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Marc Wehrs / Amber Arnold, Wisconsin State Journal 

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin speaks during a 2015 news conference in Madison. The longtime Democratic Mayor Soglin says he plans to formally launch a run for governor "in a few weeks." 

Wisconsin gun deaths marked by suicides among rural men, study says

Almost three of four gun deaths in Wisconsin are suicides, many among rural, white men ages 45 and older, a new study says.

The state’s proportion of firearm deaths that are suicides — 72 percent — is higher than the national average of 60 percent, according to the study by UW-Madison researchers in the Wisconsin Medical Journal.

Though the state’s overall rate of deaths from guns is lower than the national average, the rate has been on the rise in recent years.

Dr. John Frey, an author of the study, said the findings underscore a federal report last week showing that a surge in deaths from opioid overdoses, along with an uptick in suicides, led to the first two-year drop in life expectancy, in 2015 and 2016, since the early 1960s.

“We’re doing better at cancer and heart disease, at things that medicine can address,” said Frey, a UW professor emeritus of family medicine and medical editor of the Wisconsin Medical Journal. “But the society factors that affect length of life are getting worse.”

Frey and Wen-Jan Tuan, a data analyst for UW’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, looked at firearm deaths in the state as the nation marked the five-year anniversary this month of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

From 2000 to 2014, 6,966 people in Wisconsin died of gunshot, including 5,020 from suicide, 1,723 from homicide and 223 from other causes, including accidental shootings and police shootings.

Rates of suicides and homicides from firearms inched up during the second half of the period analyzed, and continued to increase in 2015 and 2016, years not covered by the study, Tuan said.

The gun suicide rate was highest among men, whites, people age 45 and older and residents of the northern part of the state, which is the most rural of five regions. The rate was lowest in the southeastern region, the most urban.

Suicides among older rural white men could stem from a shortage of mental health services in small towns, and reflect social isolation and displeasure about economic or social conditions, Frey said.

“There’s a disintegration of community,” he said. “In many ways, suicide is an act of anger.”

Doctors look for risk factors for suicide among patients, but “I think we’re doing a lousy job of that,” Frey said.

Electronic medical records potentially could help doctors track a significant risk factor: people living by themselves. “But there’s no field for ‘lives alone,’” he said.

The Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission assesses homicides in an attempt to curb them. The same approach could be applied to rural suicides, Frey said.

“It’s kind of an epidemic that is invisible,” he said. “It has such a stigma, so people don’t talk about it.”

From 2000 to 2014, southeastern Wisconsin recorded 1,381 gun homicides, 80 percent of the state’s total.

Black men were 20 times more likely to die in homicides involving firearms than white men, with black women three times more likely than white women.

Suicides among older rural white men and homicides among younger urban black men might seem like disparate problems. But they involve similar factors, including poverty, job insecurity and lack of education, Frey said.

“Both of these issues have to do with factors in communities, what we call social determinants of health,” he said.

From 2000 to 2014, 6,966 people in Wisconsin died of gunshot, including 5,020 from suicide, 1,723 from homicide and 223 from other causes, including accidental shootings and police shootings.

Another windchill advisory

Another day, another wind chill advisory through noon today from the National Weather Service for southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa.

A northwest wind of 5 to 7 mph was expected to accompany a low this morning of minus-10 degrees, leading to wind chill values of minus-20 to minus-30, before another single-digit high of 5 degrees this afternoon.

The temperature barely cleared the zero-degree mark on Tuesday, topping out at 3 degrees at the La Crosse Regional Airport.

Wind chill values in the range expected can cause frostbite to exposed skin within 30 minutes.

Let’s put these numbers in some perspective. While the weather outside is indeed significantly colder than the normal high of 26 degrees and low of 11 degrees for Dec. 27, we’re no where near record territory: The mercury dipped to minus-23 in both 1872 and 1880.

Then again, we’ve had some warm December days along the way, especially in record-setting 1936, when the high was 51 degrees two days after Christmas.


In this Dec. 31, 1967, photo, Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr calls signals in bitter cold as he led the Packers to a win over the Dallas Cowboys in Green Bay. Fifty years later, players from the Packers and Cowboys still shiver from memories of the bitter cold of a game that would become known as the Ice Bowl.

