When Colten R. Treu’s trial in the hit-and-run deaths of four people begins in January, the jury will be allowed to hear some details about a crash involving Treu that occurred Sept. 30 in Rusk County.
During a motion hearing Wednesday in Chippewa County Court, Judge James Isaacson ruled that the jury can hear how the crash occurred but said that any information about his drug use or intoxication at the time will be redacted and not shared with the jury.
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 on Nov. 3, 2018, 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.
In the Sept. 30 crash, Treu drove into a ditch and rolled his vehicle. Officers did a field sobriety test after the crash and noticed his impairment.
“It is prejudicial (to allow this evidence), but not unfairly prejudicial,” Isaacson ruled.
District Attorney Wade Newell argued that the Sept. 30 crash goes directly to the motive of why Treu fled and hid his truck in a garage. He turned himself in hours later.
Newell called it “other acts evidence” that explains Treu’s behavior, of why he would leave the scene, rather than get out of the car and try to help the people he had just struck.
“It is something from the past that puts this matter into context,” Newell told Isaacson. “Motive answers the ‘why?’ question for the jury. This answers the question, ‘why did he flee?’ The defense can say he left for another reason, but I’m not bound by their reasons.”
Newell later added: “This is a reasonable interpretation of the evidence.”
However, defense attorney Carly Sebion pointed out that Treu hadn’t been charged yet for the Sept. 30 crash in Rusk County; those charges wouldn’t be filed until January, two months later.
“It is really, truly an attack on Mr. Treu’s character,” Sebion said to Isaacson.
Sebion said Newell was speculating on the reasons behind fleeing the scene.
“There is no corroborating evidence to support that,” she said. “This information is unfairly prejudicial to Mr. Treu.”
In his counter-argument, Newell pointed out that Treu had a bond hearing Oct. 1 in Rusk County Court, where he was informed of the charges he could be facing. He was eventually charged with possession of meth, marijuana, drug paraphernalia and operating with a restricted controlled substance.
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“It doesn’t matter if charges were filed,” Newell said. “We know as of Oct. 1, he had a bond hearing, he knew of the charges he was facing.”
The homicide trial is slated to begin Jan. 21 and could last two weeks. One more motion hearing is slated for Oct. 30. Isaacson ordered the defense to have all of its motions filed by Sept. 25 so the prosecution has time to examine them.
According to the criminal complaint, Treu and the passenger in his car, John Stender, had just left a Walmart store in Lake Hallie and had started huffing from a Dust-off aerosol can when Treu’s truck crashed into the Girl Scouts, crossing the center line of Highway P.
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. Treu turned himself in to authorities at 4:33 p.m. that day — about five hours after the crash occurred. The blood draw was taken after 7 p.m.
Earlier this year, 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.
Treu claims that Stender had been huffing more than he had, and he claimed that Stender grabbed the steering wheel, leading to the crash. Stender has not been charged.
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.
The deceased girls attended Southview Elementary and Halmstad Elementary in Chippewa Falls.
After the crash, Treu drove his 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., 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 has one drunken-driving conviction from 2014, plus the Sept. 30 incident in Rusk County. He has a status hearing on that case slated for Jan. 27.