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Blind man stranded by snow-blocked sidewalk near Willmar Wal-Mart

WILLMAR -- A snowdrift that blocked a sidewalk near Willmar's Super Wal-Mart store left a blind man and his guide dog stranded on New Year's Day.

According to Willmar police, the man's service dog didn't know how to guide the man over the snowdrift so that he could continue walking home. Because the path home was blocked, the dog apparently became disoriented and stopped.

The man called police at 5:11 p.m. Thursday and said he was stuck and needed help. Police gave the man and his dog a courtesy ride home.

The police then notified Wal-Mart and the city of Willmar about the snow-blocked sidewalk because it's a violation of city ordinance to not keep public walkways clear. Property owners are responsible for removing snow from the sidewalks.

Willmar City Administrator Michael Schmit said the city sent Wal-Mart a letter Friday.

Cory Schorn, assistant manager at Wal-Mart, said store officials had not been aware the store was responsible for clearing the sidewalk, which is located along 19th Avenue, until receiving the call from police.

The sidewalk has now been cleared of snow, he said, and crews will be on hand to continue to keep snow removed from the sidewalk all winter.

Schorn said the man is a frequent shopper at Wal-Mart and said the store's staff members regularly help him with his shopping errands at the store. He didn't know that the man and his dog had been impeded by the snowdrift until notified by police.

This was the first complaint Wal-Mart had received about snow on the sidewalk, Schorn said.

Schmit said the city does not have "the time or resources to drive around looking for sidewalks to be shoveled" to make sure the city ordinance is followed. If a complaint is filed, however, then the city will take action, he said.

The city sends letters to offending property owners, who have 24 hours to clear the snow. If they don't do it themselves, Schmit said the city will do it and then bill the property owners, which includes residential and commercial properties.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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