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Judge finds probable cause for New Haven arson

MENOMONIE  —  A Dunn County judge has found probable cause and has set an arraignment hearing for two suspects accused of setting a double-wide trailer house on fire in the Town of New Haven.

Jonathan G. Hopkins, 35, and Jamie M. Schewe, 34, appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court before Judge Rod W. Smeltzer for a preliminary hearing August 24.

Hopkins and Schewe are each charged with one Class C felony count of arson of a building with intent to defraud as a party to a crime.

During a preliminary hearing, witnesses are called, and a judge determines whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. If probable cause is determined, an arraignment hearing is scheduled for the defendant(s).

Following the preliminary hearing in the Hopkins and Schewe case, Judge Smeltzer found probable cause and scheduled an arraignment hearing for both defendants on September 20.

Dunn County Deputy Matt Feeney was called as the only witness during the preliminary hearing.

According to the criminal complaint, on August 28, 2014, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department received a request for a fire investigator to respond to 1270th Avenue in the Town of New Haven.

The fire investigator, Deputy Matt Feeney, met with the incident commander for the Boyceville fire department. The structure was a double-wide used as a single-family rental with a detached garage.

The incident commander was concerned about the floor joist being burned completely through near the front entrance and pointed out the renters of the structure, who were identified as Jamie M. Schewe and Jonathan G. Hopkins.

Schewe told Deputy Feeney she and Hopkins lived at the residence, had rented it for the past four years, and the fire had started because of a heat lamp near an aquarium that sat beneath the counter between the kitchen and the living room. The aquarium contained two bearded dragon lizards, according to the complaint.

Schewe told investigators the day before, she and Hopkins had taken their son to the babysitter before they went to work, and when they finished work, realized they did not have enough money to buy gas to get home, so they spent the night at a friend’s house in Menomonie. When they had gotten their paychecks, they planned to deposit them, buy fuel, and drive home to take showers. At 10:50 a.m., Schewe received a phone call from a friend who said their house was burning down. Schewe told investigators she and Hopkins had just purchased renters insurance, were in the process of moving closer to Menomonie, and had put some of their belongings in the garage, according to the complaint.

Deputy Feeney observed the floor joist by the front door had burned from the top down and was burned completely through while other joists, although damaged, had not been burned through. Where the aquarium was reported to have been located, there was less damage to the joists than by the front door. When Schewe was asked what might have been on the floor by the entry, she said nothing would have been lying on the floor, according to the complaint.

A special agent from the Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Fire Marshal’s office was contacted to investigate the scene.

The special agent determined the heat lamp for the aquarium was ruled out as a cause for the fire, and the origin of the fire appeared to have been near the front door, according to the complaint.

The arraignment hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. September 20.

If convicted of the arson of a building with intent to defraud, the penalty could be a fine of up to $100,000 and/or 40 years in prison. 

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