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Yesterday in La Crosse

Sudden sickness among Cuban refugees, 40 years ago

Brad Williams

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In the summer of 1980, Fort McCoy had accepted many of the refugees from Cuba who had arrived in the U.S. in a massive boatlift.  That June, at least three refugees were taken to Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse after drinking anti-freeze.  They had consumed ethylene glycol, shutting down their kidneys and forcing them to go on dialysis.  The fort said it was possible that the victims thought the substance was alcohol for drinking, because they couldn’t read labels written in English.  

In Washington State, the search had ended for people reported missing after the May eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano.  A coroner was considering declaring the 46 missing persons legally dead.  The mountain was continuing to erupt weeks later, spewing steam and volcanic ash.   

Community Camera was advertising police scanners as a Father’s Day gift, for just $109.  The store on Main Street said Dad will ‘enjoy listening to the exciting police, fire, and ambulance calls.’  A cassette tape answering machine at Radio Shack was priced at $199.  Shopko was offering free ear-piercing, for female customers who bought earrings for $7.99.    

The Emmy Awards were a bit unusual in 1980.  The honors for prime-time TV shows were given out during the middle of an actors’ strike.  ‘Taxi’ was the top comedy show, and ‘Lou Grant’ was best drama, but the real drama was seeing whether any striking performers would show up to accept their awards.  Only one did: Powers Boothe, winning for his role as People’s Temple leader Jim Jones.  Forty years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.      

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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