courtesy of dorothy Holtslander
Sean Holtslander with his cat.
courtesy dorothy Holtslander
In this undated black and white photo, Sean Holtslander poses next to the bike he was riding the night he was killed.
10/19/2019 7:30:00 AM 'He was not just a statistic' Mother of slain motorcyclist remembers son
Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer Of the River News
Earlier this month Dorothy Holtslander of St. Germain boarded a small airplane for a ride that she would have given anything in the world not to have had to take. As the plane glided over the blazing autumn landscape of the Northwoods, she watched as the ashes of her 23-year-old son, Sean, scattered in the wind.
"He couldn't wait for the fall to go up and see the colors," Holtslander said, referring to her late son. "It was so final."
According to police reports and court records, Sean Holtslander died on Aug. 28 after the motorcycle he was operating on State Highway 17 in the town of Sugar Camp collided with a vehicle operated by Jeffrey M. Liebscher, 53, of Sugar Camp. Liebscher, who has admitted to leaving the scene of the accident, has been charged with homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and hit-and-run resulting in death.
He faces a maximum of 35 years in prison if convicted of both felonies.
In addition, Liebscher's 54-year-old brother Brian has been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly giving Jeffrey a ride to Three Lakes after the accident and not being truthful with sheriff's detectives.
In a recent telephone interview with the River News, Dorothy Holtslander shared memories of her son and expressed her fears about what lies ahead.
Who was Sean?
Holtslander said her son grew up fast, becoming "the man of the house" at age 12 after his father succumbed to cancer.
"(Sean) went to every radiation, every chemo treatment with his dad," she said. "His dad died in my arms in hospice and Sean, from the time he was 12 years old, he was the man of the house. And he has a younger sister who turned 18 on the 31st of August, and he has been like a father figure to her. He was a little man, not a little kid."
Holtslander said her son was a generous man who loved music and had a sharp sense of humor.
"He paid my rent, he did all the yard work, he did the snow removal, he did everything he could do for me," she said. "I mean, if you could put an order in for a son, you'd get someone like Sean. He was funny. He wrote music, he wrote songs, he played guitar. He taught himself to play guitar, any musical instrument he picked up he could play.
"He was talented, he was funny, he was loving and caring, he was not just a motorcyclist, which I've heard so often about Sean Holtslander," she continued. "He was not just a statistic."
Holtslander said her son wrote a science fiction novel in longhand that she treasures.
"I've read it three times and it is absolutely fantastic," she said. "Someone is getting into his computer so I can finish that for him."
Her son made some mistakes in his young life, Holtslander admitted, explaining that his generous nature would sometimes lead people to take advantage of him, but he took responsibility for his errors.
"He would have helped anybody in any situation at any time and sometimes that got him into trouble because people aren't always truthful about what is going on. And when he did make mistakes, he stepped up to the plate and owned it," she said. "He took responsibility for it."
One of the most painful aspects of her son's death is that he was allegedly left on the side of the road after the accident, she continued.
According to the criminal complaint, Liebscher told authorities he exited his vehicle, observed Holtslander on the ground and believed that he was dead. "Jeffrey stated he panicked and didn't know what to do," the complaint states. "Jeffrey stated he knew he was not impaired from consuming alcohol, but knew he had a couple of glasses of wine as well as half a glass of a mixed drink. He went on to explain that he parked his vehicle on the family property and made contact with his brother, Brian, who drove him to a residence in Three Lakes.
"This guy (Liebscher) ... got out of his truck, stood over (Sean's) body, and as the detective said, had an 'aw (expletive) moment,'" Holtslander said. "And he got back in his truck, drove it onto his property, hid it, called his brother. His brother picked him up. They had to drive back past my son's body, and went back to Three Lakes."
Holtslander was candid in expressing her struggle to trust the local criminal justice system. In particular, she continues to wonder why Oneida County Circuit Judge Michael Bloom set bond at only $1,500 cash and chose to comment on the defendant's character during the bond hearing.
"And then for the judge to call him (Liebscher) a 'good man' and wish him luck because they're friends and then recuse himself in any further proceedings? He should have recused himself before that bond hearing," Holtslander said. "(Liebscher) is a flight risk as far as I'm concerned."
Having worked as a journalist covering crime stories, Holtslander has a unique perspective on this case.
"I have never seen anyone get a $1,500 signature bond (for) killing someone and then leaving the scene," she said. "Never, ever. And I've seen the good old boy network in the eight states I've worked in, and I've never seen this."
"I don't think that Sean is going to get justice in Oneida County," she added. "Because we don't own (a large amount of) acres of land on (Highway) 17, we're nobody."
Through his judicial assistant, Judge Bloom declined to comment for this story.
The last night
On the last motorcycle ride of his life, Holtslander said her son was traveling to Rhinelander to pick up some fast food.
"First, he was going to give his girlfriend a call, then he was going to get Taco Bell later. I'm in stage IV kidney failure and I take a lot of medication, that's why he was living with me," she explained. "He said 'Mama, I'll come back by here and pick you up, and then we'll go together.' Of course, then we would have taken my car."
She asked him when they would leave for Rhinelander, where the nearest Taco Bell is located, and he said around 10 p.m.