Pets need more than a fur coat to protect them from winter temperatures

The rule of thumb for keeping pets outside in winter is simple — if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.

Much like the young and the elderly, cats and dogs are especially susceptible to the perils of frigid weather, from frostbite to hypothermia. With high temperatures in the single digits this week, area vets and animal control officers are stressing the need for proper protection from the elements.

“If it’s below zero, and the windchill is below zero, we would like to see (pets) inside,” said Jean Heyt, veterinarian at Thompson Animal Medical Center in La Crosse.

While short-haired and small breeds are particularly at risk, even the fluffiest husky can suffer from prolonged exposure to the cold.

“Some dogs are so coated, they can act like they’re OK, but they still have some areas that are bothered,” Heyt said. Moist areas on the body may stick to the ground and freeze, much like a tongue on a metal pole, and paws can only tolerate so much ice before they begin to suffer damage.

During cold spells, it’s not uncommon for Heyt to see animals with frostbite, especially outdoor cats. With their lack of hair, feline ear tips can freeze quickly, causing tissue damage and even the loss of the affected area. Watch for a gray discoloration, blistering or blackened areas of skin.

Free-roaming cats without a reliable source of food and water are also vulnerable to other ailments. If a water source is frozen, they may attempt to drink any liquid they can find, including potentially fatal antifreeze. Hydration is important in cold weather, as dry air can lead to chapped or flaky skin, and extra food is recommended for pets that are outdoors frequently to replace the extra calories needed to produce body heat.

Owners should also keep watch for signs of hypothermia, which can range from mild to severe. Symptoms include lethargy, lack of responsiveness and shallow or labored breathing. PetMD advises covering your pet in a dryer-warmed blanket and offering warmed water to drink, and seeking veterinary care if the pet’s temperature falls below 98 degrees.

Heyt says short walks are still OK in this kind of cold, but recommends a sweater, coat or cape — “If we have to bundle up, they have to bundle up too” — and booties if the pet will tolerate them, especially to protect paws from sidewalk salt. Ice-melting substances can irritate the pads of the feet, causing pets to lick off the potentially toxic substance. After walks, rinsing and thoroughly drying paws and legs is recommended, and paw salves with waxes and oils can be helpful.

People should stay vigilant for animals at risk as well, be it a neighbor dog tied up in the yard without shelter or a pet left in a cold car. Brad Aden, animal control officer for the Coulee Region Humane Society, said welfare calls are common in winter months and responded to promptly.

“We’ll contact the owner and tell them they need to get proper shelter or get the dog inside,” Aden said. Stray animals picked up by animal control are taken directly to the vet if severe frostbite or hypothermia is evident.

It’s important to read a pet’s cues, even during brief breaks in the yard — if it is shaking and lifting feet off the ground, it’s time to come in.

And when in doubt, bring the sweaters out.

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Police: La Crosse man arrested in Market Square dumpster fire admits setting other blazes


La Crosse police have arrested a man in connection with a fire that emptied a downtown apartment building Friday who they believe is responsible for at least two other cases of arson.

The 62-unit apartment building above the Market Square parking ramp was evacuated around 3:30 a.m. while firefighters extinguished a blaze in first-floor trash room.

Investigators later reviewed surveillance video and saw a man they recognized as 43-year-old Edward Foster enter the trash room and later urinate in the stairwell, according to police reports.

Foster initially told police he was in his 1112 Island St. apartment all night but when confronted with video evidence said he’d been drinking at the Twisted Moose from about 8:30 p.m. till 2:30 a.m. before wondering up to the building, where he said he went to look for things “thrown away by college kids.” He then admitted lighting a paper bag on fire in the dumpster.

“I kinda got myself into a little bit of trouble,” he told investigators. “I was being a drunk retard.”

Foster then confessed to setting fires last spring at 609 and 617 Fifth Avenue S. According to police reports, Foster said he didn’t intended to kill anyone and repeated “I don’t know” when asked why he had started the fires.

Foster was being held Tuesday on a $10,000 cash bond. He is scheduled to return to court Wednesday to face charges of arson.

Police investigated 11 suspicious fires between October 2016 and April within a 90-acre area just southeast of downtown La Crosse. All but one occurred between 3:30 and 6 a.m. There were no reported injuries, though occupants were sleeping.