Eric Mehring Posts Bond, Community Right To Be Mighty Disgruntled After Three Teenagers Killed By Drunk Driver

I believe in the rule of law. I believe in a process to address the ills of society through a prescribed set of actions to ensure society runs smoothly.

But I also believe in common sense.

I cannot think of a more gut-wrenching news story in Dane County over the past couple of decades that can match the horror and sadness than the deaths of three bright, engaging, and intelligent high school guys due to a fiery car crash caused by a drunk driver. Over the many years we have seen all sorts of news reports about shootings, the impact of severe weather, and good people succumbing to deadly diseases.

But nothing has ripped the public so deep than the absolutely needless deaths of Simon Bilessi, Evan Kratochwill, and John “Jack” Miller.

The deaths of these three people were the result of Eric Mehring reportedly driving his car approximately 30 mph over the 45 mph on a two-lane road at night. Oh, yeah, he was also stinking drunk.

Mehring, it was reported in the police account, had a breath alcohol content value of 0.24, which is three times the legal 0.08 blood alcohol content limit. It was also reported that a law enforcement officer on the scene stated Mehring had eyes that were “glossy and bloodshot.”

The court proceeding this week that set Mehring’s bond at an incredulously low $75,000 was met with dismay by the family members of the victims and folks all around this county.

It was obvious what would be the next step in this process.

Mehring was let out of jail after his family posted his bond. Again, I know this is the process that can be used by the defense.

But the gravity of the crime that was committed by this act of drunk driving should have been more than enough to have demanded a bond that would have prohibited Mehring from being free.

I understand in Wisconsin drunk driving is too often seen as a laugh line. Our state statutes are not tough enough as a first offense at driving under the influence is a mere misdemeanor. For too long we have coddled drunk drivers and not been tough on the bartenders who over-serve their patrons.

Why that last point is so ‘out of bounds’ for discussion is yet one more symptom of the larger problem of too much drinking in this state. Alcohol consumption and our view of drinking as acceptable behavior at every turn in life has resulted in a myriad of social problems. That is just a fact.

I have long argued on behalf of stricter laws concerning this broad topic of drunk driving. Such as, that bartenders need to be as mindful of what they turn out into the street to drive home as they are when filling yet another glass of alcohol. If that had been done concerning Meyring this awful nightmare for three teens and their families and friends possibly would not have occurred.

I have been consistent on this blog about needing tougher laws on drinking in this state. As an example, I advocated for the stern law now on the books in Wausau where bartenders need to be sober at their job.

I support outright a requirement that people serving alcohol have none of it in their system. That bill has been introduced in past legislative sessions, once by Democratic State Representative Josh Zepnick.  It does not take long to understand there were plenty of people opposed to that measure. The beer-soaked Tavern League made sure of that. But I suspect many average folks in the state understood the logic of the bill.

What we know is that Mehring was drinking. Someone poured his drinks and took his money. Someone surely watched him leave through the bar door. We can not pretend none of that matters.

The legal process will play out, and in the months ahead, Mehring will face a judge. The penalty phase of the trial will be tough for the family who found it so easy to set Mehring free this weekend.

In the meantime the rest of Dane County continues to have the families of Bilessi, Kratochwill, and Miller in our thoughts and prayers.

And so it goes.

F-35s To Be Housed At Truax Field, Sun To Rise Tomorrow

The news today was good, even if not everyone as of yet understands why.

Members of the 115th Fighter Wing said goodbye to the first F-16 ever stationed at Truax Field as the Wisconsin National Guard continues preparing for the next generation of fighters to arrive.

In a post on Facebook, the Guard shared images of the jet, numbered 252, explaining that it first touched down in Madison in April 1993. At that time, Truax Field housed the A-10 Thunderbolt II and was starting its upgrade to the F-16s.

Nearly three decades later, the Guard is upgrading again, this time from fourth-generation aircraft to the fifth-gen F-35 Lighting II. Deputy Adjutant General Gen. David May described the upgrade as “moving from a flip phone to a smartphone” during an August groundbreaking ceremony for the base’s first major F-35 project.

It comes not as news to readers of this blog that I feel a shared responsibility as to the reason for my support of these jets. I expressed it in 2019.

