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Mitrel Anderson convicted on federal drug charge; La Crosse man was acquitted in 2013 homicide

A La Crosse man acquitted in a 2013 fatal stabbing has pleaded guilty to federal drug charges that could land him in prison for five to 40 years.


Mitrel Anderson, 29, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Madison to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, which carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence. He is in federal custody pending a sentencing hearing on April 20.

According to court documents, Anderson was arrested in Trempealeau County on Nov. 17, 2016, along with Brittany Heath after authorities found 84 grams of meth and a handgun in Heath’s car after Heath had arranged to sell three ounces of meth to a police informant for $3,600. Heath told police she got the meth from Anderson.

As part of a negotiated plea deal, the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to drop a second conspiracy charge and to argue for the maximum available reduction in sentence in exchange for Anderson taking responsibility for his actions.

Contacted Thursday, Anderson’s attorney declined to comment.

Heath, 23, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute meth and was sentenced in November to one day in prison and four years on supervision under a provision for lower-level drug offenders with limited criminal histories.

A La Crosse County jury in December 2014 acquitted Anderson of homicide in the June 2, 2013, death of DeMario Lee inside the men’s restroom at the Cass Street Kwik Trip, after finding he stabbed Lee in self-defense after a confrontation.

Anderson testified that Lee ambushed, beat and threatened to kill him before Anderson drew his knife and swung at Lee’s head; prosecutors argued that Lee, 24, of Illinois was stabbed as he was leaving the restroom and that Anderson wasn’t justified in using deadly force.

After his acquittal, Anderson accumulated eight criminal cases that accused him of drunken driving, threatening to kill his father and selling heroin, among other crimes.

Charges in four of those cases were dismissed or dismissed and considered at sentencing. He was fined and placed on electronic monitoring in two others.

La Crosse County prosecution of the heroin delivery case ended in a mistrial.

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Nation's first 911 call received 50 years ago today

During his two years as a La Crosse County dispatcher, Jay Loeffler quickly learned that the definition of an emergency is most certainly not universal.

Among the thousands of calls reporting accidents, injuries and intruders, the occasional head-shaking query comes in, with one memorable conversation regarding a restaurant reservation.

Loeffler, one of the 10 original La Crosse County dispatchers and the current administrator for Emergency Services, recalls a report from a woman attempting to make dinner reservations and distressed the line was continuously busy. Requesting an officer to check on the delay, Loeffler reminded her 911 is intended for emergencies.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Guerra Peterson, a public safety telecommunicator, works Thursday at the Public Safety Communications Center at the La Crosse County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center.

From Tribune files: Top crime stories of 2018

“She said, ‘Well, what would you call it if you had eight people who are hungry,’” Loeffler recounted. “Emergencies mean different things to different people.”

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the 911 system in La Crosse County, with today the 50th anniversary of the first call ever — made on Feb. 16, 1968, in Haleyville, Ala. Prior to the implementation of the universal emergency number, people needed to look up the individual seven-digit numbers for fire, police and ambulance, which then had to contact their partner services, wasting valuable time in sometimes life-or-death situations.

The push for a concise, all-encompassing number came in 1957 from the National Association of Fire Chiefs, and in 1967 the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice gave its recommendation. Telephone company AT&T decided on the exact digits, selecting 911 for its memorability and uniqueness, having never been authorized as an office, area or service code.

By 1979, 26 percent of the U.S. population had access to the 911 system, with La Crosse following suit four years later. The first call came in six hours ahead of the official Jan. 5, 1983, start date, from a woman seeking help after someone who had collapsed in her home. She learned of the system in a flyer included in her phone bill. The next day, 14 calls came in, three of them by mistake.

Since then, local dispatchers have taken more than 850,000 emergency calls, with a record 30,638 in 2017. The most calls in a single 24-hour period — 335 — came in June 28, 2014, coinciding with a severe thunderstorm. Weather incidents are the number one cause for a 911 call, accounting for six of the top 10 highest call volume records. Oktoberfest was responsible for the other four.

Anywhere from 50 to 100 calls are answered every day by the department’s 27 telecommunicators, 97 percent of them acknowledged within 10 seconds. Around 60 percent of calls qualify as actual emergencies, with thousands of misdials, pocket dials among them, coming in annually, other with hang ups. Every call is followed up on.

“We consider all 911 calls emergencies until verified,” Leoffler said.

