CHIPPEWA FALLS — Colten R. Treu’s defense team questioned the charges regarding huffing while driving, indicating that Treu’s passenger was inhaling from a canister, during a preliminary hearing in Chippewa County Court on Friday.
The attorneys claimed there was no evidence that Treu had been huffing chemicals from a spray can when he crashed his black Ford-150 truck into a group of Girl Scouts on Nov. 3, killing four people. They requested that a charge regarding bail jumping be dismissed.
However, Judge James Isaacson found that a felony was likely committed, and it was likely committed by Treu, and he ordered the case be bound over for trial. An arraignment will be held May 24. No trial dates were set.
Treu, 22, 1060 Joseph St., is charged with four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, four counts of hit and run-involving death, and one count each of hit and run-causing great bodily harm, intentionally abusing hazardous materials and bail jumping. Treu is accused of huffing from an aerosol canister, then crashing his pickup truck into members of Girl Scout Troop 3055 as they were picking up trash on Highway P in Lake Hallie, south of the Highway 29 overpass.
Several law enforcement officers testified Friday during the hearing about their encounters with Treu and the passenger in his car, John Stender, later that day, after both men had separately turned themselves in.
Lake Hallie police officer Tim Bowman described an eye witness account of Treu’s truck crossing the center line of Highway P, prior to the crash.
Bowman acknowledged a test from the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene didn’t detect any chemicals or drugs in Treu’s blood sample. However, Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell pointed out that Treu didn’t stay at the scene, so a blood draw couldn’t be immediately taken. Bowman said the blood draw happened later that evening.
Lake Hallie police officer Adam Meyers testified that Treu’s phone indicated he had looked up information on how long the huffing chemicals could remain in his blood stream.
Meyers acknowledged he saw no signs of impairment in Treu while interviewing him minutes after he turned himself in.
Defense attorney Travis Satorius noted that Treu turned himself in to authorities at 4:33 p.m. — about five hours after the crash occurred. The blood draw was taken after 7 p.m.
“You waited more than three hours to take a blood draw?” Satorius asked Meyers.
Meyers responded: “Yes, sir.”
Meyers described his conversation with Treu about what had occurred.
“He made a comment that he remembers hitting someone wearing a visible reflective vest,” Meyers said.
Treu told Meyers that Stender had been huffing more than he had, and he claimed that Stender grabbed the steering wheel, leading to the crash.
Police officer Todd Johnson testified that Stender told him that they purchased the canister of Dust-off at Walmart, which is less than two miles from where the crash occurred.
Stender told Johnson that Treu had let the vehicle drift over the center line, and Stender grabbed the steering wheel — after he had used the air duster — to correct the vehicle’s direction.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Isaacson praised the crowd of 50 onlookers for sitting quietly during the hour-long proceeding.
“I appreciate your restraint,” Isaacson said.
Treu remains incarcerated on a $250,000 cash bond.
The four people killed in the crash were Jayna S. Kelley, 9, Autum A. Helgeson, 10, both of Lake Hallie, Haylee J. Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both of the town of Lafayette.
The fifth person injured was Madalyn Zwiefelhofer; she was hospitalized for three weeks, but is back in Chippewa Falls.
The deceased girls attended Southview Elementary and Halmstad Elementary in Chippewa Falls.
It is unclear if Treu’s passenger, John Stender, will also be charged. No charges have been filed at this time.
According to the criminal complaint, Treu did not stop after striking the five individuals. He drove his black Ford F-150 pickup truck to his home, put it in the garage, and placed another vehicle in front of it.
However, an officer who arrived at the scene was able to locate a “fresh fluid trail” which he followed for 1.8 miles, taking him to the garage at 1060 Joseph St., to an apartment shared by Stender and Treu. The truck had “significant front-end damage, with weeds observed stuck in the front bumper,” the criminal complaint states.
Treu and Stender were not at the house when officers arrived, but they each turned themselves in later that day.
Treu has one drunk-driving conviction from 2014, plus a Sept. 30 incident in Rusk County, where he drove into a ditch and rolled his vehicle. Officers did a field sobriety test after the crash and noticed his impairment. He is charged in Rusk County with possession of meth, marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and operating with restricted controlled substance.