We must take our responsibilities as citizens most seriously.   From voting, serving on a jury, or paying taxes it is our duty to step up and serve in a variety of ways.  That also applies to where the military trains, such as at Truax.  I do not know any person on a first name basis who is actively serving in our military.  So the least I can do is support the men and women who have accepted that role.  If I am advocating policies, such as no-fly zones in Syria, I then should also accept the placement of training for such missions near to where I reside. I am not one who suggests the F-35 be relegated to places like North or South Dakota.

This matter of the F-35 jets is not about noise, as many will try to argue.  A segment of the city and even in Dane County will try to spin their narrative about how their grandchildren will be scared–yes I have heard and read such arguments– but I suspect not since most play very violent video games where a jet taking off is the least dramatic event. To hear some of the dialogue about why people are opposed to the F-35s would lead one to conclude that deafening roars will shake windows from frames, and do everything but rattle the ground so much that caskets will pop out. 

Let us be honest and say at the heart of the matter is a deep disdain about the manufacture and use of the jets.   Madison is very averse to military policy and what has played out over the past couple years regarding these jets has alerted us, again, to that truth.

Here is the bottom line as to why we all need to care about that ginned-up rhetoric.

It is true that some of Madison loves to get caught up in their own self-generated hysteria.  This is what happens all too often and it takes a toll as when truly serious matters arise people are spent and not wishing to expend more energy.  The other half is so dismayed from the crying of ‘wolf’ they tune other messages out.

For the record I often hear the F-16s take off and land from Truax.  I assumed when moving into an urban environment, with an airport and military facility only a few miles away, that there would be sounds from aircraft.  The fact is that the military presence at Truax has proven to be a good neighbor for over 70 years.  Currently the 115 Fighter Wing flies F-16 jets, but those are to be replaced with 20 F-35 jets.

The first one will soon call Truax home.

And so it goes.

Fitchburg Parents Need To Be Held Accountable For “Many Weapons Stored Haphazardly Around The House”

I strongly suspect we all took in a deep breath of air in sadness and shock when hearing the news of the shooting death of an 11-year-old child in Fitchburg. I just know many eyes welled up when the newscasts on television aired the sweet photo of Carolanah Schenk who died at a local hospital after the shooting.

No one needs this blogger to underscore the gravity of the shooting, or the sadness that envelops that family, the school where Carolanah and her 15 year-old-brother who was the shooter attended, or the larger community who also grieves over this latest act of gun violence.

I posted a pointed question on Twitter upon learning that a teenager had been involved with the gun.

How does a 15-year-old get their hands on a gun? The question should not seem quaint or silly, as we must stop being desensitized to gun violence and ask basic questions.

Saturday morning the Wisconsin State Journal reported in a front-page above-the-fold story the latest developments. It paints a picture that constitutes not only context to what happened in that Fitchburg home, but also shines a light on what is the case in too many homes where guns and children are in close proximity.

Assistant District Attorney John Rome said the shooting, which occurred around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at an apartment in the 5100 block of Curry Court in Fitchburg, happened after the boy believed he had emptied a gun of its ammunition. But a bullet was still in the chamber when the gun went off. The gun, Rome said, was a “ghost gun,” a gun with no serial number made largely from 3D-printed polymer parts.

Rome said the gun was being stored near a couch in the living room. The boy told police, Rome said, that he had removed the gun’s magazine and was putting the gun down on a table when it went off and struck his sister.

Police searched the apartment and noticed there were “many weapons stored haphazardly around the house,” Rome said. “Some of the guns were secured. Some were not.”

Rome asked that the boy remain in custody because he poses a risk of harm to others. He also questioned whether there was adequate supervision at home. He said police have found Snapchat photos of the boy posing with a gun, including on the day of the shooting, when a photo showed him “pointing a gun that looks realistic at the victim’s head while she was asleep.”

This is not the first time, and sadly not the last, when I will need to post about how children get deadly weapons to ‘play with’ or use to shoot something or someone.

But there is another hard truth that must be addressed.

This blog has repeatedly stated that parents of young people who use guns to shoot, kill, and create violence need to be held accountable. There is no way that any sane person can say parental/adult actions, such as with this shooting, should not be addressed by a law that makes sure there is a responsibility shared by those who help to foster the violent outcomes.