Ken Damaschke, third-shift supervisor and with La Crosse County 911 dispatch for 15 years, has experienced the wave of emotions that come with his position, having talked a father through delivering his child in the back of a car and coaxing a suicidal man to accept help. Frantic calls about opioid overdoses are frighteningly common.

“The day of the week, the time of day — it doesn’t matter. You have to be prepared for what you can’t be prepared for,” Damaschke said. “I’ve heard first breaths, and I’ve heard last breaths.”

A faced-paced and often stressful job, a successful dispatcher requires common sense, sharp focus and a ability to maintain a level head. Those calling for help are often in their worst state of mind, frazzled, despondent and at times incoherent, leaving dispatchers to decipher what they can while giving direction and imparting calm. Leaving the chaos behind after a shift is essential — without outlets and interests outside of work, the job can take an emotional and mental toll.

“You can’t take it home with you every night,” Damaschke stressed, adding, “You have to remember the good calls.”

The incidents with happy endings are always rewarding, and heartwarming, and the random calls, though sometimes exasperating, can provide some much needed levity to the day. When Loeffler was in dispatch, he remembers his coworkers keeping a log of humorous calls, like a report of a lion roaming a yard in the city. The animal in question was found to be a golden retriever, his fur clipped and groomed to resemble the king of the jungle for a child’s zoo-themed birthday party.

Damaschke’s most memorable call started out quite serious, with a report of a severely intoxicated man attempting to enter his car. Keeping the caller on the line until officers arrived, Damaschke asked the caller’s name.

“Electron: A real life superhero living in La Crosse,” the man responded quite seriously. Damaschke entered the name verbatim into the online report.

“It was entirely legitimate,” Damaschke said, noting officers found the potential driver several times over the legal limit, and Electron clothed in a skintight black and yellow costume and helmet, keeping vigil. “He was just a good Samaritan who wanted to help people.”

Calls come in about “pretty much everything you can imagine,” Loeffler says, but warns that prank calls waste precious resources when time may be of the essence for another caller. In addition, legal action may be taken.

Loeffler advises that children be taught the purpose of 911 as soon as they are capable of operating a phone, and encourages callers to use landlines to make emergency calls whenever possible. Currently 80 percent of incoming calls are wireless, which are more difficult to track. If the caller can’t give an address, both a cell phone tower location and service provider must be identified to begin narrowing down the whereabouts.

Five percent of 911 centers nationwide offer texting service at this time, a trend Loeffler calls concerning, noting background noise and tone of voice can be invaluable.

“Dispatchers can’t see anything — they have to go by what they hear and what they’re told,” Loeffler said.

Working behind the scenes, dispatchers don’t often receive the thanks and recognition bestowed on other responders, and are not usually privy to the outcome of the incidents, though some inquire. For eight hours, Loeffler said, they take on the problems of everyone who calls.

“They’re definitely the unsung heroes,” Loeffler said. “They’re the people you don’t see, but they definitely are the first responders.”

Florida school shooting suspect legally bought rifle, was reported to the FBI for online threat

PARKLAND, Fla. (TNS) — Nikolas Cruz, the expelled student charged with 17 killings at his former school in Parkland, had undergone mental-health treatment and may have been reported to the FBI for allegedly posting an online comment saying he wanted “to be a professional school shooter.”

Still, despite his alarming behavior over the years, Cruz was able to purchase a .223-caliber rifle from a Broward gun shop in February 2017 after instantly clearing an FBI background check, a law-enforcement source told the Miami Herald. He had no criminal history.

“As far as I can tell, this was a clean sale,” the law enforcement official told the Miami Herald, who described the AR-15 rifle as a “civilian version of a military rifle.”

Ironically, Cruz could not have bought a handgun such as a 9mm Glock pistol because the purchaser has to be at least 21 years old under U.S. law. Yet, anyone who is at least 18 and clears a criminal background check can legally buy a rifle or shotgun in the United States.

More disturbing details emerged Thursday about the life of the alleged shooter, who was known by classmates as a quiet loner with an obsession with weapons and outbursts in the classroom. Cruz, 19, was booked into a Broward County jail early Thursday to face 17 counts of first-degree murder.

He made his first appearance in Broward circuit court Thursday afternoon, where he was ordered held without bond.

Cruz had a tortured history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where he had been suspended for fights and having ammunition in his backpack. He was later expelled for “disciplinary reasons,” and was re-enrolled at a Broward school for at-risk youths.

