Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling conducts a briefing related to the Sept. 20 death of Austin Sanders, 15, of the Town of Dover at the Sheriff’s Substation in the Town of Yorkville. (Photo by Jason Arndt)

Woman with history of child, substance abuse was not to contact family

By Vicky Wedig

and Jason Arndt

Staff Writers

The mother of a Union Grove High School student was arrested after the 15-year-old boy died, possibly from drowning, on Sept. 20 near their Town of Dover home.

Austin Wyatt Sanders was found dead Sept. 20 in a pond about 200 yards from the family’s home. His school superintendent described him as a happy person who loved fishing and the outdoors.

His mother, Pauline F. Sanders, 39, an alcoholic who also inhales from aerosol cans, according to court records, had been arrested in the past for incidents of child abuse involving Austin Sanders and his 17-year-old sister.

Austin Sanders

As a condition of bond on the most recent charges filed in Racine County Circuit Court in June, Sanders was to have no contact with her children, her husband or the family’s home. Sanders appealed to the court twice to modify the bond so that she could see her husband and children, but her motions were denied, according to court records.

In the days before Austin Sanders’ death, his sister told police, their father, Russell Sanders, was out of town for work, and she and Austin caught Pauline Sanders huffing aerosol cans to get high, according to a court document. The girl said she and Austin kept taking the cans away, but every time they thought they had them all, their mother had another can, according to a criminal complaint. The girl took videos of Pauline Sanders huffing cans and sent them to her father, the complaint states.

 

He left to ‘go fishing’

When Russell Sanders returned home Sept. 19, Pauline Sanders told him Austin Sanders left to go fishing because he was mad about her huffing and did not return home, which was not unusual, according to the complaint.

On the morning of Sept. 19, Russell Sanders said he walked to the pond behind the house and saw Austin’s tackle box on the shore and Austin’s feet sticking out of the water, according to the complaint. Russell Sanders told police he pulled his son from the water and attempted CPR but was unable to open Austin’s mouth because it was too stiff, the complaint states.

Pauline Sanders told police Austin did not want to go to school Sept. 19 because he was angry with her for huffing cans the night before, according to the complaint. Multiple bottles of Air Duster compressed air cans, which Pauline Sanders admitted she bought at Walmart on Sept. 18, were found in the vicinity of Austin Sanders’ body, and a can of the spray was in Austin’s hand when his father found his body, according to the complaint.

Pauline Sanders was charged Sept. 21 with five counts of felony bail jumping for violating bond conditions by contacting her husband, her two children and their residence and by huffing aerosol cans. She also was charged with intentionally abusing a hazardous substance.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled in her case for Wednesday.

 

School offers support

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, in a news conference held Sept. 20 at the Sheriff’s Substation in Yorkville, told reporters responding deputies attempted to revive Austin Sanders after his father placed a 911 call around 11 a.m.

“…Despite our best efforts, the 15-year-old was pronounced deceased,” Schmaling said. “This is a very sad day here for the Racine County Sheriff’s Office and the Racine County community.”

The community extends to Union Grove High School, where grief counselors offered help to students in need, District Administrator Al Mollerskov said.

Mollerskov, who de-scribed Sanders as a happy and smiling student, said his peers faced difficulty coping with the loss.

“It is hard for students to go through that,” he said. “It is never easy when a young person passes away.”

Mollerskov said dozens of students used grief counselors on Sept. 21, including some friends of Sanders’ sister, Hailey.

“There (were) anywhere from 20 to 40 kids who sought help throughout the whole day at various times,” he said. “His sister, Hailey, (is) a junior and there were friends close to both of them.”

 

He loved the outdoors

Sanders loved the outdoors, Mollerskov said, adding the sophomore was a member of the school trap shooting team.

Among the outdoor activities Sanders participated in, fishing was his favorite, Mollerskov said.

Sanders’ smile and positive demeanor within the hallways at Union Grove High School disguised his difficult family circumstances.

“He was a happy go-lucky, smiling kind of guy, even though there was some serious issues going on with his family,” Mollerskov said.

A visitation for family and friends was held at Miller-Reesman Funeral Home, Union Grove, on Monday.

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