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Monday, February 4, 2008

Pell Lake man arrested after standoff

Bail set in standoff case

By Mike Heine/The Week

A man suspected of holding police at bay for four hours Sunday night and into Monday morning was ordered to remain in custody Tuesday in lieu of a $15,000 bond.

Michael J. Panici was arrested on pending charges of taking a hostage, failing to comply with officers, discharging a firearm into a building, disorderly conduct, carrying a weapon while intoxicated, criminal damage to property and bail jumping, according to Walworth County Jail records.

Official charges are due by Monday, Feb. 11, which is also Panici's next court date.

Police arrested Panici hours after his girlfriend reported he retrieved a rifle following a fight the couple had. The Walworth County SWAT Team stormed the house, at N1537 Overlook Circle, Pell Lake, early Monday morning.

Officers heard two shots fired inside the home shortly after arriving on scene.

A then-13-year-old boy, who called 911, was pulled out of a basement window about an hour after the standoff started.

Nobody was injured.

Pell Lake man arrested after standoff

By Mike Heine/The Week

Monday, Feb. 4, 2008

Michael J. Panici had never acted like this before, his girlfriend said.

"I don't know what was going through his mind. He grabbed a gun," Dawn Ornberg said of what started a four-hour standoff Panici had with police Sunday night and into Monday morning.

The two had enjoyed watching the Super Bowl at separate taverns that night. Ornberg had a few drinks and went to pick him up shortly before 10 p.m. Panici, 33, apparently had quite a few more, she said.

"I picked him up from a bar. It just escalated from there," she said.

"I was not happy about how drunk he was."

The two had dated for six years and lived together for more than five. They had their arguments-Ornberg once broke off an engagement because of his drinking-but nothing like this.

"This is just totally out there," Ornberg said, claiming Panici pushed her during the fight.

"I keep looking back thinking, 'I don't know how all this happened,'" she said. "We were fighting about nothing, really."

Panici was beyond having a rational conversation when he went and got his rifle, Ornberg said.

She left the house with her two youngest children, ages 10 and 4. They ran next door for help, to Bloomfield Police Chief Lloyd Cole's house.

Ornberg's son Joey, who turned 14 Monday, ran into the basement and called 911.

She doesn't think Panici knew Joey was still in the house, at N1537 Overlook Circle, Pell Lake.

"He was in the basement for probably an hour," she said of her son. "He was telling (police) where (Panici) was walking in the house."

Joey also explained where he was and mapped out an escape plan with the dispatcher, who relayed the information to officers on the scene. Police were able to pull Joey out of a basement window without incident.

"They were complimenting (Joey) on how calm and cool he was," Ornberg said. "He totally handled it perfectly. They said he handled it better than some adults would."

The standoff ended about 2 a.m. when the Walworth County SWAT Team stormed the home, Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said.

"It was resolved safely with the gentleman being taken into custody," Picknell said, noting there were no injuries.

Panici had fired two shots in the home shortly after police arrived, according to a news release from the Bloomfield Police Department.

Ornberg said Panici at one point during the standoff called his uncle and said he wasn't going to come out alive.

"It was really scary," Ornberg said. "It was not pleasant, not knowing if he shot himself or something."

She believes Panici was passed out when police entered the home.

Chief Cole could not be reached for comment.

Panici was arrested on seven pending charges, including taking a hostage, failing to comply with officers, discharging a firearm into a building, disorderly conduct, carrying a weapon while intoxicated, criminal damage to property and bail jumping, according to Walworth County Jail records.

He has no criminal history in Wisconsin other than a disorderly conduct ticket that stemmed from a domestic situation last March. He also has a pending third-offense drunk driving case, according to online court records.

Ornberg believes Panici, who works as a laborer and fixes roads in the Chicago area, is an alcoholic and needs professional treatment.

"If it were up to me, if I was the judge, I'd say he needs to be locked up in some kind of mental placement," she said. "I don't know. He needs some kind of strict counseling. I'd hate to see him lose his job. He has a kid."

She said her relationship with him, however, is over.

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