Man Charged With Aggravated Child Abuse For Burning 7-Year-Old’s Hand
A Sheridan man was charged last week with two counts of child abuse, including burning a 7-year-old boy's hand by holding it under hot water.
Luke VanBerkom, 31, heard the charges of one count of child abuse and one count of aggravated child abuse during his initial appearance in Natrona County Circuit Court on Friday.
Assistant District Attorney Mike Schafer said, if convicted, aggravated child abuse carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison term. VanBerkom was convicted of felony child abuse in Sheridan in 2005, and has been a methamphetamine user, Schafer said.
Circuit Court Judge Brian Christensen agreed with Schafer's recommendation to set VanBerkom's bond at $150,000. Within several weeks, VanBerkom will have a preliminary hearing to determine whether his case will be bound over to district court for trial.
The case began when the child's mother reported on Aug. 24 that VanBerkom had assaulted her sons ages 7 and 10 when they were living in Mills, according to an affidavit filed with the circuit court.
The children, who now live with their mother outside the county, soon were interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Project.
The 10-year-old said he and his brother were alone with VanBerkom and were picking up trash in their yard. VanBerkom, who was drinking, was upset they weren't working fast enough, took the boy inside and spanked him, pushed him on the floor, slapped him, covered his mouth with his hand, and kneed him in the nose -- all the while calling him "'faggot.'" The spanking was the only time that happened while VanBerkom and his mother were dating, the child said.
The 10-year-old went back outside and his younger brother went inside with VanBerkom. The younger brother was screaming. When he came outside he had a bloody nose, a red line across the bridge of his nose and a blistered hand.
The older brother said VanBerkom left the residence that night for Gillette.
The younger brother told the CAP interviewers he initially didn't want to talk because he was afraid of VanBerkom.
In the interview, the boy said VanBerkom hit the child on one ear with an open hand and the other ear with a closed fist while holding the hand in the water, later determined to be 137.5 degrees.
VanBerkom told sheriff's deputies in a phone interview that the younger brother had been swimming in a pool and began to walk inside. VanBerkom told him to rinse off the mud. The child slipped, and he caught him which resulted in cuts on both of them. He rushed the child inside, turned on the hot water and held all of their hands under the faucet. However, VanBerkom could not explain why only one of the child's hands was burned.
He told deputies he left the residence because of relationship issues with the children's mother. He also said he had taken a drug used for treating alcohol withdrawal that can cause drowsiness, dizziness and other side effects.