A1 A1


Erik Sackett


Rose Street closure expected to last until Nov. 1

Utility work near the intersection of Rose and Hagar streets is to blame for a road closure for northbound traffic on Rose Street on the city’s North Side.

The posted detour begins at Monitor Street. Rose Street, as well as side streets, will remain open to local traffic between Hagar and Clinton streets.

The closure is necessary for removal and replacement of a collapsing sanitary sewer, according to city officials. The Board of Public Works declared an emergency earlier this week to expedite repairs.

Motorists should anticipate traffic backups intermittently throughout the day, especially at peak hour times.

The closure is expected to last until Nov. 1.

10 most crash-prone state highway intersections in La Crosse County
10 most crash-prone state highway intersections in La Crosse County

Arcadia school board scraps controversial transportation policy

School buses will once again stop for dozens of Arcadia students who lost their bus-riding privileges earlier this year.

The Arcadia school board on Monday reversed a policy that prohibited students who live within two miles of their school from riding the bus, and that left many young children to navigate busy streets on their way to school.

Board members scrapped the policy by classifying the two-mile no-busing zones as “unusual hazards” for students in preschool through fourth grade. By state law, the district must provide transportation for students whose route to school includes these hazards, which include railroad tracks, streets without sidewalks and intersections without crossing guards.


The board also established new hazards for older students, allowing them to take the bus as well.

“As we have continued to receive feedback from parents and community, and now that we are into the school year, we have a better idea (of the) impact,” Superintendent Lance Bagstad said in a statement last week. The original policy, which the district began enforcing this fall, drew the ire of parents who feared it would endanger children and reduce attendance.

“It gives us more perspective,” Bagstad said.

While the state does not require school districts to bus students who live within two miles of their school, many districts do it anyway, in part due to safety concerns. The Bangor district transported these students until the school board decided last spring to begin enforcing the no-busing zones.

As a result, more than 150 students who rode the bus last year were unable to do so this year.

Suzanne Vazquez, a parent who used to teach in the district, started an online petition demanding the district make accommodations for these students. She said the policy was particularly troubling in a community like Arcadia, where there’s a high volume of traffic due to major employers, and where residents are already on edge after ICE raids.

The changes approved Monday are awaiting approval from the Trempealeau County Sheriff’s Office and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

If all goes according to plan, Bagstad said, the policy could go into effect as early as mid-November.

La Crosse VA clinic to move into Valley View Mall

The River Valley VA Community Clinic in La Crosse is moving into a former retail space in Valley View Mall.

The move, scheduled for early 2021, was announced in a press release on Tuesday.

The Tomah VA Medical Center, which runs the La Crosse clinic, has signed a lease for the mall property at 3800 Hwy. 16, according to the release. The exact location in the mall is not known at this time. Currently, the clinic is housed at 2600 State Road, behind Festival Foods.

The clinic provides primary care (including chronic disease management, patient education and health promotion), whole health services, mental health services, tele-healthcare and laboratory services.

The new clinic space will include additional primary care services, audiology and optometry.

Jeff Odom, general manager of Valley View Mall, said he expects the clinic to help other retailers at the property.

“Malls have obviously been challenged with filling traditional retail spaces with department stores” going out of business, Odom said. “This helps diversify our tenant mix, and it should increase traffic for our other retailers. It gives customers more reason to go to the mall.”

Places of the Past: The early years of Valley View Mall
Places of the Past: The early years of Valley View Mall

Day 2 | Erik Sackett trial
Day 2 of Erik Sackett trial: Attorneys describe chaotic last days of Erin Somvilai’s life

Erin Somvilai’s life was in chaos the week prior to her death, according to Tuesday’s opening statements of both La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke and defense attorney Chris Zachar.

Erik Sackett, 38, of La Crosse, was in La Crosse County Circuit Court Tuesday to stand trial on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide in her death. Sackett is accused of killing Somvilai — also known by her maiden name, Erin Bushek — in her La Crosse home and disposing of her body in a Vernon County lake.

Somvilai had been arrested a few days before her death after getting into a fight with her neighbor. Her family and neighbor were concerned about her erratic behavior and discussed the possibility of sending her two children to spend the summer with their respective fathers. Then her longtime landlord told her she was going to be evicted due to the incident with her neighbor.

