Thursday, March 22, 2018

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Domestic incidents concern Barron County sheriff

Case prompts him to urge vigilance in noticing the signs 

  • Chris-Fitzgerald-1


    Contributed photo

Troubled by what they encountered early Saturday morning, Barron County deputies called Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald.

“It was bad,” Fitzgerald said of the domestic incident, which resulted in the hospitalization of a 45-year-old Haugen woman.

What he saw prompted Fitzgerald to include a message about domestic violence and abuse in a news release he sent out about the incident.

“Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone; yet the problem is often overlooked, excused or denied,” the sheriff wrote. “This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical.

“Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it. If you recognize yourself or someone you know, reach out now. There is help available. No one should live in fear of the person they love, and even one time is too many.”

At 2:51 a.m. Saturday, Barron County sheriff’s deputies responded to Lakeview Medical Center in Rice Lake on a report of a female who had been assaulted. The woman — a 45-year-old Haugen resident — was transported to another hospital, where she remains with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

As a result of the deputies’ investigation, Jason Rush, 34, of Haugen was arrested on preliminary charges of aggravated battery, false imprisonment, recklessly endangering safety, criminal damage to property and bail jumping.

Rush is expected to make his initial appearance today in Barron County Court, Fitzgerald said.

“It was a violent domestic,” said Fitzgerald, who declined to release additional details about the incident.

The number of domestic incidents his department responded to — 432 — was down in 2017, Fitzgerald said. But the number is still too high for his liking.

“A lot of those were verbals, and it was good they were reported before they escalated,” he said. “There are a lot of domestics that don’t get reported, and that’s got to change before something worse happens.”

Fitzgerald is all too familiar with “something worse” happening.

On Oct. 27, the bodies of two adults — John Hengst, 55, and his ex-wife Brenda Turner, 55, — and her teenage daughter — Natalie Turner, 17 — were found inside a home in Chetek.

Hengst shot both females and then turned the gun on himself, according to the sheriff’s office. Brenda Turner also suffered blunt force injuries to her face, neck and torso and had a left side rib fracture.

In June 2012, Stacy Witkowski was badly beaten by her husband, Troy Birkenmeier, according to the 2016 Wisconsin Domestic Violence Homicide Report. For the next four years, she underwent multiple brain surgeries and struggled with strokes, seizures and infections before succumbing to her injuries in April 2016.

In 2016, there were 59 domestic violence-related homicides in Wisconsin, according to the report compiled by End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. In addition, 14 perpetrators committed suicide.

“This has got to stop,” said Fitzgerald, who is hoping people act if they are victims or know of someone who is a victim. “A regular person has a lot of power to do something.”

Contact: 715-830-5838,, @CTOBrien on Twitter

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