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Driver Had Been Huffing Fumes Before Plowing Into Girl Scout Troop, Killing 4, Police Say

The Girl Scouts had been picking up trash in a ditch along the highway when Colten Ray Treu veered out of his lane, crossed the center line and crashed into the ditch, striking five and killing four, according to authorities. 

By Jill Sederstrom

A man accused of veering off the road and killing three Girl Scouts and a mother who were picking up trash along the side of the highway as part of a community service project had been inhaling chemical vapors just before the crash, police said.

Colten Ray Treu, 21, allegedly told Lake Hallie police he and a passenger had intentionally been inhaling the fumes, or huffing, just before he struck five people, killing four, along the Wisconsin highway, according to a statement from the Lake Hallie Police Department.

Treu initially fled the scene but later turned himself in and is now facing initial charges of four counts of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, four counts of hit and run involving death and one count of hit and run involving great bodily harm, according to information provided to Oxygen.com by the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office. His bond hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Twelve members of a Wisconsin Girl Scout troop, including seven children and fie adults, had been picking up trash in a ditch along the highway as part of a service project Saturday when a black pick-up truck driven by Treu "veered out of its lane" and crossed the center line, leaving the road entirely and entering the ditch where the Girl Scouts were working, hitting five of them, police said.

"All members were wearing green highly visible safety vests," Lake Hallie police said in the statement. "All members were in the ditch, not on the pavement or gravel shoulder at the time of the crash."

The crash killed Jayna S. Kelley, 9; Autum A. Helgeson, 10; Haylee J. Hickle, 10; and Hickle's mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32. A fourth girl scout, who has not been identified, was hospitalized and is currently in stable condition, police said.

The vehicle fled the scene but Chippewa County Deputy Mark Hollister was able to track vehicle fluids from the crash scene to an address 1.8 miles away. The City of Chippewa Falls Police discovered the truck abandoned in the garage at the home, but neither the driver nor the passenger was still at the location, police said.

Treu and the unidentified passenger of the vehicle both turned themselves into different police departments later Saturday afternoon.

Lake Hallie police called the crash a "completely avoidable" tragedy.

"This is a horrible reminder of our nation's epidemic of self-indulging with substance abuse without regard of the consequences," police said. "Words cannot describe our Lake Hallie community’s sorrow for the witnesses, victims, and their families." 

On Sunday hundreds of members of the community gathered together in the rain in honor of the victims of Troop 3055 and sung Girl Scout songs during the candlelight vigil.

Chippewa Falls resident Jill Schafer was in attendance Sunday, along with her son who wore his Boy Scouts uniform, said the news had hit her particularly hard as the mom of two children.

"It's just devastating," she told CBS Minnesota.

The station also spoke with Pastor Jim Woldhuis, who presides over the Chippewa Valley Bible Church where Hickle and her mother attended.

"I was in tears this morning. I will be weeping often this morning, I know that," he told the news channel.

He described Hinkle as a "fun-loving girl," and her mother as a someone who had faith and a purpose.

The Girl Scouts of the USA also spoke out Sunday to express their grief.

"Our hearts are broken for the girls and families of the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes," CEO Sylvia Acevedo said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "The Girl Scout Movement everywhere stands with our sister Girl Scouts in Wisconsin to grieve and comfort one another in the wake of this terrible tragedy."

[Photo: Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office]

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