We’ve brought you hundreds of stories over the past 12 months throughout western Wisconsin. But which ones would rank as the biggest of 2015? Fox 25-48’s Jesse Horne brings us our top five from this year.
Wisconsin moved into a brighter political spotlight in 2015 due to two elected officials. In mid-July, Governor Scott Walker ended speculation by saying “I’m Scott Walker and I’m running for president and I’m asking for your vote.” However, in a crowded field of republican candidates, Walker’s campaign failed to gain momentum, eventually coming to an end on September 21st. “I believe that I’m being called to lead by helping to clear the field.” Weeks later, Paul Ryan was being sought by republicans to become the next speaker of the house and help ease discord within his party. After much reluctance, the Janesville representative became the first-ever house speaker from the badger state on October 29th. “Let’s pray for each other.”
Two arrests in May quickly turned into a government scandal in Eau Claire. Larry Lokken and Kay Onarheim confessed to stealing 1.4 million dollars from the Eau Claire county treasurer’s office between 2011 and 2013. Investigators raided their homes and found what a criminal complaint described as “evidence indicative of shopping sprees,” as well as, during one month, Lokken and his wife gambling thousands each at a casino. In November, Lokken pled no contest to eight felony counts. Onarheim entered guilty pleas to those same charges. They are set to be sentenced in late January.
Bon Iver front-man and Eau Claire native Justin Vernon saw a vision come alive this year, for a large, summer alternative music festival, which became a salute to his home town and a salute to some of the biggest names in indie rock today. Roughly 20, 000 people came out to the inaugural two-day fest in July with a highlight being Bon Iver playing its first show in almost three years, debuting two new songs. The success of the inaugural festival has bolstered plans for next year’s festival to be held at new, and more exclusive, festival grounds next August.
A pair of manhunts in Eau Claire county back in June kept officers busy for nearly 72 straight hours. First, officers searched in the town of Seymour for Mitchell Owens, accused of kidnapping a woman at a Mukwonago Walmart. That manhunt ended when he was eventually found dead. The day after that manhunt ended, officers were back on the search, this time, for Billy Croon, who sped past a school bus dropping off kids in Fall Creek. “In 38 years, I don’t remember being this busy for this long.” In September, Croon pleaded guilty to a count of first degree recklessly endangering safety and stealing a vehicle. He was eventually sent to the Mendota Mental Health Institute.
If one word could encapsulate Eau Claire in 2015, it would be – confluence. The city of Eau Claire’s grand vision for downtown began to take shape in January when Governor Scott Walker announced it would be part of his annual state budget. Money also poured in for the confluence project, through several donations and contributions. but it also took more of a physical shape as the year went on, as the Haymarket landing mixed-use building began to rise along the southern banks of the confluence, and which now stands as a reminder for what will loom over much of the next twelve months.