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Barn at Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds razed after sustaining wind damage

CHIPPEWA FALLS — A 100-year-old red barn on the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds was being razed Tuesday, after wind damage made the structure too dangerous to remain in place, said fair director Rusty Volk.

“This is a very sad day,” Volk said. “While we have plans in the future to replace the barn, we wanted to do it in a structured way.”

The damage to the barn, located on the east side of the grounds, became apparent in the past two days, he said. During the middle of the day Tuesday, the entire roof shifted and moved. The walls immediately began to show signs of buckling.

“We had a lot of wind up here, and it just gave way,” Volk said. “We had some rafters that broke. We had board members up here and looked at it, and there is no way we can save it. The whole building has to come down.”

He added: “I’m sure the snow weight (over the winter) had a lot to do with it.”

Demolition work began Tuesday night and will continue today. Volk is requesting that the public stay away while the building is razed.

“We want to safeguard it,” he said. “We will try to salvage as much wood as possible.”

Volk brought in the demolition crew immediately because he doesn’t want the building to collapse on its own and possibly damage other nearby structures.

The red barn is the site of the big auction at the fair every year. Volk said with it already being mid-April, it is too late to have a new building erected in time for the fair, which takes place July 10-14.

“There is no way we could replace that in that time frame,” he said. “It wouldn’t meet our needs. We can expect tents during the fair.”

Volk said he now will turn to thinking of fundraising efforts to generate money to pay for replacing it.

“We will be looking for options and benefactors of what we can do, to make something happens,” Volk said.

Double homicide case may not be close to resolution

Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King has concerns about whether Wayne Price’s guilty pleas in connection with the homicides of his sister and her boyfriend in September 2017 were freely and voluntarily made.

King’s concerns are also a significant factor in Price’s attorneys’ recent attempts to withdraw from the case.

Wayne W. Price, 48, 800 S. Rockie Road, Fall Creek, pleaded guilty in January to two felony counts of felony murder and two felony counts of false imprisonment.

Price’s sentencing was scheduled for today.

As part of a plea agreement, Price’s attorneys could not seek less than 20 years in prison.

The day Price pleaded guilty to the charges, Judge Emily Long asked his attorneys if the pleas were made knowingly, freely, voluntarily and intelligently.

The attorneys — Laurie Osberg, Steven Hughes and Charles Ellefson — said they were.

Long asked Price if he believed there was a factual basis for the charges and he said there were.

But King alerted Long last week of a recorded jail visit Price had in March with his mother and a second sister.

In the recording, Price said he was “backed into a corner” as to the acceptance of the plea agreement.

He also denies responsibility for the conduct that resulted in the guilty plea.

He said he is “another victim out of this deal.”

The day after King notified Long of this recording, Osberg, Hughes and Ellefson filed a motion seeking to withdraw as Price’s attorneys.

Based on the comments made in the recording of Price’s jail visit, King’s concerns and after meeting with Price last week, the three defense attorneys say they have an ethical conflict that cannot be resolved.

The three attorneys want the public defender’s office to seek substitute attorneys for Price.

Long will consider the attorneys’ request to withdraw today.

Price was accused of killing his sister, Elizabeth “Lisa” A. Price, and her boyfriend, David R. Dishneau.

Price remains in the Eau Claire County Jail on a $1 million cash bail.

According to the criminal complaint:

On Sept. 30, 2017, authorities had searched Price’s property, and a silver Cadillac was found in a wooded area off a trail. Blood was on both front seats, and blood spatter was on the inside of the driver’s side.

The bodies of Lisa Price and Dishneau were found in a shallow grave just north of the vehicle on Wayne Price’s property, located near Beaver Creek in an isolated rural area about four miles east of Beaver Creek Reserve in eastern Eau Claire County.

The shootings of Lisa Price and Dishneau were believed to have occurred around Sept. 23, 2017, in a Cadillac owned by Price’s employer.

Wayne Price was taken into custody Sept. 29, 2017, in the parking lot of the Fall Creek fire station after he confessed to a man that he got involved in a drug deal and did something “really stupid.” Price told the man he shot two people and would be going to prison.

Earlier in the day, the man told law enforcement that Price had called him, told him he needed to get to Price’s house with a gun and said his life had been threatened. Price, at the time, was on his way back from the Tomah area in his semitrailer truck.

