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Coolidge Avenue house fire
With video from scene: Man, dog found dead in Tuesday Racine fire

RACINE — A man and dog died early Tuesday morning in a house fire on the city’s south side. The cause of the fire remained under investigation as of Tuesday afternoon.

At 4:20 a.m. Tuesday, the Racine Police and Fire Departments responded to 2527 Coolidge Ave. for a report of a structure fire with flames reaching outside of windows on three sides of the home, according to Police and Fire Department news releases. Once firefighters got the blaze under control, they entered the home and discovered the bodies of a man and a dog.

Racine County Medical Examiner Michael Payne confirmed that one of his deputies responded to the scene and that the deceased human was an adult male. An autopsy is expected to be completed in Milwaukee County in the coming days to confirm the deceased’s identity and cause of death.

As of Tuesday afternoon, police had not provided additional information about the fire or the victim.

No other injuries were reported. The home is considered a total loss, with an estimated value of $130,750. The Racine Fire Department said that the cause of the fire was still under investigation Tuesday.

Marina Donaldson, 38, who lives on Webster Street, about a block from the fire scene, said she was speechless when she was saw the amount of damage. “I’m heartbroken for the family,” Donaldson said.

Once flames were sufficiently knocked down, firefighters entered the home, conducted a search for victims and finished extinguishing the fire, Racine Fire Department Capt. Craig Ford said.

The Racine Fire Bells, We Energies and Racine Water Utility crews assisted at the fire scene.

Death investigation

Donaldson said that between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, police came to her home and asked to view any surveillance footage available from 2:45 to 4 a.m. She said she was unsure what exactly the police were looking for.

Police Department spokesman Sgt. Adam Malacara said that asking for video is not uncommon during death investigations.

“This is a fire investigation involving a fatality, therefore, it is essentially a death investigation,” Malacara said. “We do neighborhood canvasses to see if anyone did see anything suspicious, including checking any video footage that may have caught something. This is how we rule out anything suspicious about the incident, along with any evidence recovered at the scene.”

More than 8 hours after the blaze was extinguished, the Racine Police Major Crimes Unit remained on the scene.

A State Patrol forensic mapping expert was on the scene until about 1 p.m. Such experts come to fire scenes when requested, Malacara said.

Police investigators are interested in information anyone may have about the incident. Witnesses or citizens with information are urged to call the Police Department Investigations Unit at 262-635-7756.

Those wishing to remain anonymous may contact Crime Stoppers at 262-636-9330.

Mugshots: Racine County criminal complaints, May 20

Racine Unified
Case baseball field set to be renovated after 85 games away from home


MOUNT PLEASANT — The Case High School baseball team has played the last 85 games away from its home field, but plans to get back to playing home games next season.

The team has not been able to play games or even practice on its home field at the school, 7345 Washington Ave., in four years. At that time the heavily rutted field was deemed unsafe.

During a Monday night meeting, the Racine Unified School Board approved a bid for renovations to the field from Midwest Athletic Facilities at a cost of $235,359. All School Board members voted in favor of the renovations, except Vice President Matt Hanser, who was not present at the meeting.

Several Case players attended the meeting and the decision to approve the renovations elicited applause and cheers from the crowd.

“As a program, we’re elated,” said Case baseball coach James Ricchio. “This shows that the community cares about baseball.”

No drainage

The existing field was built approximately 50 years ago through grassroots efforts and has no drainage system, Ricchio said.

This meant that back when the team was still playing on the field, it became unusable for four to five days after a heavy rain. The field did not drain unless the water was pushed off of it, damaging the surface.

The renovation plans include the installation of 2,300 feet of drain tile.

“The intent of this project is to make the field competitive so we can play games on it because it’s in bad shape,” said Bill Rodenberg, Unified’s director of facilities and maintenance during a May 6 School Board meeting. “It’s really deteriorated through the years.”

The team currently practices wherever it can: On the school parking lot, tennis courts and the softball field. Because all of its games are played away from the school — even its “home” games are played on neutral territory — the players often have to leave their last class of the day early to make it to game locations, Ricchio said.

