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Thousands without power this morning; Store roofs collapse in Eau Claire, Menomonie; 11 more state news briefs

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About 6,500 electric customers in Wisconsin were without power as of 5 a.m. this morning as a massive snow and ice storm continues to pound the state.

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Most of the outages are in northwest Wisconsin where 7-9 inches of snow had fallen by midnight and was still coming down.

Xcel Energy reported around 5,000 customers in the dark as of 5 a.m. Almost half of those were in the Eau Claire region.

The Wisconsin Public Service utility had almost 820 customers out in northeast and central areas. Three-fourths of those outages were in and-around Stevens Point.

Wisconsin Power and Light reported almost 325 outages, mostly in Green Lake County. We Energies had almost 240 customers out, mostly in Waukesha County and the Whitewater area.

The entire state continues to get strong winds. Gusts of 61 mph were reported at Mayville in Dodge County yesterday. At 5 a.m. this morning, winds were still gusting to 40 mph at Kenosha and Sheboygan.

Much of the snow and strong winds are expected to clear out by noon today.  Quiet and colder weather will then settle in for the weekend.

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Store roofs collapse in Eau Claire, Menomonie

Wisconsin's brutal winter is causing more roofs to collapse -- and the current snow and ice storm was the last straw for some.

In Eau Claire, a 75-foot-square section of a roof came down over the garden center at K-Mart last night. Employees and customers were inside at the time, but nobody was hurt.

Several natural gas lines broke, but Xcel Energy said the service was quickly cut off and there were no elevated levels of gas in the area. Even so, a nearby convenience store and sub-shop were evacuated due to gas leak concerns.

In Menomonie, a load-bearing beam gave way and caused part of a roof to collapse at O'Reilly Auto Parts. Two employees were inside but were not hurt. Officials said there was no immediate damage to gas or water lines, but with more snow, there were concerns that more of the roof would fall.

In Altoona, just east of Eau Claire, a man was rescued overnight after he was pinned under the collapsed awning of his mobile home. He was treated at a hospital for a leg injury.

In central Wisconsin, a barn collapsed northeast of Wausau in the Marathon County town of Maine. A cow suffered a broken leg. The building is a total loss.

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About 50 school districts closed

Close to 50 school districts in Wisconsin are closed today due to the heavy snow and ice storm that blew in yesterday afternoon.

Eau Claire, Superior and Marshfield are among the districts that shut down -- along with Northland College of Ashland.

Many schools in southern Wisconsin are running two hours late this morning, along with a handful of districts in the northeast.

Poplar in Douglas County had 16.5 inches of snow as of 6 a.m. Hawthorne, also in Douglas County, picked up 15 inches.  State emergency management officials said 5.5 inches fell in just two hours at Seeley in Sawyer County.

Much of southern Wisconsin had sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph.

The state Department of Transportation says roads are generally snow covered except in southeast Wisconsin where main highways are in good winter driving condition.

Activities continue at the American Birkebeiner cross country ski races at Hayward and Cable where over 10,000 skiers are trying to get there for tomorrow's four major events.

The storm is expected to clear out this afternoon with drier and colder weather projected for the weekend.

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Amery police chief pleads guilty to OWI

A northwest Wisconsin police chief has pleaded guilty to driving drunk.

Amery Chief Thomas Marson entered his plea yesterday in Polk County Circuit Court to a citation for first-time Operating while under the influence. A companion charge of driving with a prohibited blood-alcohol level was dropped.

Marson was fined $741, and he'll lose his driver's license for six months. The chief is on paid administrative leave after he was arrested last weekend.

Authorities said Marson drove his personal vehicle into a ditch late Saturday night about five miles south of Amery. He had a blood alcohol level of .156, almost twice the state's limit for intoxication.

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Woman’s body found in Mississippi River

The body of a missing woman has been found in the Mississippi River at the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.

Rescuers on the Minnesota side were called about 8 a.m. yesterday after a 49-year-old woman was reported to have fallen through the ice on the river at Wabasha.

A Winona County rescue diver found the woman's body seven hours later at around 3 p.m. The search was conducted near the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. Rescuers saw footprints for about 40 yards from the shore.

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Park Service closes popular Bayfield ice caves

The National Park Service has closed the public access to the scenic ice caves near Bayfield that thousands of people have been enjoying.

You might not be able to get them anyway since up to 16.5 inches of snow have fallen in the region yesterday and this morning.

Park Service officials say their main concern is the stability of the ice along the Lake Superior shoreline. Tens of thousands of people have made the two-mile walk on the ice from Meyers Beach to the majestic caves.

However, officials say strong winds can easily break the pedestrian ice paths. This is the first time in five years the caves have been open to people, and they've generated a ton of national publicity. Nearly 20,000 visitors saw the ice-caves last weekend alone. After the storm clears out, Park Service officials will check the ice conditions. If they're good, the access will reopen as early as sunrise tomorrow.

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Assembly passes bills to protect students’ records

School records for Wisconsin students would be more secure under a bill passed by the state Assembly last night.

