Week in review: Top stories from across tri-states

Bob Hocken cheers as he walks up to the stage Tuesday during the “The Price is Right Live!” at Five Flags Center in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: EILEEN MESLAR

Spread of coronavirus prompts school closures, event cancellationsThe continued spread of the COVID-19 virus throughout the country prompted sweeping changes to events, businesses and public institutions throughout the tri-state area last week.

The biggest announcement came Friday, when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers each announced within a 30-minute span that schools in their respective states would close for a multi-week period.

Local colleges, including Clarke University, Emmaus Bible College, University of Dubuque and University of Wisconsin-Platteville, announced plans to extend spring break, switch to online-only classes or some combination thereof.

Public schools in Iowa will remain open for now, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday. But school leaders in individual districts are taking precautions. Western Dubuque Community School District leaders, for example, canceled all after-school programming.

Other events were canceled or rescheduled, including several upcoming Dubuque concerts. Public health officials urged residents to avoid large groups and to practice diligent hygiene.

The sports world has been hit particularly hard by the outbreak. Postseason tournaments at the high school and college levels have been canceled, bringing a preemptive end to many student-athletes’ careers. And the Dubuque Fighting Saints’ season ended when the USHL canceled the remaining slate of games.

Family of man who died in custody in Dubuque files lawsuitThe family of a man who died while in law enforcement custody in Dubuque recently filed a federal lawsuit alleging that multiple instances of negligence contributed to his death.

The wrongful-death suit, filed on behalf of the estate of Alex E. Billmeyer, seeks unspecified damages from several officials from the Dubuque County Sheriff’s and Dubuque Police departments.

Alex Billmeyer, 29, of Dubuque, was arrested May 26. Though official documents and video records show officers believed Billmeyer was “on something,” he was not taken to a hospital for treatment.

Jail officials monitored Billmeyer, eventually finding him unresponsive in his cell. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

City of Dubuque and Dubuque County officials have not yet filed responses.

‘Price is Right’ stage show a hit in DubuqueA stage show version of America’s longest-running daytime game show delighted fans in Dubuque on Tuesday.

About 1,500 people came to the Five Flags Center to attend “The Price is Right Live!” Audience members had the chance to experience the “biggest hits” of the television show, complete with some of its most popular games and the chance to win a variety of different prizes.

“It’s the real deal,” host Todd Newton said ahead of the show. “So hopefully, people will take some of their favorite game show home with them tonight. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

The Five Flags Center was decked out in set pieces reminiscent of “The Price Is Right” television show. In front of the stage sat a “contestant row” from which randomly selected audience members bid on their guesses for prices of different items.

Military dog tags, Japanese postcard among unexplained arrivals at Dubuque centerThe package arrived unannounced and without explanation.

Jim Wagner, co-founder of Dubuque’s Veterans Freedom Center, recently received an anonymously donated package containing two sets of military dog tags, a small copy of the New Testament dated 1941, with a 1942 enlisted man’s pass inserted within the pages, and a Japanese-language postcard.

Only the donated dog tags bear names — “David Eugene Wilke” and “James R. Ploessl.” Wilke’s tags bear letters indicating a connection to the U.S. Navy.

The shape of the tags, including a notch on an end, place them from the mid-20th century.

Moriah Rhame-Feuerhelm, a volunteer at the center, is helping Wagner with the donated items. She would like to identify the surviving family members of the servicemen whose names are embossed on the dog tags.

Dubuque man sentenced to

5 years in prison for pimpingA Dubuque man originally accused of human trafficking and pimping was sentenced Monday to five years in prison on the latter charge.

John R. Hart, 68, of 2180 St. Celia St., previously entered an Alford plea in Iowa District Court of Dubuque County for the charge of pimping. Such a plea is not an admission of guilt, but the defendant acknowledges that sufficient evidence for a conviction exists. As part of a plea agreement, the human trafficking charge was dismissed.

“From January 2016 to May of 2017, the defendant solicited women from China, with the assistance of his wife, and subjected them to committing sexual acts for money,” said Assistant Dubuque County Attorney Brigit Barnes on Monday while arguing for the five-year sentence — the maximum allowed under state law for the felony.

New group forms to bolster support for $74 million Five Flags projectA new committee of Dubuque business and civic leaders has formed to push voter support for a Sept. 8 vote on a $74.3 million expansion of the more-than-40-year-old Five Flags Center.

The group, which includes downtown business owners, young professionals and Dubuque Symphony Orchestra representatives, filed a statement of organization last week with the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board.

The committee, Yes for Five Flags, was formed “to raise awareness for the need of a new Five Flags Civic Center.” It will attempt to raise enough support to push the bond measure to the 60% supermajority needed for the measure to pass.

Committee Chairman Nicholas Schrup said the committee still is formulating a plan for how best to reach out to voters, including a media strategy of digital, print and radio ads and mailings.