July 24, 2016
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Lauren McDonnell, 17, of Traverse City, Mich., gets a selfie with Joe Diffie after holding a sign saying she bet her dad money to do so at Country Thunder Saturday. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN POIRIER )

It’s still all about the music for many at Country Thunder


RANDALL — While the camping and partying can sometimes take the spotlight at Country Thunder, for many, it’s still all about the music.

For Kevin Jacob, his day was made on Saturday when Joe Diffie played.

“I grew up on his music,” Jacob said. “‘John Deere Green’ is pretty much my favorite song.”

The owners of the Nine Flags campground made a sign out of mesh and rope lights. The campsite, which has been going for 19 years, has attracted some of the acts after the official show. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN POIRIER )

Legendary campsite calling it quits


RANDALL — Every year, equipment is brought in to dig holes 6 feet deep for the flag posts, four-by-fours are pounded into the ground and a wooden fence is put up at a campsite in Country Thunder.

The aptly named Nine Flags campsite, for the nine flags that hang from its three flag poles, has become a Country Thunder tradition for many.

But it may be flying its flags for the last time this year.

Stephanie Karls, left, Kenosha County drug court coordinator, chats with Frankie Holmes, right, of the Florida-based F**k Heroin Foundation, during Saturday's picnic on Simmons Island sponsored by Stop Heroin in Kenosha. Holmes, a recovering addict, runs the foundation with his mother, Alesha Cuttaia, who co-founded it after years of helping her son and others fight addiction. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY BRIAN PASSINO )

‘Stop Heroin’ event inspires with stories of recovery


Speakers told harrowing stories Saturday about heroin addiction, the destruction wreaked on them, their families, friends and other loved ones.

One after another recovering addicts took to the microphone during the “Stop Heroin in Kenosha Cookout and Fellowship,” describing personal battles fought, lost and fought again until finally, often after decades, finding their way — or supporting a family member’s heartbreaking journey — on the road to recovery.

They described life-changing events, near-death overdoses, waking in emergency rooms, burying friends, abandoning families in favor of heroin or being turned aside — often repeatedly — by those in the throes of addiction.

Paul Ryan speaks at the Republican Party of Kenosha County Summer Picnic at the Starlite club in Pleasant Prairie on Saturday, July 23, 2016. ( BRIAN PASSINO )

Ryan helps rally Republicans at picnic


PLEASANT PRAIRIE — Rep. Paul Ryan has often spoken at Republican Party of Kenosha County picnics, but the congressman’s visit this year was the first as the Speaker of the House.

Flanked by casually dressed Secret Service men, Ryan, in a polo shirt and khakis, greeted his admirers with a “Hey, guys!” upon his arrival.

More than 140 people attended the annual picnic Saturday at the Starlite Club, 8936 24th Ave.

Rebecca Rodriguez, a forensic nurse with Aurora, circulates pledge forms against sexual assault on the Country Thunder grounds Friday. Behind her is Rosario Figueroa, a nursing student at Gateway who is also manning Aurora's tent. ( KEN0SHA NEWS PHOTO BY BILL SIEL )

Group aims to reduce sex assaults at festival


RANDALL — After a number of sexual assaults at Country Thunder last year, Rebecca Rodriguez, a forensic nurse examiner at Kenosha’s Aurora Hospital, decided it was time to do something.

“We (can’t) just sit around and go, ‘Oh, so this year we’re going to have more numbers,’” she said. “So we need to do something to help.”

Rodriguez and several other volunteers brought the It’s On Us Campaign, a White House initiative aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault, to the country music festival.

United Way CEO Tracy Nielsen is stepping down. Her last day is Aug. 4. ( KENOHSHA NEWS FILE PHOTO BY BILL SIEL )

CEO of United Way steps down


Tracy Nielsen, CEO of United Way of Kenosha County, has accepted a position as the new executive director of HandsOn Twin Cities in Minneapolis.

Her last day with the local nonprofit will be Aug. 4.

“Since 2012, Tracy has played a critical role in the development and success of UWKC,” according to a statement from Thomas Kelley, United Way board president. “She has brought dedication, passion, enthusiasm, and motivation to her position and to our organization.”

Carthage College students are petitioning the university to change its policy requiring the vast majority of students to live on campus. Incoming juniors, in particular, are looking for more freedom in housing choices. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY DANIEL GAITAN )

Carthage students petition for housing policy change


An online student petition aims to change the longstanding Carthage College residency policy requiring freshman, sophomores and juniors to live on campus at Carthage College.