The NRA has plenty of responsibility for the number of guns in our society, and the ease with which anyone can get a deadly weapon.  But when it comes to children with guns there also has to be a question asked…..are the parent(s) or adults making sure all deadly guns in the home are locked up?

At the end of the day maybe this is just another indicator that America is indeed in decline. Because if we can not control gun violence in our own homes we are certainly not going to be able to deal with other larger and more complex matters that face our country.

And so it goes.

Pine Cone Diner In DeForest Closes With Political Lie, Owner Took Nearly Half-Million In Fed $$

While living in Madison over the past decades I have known two of my favorite restaurants to close. In both cases there was a high degree of resolve to meet and greet long-time customers and share memories. There were efforts made to go out of business with class.

When Wong’s Chinese Garden closed on Atwood Avenue Gah Yuen Wong and his wife, Lan gave out hugs and poured cups of tea as conversations flowed. Over the years I would often joke that his wife needed a pay raise, and Wong often reached into his pockets and told me he had no money.  Lan leaned on the counter and smiled as she has heard our vaudeville routine many times.

La Rocca’s on Williamson Street was a joy as entering was akin to going into someone’s home.  Over the years the owner, Vito, told us of his family who had come from Sicily and why his food was homemade. In my view, it was awesomely authentic. His last day was like a favorite family leaving the neighborhood. Smiles, hugs, and of course Caternia had tears in her eyes.

Such memories are part of the food experience as it is important for such places to end with grace.

That was not the case, however, in DeForest when the Pine Cone Restaurant closed with a sign on the door that was rude and totally a political lie.

The owner of the establishment, John McKay, just like every other restaurant owner in the state faced the same hardships during the ongoing pandemic. Like most business owners he also benefited from the at-times bi-partisan efforts to pump money into the economy and help ensure workers were kept afloat.

As such McKay and the Pine Cone got two Paycheck Protection Program loans, one in 2020 and one this year, totaling $464,040, according to PPP data. The data show the restaurant had 32 employees during the applicable loan period.

So it was the height of having no grace when McKay placed a sign on the door of the diner with a most outrageous lie.

The sign reads like a political stunt from AM-talk radio.

“Due to the decisions of your state government (Evers) and your federal government (Biden), The Pine Cone has been forced to close its doors after 40 years. Thanks for all your support” 

The truth came out when the media started to make inquiries into the matter.

McKay said Thursday the real reason he closed the truck stop restaurant at 6162 Highway 51, was because his lease was up.

It’s just strictly the lease. Our lease was up after 40 years. … Got old and got tired.”

It is disturbing when facts are so easily tossed aside so to feed the narrative that conservatives wish to foment. It is also rather unsightly, when knowing many business people across the country were thankful for the assistance from the federal and state governments, to learn that a local one took the money and was not grateful.

The Wongs and Vito’s family came to this country and for decades ran successful restaurants. When they closed the door on their places for the last time it was surely with mixed feelings.

But it was done with class.

And so it goes.

Flags In Dane County Underscore Weight Of National Pain

On my way outside of Middleton this afternoon I spotted an image that matched the mood of the nation. Three large American flags audibly flapped in the brisk breeze. Heavy, sad, and a most weighted feel matched the somber atmosphere across our nation.

There is no way to escape the enormity of the moment we are living in as the nation withdraws from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. The national angst was underscored with live coverage Sunday morning as 13 dead American soldiers returned in caskets to Dover Air Force Base.

The Taliban threatened us as we entered the war in 2001 and are seen now as victors upon our defeat. No matter how it is assessed the bulk of the war was a colossal failure.

Yes, we did gain an advantage over the ones who fueled the hatred and perpetrated the heinous crimes on 9/11. We sent the remains of Osama bin Laden to the bottom of the ocean.

We did open up the ability of a younger generation of Afghans to dream and see the world outside of a burqa and a tortured reading of the Koran. Therefore, we feel deep sadness about ‘turning off the lights’ on their education as the Taliban will again reject modernity when governing.

