On Aug. 5, just past 9 p.m., a 50-year-old Madison man we'll call "Bob" was walking to work. Near Milwaukee Street and East Washington Avenue, he passed a group of teenagers.
"One said hello," recalls Bob. "I said hello back." Then one of the younger teens punched him in the face.
Bob, who weighs just over 100 pounds, fell to the sidewalk, where he was kicked sharply several times. He doesn't recall any of the youths - he thinks there were eight or nine - saying anything or trying to rob him. They scattered when someone across the street yelled.
Bleeding from his nose and holding his ribs, Bob continued walking to his night job at a downtown hotel. He'd gone more than a mile before he realized his key was missing and returned to the scene. There he met up with Madison police, who were called by a witness to the attack; he didn't think he could identify the assailants, according to reports released to Isthmus. One officer saw several youths who fit the attackers' general description get into an SUV and jotted down the plate number.
Paramedics arrived, but Bob declined transport. Police Sgt. Sue Armagost noticed that Bob was "still obviously in a great deal of pain" and asked that a fellow officer take him to the hospital. According to her report, "[Bob] was very concerned about the payment for this...because he had no insurance and no money to pay for such things."
Bob agreed to be taken to the hospital; Armagost later learned his injures were "very significant." The reports do not indicate any follow-up investigation.
Moreover, the media were never told that a lifelong Madison resident walking to work was savagely attacked, apparently at random, by a group of young thugs.
"I didn't hear about it," says police spokesman Joel DeSpain. "This is the type of thing that if it was brought to my attention, I'd have put it out." (In the 24-hour period after Bob's attack, DeSpain posted incident reports on a weapons violation and three auto accidents.)
Wisconsin State Journal police reporter Pat Simms says she and her colleagues listen to scanners and wade through available reports. But they only see what the cops decide to provide: "It's not like the old days when you used to be able to go in and look at all of the police reports."
DeSpain says police are still "working on this case and have been making some progress." But Bob says no one from the MPD contacted him after the assault, until Isthmus made inquiries. Then he got a call asking if he could identify his attackers; he doesn't think so. Bob says the cop who called didn't ask about the extent of his injuries. It's possible police have no idea.
Bob and his "guardian angels," Dave and Karen White, say he spent four days in the hospital, some in intensive care. His cheekbone was cracked and surgeons had to install a metal plate in his face. He had four broken ribs and a collapsed lung, which required surgery to re-inflate.
He missed nearly a month of work before returning this week. His back still hurts, and he has an incision in his chest. He needs follow-up care. So far, Meriter Hospital has billed him for $26,000.38, which doesn't include fees for surgeons and other specialists.
But Bob's most severe wounds are psychological. He's shy and reclusive by nature, needing help from his friends to "get through life," as Dave White puts it. Bob is afraid of crowded places and unfamiliar environments, and, now, of being on the street. Asked if he thinks he'll get over what happened, Bob says "I don't know" and begins to cry.
Bob and the Whites suspect the attack was part of a gang initiation. Police Det. George Chavez, the MPD's gang expert, confirms that gangs do sometimes ask recruits to commit a crime. But Capt. Carl Gloede, who made some inquiries into the case, says, "It would be premature at this time to conclude that this was gang-related."
Capt. Jill Klubertanz of the MPD's East District says police plan to track down the plate number of the SUV seen near the crime. But she's not optimistic, since neither the victim nor witness can identify the attackers: "Unless someone comes forward and says, 'I did it,' there's not a lot we can do."
Bob Schneiker got a $58 ticket the other day for riding his bike on State Street, a designated bike route. The Madison resident, who runs his own business, had entered a section under construction; he saw the "Walk Bikes" sign but thought it referred to the sidewalk. Noting that no construction was going on, he asked the officer, "Don't you have anything better to do?"
The next day, Schneiker came back to the scene of his crime and saw another cop stationed there, apparently for the sole purpose of enforcing the ban on bike riding. He saw one other person get ticketed, and watched in shock as the officer "chewed out" two women who moved a bike barrier to get through with a baby carriage.
Schneiker plans to fight his citation, and may have some basis. Bike advocate Mike Rewey, a retired state transportation worker, says the "Walk Bikes" sign is diamond shaped, meaning it's merely advisory, and has no force in law. Indeed, he suspects it's from the construction crew.
But don't be surprised if the police have time enough to defend these citations in court.
Paul Underwood is no longer the underdog. On. Aug. 19, an administrative law judge reversed the state Department of Transportation's decision to sideline his 1976 Pinzgauer.
As Isthmus reported ("Pinzgauer Owner: Dude, Where's My Registration?," 5/15/08), the state yanked the title and registration of 29 Pinzgauers last September. That launched Underwood on a crusade to defend the "phenomenally well-designed" Austria-made vehicles.
Judge Mark Kaiser said WisDOT provided little evidence that Pinzgauers are not roadworthy or that it's original decision to issue a license was made in error: "The department has not satisfied its burden of proof."
WisDOT attorney Paul Nilsen will file objections to the ruling, but doubts it will be overturned. He says the agency will likely restore the titles of Pinzgauer owners and issue apologies. Then it may ask state legislators to change the law, lest the state be unable to prevent "tanks on our roads."
Drink up, shitizens, then lesh have another
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk is right: People in these parts are way too fond of alcohol ("Getting Drunk Shouldn't Be Normal," 8/15/08). It causes all kinds of sickness and dysfunction.
So will Falk's alcohol-control initiatives, which she'll soon unveil as part of her 2009 budget, curb the county's willingness to make a buck off boozing? Don't bet on it.
For example, this Saturday the county's Alliant Energy Center will host the SoCo Music Festival. It's a celebration of Southern Comfort's "unique flavor of whiskey, fruit and spices...rooted in the spirit of New Orleans," according to a company web page linked to Dane County's site. The spirit is recommended "any time you want to take an ordinary night and make it legendary." (Or an ordinary afternoon; the festival starts at 2 p.m.)
Asked for comment, Falk spokesman Joshua Wescott points to a 28-page manual used to train "the folks who do the serving" at county events. (For more on this, see "Rhythm and Booze," page 17.) He says Falk doesn't want a return to prohibition, just for people to drink responsibly.
Funny, Southern Comfort advises the exact same thing.
(As Nelson would say:) Ha Ha!
A business news item last week: "Famous Footwear's headquarters move from Madison to the St. Louis area played heavily into a second-quarter plunge in profits for its parent company, Brown Shoe Co."