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River Falls man charged with child abuse

Austin G. Fritzinger

A River Falls man returns to court this month on charges that he physically abused his newborn son, who was found with a skull fracture and a broken leg.

The Pierce County District Attorney's Office charged Austin G. Fritzinger, 24, with one count of felony child abuse. He made his initial court appearance March 20, where Court Commissioner Jorv Gavic set a $50,000 signature bond.

According to a criminal complaint:

River Falls police were called March 9 to Hudson Hospital after a nurse there noticed "very unusual things" in a 1-month-old boy who was brought there by his parents.

The nurse reported unusual bruising on the boy's leg; the child cried immediately upon being touched there.

Examination revealed the child had a broken femur, which the nurse called "extremely unusual" for a child of that age and deemed the injury suspicious.

The boy was later taken to the Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. A doctor's report included in the complaint states the head injury "is classic for child abuse."

River Falls police spoke with the boy's mother, who said Fritzinger had told her he'd accidentally fallen asleep with the baby and woke up to him crying. She said she noticed one of the boy's legs was shaking later in the day.

Further examination at Children's Hospital revealed the boy sustained a skull fracture resulting in a brain bleed.

Police interviewed Fritzinger at the hospital, where he said he fell asleep on top of the baby on March 8 at home and woke up to find the boy in apparent distress. The child was brought to the hospital the next day after his symptoms did not appear to abate.

An investigator later told Fritzinger that the baby's leg didn't break because he'd rolled over on him. Fritzinger was next told about the head injuries, prompting him to describe how the baby "could have hit his head on the coffee table near the bed," the complaint states.

Fritzinger later told police the child might have been injured while being swung around and striking his head on a microwave in the kitchen. He then said efforts to bounce the baby "might have been aggressive enough" to cause the brain bleed and retinal tearing the doctors discovered — a claim that the investigator said he doubted.

The doctor's report states the severity of the head injury "is in no way consistent with the current history of his head being struck on a microwave in an accidental fashion."

Fritzinger later admitted to drinking rum and wine prior to the incident with the baby. He also admitted that he scared himself with his aggressive handling of the child during the incident.

Police went to Fritzinger's Charlotte Street home on March 16 to speak with him. He said he didn't want to speak without an attorney present.

He was then arrested.

An April 25 preliminary hearing was set for the case.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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