But the nation-building and processes for building a government, and have it in any way to be self-sustaining did not succeed. There was not enough time, or the willpower on the larger part of the Afghan populace. The urban areas grew, but the tribal foundations of the countryside did not have time to turn towards the 21st century.

Meanwhile, many people in America who by their own admission find history to be boring, have no real touchstones with the past so to weigh and balance what is now happening with the chaos and death in Afghanistan. One of my childhood heroes, astronaut John Glenn, after becoming an Ohio Senator spoke in 2009 about dead soldiers, also returning to Dover from Afghanistan.

As John Glenn said: “It’s easy to see the flags flying and the people go off to war, and the bands play and the flags fly. And it’s not quite so easy when the flag is draped over a coffin coming back through Dover, Delaware.

The gung-ho mentality that too often leads a nation to war is not able to define goals, strategy, or any exit policy. As Glenn said flags fly, and bands play.

And then soldiers die.

As a nation, we will most certainly be arguing how the Afghanistan evacuation policy was created and executed during the past months. There will be those expressing that our nation only needed to maintain a few thousand military personnel in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. A land, I need not remind my readers, which is termed the Graveyard of Empires.

Such arguments can be rebuffed with those pesky things called facts. After 19 years of our footprint all over Afghanistan, their government had seen its control seriously erode to 30% of the country’s 407 districts. Meanwhile, the depraved Taliban controlled 20% of the country, and it should be noted that was more than at any time since the U.S. started the war. As I said, 19 years previous!

We all are unpleased how this larger episode defines our nation on the international stage. After the past four years, we needed to start the restoration of our country’s image and undertake that mission by doing masterful deeds. While no defeat at the hands of the Taliban was ever going to look good the exceptional chaos and blunders (and worse) by the Defense Department, State Department, and White House–and there is plenty of blame to share–is beyond mind-boggling.

Just more reason to stand under a flag at half-staff and sadly ponder it all.

And so it goes.

Local Rent Assistance Programs Underscore Wariness Over Large Relief Bills

It seems fair to say that no matter what transpires during the rest of our lives the memory of the COVID-19 pandemic will remain as a sharp and defining event. It was the reason that far too many people died, others got sick and some have lingering effects that now can be listed as a disability.

On Monday Health and Human Services along with the Justice Department rolled out guidance making clear that symptoms of “long COVID-19” could qualify as a disability under the federal civil rights law. Such health concerns are one of the continuing consequences of the virus.

From business slowdowns, supply disruptions, and unemployment people have faced an array of side effects from the pandemic other than just the medical ones. In large metropolitan areas, like Madison and Dane County, one of the highlighted needs over the past year is the lack of funds some people need to pay for rent.

The federal government took action in 2020 to place a federal moratorium on evictions, and over time extended the action. I suspect the prevailing sentiment across the nation was supportive as most everyone grasped the enormity of the virus. The large federal relief measures also found strong public support, including from the desk of this blogger.

The nature of the average citizen is one of empathy and care and that was reflected in the federal funds sent to the states and local communities. A need was presented and a program was constructed, as an example, to allow for assistance with rental payments.

So why do I suspect that some taxpayers and citizens are concerned about what was reported in today’s Wisconsin State Journal? I encourage a full read, but here are some snippets that I suspect many subscribers found to be unsettling.

Reporter Chris Rickert wrote that about a third of $15 million in federal funds set aside for rental assistance in Madison and Dane County is yet to be spent and there’s another $28 million on the way.

Later this year, renters still needing help more than a year after the pandemic shut down the economy will also no longer have a single portal for applying for funds because the contractor responsible for the current countywide program is bowing out and the city and county are coming up with their own separate programs administered through several different vendors.

On July 8, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced that the county was contracting with the Madison nonprofit Urban Triage to administer $12.5 million in eviction-prevention funds …”

TRC’s selection in January as the sole provider of the funds was controversial among some Black activists who complained that the city and county were cutting minority-led organizations out of competing for the contract, saying that such organizations were more familiar with the communities most in need of rental help.

Urban Triage called the city’s decision a case of “anti-Blackness” and “white supremacy in action,” …”

The other part of the story which reaches out to shake confidence in the foundations for the funding and programming has to do with the unknown need in our area for continued rental assistance.

