Charges: Driver, passenger fought for control of steering wheel before truck hit Scouts on Wis. highway
The driver and passenger of a Wisconsin pickup truck fought for control of the vehicle seconds before it veered into a ditch Saturday morning and struck a group of Girl Scouts and adults cleaning up litter along a rural highway, killing four.
The two men were inhaling Dustoff, a computer keyboard cleaner they “huffed” to get high, and as the truck veered across the centerline they each took the wheel before the crash, according to formal charges filed Tuesday.
Driver Colten R. Treu, 21, faces 11 criminal counts that carry a combined maximum sentence of 281 years and 9 months in prison. He surrendered hours after a Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department deputy followed a trail of fluid from the crash scene to a garage on Joseph Street in Chippewa Falls that belonged to Treu and his roommate and passenger, John Stender, Jr.
The charges against Treu include four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, five counts of hit and run, and intentionally abusing a hazardous substance. Treu also faces one count of felony bail jumping because he was under court orders to stay law abiding after he was released from custody in nearby Rusk County on Oct. 2 over a felony count of methamphetamine possession.
The 11:40 a.m. crash Saturday along County Road P near the Hwy. 29 overpass in Lake Hallie, roughly 95 miles east of Minneapolis, killed Jayna S. Kelley, 9, and Autumn A. Helgeson, 10, both of Lake Hallie, Wis; and Haylee J. Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both from Lafayette, Wis.
A 10-year-old girl, Madalyn Zwiefelhofer, remains hospitalized at Mayo Clinic in Rochester after suffering severe injuries including an aortic rupture, injuries to her spleen, kidney, and brain, and acute hypoxic and hypercarbic respiratory failure.
Two of the girls and Schneider were killed along the road. Two other girls were taken by ground and air ambulances to a hospital, where one of them died later Saturday.
According to the complaint: Stender told authorities that he and Treu had been huffing while traveling north on County Road P. Treu looked “out of it,” Stender said, so he grabbed the steering wheel when the truck veered across the centerline. Treu yelled at him and steered the truck back across the centerline and then into the ditch, Stender said. He said the next thing he remembered was waking up further down the road.
Treu told authorities that he didn’t pass out, and that he took two short huffs from the can of Dustoff that Stender had been using heavily. He said Stender grabbed the wheel and at that point, Treu said, he lost control of the truck and it fishtailed into the ditch. He said he drove home and someone else parked the truck in his garage.
Investigators found the heavily damaged black Ford F-150 with weeds stuck in the front bumper. Treu told authorities that he saw people working in the ditch, and could see that they were wearing highly visible reflective vests.
Treu is being held in Chippewa County jail on $250,000 bail.
The fourth-grade Girl Scouts, members of Troop 3055, and Schneider were collecting litter as part of an “Adopt-A-Highway” group of 12 walking along both sides of the road, according to police and witnesses. The girls attended Halmstad Elementary School and Southview Elementary School in Chippewa Falls.
The funeral services for Sara Jo Schneider and Haylee J. Hickle will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Chippewa Valley Bible Church in Chippewa Falls.
Funeral services for Autumn Anne Helgeson will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Chippewa Falls.
Funeral services for Jayna S. Kelley will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Chippewa Valley Bible Church.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329