CHIPPEWA FALLS — Colten Treu, who was sentenced to 54 years in prison after causing a crash in November 2018 that killed three Girl Scouts and a mother, has run out of appeals in Wisconsin.
Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied Treu’s petition to have his case reviewed, said Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell.
“For closure for the victims, I’m glad the Wisconsin Supreme Court has denied his petition,” Newell said Friday afternoon. “It means his appeals in Wisconsin are over.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court wrote in a 6-1 statement to not take up the case, with Justice Rebecca Dallet showing a willingness to hear the case, Newell said.
“It means she wanted to take the case up, not that she necessarily would have sided in (Treu’s) favor,” Newell explained.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District III, rejected Treu’s request in July. Treu had pleaded no contest to four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and one count of hit and run, causing great bodily harm. Judge James Isaacson sentenced in March 2020 to serve 54 years in prison; he is currently incarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun. In March 2021, Isaacson rejected Treu’s request to withdraw those pleas.
Prior to entering a plea, Treu had considered requesting a trial be held in a different county.
“One of the main reasons I didn’t go to trial is because there wasn’t a change in venue. We didn’t find a fair jury, would be (possible), in Chippewa County,” Treu testified last year, via video from prison. “I don’t think I could find a jury pool in Chippewa County that would have been fair and impartial.”
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals rejected the request to withdraw pleas.
“Because the guilty-plea-waiver rule is a collateral consequence, it is not enough for Treu to show that he mistakenly believed he would be able to appeal the venue decision on appeal,” the Court of Appeals ruling reads. “He must demonstrate that one or both of his trial attorneys, the prosecutor, or the circuit court actually misinformed him on that point. Treu made no allegation that the court or prosecutor had misinformed him, however, and he admitted that neither of his attorneys specifically said that Treu could appeal the venue issue. At least one of the attorneys told Treu that he could appeal, generally.”
The 11-page ruling concludes: “Because Treu has not alleged that he misunderstood any direct consequences of his pleas, and he has not established that he was actually misinformed about any collateral consequences, we conclude his pleas were knowing and voluntary.”
Treu also contended that his trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance by failing “to clearly advise” him that he would be waiving his right to appeal the venue decision. The appeals court also rejected that argument.
At the March 2020 sentencing, Newell requested a 90-year prison sentence, while Treu’s attorneys sought a 22-year sentence along with 63 years of extended supervision.
Treu was accused of huffing from an aerosol canister at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, then crashing his pickup truck into members of Girl Scout Troop 3055 as they were picking up trash along Highway P in Lake Hallie, south of the Highway 29 overpass. The four people killed in the crash were Autumn Helgeson and Jayna S. Kelley, 9, both of Lake Hallie, Haylee J. Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both of the town of Lafayette. Another Girl Scout, Madalyn Zwiefelhofer, was seriously injured; her family has since sued Treu, with trial dates now set for spring 2024.
Treu left the scene immediately after striking the five people. Officers followed a fresh fluid trail from the damaged pickup truck at the crash scene 1.8 miles to Treu’s home. The truck, parked inside the garage, had “significant front-end damage, with weeds observed stuck in the front bumper,” the criminal complaint states. However, Treu was not home. He turned himself in shortly before 5 p.m.
A test from the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene didn’t detect any chemicals or drugs in Treu’s blood sample. However, because Treu didn’t stay at the scene, a blood draw couldn’t be immediately taken. The blood draw was taken after 7 p.m. that day.
A passenger in the vehicle, John Stender, also was convicted of harboring/aiding a felony-falsifying information. Treu claims Stender grabbed the wheel of the truck, causing the vehicle to swerve and strike the Scouts. Stender was sentenced in September 2021 to three years in prison for his role in the crash, but he was released in August after serving about 11 months.