Case plays its Southeast Conference games at Horlick Field and it plays all nonconference games away.

Initial fundraising effort

The team and supporters raised $13,000 over the past two years to fund a new field that they hoped would be located just northeast of Hammes Field, where football and track and field events take place, but had to scale back its plans due to a stall in fundraising. That money is now being used to fund drop-down batting cages that are set to be installed in the Case Fieldhouse this year.

Ricchio hopes playing on their own field will give his players a sense of pride and will allow their classmates and family members more chances to watch them play.

Shannon Gordon, Racine Unified’s chief operating officer, said the district will work with the team and its supporters on additional fundraising for field amenities that are not yet funded, such as foul poles.

Gordon said she’s confident that donors will come forward once they see that work on the field has begun.

Pritchard Park plans

A new varsity baseball field is in the plans for a sports complex to be constructed at Pritchard Park, which is located at Durand Avenue and Ohio Street in Racine.

The complex, the result of a $6 million partnership between Racine Unified and Racine County, is set to include a “state-of-the-art multipurpose stadium, plaza, concessions, and a varsity baseball field and varsity softball field.”

The fields are set to be used by Unified teams as well as community teams and other school districts.

Construction is expected to be completed by fall 2020.

Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp said Unified currently has no district baseball fields. Case, Horlick and Park high school varsity teams play their home games at city-owned Horlick Field, 1648 N. Memorial Drive. Junior varsity teams play at city facilities such as Lincoln Park and Humble Park.

Tapp added that especially because the baseball season is so heavily affected by weather, increasing and renovating available play space was a great opportunity for the district.

“As a program, we’re elated. This shows that the community cares about baseball.” James Ricchio, Case baseball coach


Nathan Denette 

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) fouls Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Racine County Circuit Court
State Supreme Court suspends Racine County judge for 'concerning' behavior

MADISON — A Racine County judge will be suspended for five days without pay, after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that his behavior in two 2014 court cases was “concerning” and “obviously unethical.”

Unpaid suspension recommended for Racine judge

RACINE — A state judicial oversight panel has recommended that a Racine County judge serve a temporary suspension after what the Wisconsin Judicial Commission alleges was misconduct in office.

The ruling comes after a panel of three Wisconsin Court of Appeals judges in January recommended that Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael Piontek be suspended for between 5 and 15 days without pay. Piontek had urged the panel to recommend “a public reprimand only,” the ruling document states.

“A reprimand, public or private, can be perceived as nothing more than a slap on the wrist for what is serious misconduct,” the judicial conduct panel recommendation stated. “A suspension for not less than five days and not more than 15 days is appropriate discipline to foster public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system.”

Over his 45-year legal career, this is the first time Piontek has been the subject of a complaint or grievance.

“I am profoundly sorry for the mistakes I made and deeply regret the negative impact they have had on the judicial, legal and public communities,” Piontek stated in a Jan. 2 letter regarding the commission case. “I deserve the public humiliation of me and my career resulting from front-page newspaper articles in my community.”

Piontek graduated from law school in 1974. He served as Racine County assistant corporation counsel from 1974 to 1975, as a Racine County assistant district attorney from 1975 to 1977, and practiced privately from 1977 to 2012.

Two cases

The first case involved a man charged in 2014 with theft of more than $10,000, making fraudulent claims and obstructing an officer. Piontek, who presided over the case, called the prosecutor from his chambers about the case without notifying or including the defendant’s attorney.

In the phone call, Piontek said that any plea negotiation should involve the defendant being convicted of a felony and those involved in “scams like this” need to be stopped.

The Supreme Court says Piontek appeared to only admit his “obviously unethical” wrongdoing after he was caught.

In the second case, Piontek presided over the sentencing of a former nurse, who had pleaded guilty to several criminal charges. Piontek initiated an independent online investigation about the defendant without telling the parties in the case until after they made their arguments and statements at the sentencing hearing.

The Supreme Court calls it “clearly improper” to conduct the research and not give the defendant’s attorney a chance to respond.

Mugshots: Racine County criminal complaints, May 20

Pete Wicklund /