Erik Sackett


That was on top of her major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Erin was upset and wanted to see Erik, who she was apparently in love with,” said Gruenke. “She was obsessed with him, infatuated with him, very much in love with him by all accounts.”

Somvilai spent the night of Saturday, June 2, 2018, walking around the Onalaska Walmart. The next morning, she left the Walmart and went to Kwik Trip to buy coffee and doughnuts, and then went to Sackett’s home, where she found him in bed with another woman.

“Erin was devastated. She was crushed. She began to call Erik and send him text messages one after another,” Gruenke told the jury.

Zachar also described Somvilai’s behavior as erratic and said, while Sackett and Somvilai had dated, the relationship ended in February 2018.

“You’ll hear that the two of them had very different expectations as to what that relationship meant. Erik told people publicly that he considered the two of them to be friends with benefits, that they spent time together, they enjoyed one another’s company, they had sex, but he didn’t see it as a long-term relationship,” Zachar said.

Somvilai, on the other hand, told her friends and family that she was in love with Sackett and planned on marrying him, Zachar told the jury. When Sackett began dating another woman in February, she was devastated and began to text and call him repeatedly, visiting him unannounced, then attempted suicide.

Zachar showed a photo Somvilai sent Sackett, which included what he said were self-inflicted cuts on her arm and leg. He also read text messages Somvilai sent June 3 to Sackett in which she said she had nothing to live for and said, “I can’t live anymore. I’m not kidding this time.”

The defense and the prosecution laid out alternative timelines for the day of June 3. Gruenke said Sackett killed Somvilai and took her to Vernon County, and Zachar argued Sackett took Somvilai to his family cabin to calm her down after the fight that morning.

Zachar said a witness saw Somvilai at Walgreens June 4, 2018, then walk in the direction of where Dr. David Onsrud worked.

Onsrud, who had previously paid Somvilai nearly $15,000 to tie him up for his sexual gratification, had no alibi for that afternoon and missed work the next day, Zachar said.

“These are emotional cases. They are emotional cases because we’re dealing with the death of somebody who by all accounts was loved and still is loved,” Zachar said.

However, he asked the members of the jury to keep the logical side of their brain turned on while they empathize with Somvilai’s loved ones.

“We’re all here because Mr. Sackett says that he’s innocent. I’m confident that when you follow the facts, when you follow the evidence, you’ll conclude the same,” Zachar said.

Gruenke pointed out that Sackett lied to police about seeing Somvilai June 3, 2018, and one of Somvilai’s text messages threatened to tell his probation officer about their relationship, which would have violated terms of his Department of Corrections supervision.

“Given the lies that Erik told police, given the number of times that he was at Erin’s home and the motive that came from the text messages she sent him about his PO, at the end of this case, I think you’re going to agree that Erik Sackett was the only person who had the means, motive and opportunity to intentionally cause the death of Erin Somvilai,” Gruenke said.

Gruenke asked the jury to find him guilty.

Testimony began Tuesday with Sackett’s probation agent Amanda Kinyon, who said she did not give Sackett permission to have a sexual relationship and also referred to Somvilai as Sackett’s girlfriend in a February report, and Somvilai’s father, Mark Bushek.

Bushek described a close relationship with his daughter, in which he was at her house regularly to help with chores or give her a hand looking after her two children. He went to her home June 4 after work because Somvilai’s brother, Joshua Bushek, called him, concerned after Somvilai had threatened to hurt herself. All three of Somvilai’s vehicles were at her apartment, as well as her purse, wallet, keys and medications.

“Everything was there that she would normally take with her and that gave me concern,” Bushek said.

Bushek visited Sackett that afternoon and told him Somvilai was missing. Sackett responded by asking Bushek was joking, according to Bushek’s testimony.

“I looked at him and took my sunglasses off and said, ‘My daughter is missing. Does it look like I’m kidding?’” Bushek said.

Bushek also testified that he had spoken to Somvilai about allowing the fathers of her children to take them over the summer, so she could focus on her mental health. Text records showed Bushek had texted Sackett about speaking to Somvilai and trying to talk her into going along with that plan, although Bushek did not remember sending those messages.

