The decision to posthumously honor Calumet County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Hansen is set in stone - literally. His name was recently added to the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol Square. But for Patricia McNaughton and other members of her family, the honor is like an open wound.
"I don't understand," says McNaughton, a resident of Waupaca County. "These people are supposed to be behaving honorably."
The Memorial is established for Wisconsin officers "killed in the line of duty"; about 240 fallen officers have been honored to date. The group specifically allows recognition of those who, "while off-duty, act in response to a violation of the law." Not eligible are officers who die while acting "in a grossly negligent manner."
On July 14, 1968, Deputy Hansen, then 26, ran a stop sign at more than 60 mph and smashed into a car carrying three members of McNaughton's family: her mother Kathryn, 45, brother John, 18, and younger sister, Eileen, 7. Kathryn and Eileen died swiftly, as did Hansen; John, who was driving, died at the hospital two hours later in his father's arms.
McNaughton and her two surviving sisters, who were teenagers at the time, learned of the decision to honor Hansen less than two days before the May 18 ceremony. They protested this event, holding photos of their dead loved ones and turning their backs when Hansen's name was read. Also on hand was Hansen's son, Wyatt, whom the crash left fatherless at age 5.
While later apologizing for their protest, McNaughton and her sisters have continued to seek the removal of Hansen's name. E-mails now being sent to the Memorial board from family supporters state: "If causing the deaths of three innocent people, through an officer's negligence, meets the WLEM Board's criteria for honoring law enforcement officers, [the] criteria must be immediately changed."
McNaughton has also sent the board heartbreaking statements written in the voices of lost family members (for the set see this story at TheDailyPage.com).
"My name was Eileen but everyone called me 'Beanie.' I had just turned 7 the month before Officer Hansen made me die," begins one. "He made my mommy and my big brother die too." Afterward, she says, her father cried "for months and months and months." John McNaughton Sr. died at age 49, less than five years after the crash.
Brian Willison, the founding chairman of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial Board, has expressed his sympathy in a letter to McNaughton: "The entire incident was a tragedy that affected many lives." But the group's review of its decision affirmed that Hansen was "acting in his official capacity" at the time of the crash.
"Exactly what he was doing, I don't know," says Willison, a captain with the Dane County Sheriff's Office. "Nobody knows." But Hansen's squad was observed traveling with its lights on, and the Memorial's Web site synopsis, based on a newspaper account, says Hansen was "pursuing a suspect at the time of the crash."
Even if Hansen was going after a traffic offender (he was not dispatched by radio, nor did he report being in a chase), McNaughton objects to his being honored. "He could have chosen to slow down and yield to oncoming traffic," she says. "He made some very poor decisions that day."
Willison says the board is sticking by its decision. His letter to McNaughton concludes: "It is my hope that all involved can move forward in their lives remembering and honoring their loved ones for the way they lived and not how they died."
But, of course, remembering how people died is what the Memorial is all about.
When a tree falls...
Marla Eddy, city of Madison forester, isn't eager to be pulled into the controversy over last week's removal of five large Norway maple trees on the Capitol Square, to allow for a wider sidewalk. But when asked about a state official's post-hubbub claim to The Capital Times that the trees, initially said to be healthy, were in fact found to be "dead in the center," she shares a bit of her expertise:
"All trees are dead in the center. That's called the heartwood."
But Eddy is aware of concerns about the trees' structural stability - a few years back one dropped a limb on a parked car on a calm day - and has personally observed what seemed be outward signs of inward decay.
Don Waller, a UW-Madison botanist, agrees that "the centers of all trees are dead, unless it's a sapling." And even decay of a tree's heartwood is not uncommon.
The stumps of four of the five trees felled last week were promptly removed. But Waller was able to examine the fifth stump, directly across the street from the Inn on the Park. His assessment: "It does look like there's some rot - but not enough to compromise the integrity of the tree."
Waller confesses he's not a huge fan of Norway maples, which are not native. Still, he questions the state's plans to topple an additional 22 trees and plant 57 new ones. "I think we should hesitate before cutting down big, healthy trees and replacing them with saplings. This isn't furniture to be rearranged."
The mayor's mailbag
Madison residents are giving Mayor Dave Cieslewicz their two cents on streetcars, following his support for a Regional Transit Authority to pay for transit improvements.
"Put me down for a 'NO' when it comes to [your] latest plan to 'trolleyize' Madison, and tax all of Dane County to do it," wrote one e-mailer. "Us regular folks can't afford to live in the expensive downtown condos, which the trolleys are designed to serve."
Another correspondent segued from ranting about a pothole to "also express my disapproval of 'THE TROLLEY.' Also the smoking ban." And something about homeless people in parks. "Thanks for listening," the e-mail concluded.
Some writers favor streetcars, like one guy who "can't tell you how many times I have been on State Street eating when one of those stinky loud buses comes by and ruins my meal."
And then there's the writer who hopes any streetcar plan will include the widening of major arteries. "I don't think the environment should be a concern," he reasoned. "In 20 years, I dare say 50% of the cars on the road will be hydrogen-powered, so there's no excuse for not widening the roads."
After years of steady increases uninterrupted even by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of passengers at the Dane County Regional Airport has dropped two years in a row, from an all-time high of 1,684,937 in 2005 to 1,603,451 last year. And the total for the first five months of 2007 is down 4% from the same period in 2006.
What's going on?
"Primarily, it's the airlines pulling seats out of the market, either because they're going bankrupt or trying to avoid bankruptcy," says airport spokeswoman Sharyn Wisniewski. And there's been more cancellations of short-hop flights due to weather and air-traffic-control issues.
Wisniewski says the airport can adjust its fees to stabilize losses caused by fewer flights. Meanwhile, "we're making considerably more from our concessions" - a 45% hike from 2003 to 2006 - thanks to airport expansion and added eateries. "So overall, our revenue is doing just fine."
Much smaller tent
The state budget passed last week by the GOP-controlled state Assembly would rename a stretch of Highway 14 south of Madison the "Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway" but remove a designated day in honor of another Republican - legendary progressive "Fighting Bob" La Follette. That pretty much says it all.