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Erik Daily photos, La Crosse Tribune  

Todd Kendhammer’s attorney Stephan Hurley asks forensic pathologist Kathleen McCubbin a question during cross examination.


Crime-and-courts
Day 3: Barb Kendhammer's injuries do not match husband's account of crash, pathologist testifies

Barb Kendhammer’s head and neck injuries do not match her husband’s account of a freak car crash that he said claimed her life, a forensic pathologist testified in his trial on Wednesday.

“I don’t see any injury that is consistent with a pipe coming through the windshield,” Kathleen McCubbin told a jury.

Prosecutors contend Todd Kendhammer, 47, of West Salem killed his wife early Sept. 16, 2016, and tried to conceal her homicide by driving a 53-inch galvanized steel pipe through his windshield. His 10-day trial for first-degree intentional homicide opened Monday in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

The couple, Kendhammer told an investigator after the incident, was driving north to Holmen on Hwy. M about 8 a.m. to pick up Justin Heim’s truck to replace its windshield when he saw a pipe roll off a ¾-ton “flatbed looking truck” with metal sides that was dark green, dark blue or black.

“It looked like a bird,” Kendhammer said on a squad audio recording played for jurors. “I seen the thing coming, and I tried to stop it — or I don’t know what I tried to do.”

After the pipe pierced the windshield of the couple’s Toyota Camry with his wife in the passenger seat, Kendhammer never applied his brakes as he tried to remove the pipe from her while driving 100 yards north on Hwy. M and another 100 yards east on Bergum Coulee Road in the town of Hamilton.

“It was in her chest, or throat, or head or something. I don’t know how long it was there,” Kendhammer said. “She started profusely thrashing and spitting blood.”

Frantic, he put his car in reverse before it rolled backward down a grassy embankment. Kendhammer said that he removed the pipe from the windshield and “quick pulled” his wife from the passenger seat before starting CPR.

Kendhammer’s attorney told jurors in his opening statement that his client struggled to remove his wife from the car before yanking her out.

Randy Erler testified that he was en route to install drywall at a house on Bergum Coulee Road when he saw the Camry half in the ditch. The passenger door was open, but he did not see or hear anyone around the car when he slowed his truck to 4 or 5 mph.

“Did you see any damage to the windshield?” District Attorney Tim Gruenke asked.

“No, I did not. I looked through it,” he said.

Barb, 46, died the next day at the hospital of blunt impact injuries to her head and neck – none consistent with a single blow from a pipe, said McCubbin, who performed Barb’s autopsy in Madison.

She had bruising and abrasions on her forehead, a bruise on her jawline that extended to her neck, a fractured nose, scrapes on her neck, and dark bruising inside her lips, she said.

Barb suffered swelling and bleeding to her brain, a fractured skull and three bone-deep cuts to the back of her head from at least two impacts.

“A pipe traveling at that speed would cause worse injuries,” McCubbin testified. “It would tear the scalp, as opposed to three separate lacerations.”

Barb also had a fractured ring of cartilage in her trachea, consistent with strangulation or the neck striking a hard surface, McCubbin said. It’s possible a seat belt could cause the fracture, although McCubbin ruled it out because of the totality of Barb’s injuries.

On cross-examination, McCubbin said it’s possible the pipe struck Barb more than once, if she was moving when it pierced the glass.

Barb’s injuries, McCubbin said, also are consistent with a beating. There is no impact site from a pipe on her body.

Even if Barb suffered a seizure after the pipe pierced the windshield, whiplash after impact and was injured while she was removed from the car, “I do not feel that all her injuries are explained by that,” McCubbin said.

Days after the autopsy, La Crosse County sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Yehle invited Kendhammer to the sheriff’s department to review surveillance videos.

“I don’t think that was really in the plan,” Yehle said. “It was a way, hopefully, to get him in and speak with us.”

“Do some people avoid talking to the police when you try talking to them?” Gruenke asked.

“Yes. That’s fairly common.”

Heim, who worked with Kendhammer at Crown Cork & Seal Co. in La Crosse, told jurors that his friend needed a new windshield for his farm truck. That friend, Benjamin Pfaff, months before the Sept. 16 incident that took Barb’s life, relayed the information to Kendhammer, who replaced windshields on the side.

Heim told jurors that he never arranged to meet with Kendhammer on Sept. 16.

“Are you aware of any reason why Todd Kendhammer would be coming to your house on the morning of September 16?” assistant district attorney Sue Donskey asked.

