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Colten Treu will make his first appearance in Chippewa County Court on Friday. Here's what to expect

Five months after reportedly crashing his vehicle into five people, killing four of them, a Chippewa Falls man will finally make his first in-court appearance on Friday.


Colten R. Treu, 22, is charged in Chippewa County Court 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 on Nov. 3, 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. He was arrested later that day. Treu has appeared via video from the jail for a handful of court appearances since then, but this will be his first physical appearance in court. He remains incarcerated on a $250,000 cash bond.

Treu will be present for a preliminary hearing, which serves as a mini-trial, where evidence of a crime is presented to the judge, and the judge determines if there is enough evidence to move the case toward a trial. Because numerous spectators are expected, the hearing has been moved to the largest courtroom in the Chippewa County courthouse.

Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk urged people to think about their attire and what they need on them, as the metal detectors will be at the door.

“As a rule of thumb, leave your cell phones in the car,” Kowalczyk said. “If you want to make your way through the metal detector, don’t bring anything with metal that will set it off. Anything you don’t absolutely have to have, leave it in your vehicle.”

At a sentencing last week, deputies confiscated a few weapons, including a magazine with bullets for a gun. Kowalczyk said that person had a carry-and-conceal license and claimed he wasn’t aware it was on him.

“There was no ill-intent,” Kowalczyk said.

Judge James Isaacson released a court order Wednesday, establishing rules for media and the general public in the courtroom.

“Spectators will not be permitted to wear clothing or display signs or any other items expressing sympathy for either the defendant or the victims in the case or items depicting the victims,” the court order states.

Isaacson’s order also reminds the public that no one will be allowed to enter or exit during court proceedings and that cell phones and electronic devices aren’t allowed, except for the media.

Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell filed a statement with the court Monday saying he intends to present police and medical reports as exhibits during the hearing Friday.

The likely outcome of Friday’s hearing is that Isaacson sets a future court date for an arraignment – where Treu would enter a plea – and possibly setting trial dates.

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 later turned themselves in 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.

Other lies by child-impostor suspect alleged

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A man charged with lying to federal agents about being a missing child was also accused of making up stories while in prison, threatening other inmates and refusing orders from guards, prison records show.

Brian Rini threatened to make a false rape claim against a guard, falsely accused an inmate of tampering with his food, and lied about being short of toilet paper, according to the records obtained by The Associated Press.

Rini, 23, also concocted a story about being harmed by inmates in order to be transferred, a story that fell apart when guards reviewed video, according to the records.

Contrary to Rini’s claims, he “can be observed horse playing, and physically making playful contact” with inmates the entire time, according the report on a Dec. 5, 2018, incident at Noble Correctional Institution in southeastern Ohio.

Rini falsified the claim “as a way to attempt to manipulate the system and transfer quick as he is a refusal to lock,” the report said, referring to inmates who won’t agree to their housing or cell assignments. Details of the specific claim are blacked out.

In just over a year, Rini racked up 15 disciplinary reports while housed at four prisons, the records show.

A message was left Thursday with his federal public defender.

Rini, of Medina, Ohio, is being held without bond after being charged last week with making false statements. Authorities charged him Friday, a day after DNA testing proved he wasn’t Timmothy Pitzen, who disappeared in Illinois in 2011 at age 6.

Rini was released on probation last month from state prison after serving more than a year on burglary and vandalism charges.

Federal authorities say he also twice previously portrayed himself to be a juvenile sex trafficking victim.

Rini could face up to eight years in prison if convicted of making false statements to federal agents. He has yet to enter a plea in his case, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 19.

Prison reports show:

On March 29, 2018 at Marion Correctional Institution, Rini lied about needing toilet paper even though he had several rolls. “Inmate Rini laughed about it as if it were a joke,” the report said.

  • On Aug. 6, 2018 at the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, he told other inmates “he was going to cut their throats after lights out.”
  • On Aug. 18, 2018, also at NCCI in Marion, he threatened he would make a false prison rape claim against a guard, by “saying you touched me.”
  • On March 2, 2019, at Belmont Correctional Institution in eastern Ohio, Rini alleged an inmate had urinated on apples he gave Rini, something the inmate denied, according to the disciplinary record.

Police picked up Rini the morning of April 3 after a report that someone was wandering the streets of Newport, Kentucky. They said he told them he was Timmothy and that he had escaped two kidnappers after years of sexual abuse.

Police took him to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for treatment and testing. Federal authorities have said they were skeptical, especially after he refused to be fingerprinted, but didn’t want to miss a chance to possibly solve the Pitzen disappearance.

The FBI said DNA testing established his identity as a convicted felon.

Timmothy, of Aurora, Illinois, vanished after his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, pulled him out of kindergarten, took him on a two-day road trip to a zoo and a water park, and then killed herself at a hotel. She left a note saying that her son was safe with people who would love and care for him, and added: “You will never find him.”

Rory O'Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune 

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