There’s no good estimate for how many households continue to need help given those two earlier rounds of assistance — and as the unemployment rate has plummeted in the Madison area to 3.1% as of May.

“It’s really difficult to know” how many households continue to need assistance, Madison Community Development director Jim O’Keefe said. “There are households that received assistance with (overdue rent) through CORE and may have since fallen behind again. And there are surely renters who haven’t accessed the program yet but may be motivated to do so with the expiration of the moratorium.”

What bothers many rank-and-file folks is what appears to be such a disconnect from what was presented as a pressing need for assistance with rents–with the upfront acknowledgment now as to no idea how many people locally are still needing the program. Add in the millions not yet spent, the almost double amount of that to yet be reaped for the rent program, along with the way funds can be so easily moved around with providers if there is enough whining, and it becomes more clear as to why empathy among the electorate can be eroded.

This is always the problem with large government programs, and it should bother all of us. As a liberal, I fully appreciate the power of government to act for the needs of the moment. Such robust legislative actions do have a real meaningful impact. Many needed and received rent assistance. I fully acknowledge there is a continuing issue for some people.

But it is also clear that large funded programs often are marred by bureaucratic problems, and when that happens it makes for a lack of confidence among the populace for future moments when needs arise. That is why it is essential for those of us who align with an active and robust central government to then demand the implementation of programs be as reflective of the original goal as can be attained.

With that as a desire, why do I feel the county and city missed that mark?

And so it goes.

Cap Times “State Debate” Headline About Dane County Fair Fights

Woke up this morning to find that my thoughts about the fights at the Dane County Fair this weekend made for a headline. State Debate is a weekday feature at the Capital Times. I am always humbled when what I write makes for a link on their site.

Dane County Fair Atmosphere Ruined By Brawling Youth

For many people, 2020 was a long and frustrating year. The COVID-19 pandemic altered lives, shut down businesses, and caused the cancelations of almost everything that was fun to do. That included the always enjoyable Dane County Fair.

So there was a reason for everyone to broadly smile when passing the Aliant Energy Center to see the massive Ferris Wheel assembled and lighted with flashing and rotating colors. A real slice of how summer should feel was again so visible from the fairgrounds. Once again vaccinated people could feel a sense of normalcy, laugh, and enjoy a corn dog (OK, you really need two!) while seeking out the exhibition hall where area kids displayed their talents.

So it was very truly sad and dispiriting to wake up Saturday morning and learn that about 100 youth brawled in the parking lot that required deputies to step in and respond. Then it was even rougher to hear that both city and town of Madison police were called in for assistance. Multiple physical and verbal altercations started at 7 P.M. between a crowd of minors who gathered in the parking lot. At 9:30 P.M. deputies and fair security began to break up a large crowd of more than 50 people.

The outrageous behavior forced fair officials to move up its closing time for its last two nights and mandated minors be accompanied by adults.

What in the heck is wrong with these brawling chuckleheads? They must surely have understood the needed restrictions over the past year, but then felt the sense of relaxation which comes with society now being able to open up. So to then act in such a low-brow fashion and ruin the atmosphere for all is simply despicable.

I am always interested in the backstory to events so as to better understand how a person gets to the point where they make headlines in the newspaper.  Or on the radio Saturday morning.

I cheer for the national spelling champs and love to read how they prepare for the challenge of spelling words that befuddle even the smartest of adults.   I applaud the person who makes news for finishing college and getting a degree while overcoming health issues. Searching for this type of story is what I did when working in radio news broadcasting, and now what I do when trying to figure out where society is headed.

But I also pay attention when people make for awful headlines. When someone commits a terrible crime it is discovered the one arrested dropped out of high school in their sophomore year. Or how a gun was used in a crime by a teenager who housed the weapon in their parent’s home.

Or how so many who thought fighting in a parking lot at a fair, after a deadly pandemic, was in any way appropriate.

If I were a parent to a young person who acted in such an inexcusable manner there would be a very long conversation at home. And then consequences that would make the recent quarantine seem like a holiday.

Parents really do need to up their game. The lack of parenting is becoming more obvious all the time.

The stilled Ferris Wheel, way too early on Saturday night, with their colorful lights turned off, is proof of what is wrong.

And so it goes.