Paige Varda, a member of the class of 2018 and a Carthage junior, said she started the petition and posted it on change.org because of apparent problems with students — particularly juniors — being able to get permission to live off campus. Seniors are more likely to receive permission to live off campus.

Carthage President Gregory Woodward, who took office in 2012 and is entering his fifth year heading the 2,700-student school, said Friday that until protests supporting the petition surfaced this summer he had never heard any objections to the policy.

Carrying a transgender pride flag on his shoulders, Ash Whitaker, left, leads the fourth annual Kenosha Pride March through downtown Sunday. Whitaker, who is trangender and identifies as a boy, has sued the Kenosha Unified School District, alleging discrimination. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN POIRIER )

Unified disputes claims in transgender lawsuit


An attorney for the Kenosha Unified School District said he is certain a federal discrimination lawsuit filed Tuesday by transgender student Ash Whitaker will be resolved in the district’s favor.

“The district is confident that when the litigation process establishes accurate facts and applies them to the proper legal standards, its policies and practices will be found to be in total compliance with all laws,” Ron Stadler said Wednesday in an email released by Tanya Ruder, Unified’s communication director.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee alleges that the district discriminated against Whitaker in numerous instances, including not recognizing his male gender identity and requiring him to use female-only locker rooms and restrooms or a single-user restroom in the Tremper High School main office.

Deputy District Attorney Mike Graveley hands Kenosha Police Detective Patrick Patton evidence as he testifies on the second day of the Leroy Johnson trial. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN POIRIER )

Third victim testifies in abduction trial


The third victim of a man accused of kidnapping and sexual assault testified Wednesday in the trial of 62-year-old Leroy Johnson.

Johnson’s trial for kidnapping, child enticement, false imprisonment, sexual assault and armed robbery has been underway since Tuesday. He is accused of attempting to kidnap a woman and a teenager in 2015 and of the 2013 sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl.

On Wednesday, a girl testified that Johnson was the man who attempted to abduct her when she was walking in the 4300 block of Seventh Avenue in October 2015.

Premier Global Production lighting stage technician Ben Beardon hooks up the lights Wednesday over the stage for the Country Thunder music festival, which begins Thursday. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN POIRIER )

Country Thunder ready to rumble


RANDALL — Event staff and vendors pounded the final tent stakes into the ground Wednesday at the Country Thunder venue, as campers and concertgoers will begin pouring onto the music festival’s grounds Thursday.

“We’re just getting ready to kick off a really big party,” said Country Thunder spokeswoman Kim Blevins.

The annual country music festival, which runs today through Sunday, is expecting 36,000 to 40,000 visitors each day, Blevins said. And tickets are still available.

Aiden May, 7, enjoys cooling off with a quick race through a water sprinklers along the path in HarborPark on Wednesday. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY BRIAN PASSINO )

The heat is on


A heat wave stretching across the Midwest will bring dangerous conditions to Kenosha starting Thursday, and local authorities are urging people to find air-conditioned spaces and stay there.

Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Thursday afternoon with heat indexes reaching a potentially dangerous 108 degrees.

An Excessive Heat Warning of high temperatures and humid conditions was issued by the National Weather Service for Thursday and into Friday night.

County Board does about-face on mental health resolution

Kenosha County Board members did an about-face Tuesday on a resolution regarding treatment of people with mental illness.

The Legislative and Human Services Committees had fully supported a resolution calling on the state Legislature to pass legislation authorizing psychologists with special training to prescribe medications.

The measure, Supervisor Terry Rose said, would be a partial solution to the shortage of psychiatrists who can prescribe medications to patients with mental illness.

Server Emmi Infante delivers a food order during the Northwoods League All Star Game Tuesday night at Simmons Field. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY BILL SIEL )

Take a bow, Kenosha


The Kenosha Kingfish franchise keeps beating expectations.

This week, local support for the 3-year-old collegiate baseball team was obvious, as thousands of fans packed downtown Kenosha for the Northwoods League Home Run Derby on Monday and Simmons Field for the league’s All-Star Game on Tuesday.

Kingfish fans of all ages were adorned in their orange, red and blue swag.

