WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Bayfield County got the most snow at nine inches
Spring is interrupted by winter again this morning in northern Wisconsin. Mason in Bayfield County had nine-inches of snow and counting as of 1:30 a-m. Hawthorne in Douglas had eight-and-a-half inches. Ashland and Solon Springs had seven inches as of midnight. Other parts of the north, away from Lake Superior, had 2-to-4 inches. The National Weather Service says the heaviest snow is supposed to taper off late this morning and early afternoon in the far north. Watches and warnings continue until tomorrow morning in the far northwest, and until seven tonight in the northern half of the state. Up to 15-inches of snow is still predicted for the far north. Central areas could get 3-to-6 inches, with 1-to-3 south of Marshfield. Many spots are also getting freezing rain, with the potential for ice and power outages. X-cel Energy reported about 300 outages in the Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls region as of five this morning -- but only a handful of outages were reported elsewhere by the state's largest utilities. Light rain is in the forecast for southern Wisconsin today. Everything's supposed to clear out tonight, with a sunny day in store for tomorrow highs close to 40 in the north and 50 in the south.
A Neenah man is free on bond, after he was accused of killing a friend in a traffic crash while driving drunk with a suspended license. Oconto County authorities said 19-year-old Zachary Romnek drove into a tree with his pick-up truck. It happened early last Saturday about eight miles northeast of Mountain. Romnek's passenger, 19-year-old Thorton Gressler of Bonduel (bon-du-ell'), died in the mishap. Court officials said Romnek posted a five-thousand-dollar bond, and he's due back in court next Thursday on felony charges of homicide by drunk driving, and causing death while knowing that his license was suspended.
A former school secretary in suburban Milwaukee will spend at least 10 months in a federal prison for embezzling over 300-thousand dollars. 55-year-old Donna Sternke of Slinger was sentenced yesterday to a year-and-a-day behind bars. The extra day makes Sternke eligible for an early release two months before her sentence ends, upon good behavior. She was a long-time secretary in the Shorewood school system. Prosecutors said she took the money from special education funds over a 12-year period. Prosecutors said Sternke wrote false purchase orders, and used the money for shopping and to pay down her credit cards. Officials said they caught her in 2011, after she used school funds to buy unexplained water-park gift cards.
Employers continue to pay smaller shares of the health insurance they offer their workers. The suburban Milwaukee firm of Zywave said 32-percent of health plans had out-of-pocket spending limits of over five-thousand dollars by the end of last year. That's up from 20-percent the previous year. Michelle Jackson of Zywave said it could be a sign that employers are moving closer to the new out-of-pocket expense limits in the Affordable Care Act. It caps a person's expenses at 63-hundred dollars this year for individuals, and 12-thousand-700 dollars for families. Zywave is based in Wauwatosa. It creates software for insurance brokers. It keeps track of payment trends with a database of 70-thousand health plans used by 50-thousand employers. Jackson said the deductibles are starting to hit people pretty hard. They're also cited for the slowest growth in U-S health care spending in the last 50 years, with an increase of three-point-seven percent in 2012.
An industrial truck exploded near Green Bay, killing its driver and critically injuring a passenger. It happened about 1:25 yesterday afternoon on a road between two buildings at Ace Manufacturing in Howard. The truck was carrying a load between the two buildings, which are almost a-thousand feet apart. Authorities said the load moved forward -- and it pierced a natural gas fuel system which caused the vehicle to explode and the trailer to blow apart. Neighbors reported hearing the blast from a half-mile away. The driver died at the scene, and his passenger was taken to a hospital after he was thrown from the truck.
For the fourth time in five months, Wisconsin's cheese production is down from the previous year. The U-S-D-A said the Badger State made just under 215 million pounds of cheese in February. That's about five million pounds less than the same month a year ago, for a drop of two-point-three percent. Wisconsin factories made more Italian cheeses in February. American and Cheddar cheese output was down. Wisconsin remains the nation's top cheese-maker, but second-place California continues to close the gap. The Golden State pumped out 185-million pounds in February -- six-percent more than the month before. Nationally, just over 850-million pounds of cheese were produced in February, down six-tenths of a percent from the same month in 2013.
Wisconsin grocery shoppers paid six-percent less than the national average for basic food items in March. That's according to the latest Farm Bureau Market Basket survey, which also revealed a slight increase in food prices over the past year. Shoppers in almost 30 Wisconsin cities paid three-tenths of a percent more than last March for 16 basic food items. Some staples had some big price increases, due to stronger exports and tight domestic supplies. Wisconsin shoppers paid 32-percent more for potatoes, 21-percent more for eggs, and 13-cents more for a gallon of milk. The prices hikes were off-set by reductions for other foods. White bread dropped 11-percent, and bagged salad cost 14-percent less. Six other items also had price cuts, including orange juice. All told, the state's average price of the 16 food items was 50-dollars and four cents -- up 13-cents from last March, but down slightly from last September. It was also more than three-dollars less than the national Farm Bureau figure of 53.27.
A 39-year-old man told authorities he had a magical relationship with a Dane County woman before she put a gun in his mouth, and a resulting struggle ended in her death. Phillip Byrd, a steel-worker from Mansfield Massachusetts, was charged yesterday with first-degree intentional homicide. He's accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, 43-year-old Cheryl Gilberg, who was found dead February 23rd at her home in Mazomanie. Byrd waived the state's time limit for a preliminary hearing, and the status of his case will be reviewed at a hearing on April 21st. Authorities said they found Byrd in Janesville the day after the killing -- and they arrested him on outstanding warrants for driving drunk and not paying child support. Prosecutors did not explain how Byrd was tracked to Rock County, where he's been jailed since his arrest. A prosecutor said Byrd's job as a steel-worker gave him contacts throughout the nation, and he's been frequently moving. Prosecutors said Byrd was addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine.
Wisconsin hopes to leave a rich basketball memory on a floor rooted in one of the state's poorest areas. The Badgers will play Kentucky tomorrow night in the N-C-A-A men's Final Four, on a floor that got its start on the Menominee Indian Reservation. Conner Sports International of Salt Lake City has a contract with the N-C-A-A to build the special floor for the national semi-finals and Monday night's title game. Conner said the floor came from maple trees in Wisconsin's Menominee County. The trees were harvested in the winter when the wood is lighter and less sappy. The trees are then made into four-by-seven-foot grooved panels at a plant in Menominee Michigan. After that, Conner uses a finishing contractor to sand and smooth the floor, before putting on the markings and logos. It takes about 30 trees to make one basketball court, using top-quality maple.