in and tried to give dispatchers the exact location of that car horn so hopefully they could get to it faster,” Schroeder said. “The horn eventually stopped. I really hope that was a good sign.”

Tuesday was the second day in a row that a major crash led to closures of the busy stretch of I-90/39 through Janesville.

A similar incident, involving two semitrailer trucks, was reported in the same general area of the Interstate on Monday.

The Monday crash happened on I-90/39 near Milton-Harmony Townline Road bridge just north of Milton, police said. It involved three semitrailer trucks and led to heavy damage to the median on the Interstate—a mess that took emergency crews several hours to clean up.

One person was injured in that crash, police said.

Traffic Monday was tied up locally as thousands of cars were diverted on local streets around the crash area during what ended up being a 10-hour cleanup that rolled through the morning, afternoon and part of the evening.

Neil Johnson 

Vehicles burn along Interstate 90/39 after a crash in Janesville on Tuesday afternoon.

As employers struggle to fill jobs, teens come to the rescue


The owners of restaurants, amusement parks and retail shops, many of them desperate for workers, are sounding an unusual note of gratitude this summer:

Thank goodness for teenagers.

As the U.S. economy bounds back with unexpected speed from the pandemic recession and customer demand intensifies, high school-age kids are filling jobs that older workers can’t—or won’t.

The result is that teens who are willing to bus restaurant tables or serve as water-park lifeguards are commanding $15, $17 or more an hour, plus bonuses in some instances or money to help pay for school classes. The trend marks a shift from the period after the 2007-09 Great Recession, when older workers often took such jobs and teens were sometimes squeezed out.

This time, an acute labor shortage, especially at restaurants, tourism and entertainment businesses, has made teenage workers highly popular again.

“We’re very thankful they are here,’’ says Akash Kapoor, CEO of Curry Up Now. Fifty teenagers are working this summer at his five San Francisco-area Indian street food restaurants, up from only about a dozen last year. “We may not be open if they weren’t here. We need bodies.”

The proportion of Americans ages 16 to 19 who are working is higher than it has been in years: In May, 33.2% of them had jobs, the highest such percentage since 2008. Though the figure dipped to 31.9% in June, the Labor Department reported Friday, that is still higher than it was before the pandemic devastated the economy last spring.

At the Cattivella Italian restaurant in Denver, for instance, Harry Hittle, 16, is earning up to $22.50 an hour, including tips, from his job clearing restaurant tables. He’s used the windfall to buy gas and insurance for his car and has splurged on a road bike and an electric guitar.

“There’s never been a better time to apply for a job if you’re a teen,” says Mathieu Stevenson, CEO of Snagajob, an online job site for hourly work.

Consider the findings of Neeta Fogg, Paul Harrington and Ishwar Khatiwada, researchers at Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy who issue an annual forecast for the teenage summer job market. This year, they predict, will be the best summer for teenage lifeguards, ice cream scoopers and sales clerks since 2008; 31.5% of 16- to 19-year-olds will have jobs.

Teenage employment had been on a long slide, leading many analysts to lament the end of summertime jobs that gave teens work experience and a chance to mingle with colleagues and customers from varying backgrounds.

In August 1978, 50% of teenagers were working, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Their employment rate hasn’t been that high since. The figure began a long slide in 2000 and fell especially steeply during the Great Recession. The eruption of coronavirus produced a new low: Only 26.3% of teens had jobs last summer, according to the Drexel researchers.

The long-term drop in teen employment has reflected both broad economic shifts and personal choices. The U.S. economy includes fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs—ready-made for teens—than it did in the 1970s and 1980s. And such jobs that do remain have been increasingly likely to be taken by older workers, many of them foreign born.

In addition, teens from affluent families, eager to secure admission to top universities, have for years chosen summer academic programs over jobs or have pursued ambitious volunteer work in hopes of distinguishing their applications for college. Others have spent their summers playing competitive sports.

This summer, things are rather different. After collapsing last spring, the economy has rebounded much faster than expected. Restaurants, bars, retail shops and amusement parks have been overwhelmed by pent-up demand from consumers who had mostly hunkered down for a year or more.

Now, those businesses need employees to handle the influx and are scrambling to find enough. The vaccine rollout was just starting in April and May, when employers typically start hiring for summer. Some of these businesses delayed their hiring decisions, unsure whether or when the economy would fully reopen.

Foreign workers, brought in on J-1 work-and-study visas, typically filled many such summer jobs. But President Donald Trump suspended those visas as a coronavirus precaution, and the number of U.S.-issued J-1 visas tumbled 69% in the fiscal 2020 year—to 108,510, from 353,279 the year before.

In past years, for example, foreigners visiting the U.S. on visas took filled 180 summer jobs at Big Kahuna’s water park in Destin, Florida. Last year, there were just three. This year, eight. Desperate to attract local teens, Big Kahuna’s, which is owned by Boomers Parks, is now paying $12 an hour, up from less than $10 an hour in past years.

Compounding the labor squeeze, many older Americans have been slow to respond to a record number of job openings. Some have lingering health concerns or trouble arranging or affording child care at a time when schools are transitioning from remote to in-person learning. Other adults may have been discouraged from seeking work because of generous federal unemployment benefits, though many states have dropped these benefits, and they will end nationwide on Sept. 6.

So businesses are offering signing bonuses and whatever else they can to hire teens in a hurry.

The revival of teen employment might not last. The pre-pandemic trend toward fewer young workers at restaurants and entertainment venues could reassert itself if the economy’s labor shortages are eventually resolved.

Still, Harrington, director of Drexel’s labor markets center, notes that “employers have moved down the labor queue as the labor supply of adults has become more constrained.’’

If the economic recovery continues to reduce unemployment, and if federal policymakers continue to restrict the influx of low-skilled foreign workers, “then the chances for sustained growth in teen employment rates are good,’’ Harrington said.