The trial also included testimony from two La Crosse Police Department officers who interviewed Sackett while Somvilai was missing, prior to when her body was found.

Officer Nicholas Raddant interviewed Sackett June 6 about Somvilai’s disappearance. Sackett, who had been drinking at home prior to Raddant’s arrival, described Somvilai as “my little sister’s best friend” and said the last time he spoke to her was June 3 when she came over and asked for a ride.

His girlfriend at the time, Kelly Malszycki, chimed in to add, “I was here so she was upset.”

Sackett didn’t mention any drive down to Vernon County or that she had threatened to drown herself in Runge Hollow Lake. He repeatedly mentioned that Somvilai and her sister, Molly Peacock, were on drugs and objected to being recorded talking about their drug use, saying he was worried about it getting back to Somvilai and her family.

“Her welfare right now is more important right now than you telling us she did drugs,” Raddant said, and continued to record the conversation.

Sackett also tried to call Somvilai and put Raddant in touch with his sister, who he said would have more information about the then-missing woman.

Gruenke also played video from the June 8 interview of Sackett by Investigator Andrew Rosenow of the La Crosse Police Department, a day after police searched Sackett’s home for Somvilai and her cellphone.

In the video, Sackett says he wants to help find Somvilai, saying he had called and texted her to try to locate her. He gave Rosenow Somvilai’s number and insisted several times that Rosenow should let him call her first.

Sackett also explained that he drives three trucks on a regular basis, one of which is registered to Somvilai.

“I was having problems registering it, so she was like, ‘Hey, I’ll register it for you,’” Sackett said on the video.

Rosenow asked whether Sackett went to Somvilai’s apartment, and he said he drove by almost every day.

Rosenow said it would have helped the investigation to know Sackett and Somvilai were at Runge Hollow Lake June 3 and that Sackett loaned Somvilai his truck — something Zachar alleged during his opening statement.

During cross-examination, Zachar asked Rosenow if police checked whether Somvilai hired a cab or used a ride-sharing app in the days after her disappearance. Rosenow said they did not.

Zachar also read out each of Somvilai’s text messages from the days and weeks prior to her disappearance, in which she implies she’s thinking about suicide and deeply in love with Sackett, and Rosenow agreed they were important in establishing her state-of-mind.

Cross-examination will continue Wednesday.

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Erik Sackett homicide trial in La Crosse
Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Erik Sackett homicide trial in La Crosse

Mayo Clinic Health System unveils $5 million Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in La Crosse
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Lines of light mark the face and gown of Sandra Burke of Winona Monday at the newly expanded and renovated Slaggie Family Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Mayo Clinic Health System after receiving radiation treatment for breast cancer.

At Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, ringing the gold survivor bell after a final treatment is a right of passage for cancer patients, a glorious occasion met with department-wide clapping, plenty of hugs and a few tears.

For the past 14 months, the famed bell, once affixed to a plaque on the wall of the Cancer Center, has been rotated throughout the building as walls have been erected and flooring installed during the center’s remodel.

This week, the bell took its rightful place on a new wall.

Two years in the making, the expanded and renovated Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer and Blood Disorders Center was unveiled Tuesday to a crowd of staff, community leaders and guest speakers, including the Center’s namesakes, Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, Dr. Paul Mueller, regional vice president of Mayo Clinic Health System southwest Wisconsin and Mary Jo Williamson, vice chair of administration of Mayo Clinic and chief administrative officer of Mayo Clinic Health System.


Stephen and Barbara Slaggie's $5 million donation to expand and renovate the Cancer Center at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse provides an extension of the Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer Education Center at Mayo in Rochester.

The Slaggies, longtime philanthropists and donors to many Mayo Clinic projects — including the Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer Education Center in Rochester, Minn. — donated $5 million last year toward their eponymous cancer center, which is expected to serve over 2,200 patients each year.

The updated facility boasts twice the former number of exam rooms at 18, double the treatment bays, from 10 to 20, and a larger pharmacy which is USP 800 (a quality standard for handling hazardous drugs) compliant. Other features include additional private areas for patients to meet with their social worker, surgeon or occupational therapist, and more natural lighting.