“No,” he said.

“Are you aware if Todd Kendhammer had ever been to your house?

“No.”

“Was Ben Pfaff’s vehicle ever at your house?”

“No.”

Kendhammer later told authorities the couple was headed north to pick up Pfaff’s truck to replace its windshield.

But Pfaff told jurors he never spoke to Kendhammer about replacing the windshield.

Barb was scheduled to work the day of the incident at 8 a.m. in the West Salem Middle School cafeteria. The school does not allow employees to flex hours, Nutrition Services Director Kerri Feyen testified.

Testimony resumes at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.


Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Todd Kendhammer listens to the testimony of forensic pathologist Kathleen McCubbin a question during cross examination. McCubbin performed the autopsy on Barbara Kendhammer.


Local
Rotary Lights ice rink may open Saturday — with a few ifs

Ice skaters beware: The only safe outdoor spot to try your blades anytime soon will be on the Rotary Lights rink at Riverside Park in La Crosse — and that could be iffy for the hoped-for Saturday opening.

The recent spate of temperatures in the 50s and 60s wasn’t fit for frost or ice, but the nightly dives into the teens Tuesday, Wednesday and into the weekend increased optimism that the rink will be ready Saturday, said Rotary Lights President Pat Stephens.

Of course, everybody who knows Stephens also is well aware that he has an unfathomable reservoir of optimism, but a city parks staffer is a bit pessimistic that the whole rink will be frozen enough.

The ground slopes toward the southwest corner of the rink, so the water is deeper there and will take longer to freeze solid, said Dan Trussoni, parks and forestry supervisor for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Trussoni agreed with a chuckle that it’s not deep enough for ice fishing, although he admitted joking about tossing in a few bluegills.

Speaking of ice fishing, that’s a no-go for now, because very little ice has formed on Mississippi River backwaters, Lake Onalaska and Lake Neshonoc. The conditions are unlike this time last year, when ice anglers were capitalizing on the early bite.

At least initially, anyone who hopes to skate at Riverside Park should bring their own skates, because the trailer that will serve as a warming shack isn’t quite ready. Shelves for the skates that will be available to borrow for free aren’t quite done, so the blades probably won’t be available at the outset, Stephens said.

The skates, mostly donated, range from sizes 3 to 14 and include hockey skates, figure skates and speed skates.

Retiree Ed Moore is the rink guru who has helped guide the process, including sharpening and training volunteers on how to dry the skates, Stephens said.

Mount La Crosse 

This diagram shows the different routes down Mount La Crosse, which is scheduled to open from 4 to 9 p.m. Dec. 14 — probably Midway to start and, perhaps, Mileaway.

Skiers jonesing to hit the slopes at Mount La Crosse won’t have long to wait, as snow-making operations resumed Tuesday after being idled for four weeks. The slopes are scheduled to open from 4 to 9 p.m. Dec. 14, with at least the Midway run to start, and possibly, Mileaway.

This probably could go without saying, but just in case: Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowboarding are the things dreams are made of in the Coulee Region until the snow flies long and hard enough.

However, several spots in northern Wisconsin are rated good to excellent for downhill skiing and snowboarding. You can check those conditions at the Wisconsin Snow Report web site.

Although the National Weather Service forecast predicts daytime temps of 35 Sunday and 34 Monday, nighttime lows are expected to dip into the teens and low 20s.


Franken could resign today

WASHINGTON (AP) — His once-promising political career in shambles, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken appeared on the verge of resigning after fellow Democrats led by female senators abandoned him Wednesday over the mounting allegations of sexual misconduct that are roiling Capitol Hill.

A majority of the Senate’s Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to get out after another woman emerged Wednesday saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. That brought to at least seven the number of women accusing him of sexual impropriety.

Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” scheduled an announcement for Thursday. No topic was specified, but Democratic senators said they expected their liberal colleague to resign.

“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”

Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”

Though the writing appeared to be on the wall, Franken’s departure was not certain. A tweet posted Wednesday evening on Franken’s Twitter account said: “Senator Franken is talking with his family at this time and plans to make an announcement in D.C. tomorrow. Any reports of a final decision are inaccurate.”

Late in the day, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.

“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately,” Schumer said.

