To an outsider, the case filed against Richard Sheldon Hulburt may seem, sadly, not out of the ordinary.

Hulburt, 24, of Holmen is charged in Chippewa County Court with first degree child sexual assault-sexual contact with a child under age 13 on December 19 in the city of Eau Claire.

But the case number assigned to Hulburt’s case on Wednesday is something not seen in Chippewa County Court in at least 10 years, if not much longer.

Hulburt’s case is CF2017000775, meaning it is the 775th felony charge filed in the county during 2017.

That is 23.6 percent more than the 592 cases filed in all of 2016, an increase of 183 cases. And more cases could be filed Thursday and Friday, the last two days for court in the county for the year.

The average caseload of felony cases in Chippewa County since 2007 is 512. Here are the yearly numbers: 2016, 592; 2015, 543; 2014, 496; 2013, 527; 2012, 570; 2011, 518; 2010, 410; 2009, 494; 2008, 482; and 2007, 485.

The reason for the big spike in cases? “I would say the meth epidemic,” District Attorney Wade Newell said Wednesday.

He said a normal day for bond hearings would be four cases, Now it is between eight to 12 cases a session, with charges such as theft and property crimes that have ties to defendants using methamphetamines. He said there have been more sexual assault cases where the defendant used meth (Hulburt is not accused of using meth in the alleged assault.).

Newell said the key in fighting the increase in meth cases is prevention, intervention and figuring out who the people are who are creating the harm, and holding them accountable.

But he added: “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” Newell said what’s needed is increased community involvement. He urged the public attend the Thursday, Jan. 25 community town hall about the meth problem. That session, one of several being held around the county, will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. in the large gymnasium at Stillson Elementary. The forum is being sponsored by the Chippewa County Drug Endangered Children Team.

According to the criminal complaint case number 775 filed against Hulburt:

A girl under age 10 said Hulburt used a hand to touch her inappropriately under part of her clothing. The touching took place in a bedroom in a portion of Runway Avenue that’s in the city of Eau Claire and in far southern Chippewa County.

Judge Steven Gibbs set a $500 cash bond for Hulburt and ordered the defendant have no unsupervised contact with juvenile females.

Also on Wednesday, the district attorney’s office filed case number 776 for 2017. In that case, Mark D. Mailly is accused of one count of felony bail jumping.

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