"And I said, 'son, by that time, I would have had to have taken my medication,'" she recounted. "What goes through my head is, what if I had said yes? He'd still be here. I mean, I have to live with that every day."
As time passed, Holtslander became increasingly concerned about her son.
"Well, at 11:45, he hadn't come home. And I think it was 12:15 a.m. when I sent him a text message and I said. 'Sean, I've had to lock the front door' because I don't like being alone in the apartment with the door unlocked," she said. "I didn't know if he had his key because when he rode his motorcycle he didn't take all his keys, just his motorcycle key."
She said she didn't want to text or call Sean's girlfriend because the other woman had to get up early the next day for work. Instead, she sent another text to her son.
"Please send me a text to let me know you're OK," Holtslander said she wrote to Sean. "And around 1:15, I was tossing and turning and I sent another text because I was really, really starting to worry that something had happened to him."
"Please get in touch with me," she said her text read. "And at 6 o'clock in the morning, I texted 'Sean, I know you're probably gone.' At 7 o'clock, I opened the door and there were police officers there."
The officers informed her that Sean had been killed.
"I said, 'I don't want to hear this, I don't want to hear this,'" Holtslander recounted. "As long as nobody said it, I knew it wasn't true. But then they told me what had happened."
A request denied
Holtslander told the officers that she wanted to see her son's body.
"(I said) I want you to take me to where he is right now," Holtslander recalled. "And they said they couldn't do that because they didn't want me to see him the way he was. I had a friend take me to the funeral home to make arrangements. I was speaking to the funeral director, and he said he had been in touch with the medical examiner, and I said 'I want to go see Sean.' And he goes 'Dorothy, you do not want to see him.'"
She pressed the funeral director, explaining that she had seen a lot over the course of her career as a reporter.
"He said, 'this is your child. You don't want to see what has happened to him, because he is mangled,'" Holtslander said. "And I said, really, turning into his driveway? (Liebscher) mangled someone turning into his driveway? How can you be turning into your driveway so fast?"
(According to the sheriff's office, the State Patrol is in the process of reconstructing the accident.)
Holtslander also noted that her son was vigilant about wearing appropriate clothing while riding the motorcycle and the evening of Aug. 28 was no different.
"He had the jacket with the armor in it, he had on boots that had armor in them. I know this because I bought it for him. He had the best helmet you could buy, he even had the gloves with the armor on the outside," she said. "He was dressed the safest you could be dressed to be on a motorcycle."
The scales of justice
Holtslander said she wishes that the case could be put into the hands of a judge and/or jury from outside of Oneida County.
"I have spoken with (DA Michael Schiek), and he and (Detective Sergeant) Chad (Wanta) and (Captain) Terri Hook, and I was really hoping for a change of venue, but unfortunately only the defense can request a change of venue if they think their client is not going to get a fair trial," she said. "I don't think that Sean is going to be treated fairly."
"I will be very surprised if Jeffrey Liebscher spends one day in prison," she continued, adding that she expects he will be fined and ordered to complete community service.
"I don't even think he is going to lose his license because there was 12 hours between when the police arrived on the scene and they finally tracked Jeffrey Liebscher down," she said. "Twelve hours. (Liebscher) admits to have been drinking but he says he was not impaired. But within that 12-hour period, of course it wasn't in his system. But, you know what I think about, that's even worse, because if he was not impaired, and he was fully cognizant of what he was doing, he knew that he was leaving someone he said he knew was dead. How could he know he was dead? He didn't even take his pulse. He didn't even lean over and say 'can I help you?'"
(The exact amount of time that elapsed between when the accident occurred and when Jeffrey Liebscher was located is not known. The complaint states it was more than 11 hours).
Like other parents who know the anguish of losing a child, Holtslander can't help but think about everything her son will never get to experience.
"Sean was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him the next week," she confided. "He was saving up for a ring, but I told him you don't need to do that, you can have my mother's engagement ring. He was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him, he could not wait to start a family."
"He's a sweet kid, he was just like - like my sister said at his funeral - he was a big baby," Holtslander continued. "He was 10-and-a-half pounds (at birth), he was a big baby. His attitude toward everybody, he was a very loving person. And I can't tell you how much I miss him."
The cost of loss
As she continues to deal with her own health issues, Holtslander said her son is inspiring her to keep fighting.
"I don't know how much longer I've got left. Like I said, I'm in stage IV kidney failure and I'm not on dialysis yet, but this is going to keep me going," she said, noting that her daughter, Sara, who was especially close to Sean, is struggling to cope with the loss of her brother.
When Sara was a baby, "all (Sean) would do is talk about his little sister,' this is my baby,'" Holtslander recalled. "And he took care of her; he worried about her just like I did. He worried about her when she went through her first teenage years when she rebelled. He was the one who would sit and talk to her."
"I just can't tell you how much I loved him, because there are just no words to express it," she added
While the waves of grief are unrelenting, Holtslander said she's comforted by something she saw from the window of the plane after she let go of her son's remains. She later shared photos of it with the River News.
"The first thing I saw when I stopped crying was a lake shaped like a heart surrounded by golden trees," she said. "God has a way of holding us up even when we feel like we cannot stand any longer."
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2019
Article comment by:
Such a tragic loss on so many levels. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I agree, he was morer than a statistic and the law needs to be upheld.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce