CHIPPEWA FALLS — Colten R. Treu admits he had been “huffing” chemicals at the time he struck several Girl Scouts and adults cleaning up garbage Saturday morning in Lake Hallie, killing four and leaving another girl hospitalized, according to authorities.
Treu, 21, 1060 Joseph St., Chippewa Falls, appeared via video in Chippewa County Court on Monday, where Judge James Isaacson ordered Treu be held on a $250,000 cash bond. He will return to court today.
Treu is accused of a similar incident recently in Rusk County, said Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell. On Sept. 30, Treu appeared to be intoxicated while driving in Rusk County, went into a ditch and rolled his vehicle.
“Officers did a field sobriety test and noticed his impairment,” Newell told Judge James Isaacson.
During a search of Treu’s car, officers found meth and marijuana, he added. Treu has not yet been charged in that Rusk County incident.
Newell said he intends to file charges today, including four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, four counts of negligent operation of a vehicle, four counts of hit-and-run, causing death and a count of hit-and-run, causing serious injury.
A group of five adults and seven children from Girl Scout Troop 3055 were picking up trash along Highway P in Lake Hallie, south of the Highway 29 overpass, when the crash occurred at 11:40 a.m. Saturday. Five people were struck by the black Ford F-150 truck driven by Treu.
The Lake Hallie Police Department sent out a news release Monday morning, identifying the four deceased people as 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.
Another girl who was struck is still hospitalized but is now in stable condition.
Authorities have not released her name, but a Go Fund Me account was established Monday for Madalyn Zwiefelhofer.
According to the page, the girl has undergone open heart surgery, has two broken legs, a displaced pelvis, a broken cheek bone, wrist and arm, as well as cuts in her kidney and spleen and bleeding in her brain.
Treu turned himself in to the Chippewa Falls Police Department at 4:33 p.m. Saturday.
Police had already identified him as the suspect; an officer tracked vehicle fluid from Treu’s car 1.8 miles north into Chippewa Falls city limits. They found Treu’s truck abandoned.
A passenger with Treu also has turned himself into the Eau Claire Police Department. That person was not identified. Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said he isn’t sure if the passenger will be charged as well.
“That is a decision to be made by the (district attorney),” Kowalczyk said.
Newell said Treu took steps to avoid responsibility.
“He didn’t stop to render aid,” Newell told Isaacson during the bond hearing.
When Treu got to his house, he put the damaged truck in the garage.
“He put another vehicle behind it to hide where it may be,” Newell said.
Newell noted that Treu has one drunken driving conviction from 2014, plus the recent incident in Rusk County.
Defense attorney Kirby Harless asked for a $1,000 cash bond, saying that Treu has no history of missing court dates, is employed and has ties to the community. However, Isaacson followed Newell’s recommendation, saying that the severity of the penalties Treu is facing makes him a flight risk.
In setting terms of the bond, should Treu be able to post the cash bond, Isaacson ordered that Treu cannot possess any sprays that could be used for huffing, and he is not allowed to drive at all.
Huffing led to crash
Huffing involves inhaling fumes and sprays typically from an aerosol can for the purpose of achieving a high.
Newell said that Treu and his passenger had bought a can of air duster at Walmart and they were “huffing” from the canister. The Lake Hallie Walmart is less than two miles from the crash scene.
Treu was driving, and the vehicle started to drift as they approached the Girl Scouts. The passenger grabbed the wheel to pull the car straight, but Treu then grabbed the wheel and turned it sharply, over-correcting and going off the road, causing the truck to strike the five people.
Kowalczyk said that huffing isn’t technically illegal.
“Huffing is no different than drinking alcohol,” Kowalczyk said. “Huffing is becoming more prevalent. We don’t see a lot of it in reported incidents. The difference is the evidence (in blood samples) dissipates so fast.”
Chippewa County has had one recent case involving huffing. In May, 26-year-old Brady Wolfe was sentenced to serve 21 months in jail after he pleaded guilty to homicide by negligent use of a motor vehicle and endangering safety with the use of a dangerous weapon. In that case, Wolfe was accused of using marijuana and huffing when he crashed his car in August 2013, killing his passenger. When officers searched Wolfe’s car after the crash, they found several aerosol cans in the front passenger seat area.
The deceased girls attended Southview and Halmstad elementary schools in Chippewa Falls. Chippewa Falls schools Superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos said on Sunday that school counselors, psychologists, staff, therapy dogs and faith leaders are available to students and parents as they cope with the tragedy.
CCF Bank and Helpful Hearts Foundation announced they have opened a benefit account for the victims and their families of the Chippewa Falls Girl Scout Troop 3055. Donations can be dropped off at their locations in Lake Hallie, Altoona and Eau Claire. CCF Bank said it will match the total of all donations up to $5,000.