Congregations United to Serve Humanity ( Congregations United to Serve Humanity )

March for Peace and Healing


Members of the Kenosha community and law enforcement will come together at 7 p.m. Thursday to join in a Community March for Peace and Healing.

Congregations United to Serve Humanity, the group organizing the event, hopes that the event will be a starting point to foster dialogue and actions that lead to equity, justice, peace, and healing for the whole community.

The march will begin on the east lawn of the Kenosha Public Museum and proceed eastward toward the lakefront.

Leroy Johnson appears in court with his attorney Christopher Glinski on the first day of his trial for first degree sexual assault of a child, child enticement and attempted abduction. ( KEVIN POIRIER )

Trial begins in assault, attempted abduction case


A woman who had been walking home from an afternoon stroll by the lakefront last October told a jury of five men and eight women how a man in a black car asked her for directions, pointed a gun at her and demanded she get into the car.

Frightened, she backed away and ran toward nearby Fonte Foods, 1400 50th St., but returned to the vehicle to catch three numbers from the license plate. Her next move was to call 911.

The victim, a 52-year-old Kenosha resident, testified Tuesday before Judge Mary Wagner on the first day of the trial of LeRoy E. Johnson, 62, charged with five felonies, including attempted kidnapping, attempted child abduction, child enticement and false imprisonment.

Family and friends gather Monday night in Twin Lakes as Virginia Gnat was posthumouosly named the village's outstanding citizen for 2016. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY JILL TATGE-ROZELL )

A friend to all seniors


TWIN LAKES — For the work she did to enhance the lives of fellow senior citizens, Virginia Gnat was posthumously named Monday the Twin Lakes Outstanding Citizen of 2016.

"She was a wonderful person," Twin Lakes resident and friend Kathy Ticha said. "She took care of seniors. She loved it. She lived for it. She is truly missed."

Gnat, 85, died Feb. 15, just days before she hoped to embark on another senior outing she planned as president of the Twin Lakes Senior Citizens Club, a role she was elected to in 2002. Gnat joined the group in 1996 and helped increase membership from less than 50 to more than 240.

Police caution tape cordons off the 6000 block of 20th Avenue after a man was shot and injured there Monday afternoon. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY DANIEL GAITAN )

UPDATED: Shooting probe continues


Kenosha police are investigating the shooting of a local man in the 6000 block of 20th Avenue Monday afternoon.

Police were called to the area after receiving multiple calls from people who reported hearing gunfire about 1:15 p.m. By 1:30 p.m., the entire block was cordoned off as investigators with bulletproof vests combed the area for the shooter and any evidence.

The 29-year-old man who was shot was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. His name has not been released.

The North Woods League staged a home run derby Monday along Kenosha's harbor. The NWL All Star Game is tonight at Simmons Field. ( BILL SIEL )

Derby fun for all ages


Bubba Stepler, 3, of Kenosha had one wish before the Northwoods League Home Run Derby at the Kenosha Harbor on Monday night:

“Baseballs in the water,” he said, adding that he hoped to see one reach the red lighthouse in the far distance.

No baseballs launched off the pier by the 18 players approached that historic landmark, but the 3,016 people in attendance nonetheless saw quite the show, as the Kenosha Kingfish’s Marty Bechina hit six homers to win the individual title.

Lincoln Lagoon is one step closer to getting much-needed upgrades. On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution to develop plans for the site with a $20,000 grant from Fund for Lake Michigan, a donor-based fund of Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and $20,000 from the city. ( BILL SIEL )

Lincoln Park lagoon upgrades planned


The Lincoln Park lagoon is one step closer to getting much-needed upgrades.

The murky lagoon running through Lincoln Park is filled with trash, debris and muddy water.

On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution to develop plans for the site with a $20,000 grant from Fund for Lake Michigan, a donor-based fund of Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and $20,000 from the city.

Ruthi Derohan, of Zion, Ill., looks at Kenosha stained glass artist Mark Wilson's work at the 52nd annual Friends of the Kenosha Public Museums Art Fair on Sunday. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN POIRIER )

Despite wind, many enjoy art fair


Mark Wilson’s stained glass pieces swung perilously in the wind on their racks Sunday.

Still, it wasn’t enough to keep him away from the 52nd annual Friends of the Museums Art Fair at the Kenosha Public Museum.

Art fairs like this are good for Kenosha artists looking to sell their work, at least, they are for him, Miller said.

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