The vote was 57-37 to send the measure to the Senate. The Department of Public Instruction would have to post online the types of information that are collected on students and come up with a plan for keeping it secure.

Also, the DPI could not share individual student data with the federal government, and school district vendors could not disclose student records except as specified in their school contracts.

Hartford Republican Don Pridemore proposed the measure. He said it was spurred by testimony at recent hearings on the Common Core academic standards. He said concerns were raised about student data being funneled to Washington.

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Degree awarded for slain student

Purdue University will award a posthumous degree to a Wisconsin student murdered during an attack on the western Indiana campus last month.

Purdue's Academic Affairs Committee voted yesterday to endorse an electrical engineering degree for Andrew Boldt, 21, of West Bend.

Officials said he met most of the requirements for the degree before he was shot and stabbed to death Jan. 21 while serving as an assistant in a class at Purdue's Electrical Engineering Building. A school trustee says the board hopes the awarding of the degree will help the healing process for Boldt's family.

A fellow engineering student is charged in the slaying.

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Legislature passes bill to delay phosphorus requirements

Gov. Scott Walker's office says it will not commit to delaying Wisconsin's stringent phosphorus removal requirements until it reviews a bill passed by both houses.

The measure passed the Assembly 76-19 last night after the Senate OKed it earlier this week. It does not put sewage plants and industries off the hook in following strong rules to limit phosphorus emissions into Wisconsin waters, but it does grant delays for economic hardship.

The limits were passed in 2009 when environmentalists raised concerns about the growth of algae in Wisconsin lakes due to heavy phosphorus.

Businesses expressed concerns about the cost of the pollution controls to be required, and some said it was not fair that farmers would not have to limit non-point phosphorus as part of the law.

The new bill would give businesses and wastewater plants up to 20 years to comply with the rules. They would face tougher limits every five years and would have to conduct other projects for reducing phosphorus.

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Man pleads no contest to causing death of two passengers

A central Wisconsin man will be sentenced May 20 after he pleaded no contest to causing a drunk driving crash that killed two Wisconsin Rapids women.

Timothy Saavedra, 22, struck a plea deal with prosecutors. The state will ask a Portage County judge to order a 15-year prison term with 15 more years of extended supervision.

Saavedra was convicted on two counts of homicide by drunk driving and one count of OWI injury. Prosecutors dropped five other charges, including reckless homicide and related drunk driving counts.

Authorities said Saavedra was driving his pickup truck at 94 mph when it hit a cluster of trees near Rudolph last summer. Two of his passengers -- Stephanie Eberhardt and Melissa Peterson-Suzda, both 21 -- were killed. A 21-year-old Rudolph man survived the crash.

Authorities said Saavedra's blood alcohol level was .14 shortly after the crash. Early media reports said Saavedra was from Loyal, but online court records now list his address as Rudolph.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

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Assembly OKs bill to limit ‘living wage’ laws

Wisconsin communities could still have "living wage" ordinances as long as state tax money is not used to cover the higher minimums.

The state Assembly voted 56-37 last night to put limits on the local laws that are in effect in Milwaukee, Madison and Dane County. They require minimums higher than the state's rate of $7.25 an hour for government employees and contractors.

The Milwaukee County Board recently passed a minimum wage of $11.32 an hour for county workers. That's the federal poverty rate for a family of four.

It spurred Assembly Republican Chris Kapenga of Delafield to sponsor a bill banning all living wage ordinances. Republicans later modified the measure so it applies only when state and federal tax dollars are used to pay the higher wages.

GOP Speaker Robin Vos also expressed concerns that the ordinances result in fewer service hours under the state's FamilyCare program. Democrats complained about a loss of local control. The bill now goes to the Senate.

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Madison man convicted of molesting teen stepsister

A Madison man was found guilty of molesting his teenage stepsister while she was being tortured and abused by her father and stepmother.

A Dane County jury deliberated for 11 hours before convicting Joshua Drabek, 20, of first and second degree child sex assault and child abuse. He's scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday.

In closing arguments, a prosecutor said the girl had no reason to lie when she told what happened. The defense said the girl recanted her story several times, once to a grandmother she had trusted.

The girl is now 17, and she's still taking middle school classes after she was kept for several years in the basement of her father's home. She had escaped two years ago, weighing just 68 pounds at the time. Her father and stepmother were later convicted in separate trials.

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Lafayette Co. man accused of neglecting 12 horses

A southwest Wisconsin man is due in court in Monday for allegedly neglecting a dozen horses.

Sean Legault, 55, of rural South Wayne is charged in Lafayette County with a misdemeanor count of not properly disposing animal carcasses. He also faces a citation for not providing sufficient food for animals.

Sheriff's officials said 11 of Legault's horses were seized and taken to another farm this week. Another horse was in the process of being subdued, and authorities said they found a dead horse in a pasture.

Authorities said they were called by people concerned that the animals were not getting hay to eat.

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