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Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Students at Hamilton Elementary spent the afternoon Thursday making Valentines for patients at Gundersen Health System and area nursing homes.

La Crosse County likely to join opioid lawsuit

La Crosse County likely will join the growing number of counties and municipalities suing drugmakers, distributors and doctors over the nation’s opioid drug crisis.

The La Crosse County Board’s Executive Committee voted unanimously Thursday morning to join more than 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties in a suit to hold the defendants responsible for their part in a drug abuse epidemic that is killing an estimated 150 Americans daily. The full county board is expected to vote on the matter at its meeting Feb. 15.

County officials first began discussing joining other Wisconsin counties suing drugmakers in December. They were hesitant to join for fear that demands for documentation of actual damages from the defendants would mean too much extra work for county staff members, diverting them from actually dealing with the widespread effects of the opioid crisis.


At Thursday’s meeting, county corporation counsel Megan DeVore said she had spoken with representatives of the legal team recommended by the Wisconsin Counties Association as well as a Twin Cities legal firm and was assured that the discovery process wouldn’t be a problem.

“Generally, I feel at this time comfortable recommending going ahead with the litigation,” DeVore said. “The burden of discovery is not going to be as great as we initially thought it was going to be. … Both firms made us comfortable that there would be adequate support to get through that discovery process.”

Documenting the financial damages experienced by the county related to opioid abuse might not even be necessary, DeVore said, because the Ohio judge overseeing a consolidation of at least 180 lawsuits is pushing hard for a negotiated settlement that wouldn’t require that sort of digging on the part of the plaintiffs.

And if La Crosse County did end up being a test case among the Wisconsin counties suing, DeVore added, the law firm would pay assistance with that documentation process.

States, counties and local governments have filed suits against Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals and other companies, accusing them of misleading doctors and consumers about the addictive nature of opioids such as OxyContin. The hundreds of lawsuits allege that drug manufacturers overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of addiction when treating pain with opioids, and that distributors failed to properly monitor suspicious orders of prescription painkillers.

Last week, initial settlement discussions began behind closed doors in the Cleveland courtroom of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who has signaled that he wants to see a settlement that includes several of the federal lawsuits he oversees and others over which he has no jurisdiction. Polster’s goal is to have money go toward treatment and to have doctors prescribe fewer opioids.

Polster will oversee the next session of settlement negotiations March 6.

La Crosse County still has time to become part of the litigation if it approves the hiring of the multi-firm legal team at its meeting next week, according to DeVore. There is no cost to the county to join the lawsuit and no cost if the plaintiffs are unsuccessful. The legal team will recover its costs and take 25 percent of any damages or settlement.

States, counties and local governments have filed suits against Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals and other companies, accusing them of misleading doctors and consumers about the addictive nature of opioids such as OxyContin.


7-year-old La Crosse girl orders doctor: 'Fix my favorite grandma'
Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Donna Bryan of La Crosse hugs granddaughter Kenzie Smith on Thursday after the 7-year-old was honored for making the 911 call that saved Bryan's life. Kenzie not only got to wear a crown but also received a framed certificate and a T-shirt from the La Crosse Fire Department for her heroics after Bryan passed out during a medical emergency.

Seven-year-old Kenzie Smith set an emergency room physician straight when he said her grandmother, Donna Bryan of La Crosse, would be severely incapacitated if she survived a recent health crisis.

“Kenzie stepped up and said, ‘Well, this is my favorite grandma, and you have to fix her up,’” Bryan recalled Thursday after Kenzie was honored as a lifesaving hero during an assembly at First Evangelical Lutheran School.

The 75-year-old Bryan was unconscious at the time, so she’s relying on hearsay, but that’s the story she heard from relatives recounting her near-death experience.

The incident occurred after Bryan felt ill when she took the La Crosse girl to the Onalaska High School Show Choir Classic on Jan. 13, she said.

“Kenzie just loves that, so we had a date,” Bryan said in an interview. “But I couldn’t get my breath” when they arrived at the school, so she told Kenzie they would have to leave.

A woman who gave them a ride to Bryan’s car expressed concern and offered to take them home, but Bryan declined the offer, thinking she was just having a spell and could shake it off.

However, while driving, “my head felt weird, so I pulled off, shut off the car, gave her the phone and told her to call Momma,” Bryan said. “Thankfully, my daughter taught her how to use the phone.

“I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in the hospital,” she said.

Kenzie’s mother, Rebecca Smith, told her to hang up and call 911, which she did, and although she didn’t know for sure where they were, she guided first responders to their location.

Bryan, who has been undergoing cardiac rehabilitation while recovering from a heart attack she suffered in July, said she hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of weeks but dismissed any concern over that.

“I assumed it was because it was cold,” she said. “I just thought I’m older, and it’s cold.”

Taken to Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, Bryan said she learned later that the physician determined that her lungs had filled with fluid, causing her to pass out.

Bryan has an advance directive stipulating no extraordinary measures be taken if she is deemed unable to breathe on her own, so the doctor was consulting the family when Kenzie delivered her own directive — with the support of other family members.

“She is so grandma-orientated because I spend so much time with her. I do a lot in Kenzie’s life,” because Smith is a single mother who adopted Kenzie, Bryan said.

