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Sauk Prairie area top ten stories of 2018 part 2
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Sauk Prairie area top ten stories of 2018 part 2

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As a new year starts, the staff of the Eagle took a look at the stories that generated the most interest and conversation in 2018. This is the second part of the top 10 stories from the last year.

Rayce Raschka passes

On Sunday, Jan. 14, Rayce Raschka, came home from a day of competing with the high school show choir. At about 7 p.m., he got a bloody nose. It was nothing too serious.

“Just enough to have to keep a Kleenex there,” said Jessica Frey, Raschka’s mom. “I blew it off. I figured it would stop; that it was winter and it was just that the air way dry.”

But Raschka kept coming back to his mom, worried it hadn’t stopped. It was 3 a.m.

“He wanted to go to the doctor,” Frey said. “I told him we’d go in the morning.”

The Sauk Prairie School District had a two-hour delay due to the weather. Frey called the school and told them her son wasn’t coming in. On their way to the doctor, Raschka’s nose stopped bleeding. They debated whether to keep the appointment. In the end, Raschka just wanted to be sure everything was fine.

Raschka’s girlfriend, Alyssa Roland, was not happy.

“I was upset when he told me he wasn’t going to school that day,” Roland recalled.

She was looking forward to seeing him. The two were inseparable.

“I was a little concerned but didn’t think much of it,” Roland said. “It was just a bloody nose.”

At the doctor, they confirmed Raschka’s nose had started clotting. They began asking about other symptoms. Had he been fatigued? Yes, Frey said. Her son was always on the go. Besides, he was a teenager. Raschka said he’d been having headaches more frequently, and he had these pesky little red bumps that started on his feet and went all the way up his legs.

Doctors at UW-Childrens Hospital in Madison began running their own tests. A hematologist stopped by. Raschka’s platelets were low, as were his white blood cells and hemoglobin. Raschka was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia, a condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells. It leaves a person feeling fatigued and with a higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding.

Called a “rare and serious condition” by the Mayo Clinic, aplastic anemia can develop at any age, occurs suddenly or slowly and gets worse over a long period of time. Treatment includes medications, blood transfusions or a stem cell transplant.

Over the next few weeks Raschka would go back and forth to the hospital for blood transfusions, and he couldn’t go to school due to his compromised immune system. However, the doctors allowed Raschka to participate in show choir, conditionally. He drove to competitions by himself because his weakened immune system couldn’t risk a bus full of teenagers.

Finally, after he came down with an infection, Raschka was admitted to the hospital. His family all got tested to see if they were a match, leading up to his first bone marrow transplant. His sister, Dawson, was a match. Because the success rate for a sibling donor was so high, nobody expected it not to take. Frey said the doctors suspected the first one did take, but a subsequent fungal infection Raschka came down with likely wiped away all the white blood cells.

Brennan sent out a mass email to students in the choir who were scheduled to perform at graduation. He was taking a group to the hospital in the hours before graduation Friday, June 1.

By the number of students who responded so quickly to Brennan’s email, it was clear to him Raschka had made an impact on his fellow students.

“You ask anyone about Rayce and you know the kind of person he was,” Roland said.

At 4 p.m. at UW Children’s Hospital in Madison, Raschka’s friends and family, as well as select staff and students from Sauk Prairie High School, doctors and nurses gathered to witness Raschka — donning his cap and gown — receive his diploma from Harnisch. The choir sang.

“It was one of the most beautiful and important things I have ever been a part of,” said Matt Brennan, music teacher at Sauk Prairie High School.

Rail bridge finally departs

In December, 1881, the first train chugged along the tracks of the newly-constructed Sauk City rail road bridge, carrying people and goods along the wooden structure over the Wisconsin River to much anticipation.

“It was such a big deal; the noise, the novelty,” said Jack Berndt, manager of the Tripp Heritage Museum in Prairie du Sac. “People would run down to the riverbank to watch it. There was a saying, that the minute the last railroad spike was driven in, the train came shortly after.”

People have again headed to the riverfront in Sauk City 137 years later to watch as the old, worn-out bridge is torn down.

The last train to cross the structure made the trip in 1998. In 2002, at the direction of the Wisconsin Rail Transit Commission, explosives were used to destroy a span of the bridge that was deemed a hazard, leaving a gaping hole in the structure. In September 2016 as the Wisconsin River swelled from heavy rain, a critical pier supporting one of the remaining spans shifted, causing that portion of the structure to pitch dangerously.

A partnership of state, county and railroad officials investigated the bridge’s stability and recommended the bridge’s removal at an estimated cost of $1 million. Funding for the project was split among Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

According to Dave Bierman of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, who served as project manager for the bridge’s demolition, work went pretty much as expected except for the unexpected removal of the bridge’s east abutment, a structure built to support the lateral pressure of an arch or span, commonly found at the ends of a bridge.

Man shoots self at Kwik Trip

Officials identified the man who died May 18 following a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Sauk City as 33-year-old Ryan Pellicane of Lone Rock.

Sauk County Coroner Greg Hahn said Pellicane shot himself in the chest near his car in the parking lot of the Sauk City Kwik Trip.

Sauk Prairie Police Lt. Travis Hilliard said the department’s investigation is complete and officials have not been able to determine whether the death was caused by a suicide or accident.

“We are calling it a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Hilliard said. “We will probably never know for sure because the individual is deceased. We don’t know if he took out the gun and then it went off accidentally, or if it was intentional.”

Hahn said in death investigations of this nature, law enforcement often looks at mitigating circumstances of the individual — whether a note was left or a conversation was held between the victim and another person.