He lived in Parkland with his brother and his adopted mother, who died late last year. This year, Cruz had moved in with a friend in Broward County — the family asked him to keep the AR-15 locked in a cabinet. However, Cruz did not go to school Wednesday morning, delivering a cryptic remark to a friend.

“He said, ‘It’s Valentine’s Day and I don’t go to school on Valentine’s Day,’ “ said attorney Jim Lewis, who is representing the friend.

Also in the past, Cruz had received mental-health treatment but stopped going to a clinic, Broward Mayor Beam Furr told CNN and NPR.

“We missed the signs,” said Furr, a former teacher. “We should have seen some of the signs.”

His social-media posts also showed his love of weaponry. In the images, he sported dark bandanas over his face and beanies and baseball caps on his head. In one post, he wielded knives between his fingers as though they were claws. In another, he showed off a small black handgun.

Speaking on WIOD-610 AM radio Thursday morning, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said Cruz had posted troubling photos and videos on social media.

“We saw a pic yesterday where he took a chameleon and he splattered the chameleon,” Israel said. “Things like this, that’s not normal behavior.”

There were warning signs across the country.

Cruz appeared to have left an ominous comment on a Mississippi man’s YouTube channel in September.

Ben Bennight, a Gulfport bail bondsman who goes by “Ben the Bondsman” on YouTube, said in a video posted Wednesday night that he spoke to FBI agents in September about a comment left on one of his videos by someone with the username “nikolas cruz.”

“Im going to be a professional school shooter,” the commenter wrote.

In the video, Bennight says he immediately reported the comment to YouTube and to the local FBI field office. The next day, agents were in his business asking about the comment.

“I knew that I couldn’t just ignore that,” he said on the video he posted.

On Wednesday, FBI agents in Mississippi and South Florida contacted Bennight again in the hours after the shooting to ask questions about the disturbing comment.

“I wish that the information could have prevented this from happening,” he said near the end of the video. “But it was a generic comment, and you know, people say things. Keyboard commandos type things all the time that they don’t mean.”


Contributed photo 

"Jersey Boys," the musical that tells the story of The Four Seasons, is coming to Viterbo University next week for a two-night run.

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Renewable energy advocate says La Crosse 'ripe' for projects

La Crosse area leaders continue to explore ways to amp up its use of renewable energy.

Michael Vickerman, program and policy director for Renew Wisconsin, told the Sustainable La Crosse Commission Thursday that with a lack of state and federal interest in promoting renewable energy, cities, counties and even school districts are in a position to lead the way by implementing programs such as energy efficiency, cooperative solar energy purchases, or electric buses.

“We don’t see any reason why local government can’t take matters into its own hands,” Vickerman said. “I think La Crosse is ripe for one of these projects.”

Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.

Wisconsin’s state energy policy says local governmental units “shall rely to the greatest extent feasible” on energy efficiency and renewable energy, so long as it can be justified on the basis of cost and feasibility and is consistent with the state laws governing public utilities.

The Madison city council approved a resolution in March that directs the city to get all of its energy from renewable resources and to eliminate carbon emissions, allocating $250,000 help reach the goal. That led to the approval in September of an agreement with Madison Gas & Electric that will guide collaborative efforts and allow the city to purchase renewable energy from a third party while paying MG&E for the use of its wires.

A member of Madison’s sustainability committee, Vickerman was involved in negotiations with MG&E and told the commission “It will be easier to get there with the cooperation of a utility than fighting a utility.”

The Sustainable La Crosse Commission in October approved a motion recommending that the city and county boards pursue a memorandum of understanding with local utilities, though neither legislative body has taken any action.

The city of La Crosse has taken steps to reduce energy use through initiatives like fuel-efficient city vehicles.


Mayor Tim Kabat, one of 190 U.S. mayors who have pledged to support community transitions to renewable energy, said he supports the idea of working with Xcel as the next step, so long as it results in savings for taxpayers.

“We still have a ways to go,” he said. “A big part of your impact and your carbon footprint is how your electricity is produced.”

Xcel spokeswoman Christine Ouellette said while the city has not reached out about a partnership, the company “would be more than happy to have this discussion with them.”


Commission chair Mike Giese said he would like to see a county-wide partnership that could also include rural electric cooperatives.

“It would be good to have a regional response,” he said.

With a quarter of its Upper Midwest electricity already coming from renewable sources, Xcel is far ahead of Wisconsin’s renewable energy standards or the state’s other investor-owned utilities.

Within the next three years Xcel expects to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewables.

“The question is what else can Xcel do?” Vickerman said. “That’s for the city to decide.”

Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.