“This is a beautiful space,” said Rachel Bishop, a registered nurse in the Cancer Center. “It’s really nice for the patients to see the space after living through (the renovation).”

The Slaggie Cancer Center project was announced in November 2017, with groundbreaking in late summer 2018 on the 3,900-square-foot addition to the original cancer center, which was built 15 years ago.

Located on the lower level of the Center for Advanced Medicine and Surgery, the departments of hematology/oncology and radiation oncology were included in the improvements, with breast, lung, head, neck and prostate cancers among the most frequently treated.

The project came in under budget at $4.9 million, and the extra $100,000 will be used within the cancer center for things such as provider education and patient retreats.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Sandra Burke of Winona visits with Dr. Abigail Stockham, a radiation and oncology specialist at Mayo Health System, during an appointment Monday at the newly expanded and renovated Slaggie Family Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for her ongoing breast cancer treatment. The treatment and exam space in the facility was doubled in the renovation.

“The most important thing is the greater patient access and patient comfort,” Dr. Abigail Stockham, who specializes in radiation oncology, says of the updated center, which now has check-in, waiting area and treatment rooms on the same floor. “This is a time that is stressful and we want to make it less stressful. A warm and welcoming environment is important for healing. We have phenomenal staff, and being able for them to provide treatment in a facility that is warm and healing is a wonder gift.”

The Slaggies live in Marco Island, Fla., but they are former Winona, Minn., residents who have long had ties to Mayo Clinic, with Stephen treated as a child for life-threatening spinal meningitis and again about two decades ago for prostate cancer, from which he is in remission.

In addition to the Slaggie Cancer Center and Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer Education Center, which is considered one of the largest in the nation, the Slaggie’s have donated to diabetes research, regenerative medicine and Mayo Clinic Connected Care. In their home state, they have contributed to the Marco Island Community Foundation.

“There really are no words to express what their gift does for the community and the people of the region,” Stockham said. “We’re grateful beyond words they have trust and faith in Mayo Clinic and the work and care we provide to our patients and neighbors.”

Sandra Burke, 60, of Winona, Minn., who has been a breast cancer patient at Mayo for about four months, has been receiving daily radiation treatments from Stockham after completing 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

Diagnosed April 29 — her birthday — at Winona Health, Burke travels to La Crosse for her appointments, finding the staff attentive and compassionate and updated environment, which includes a fireplace in the patient lounge area, “cozy.”

“They want you to feel as comfortable as you can during what you’re going through,” Burke said.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Keeping a positive attitude has been key for Sandra Burke of Winona who is currently receiving treatment for breast cancer at Mayo Clinic Health System’s Slaggie Family Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

The executive director of Winona Volunteer Services, Burke has previously met the Slaggies, who have donated to the food, transportation and rent assistance nonprofit.

“Their generosity has certainly helped the people I work with,” Burke said.

Burke, whose career is based around helping others, has found another way to give back by opening up about her cancer journey and lending her support to fellow patients. With no family history of cancer, Burke was shocked when she got the call her biopsy was positive and understands the fear that follows.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘Where is this coming from?’” Burke recalls. “(My mind) was a blank screen — How could this be?”

Robot-assisted surgeries at Mayo can reduce pain, number of opioids prescribed

Elizabeth Beyer, La Crosse Tribune 

An attendee of the community forum on robot-assisted surgery tries her hand at a training simulation Monday. The forum was sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Health System Auxiliary to educate community member on the da Vinci Surgery System used by the clinic for certain elected procedures. 

In both Winona and La Crosse, Burke has found herself developing a camaraderie with others in the thick of cancer, and finds comfort in faith, family and friends. She calls her providers at Mayo a “great team,” and trusts in Stockham, who told Burke during an appointment Monday afternoon, “We’re here to support you head, shoulders, knees and toes.”

Smiling and making jokes as she works toward remission, Burke is halfway to ringing the Survivor Bell in the Slaggie Cancer Center. While she has stayed hopeful and optimistic throughout her journey, she is eager to receive the all clear.

“I feel very fortunate this is curable,” Burke says, adding, with a laugh, of her ductal carcinoma, “This little sucker better not come back!”

Photos: Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in La Crosse
Photos: Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in La Crosse