Hilliard said based on the department’s investigation, it didn’t appear Pellicane had any interaction with Kwik Trip employees or other people in the immediate area. The Sauk Prairie Police Department was called to the scene the morning of May 18. Pellicane was discovered on the ground outside his vehicle on the east side of the convenience store. Responding officers performed life-saving measures until Sauk Prairie EMS and Sauk City Fire Department arrived at the scene. Pellicane was taken by ambulance to Sauk Prairie Hospital, where he later was pronounced dead.

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Due to the nature of his death, Hilliard said many witnesses appeared to be in shock. Officers at the scene reached out to Sauk County Human Services Department to help those who saw the incident.

Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz said officers also have services available in cases of stress and trauma.

“As a department we are trying really hard to be sensitive to cases where there is trauma,” Strunz said. “There can be situations were officers might experience post-traumatic stress when they occur. I think it’s great that the officers responding recognized there were people there who might need help. They realized it was an opportunity for them to offer some of the services we have available.”

Merrimac Communications sold

Feb. 2 marked the first working day Bart Olson didn’t travel the 100 or so steps it takes to walk from his home to the large metal building that has housed his business, Merrimac Communications, in 28 years.

After more than four decades in the communications business, Olson and his wife Char completed the sale of the business they built from the ground up to Madison-based TDS Metrocom LLC, a subsidiary of TDS Telecom.

In November 2017, TDS announced it would purchase Merrimac Communications. The local company provided cable TV, internet, and phone service to thousands of residents and businesses across three counties, including the towns of Merrimac, Caledonia, Sumpter, Prairie du Sac, Roxbury, Mazomanie, Greenfield and West Point, and the villages of Sauk City, Prairie du Sac and Merrimac.

“It was a little disorienting,” Bart Olson said of his first day not working. “When your business is offering 24-7 internet service, there is always that stress level, because everything always has to be up and running.”

Since 1970, the Olsons started five shopper publications and three newspapers; The Baraboo Sun, Reedsburg Report and Sauk Prairie Eagle. They sold those businesses in 1998. During those years the Olsons also started Merrimac Area Cable, a cable system serving the Merrimac area in addition to selling satellite dish systems.

“We hired a company and built out to 100 households to start,” Bart Olson said. “For a time, the guys who ran the printing press for the shoppers were also the cable TV guys.”

Merrimac Communications evolved after the Olsons sold off their shoppers and newspapers, focusing solely on telephone, cable and later adding internet services.

The Olsons said Merrimac Communications has survived throughout the years despite competition from Frontier, Charter and other larger cable and internet companies with a combination of quality service and products, excellent customer service and by offering tech support around the clock.

“Try to get an actual person rather than an automated answer,” Bart Olson said regarding customer service at other communications companies. “It’s frustrating.”

“People want answers now,” Char Olson said. “They want to know right away when something is going to get fixed.”

Char Olson said friends and family have encouraged them to slow down.

“People kept saying, we’re retiring, why don’t you?,” she said. “They didn’t understand selling this business is not like selling a root beer stand. There aren’t a lot of buyers out there. You have to wait until things fall into place.”

Coffee sparks emergency response

The morning of April 12 went pretty much according to plan for John Brennan, owner of John Joseph Coffee in Sauk City. That is until two members of the Sauk City Fire Department came into the coffee roaster’s door at 112 Van Buren St., in full protective gear with axes in hand.

Rewind to 45 minutes earlier: Brennan and a friend were in Brennan’s back room roasting a week’s supply of product. “We saw a fire truck going by out the window,” Brennan said. “I remember saying I hoped there wasn’t an accident.”

Little did Brennan know the Sauk City Fire Department was on its way to a report of a smoke-like smell in the village’s municipal building, home to village administrative offices on the main level, and the Sauk Prairie Police Department on the lower level.

“The Sauk Prairie Police Department smelled smoke and they called us as a precaution to come and check it out,” said Tom Wipperfurth, president of the Sauk City Fire Department.

Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz said he and other department employees detected a smell similar to burnt toast, and after verifying with building staff no one was cooking in the building, he and the village’s public works director, Marv Dolphin, decided to call the fire department as a precaution.

“We looked over the entire building and then accessed the roof,” Wipperfurth said.

That’s when firefighters were able to determine the smell was not coming from inside the municipal building. Capt. Dan Ederer and volunteer firefighter Paul Robertson were directed to head half-a-block down the street to the source of the smell: John Joseph Coffee.

“My friend looked out and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got firefighters coming in,” Brennan said. “I said, ‘You’re kidding,’ but then in they came.”

Brennan said after a quick exchange, they realized the source of the smell was his coffee beans roasting in the back room.

“It was the quickest, funniest interaction,” Bennan said. “They made sure everything was OK and I offered them a cup of coffee to go for their trouble.”

Ederer and Robertson politely declined.

“One of them said, ‘No offense, but I don’t drink coffee,’” Brennan said.

Brennan said he thinks the event was sort of an anomaly.

“Our roaster is small,” he said. “I think it had to do something with the heavy air. There was a lot of fog this morning. Obviously I have roasted before, and there has never been this complaint. Usually the smell goes up into the chimney, out into the air, never to be seen again.”

Brennan said he felt bad after learning the smell was pretty strong by the municipal building and for the extent the fire department went through to clear the air. For their troubles, Brennan dropped off a pound of his coffee to the police department, fire department and administrative offices.

“It was a good opportunity for me to introduce myself,” he said.

Wipperfurth said he’s glad of the outcome.

“We would much rather have people call us and have it be nothing than not and it turn out to be something serious,” Wipperfurth said.

“It was a funny introduction to the neighborhood,” said Dan Kelter, a Water Street neighbor who captured Brennan’s exchange with the fire department. “New sites and smells on Water Street this spring. John Joseph Coffee is definitely up and running.”

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