Schumer called Franken immediately after the latest allegation — and before the torrent of demands for Franken’s resignation from Democrats — and told him he needed to resign, said a Democrat familiar with the events. Schumer met later in his apartment with Franken and Franken’s wife, Franni, and repeated that message and did the same in additional talks with the senator throughout the day, said the Democrat, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations

The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said that she ducked to avoid his lips and that Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”

Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”

But it was soon clear that his position had become untenable, and his office later issued a statement saying, “Senator Franken will be making an announcement tomorrow. More details to come.”

Fellow Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke to Franken, wrote on Twitter, “I am confident he will make the right decision.”

Capitol Hill has long had a culture that has erred on the side of protecting lawmakers. Franken, who is generally liked and respected by his colleagues, was initially afforded deference as he battled the initial allegations against him. But as the number of accusations grew, women in the Senate, who faced pressure from the public and the media for protecting Franken, grew increasingly frustrated.

The pressure only mounted Tuesday, when Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who spoke to Franken, said, “He’s devastated. He’s ashamed and he’s sorry and everything that he’s been saying and it’s hard, but I told him, Al, at the end of the day, this was wrong and so I’m sorry, but this is what we’re going to have to do.”

One irony: While Franken apparently is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.

A national conversation about sexual harassment has intensified this fall after the heavily publicized case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of many acts of sexual misconduct, including rape, by actresses and other women. Just on Wednesday, Time magazine named as its person of the year the “silence breakers” — women who have come forward on sexual harassment.

Punishment has been swift for leaders in entertainment, media and sports while members of Congress have tried to survive the onslaught of allegations.

Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.

The allegations began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.

Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.

Franken has apologized for his behavior but has also disputed some of the allegations.

Franken was first elected to the Senate in 2008, defeating Republican Norm Coleman in a bitter recount that took seven months. Franken won that race despite attacks over bawdy humor and writings dating back to his days on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” including a proposed skit joking about rape.

Franken said then that he regretted such writings, and once in the Senate, he cultivated a serious and policy-oriented image. Throughout his eight years in office, he fashioned a reputation as a populist Democrat and fueled speculation that he might run for president in 2020.


Alex Brandon 

Franken


Local
Census: More school, babies; less marriage, work since recession in La Crosse County

Since the Great Recession, La Crosse County residents are better educated but bringing home less money, putting off marriage but having more babies, and more mobile but less likely to be foreign-born.

Those are some of the findings from Census Bureau estimates released Thursday detailing population traits observed over the past five years.

The surveys show more people are putting off marriage, though women are having more babies.

About 49 percent of men and 45 percent of women older than 15 in La Crosse County are married, down from 51 percent and 47 percent five years ago. Meanwhile the birthrate among unmarried women nearly doubled. Birth rates also doubled for women older than 35.

The overall birth rate in La Crosse County was identical to the national rate, but the teen birthrate is less than a quarter of the national average.

About 94.5 percent of the county’s adults (older than 25) had a high school diploma, up about 1 point, while the portion with at least a bachelor’s degree climbed from 28.8 percent to 32.5 percent.

The percentage of civilian veterans fell from 10 to 8.7 percent, mirroring a national trend as large numbers of World War II and Korean War veterans die.

People were slightly more mobile, with about 8 percent having lived in another county in the previous year, up from 6.7 percent in 2007 to 2011. That’s higher than the state or national average.

The number of foreign born residents went from 3.6 to 3.0 percent of the population, a drop of about 550 people. About 13.2 percent of the total U.S. population was born in another country.

More than 63 percent of those people were naturalized U.S. citizens, up from just 48 percent in the prior five year period.

The portion of people in workforce over the past five years declined from the previous five-year period, but more of those people had jobs. Median household income was about $51,500, down from $54,000 (in 2016 dollars) during the previous five-year span.

The number working in health care and private education services grew, while the number working in construction and manufacturing fell. No other sectors had statistically significant changes.

Home ownership rates fell slightly, though not enough to be statistically significant. The Census bureau estimates about 64.4 percent of the county’s homes are owner-occupied, slightly more than the national average but less than the state rate.

The number of people who own their homes outright grew to nearly 37 percent of the 30,000 owner-occupied units, while the median value of those homes rose from $151,900 to $158,700.

The estimates are calculated from surveys conducted between 2012 and 2016 covering economic, social and housing characteristics of the U.S. population. Known as the American Community Survey, the program was launched in 2005 to provide a more timely alternative to data formerly collected once every decade through the “long form” census.

While high-level results are published each year, the five-year samples provide the most accurate estimates about people and how they live at the county, municipal and even neighborhood level.