Mother of hit-and-run victim remembers son, questions judicial decision

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SUGAR CAMP, Wis. (WSAW) -- Sean Holstlander had just turned 23.

"If he was your friend, you had a friend for life," Sean's mother Dorothy said. "I can't tell you how many kids he went to high school with, that I'd never met, that I've gotten messages on Facebook from, telling that they were bullied in school and he'd be the one that would stand up to the bullies for life."

Sean had filled out paperwork to be a volunteer firefighter but hadn't had the chance yet to turn it in. He'd picked up a firefighter ball cap at a nearby yard sale recently, with his mother. "That's what I'm gonna wear," he told her proudly. "First in, last out."

"He wanted to save lives," Dorothy said. "He wanted to train to be an EMS attendant."

Sean lived in Eagle River with his mother Dorothy--he was taking care of her; she has stage 4 liver failure. His father--Dorothy's husband--had died from cancer when he was just 12 years old.

"He made a difference in every life he touched," Dorothy recalled. "And I can't even describe the amount of anguish I feel every night when I go to sleep, and just for a split second for a morning when I wake up, I'm thinking, 'I bet he slept too late, I gotta get him up for work."

He'd found the love of his life, Dorothy said--a beautiful girl named Jessica. "Every time he came home from seeing her, his face would just light up, and he would tell me, 'This is the one.'"

On Wednesday, August 28, Sean jumped on his motorcycle for a quick stop at Taco Bell. He never returned home. Dorothy tried to text him--he would never not come home without first letting her know. Sometime around midnight, deputies knocked on her door.

She would learn later from one of the first EMS attendants on the scene that Sean died instantly--something she needed to hear, she said. A pickup truck was driving north on Highway 17, and was turning left into the driveway. Jeffrey Liebscher is accused of hitting Sean's motorcycle and fleeing the scene.

A 911 call placed at 10:23 that night describes a truck taking off as the caller pulled over, seeing the motorcycle in the middle of the road. Sean had been thrown from the bike, and was lying on the side of Hwy 17, not breathing.

The criminal complaint details what deputies say happened next. Liebscher is accused of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, as well as hit and run resulting in death. Deputies with the Oneida County Sheriff's Office found him hours later at a residence in Three Lakes, where he initially denied knowing anything about the crash. His story didn't match up with accounts from others that deputies had already interviewed, and they confronted him with that. They took his cell phone, and let him know they'd be getting a search warrant to seize GPS data and other information.

That was when court documents say he changed his story. He admitted to hitting the motorcycle, saying he'd had a couple glasses of wine and a half glass of a mixed drink prior. He wasn't impaired, he said--but the hours that had elapsed before deputies found him meant they may have lost the evidence that would be able to determine that.

Two days later, on August 30, state prosecutors recommended that Oneida County Judge Michael Bloom set him a "moderate to significant" bond, citing the way he allegedly left the scene, evaded law enforcement, and lost evidence that could be used in the investigation.

Judge Bloom, however, said he knew Jeffrey Liebscher. Liebscher said he wasn't going anywhere. Bloom said he knew him to be a good man, even wishing him good luck as the hearing wrapped up. He set the cash bond at $1,500 before recusing himself from the rest of the case, and Liebscher is currently out of jail.

That's where Dorothy Holtslander begins to cry. "One of the hardest things for me is to know that my son died alone on that ground."

"I don't know if I'll ever get over this... he was my heart," she said. "That judge should have recused himself before the bail hearing, not aftewards...[Liebscher's] still out there driving."

In previous hit and run cases that were not deadly, Judge Bloom has set $2,500 signature bonds. Oneida County hasn't had any deadly cases in the last ten years, according to a court employee, but other similar cases in surrounding counties that NewsChannel 7 examined show cash bonds of anywhere between $20,000 and $150,000 where there were charges of either deadly hit-and-runs or homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle.

Judge Bloom declined to comment for this story, as did the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, saying they did not comment on active or potential judicial complaints. Dorothy says she and her friends are submitting complaints to the DOJ--but even that may not give her the justice she's looking for.

Judge Patrick O'Melia, the only other judge available in Oneida County, has now been assigned to the case.

"I don't think that Sean is going to find justice in Oneida, Vilas, or Forest County," she said. She believes his case needs a different jurisdiction, given the familiarity in the judge and legal communities in those areas.

"I'd like to ask Judge Bloom a question. If it was your son who was left there on the road like roadkill...would it have been a $1500 bond?"