Rex, a 19-month-old from Germany, started his tenure with the Twin Lakes Police Department in 2017 (Jason Arndt/The Report).

By Jason Arndt

An unprecedented flood along the Fox River in July was the top news story of 2017.

Along with flooding came a stunning plea from Andrew Obregon, who sparked a sensational manhunt two years earlier, and the birth of the Village of Salem Lakes.

Here is a ranking by the Report staff of the top stories in our area during the past year:

6. County battles Heroin
When the state Department of Health Services revealed Kenosha County ranked No. 1 in heroin-related deaths in Wisconsin, according to a recent study, county agencies acknowledged the need to address the epidemic in all levels of government.

While the county received a state grant to fund Narcan for local agencies, and a federal grant to bolster treatment programs this year, the opioid epidemic has put a strain on county health and law enforcement resources.

The Kenosha County Board acknowledged the strain of resources, which led to its decision to join other Wisconsin counties in a federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies.

Kenosha County Board Chairwoman Kimberly Breunig, of Trevor, said the lawsuit comes at no cost to taxpayers.

The lawsuit alleges makers of prescription painkillers misled the public through deceptive marketing campaigns, to which it attributes the nation’s opioid overdose epidemic.

Kenosha County seeks financial compensation from the defendants listed on the document for cost of services, like rescue and emergency calls, law enforcement intervention and court proceedings caused by the opioid epidemic.

“If information is brought forth to prove that pharmaceutical companies and individuals misled any of our physicians on the effects of certain drugs, we need to hold them accountable for their part in the epidemic,” Breunig said.

The lawsuit contends Kenosha County and the state are not immune to the national crisis.

From 2013 until 2015, Kenosha County reported 103 people died from opiate overdoses. In 2016, the county said there were 35 overdose deaths.

The lawsuit alleges 248 hospital encounters related to opioid poisoning happened from 2012 through 2014.

Hospitalizations grew exponentially in 2016, when 979 Kenosha County residents or visitors went to the emergency room for opioid-related reasons, according to the lawsuit.

7. Twin Lakes K9 arrives
Through community donations, the Twin Lakes Police Department welcomed its new K9 officer to the team in October, when officials introduced Rex to area media.

Rex’s handler, patrol officer Joe Patla, expressed gratitude to area businesses for their support in the department’s efforts.

“I can not thank the community enough enough,” he said in October.

Community contributions helped the department purchase Rex for about $14,000, which included training, along with a donation from local realtor Mary Brennan to buy a fully-equipped squad car from a neighboring agency.

Additionally, Dr. Mary Sue Lux of Westosha Veterinary Hospital plans to help Rex and the police department with health monitoring, which includes vaccines and other basic checks.

“She is actually one of the first community members who came forward,” Patla said.

The used squad car, which came from the Spring Grove Police Department, contains a cage, heat detection system, automatic door opener for the dog and a camera.

8. Wilmot softball gets revenge
For five consecutive years, the Wilmot Union High School softball team reached the WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal, but saw its pursuit of a state berth halted by county rival Westosha Central.

While the Lady Falcons won three state titles through that span, the Panthers were left at home waiting for the chance to seize county bragging rights, which came June 1 when the Panthers slugged Westosha Central 11-9 to make their first state appearance since 2011.

Under the leadership of first-year coach Jenny Jacobson, the Panthers became believers at the Goodman Softball Complex on the University of Wisconsin campus, where Wilmot defeated Germantown in the quarterfinal before winning a 2-1 nail biter against Oak Creek to move to the state final against Kaukauna.

Although the team dropped a 3-1 decision to the Ghosts in the state championship game, the Panthers met their Unfinished Business motto, according to key leaders on the team.

Wilmot graduate Kalyssa Koehn, who plays at Division 1 North Dakota State University, said her previous two playoff meetings against Westosha Central were prime motivators.

“Unfinished business had everything to do with Central. We knew they had just barely got past us each of the last two seasons,” said Koehn. “We wanted them to watch us at state this year.”

Koehn credited Jacobson and assistant coach Ryan Dahl for offering unconditional support, even when the chips were down, like an early season loss to the Falcons.

“After the loss to Central earlier in the year it gave us some doubt,” Koehn said. “But Jacobson and (assistant coach) Ryan Dahl kept us motivated.”

The Panthers finished their season 25-4, and before their loss to Kaukauna, they won 16 consecutive games.

9. Central cheer 3-peats
Following a flawless performance on the mats, the Westosha Central High School Cheerleading squad snagged its third consecutive Wisconsin Association of Cheer and Poms Coaches state title in February at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center.

The state title in the Large Division category extends its streak, which dates back to 2015, when they captured its first of three championships.

In the state competition, Westosha Central had no deductions in its routine and collected 114.2 overall points.

According to the WACPC website, the Falcons added another honor to the mix, second place in the Division 2 stunt group, which consisted of Rebecca Glassen, Layne Schroeder, Hannah Hogan and Krissy Swatkowski.

The team title was the latest accomplishment following its seventh-place finish on the national stage in Florida weeks earlier.

10. Wilmot 4-peats
Entering the state competition March 3 in the Wisconsin Dells, the Wilmot Union High School academic decathlon team faced obstacles in pursuit of its fourth consecutive title, but the team of two returners and seven newcomers knew what had to get done.

Wilmot Union, which ranked fourth after the local competition in November, trailed first place by 3,200 points.

However, following regional competition at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the team rose to second place behind Watertown, trimming its deficit to 2,300 points.

According to coach Don Serkowski, no team in at least 15 years ever mounted a comeback from a fourth place local appearance, making this year’s achievement nearly unprecedented.

Serkowski cited the team’s growth and determination to win as two reasons for the fourth consecutive title.

“It is the growth of the team, and two kids coming back from last year, they all worked hard,” said Serkowski. “They put a lot of time and effort on this.”

Along with returners Isaac Bruley and Kyle Kostrova, the team featured newcomers Sean O’Dowd, Kylie Henderson, Samantha Steiner, Ambriel Siggeman, Claire Vozel, Emily Heckel and Rachel Kostrova.


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