“The doctor said I would be a vegetable if I survived, and Kenzie was worried I would be a vegetable,” said Bryan, a mother of five who is able to look back with humor on the experience and five days in the hospital.

When Bryan came to in the hospital, she tried to ask about Kenzie but couldn’t talk because she had been intubated.

“I kept trying to say ‘Kenzie,’ but I couldn’t. So I asked for a pencil and paper and wrote it. They knew my brain wasn’t dead because I was writing,” she said.

Medical personnel described her recovery as a miracle, one that Bryan attributes to excellent care and an active prayer circle.

“This is a miracle,” Bryan said. “I can’t believe it, but I am blessed.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Third-grader Evan Sheehan learns CPR on a training dummy during a presentation Thursday at First Evangelical Lutheran School in La Crosse. Firefighters and staffers from Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare taught CPRE and AED techniques to students after a ceremony honoring second-grader Kenzie Smith.

“Everyone says I’m supposed to be here for my granddaughter,” said Bryan, a retiree whose jobs have included administrative work at Bakalars Sausage Co. in La Crosse and Urgent Care at Mayo-Franciscan. “This was a special day for me and for Kenzie.”

Indeed it was, with participants including La Crosse Fire Department first responders who answered the 911 call. Kenzie’s honors for her lifesaving actions included getting to wear a sparkly crown, as well as receiving a framed certificate and a T-shirt from the fire department.

For good measure, Mayo-Franciscan staffers used the occasion to teach Kenzie and about 100 schoolmates how to do CPR and the workings of automated external defibrillators.

“I’m so glad Kenzie is going to school there,” Bryan said of First Lutheran. “They just have such nice attitudes. It’s a nice place, and they seem more understanding.”

Associated Press 

In this Sept. 19, 2017, photo, Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Corey Knebel delivers in the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Knebel, Matt Albers and Josh Hader give the Brewers formidable relief options in the late innings.

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Owners: City assessment of La Crosse Plow Co. building off by $2 million

The owners of the historic La Crosse Plow Co. building say the city’s assessment of the building was off by more than $2 million.

JJAWC LLC filed a claim of excessive assessment Jan. 30, contending the building at 525 Second St., next to the downtown Oktoberfest grounds, and an adjacent parcel were worth a total of $172 on Jan.1, 2017, rather than the $2.05 million they were assessed at. According to the claim filed by attorney Don Millis, that would mean the company, which paid nearly $60,000 in property taxes on the two parcels, should have been charged $6 and is entitled to a refund of $59,755.

Claim for Excessive Assessment on historic La Crosse Plow Building
Special report: Celebrating the success of downtown La Crosse

Kristine Cleary of JJAWC declined to comment on disputed assessed value, citing pending litigation.

La Crosse lead appraiser Patrick Burns assessed the property on behalf of the city.

“We valued what it was built for and came up with a basic value of replacement cost new, and we deduct the depreciation based upon its condition, functional obsolesce or economic obsolesce,” Burns said.

Burns said consideration was also taken for the removal of asbestos.

He estimated that he viewed the property sometime in 2010.

“We can’t view them every year, and the downtown district was looked at in 2003 and 2010,” Burns said.

The company appealed the 2017 assessment of the properties to the city’s Board of Review, which declined to adjust the assessed value. The claim was introduced Thursday during the La Crosse Common Council meeting and will go before the city’s Finance and Personnel Committee March 1 before going back to the full council.

“The council will hear it, either grant it or deny it. Then it’s the option of the parties to go to court,” Burns said.

The La Crosse Plow Co. building was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2016. The two-block former factory was constructed in phases between 1914 and 1938 and has been vacant since 1995. The north section was condemned in 2013 because of a crumbling roof.

Photos: 43 buildings in the La Crosse area that no longer exist

Photos: 43 buildings in the La Crosse area that no longer exist

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La Crosse mother charged with drug crimes after daughter dies at North Side house

Prosecutors Thursday filed drug charges against a La Crosse mother found with methamphetamine after her daughter’s death early Monday on the city’s North Side.


Roberta Draheim, 50, is charged in La Crosse County Circuit Court with possession of meth with intent to deliver and possession of meth and drug paraphernalia.

Draheim called 911 about 3:30 a.m. Monday when she found her daughter, Britney Masewicz, unresponsive in bed with her two young children at their shared home, according to La Crosse police reports.

She told police that her daughter was searching for heroin the evening before to ease tooth pain.

“My daughter is dead,” Draheim told dispatchers. “It’s heroin. I know it’s heroin.”

Efforts to revive Masewicz were unsuccessful. She was 25.

Draheim was inconsolable and uncooperative with officers, who believed she was under the influence of a drug, reports stated.

Police found 12 grams of meth and drug paraphernalia throughout the house and small bags with trace amounts of meth and a BB gun in Draheim’s bedroom, according to the criminal complaint. Officers also found a plastic bag with a residue consistent with heroin in the living room.

An autopsy done on Masewicz revealed no obvious cause of death, and toxicology results could take up to three weeks, La Crosse County Medical Examiner Tim Candahl said.

Prosecutors said in court that Draheim could face a first-degree reckless homicide charge, which holds drug dealers accountable in fatal overdose cases, depending on the toxicology results and criminal investigation.

Draheim, who does not have a criminal record, is free on a $5,000 signature bond.