Unable to leave work and go to Price’s home, the man said he thought he should call law enforcement.

Following Price’s arrest, law enforcement officers found a container that tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine in the semi he had been driving.

An autopsy conducted Oct. 2, 2017, in Madison showed Lisa Price was shot once in the head and also had an injury on the top of her head that was consistent with blunt force trauma. Dishneau was shot twice in the head and once in the neck.

Unable to move historic locomotive, $100K will go toward other projects

After donning a striped railroad engineer’s cap and blowing a wooden train whistle, David Strobel conceded that his hopes to return a historic steam locomotive to Eau Claire couldn’t happen by the end of his time on the Eau Claire City Council.

He’d enthusiastically used the same railroad regalia last summer when he’d gotten the council to support the effort to bring Soo Line No. 2719 back to the Chippewa Valley, but the whistle blew a bittersweet note on Tuesday.

“By popular demand, but not quite how I envisioned it,” he said as he donned the blue-and-white cap.

After almost a year of researching ways to transport the locomotive from the Duluth, Minn., train museum where it has resided for several years, Strobel found the move was more costly and faced bigger difficulties than originally envisioned.

On Tuesday, the council voted 10-0 to retain ownership of the locomotive and its tender but lease it to a museum — likely the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth where it is currently stored — with the intent it be returned to operating condition.

If that doesn’t happen, the city would expand the offer for a lease nationwide.

“The last option would be to seek out buyers nationwide,” Strobel said.

He and Councilman Jeremy Gragert said the resolution approved by the council gives the city options for the future, should moving the train become more feasible.

The city did set aside $100,000 in its budget for the move, but Strobel said the lowest estimate from potential transporters was $85,000 above that.

Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle inquired about what will happen to the $100,000.

The city is just starting to look at its long-range plan for projects it will undertake in 2020 to 2025, and the train transporting money can be reallocated within that.

“We will have $100,000 more in funds to use for community enhancement projects,” finance director Jay Winzenz said.

A portion of hotel room taxes in Eau Claire are used for city community enhancement projects, which usually include work or amenities at Fairfax Park Pool, Hobbs Ice Center and public parks.

Bidding farewell

Tuesday marked the final council meeting for Strobel and fellow Councilman Michael Xiong, who both did not seek re-election.

“Six years with the council flew by very fast,” Xiong said to his colleagues.

He said he’ll spend his extra time with family but will miss serving on the council.

Strobel, who also served six years on council, thanked his colleagues and wished them continued success. He noted that he was in the minority on numerous key votes during his two terms but felt that his points of dissension led to changes in major projects that had positive outcomes.

“Please consider reasonable amendments, even if you have the majority,” Strobel said to the rest of the council.

Councilman Andrew Werthmann will continue representing District 5 on the council, but Tuesday marked the end of his time as the body’s leader.

“I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to serve as acting president for the last 10 months,” he said.

Werthmann took over after Kerry Kincaid resigned her post as president in June. Councilman Terry Weld won a one-year term as president in the April 2 election. He and three newcomers who won council seats — John Lor, David Klinkhammer and Laura Benjamin — will take their new positions at a meeting next week.

Other business

The council also approved these items during Tuesday’s meeting:

• Volume One’s Food Truck Fridays event will be in Phoenix Park this year, offering up a selection of mobile vendors that will sell lunch and dinner on May 3, June 7, July 12, Aug. 2 and Sept. 6.

• UW-Eau Claire got rezoning approval that allows it to proceed with construction this spring on a new $5.5 million visitor center and admissions building on university-owned land on Roosevelt Avenue.

• The Northern Lights Cowboys, an amateur football team that will play this year in Carson Park, will have the ability to sell beer from a city-run concession stand during its home games, based on a Tuesday council vote.

• Eau Claire Transit will continue serving UW-Eau Claire through 2024 with routes specifically designed for serving campus and nearby housing through a new contract. The university will pay a $2 million subsidy during the five-year contract, allowing students and faculty to ride city buses for free by showing their UW-Eau Claire IDs.

• A $1,000 donation from the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance will allow people to ride Eau Claire city buses for free on April 22 — Earth Day.

• A small park was approved for a vacant city-owned lot on the west side of First Avenue, between Chippewa and Niagara streets. The Randall Park neighborhood has volunteered to help landscape the lot and turn it into a space for lawn games and other public recreation.