System sees tragic events as safety issues

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three articles concerning recent tragedies on UW System campuses.

Eau Claire Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief David Gee said he knows the college mindset well.

“When you’re young, you’re immortal,” he said. “But unfortunately, that’s not always the case.”

The recent fire that swept through a house in Menomonie, killing three UW-Stout students, and the current homicide investigation for the murder of a UW-Madison senior, is proof.

Hitting even closer to home, a series of break-ins, including one that resulted in an arrest on charges of fourth degree sexual assault and burglary, has recently threatened UW-Eau Claire students’ sense of safety.

Fire
Early Saturday morning, Stout senior April C. Englund, 21, of West St. Paul, Minn., sophomore Amanda Jean Rief, 20, of Chaska, Minn., and senior Scott A. Hams, 23, of Hayward, died in a fire in Englund’s off-campus residence.

As of Tuesday night, Menomonie Fire Chief Jack Baus said the cause of the fire is still unknown.

He said the fire department requested assistance from the state fire investigators office, and together, they’re trying to determine a cause and origin.

Investigation began early Saturday morning and didn’t end until late that night at the scene, he said, and now, they’re waiting on the state’s report.

The department is trying to raise awareness about safety, but right now, since the cause is unknown, he said it’s a bit early for that.

“Everybody’s been pretty busy just dealing with this incident, so we haven’t had a chance to figure out (what) we’re going to do from here to address future incidents,” Baus said.

But he said the department works with the university community every year, sending out safety messages to the students.

“It’s something that we have been working on, but of course you always wish you could do more.”

Homicide
A UW-Madison senior, 21-year-old Brittany Sue Zimmermann, of Marshfield, was found dead in her home in downtown Madison April 2 around 1 p.m., according to Madison Police Department reports.

Patrol officers and detectives have been speaking with people in the West Doty Street neighborhood.

As of Tuesday, police didn’t have any suspects identified and the Dane County Coroner determined Zimmermann died from a “complexity of traumatic injuries,” according to the reports. Investigators have not established a motive.

However, on the day Zimmermann died, a man was seen going to various locations in the downtown area soliciting money from residents, according to the reports. This person is in custody on a probation hold and is one of the many arrested during the investigation.

Public Information Officer for the Madison Police Department Joel DeSpain said they assigned extra foot patrols in the neighborhood where the crime took place.

“We’ve done everything we can to try to get suspects arrested and to put enough boots on the ground, so to speak, to make people as comfortable as we can while we’re in the process of trying to find the person or persons responsible,” DeSpain said.

Sexual Assault and Burglary
Last month a 19-year-old UW-Eau Claire student, Joash Victor Tindi, was suspended by the university after being arrested on charges of fourth degree sexual assault and burglary.

Now, associate dean of Student Development and Diversity Jodie Thesing-Ritter said Tindi was expelled from school.

According to an Eau Claire Police Department press release, Tindi matched the physical description given by a 21-year-old woman who told police she woke up to a man touching her under her clothing March 2.

According to the release, police also say they believe Tindi entered three other homes in the Fifth Avenue neighborhood, one of which occurred the night before.

Completely unrelated, a series of break-ins have taken place in Eau Claire while students were on vacation. Recently, a Menomonie Street residence was broken into, and a similar spree occurred January 2007 while students were on Winter break.

Also, 12 homes were broken into during the 2007 Winterim, according to Spectator records.

For more extensive information on safety and fire prevention, see Monday’s issue of The Spectator.