Man who plowed into Girl Scouts, killing 4, after ‘huffing’ sentenced to 54 years in prison

A Wisconsin judge fought back tears Wednesday as he sentenced a man to 54 years in prison for plowing his truck into a Girl Scout troop while high in 2018, killing three of the girls and a parent.

Colten Treu, 23, of Chippewa Falls, pleaded no contest in December to four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. Treu was high on inhalants at the time of the crash.

He also pleaded guilty to one count of hit and run causing bodily harm for injuring a fourth child, according to court records.

Nine-year-olds Autumn Helgeson and Jayna Kelley, both of Lake Hallie, Haylee Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both of Lafayette, were killed in the Nov. 3, 2018.

Madalyn Zwiefelhofer, 10, was critically injured but survived.

“Mr. Treu, it’s hard to label what happened here,” Chippewa County Judge James Isaacson said. “You know, it’s been called a tragedy -- that doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s been called a horrendous tragedy; senseless, thoughtless.

“There are more adjectives. Avoidable is one that comes to mind. Still, it’s not enough.”

Isaacson also sentenced Treu to serve 45 years of extended supervision if he is ever released from prison.

The judge said that he reviewed more than 60 victim impact statements in the case, including those from 28 people who spoke at Treu's sentencing hearing, the Chippewa Herald reported.

Isaacson also watched a 40-second video recorded by the body camera of a deputy who responded to the scene of the crash. The footage was not shown in court.

"It was very revealing to see how far off the roadway Mr. Treu was, and how far apart the bodies were," the judge said, according to the Herald.

Authorities said the girls, members of Girl Scout Troop 3055, were picking up trash along the highway the day of the crash. Treu, who later admitted “huffing” vapors from an aerosol canister prior to getting behind the wheel of his Ford F-150, veered across a lane and into a ditch where the girls were working.

Treu didn’t stop the truck after striking the victims.

Credit: Dan Reiland/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP

Credit: Dan Reiland/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP

Autumn Helgeson’s mother, Kimberly Helgeson, gave a victim impact statement, in which she described watching Treu kill her daughter.

"I saw what Colten Treu did. I never saw brake lights," Kimberly Helgeson said, according to the Herald. "I never saw him swerve to avoid people. What I saw was accelerating as he went through body after body."

She said Treu struck her daughter with enough force to knock the little girl out of her shoes.

"She lived nearly an hour," Kimberly Helgeson said. "Her leg was grotesquely broken. I am haunted to have seen her pain in the last hour of her life.

“Every second of every day I suffer. I see the brokenness of her body.”

Brian Kelley and Robin Kelley were also there as their daughter, Jayna Kelley, was struck.

"There is not a more helpless feeling in the world than seeing your daughter in this condition," Robin Kelley said in court, the Herald reported.

Deputies who responded to the scene were able to follow vehicle fluids from the scene of the crash to a home about 2 miles away in Chippewa Falls, police said. They found a black pickup truck in the garage, and they learned that Treu and a passenger had left before the deputies arrived.

Both men later turned themselves in to authorities.

Treu, who addressed the victims' families, his own family and the court, acknowledged inhaling chemicals before the crash and said he fled the scene because he got scared, according to the Herald.

He apologized for his actions.

"All of you have every right to hate me," Treu said, according to the newspaper and WEAU in Eau Claire. "I screwed up bad. And no matter what I say or do, you guys are never gonna know how sorry I am. I can't give back what I have taken. I want to. Lord knows I want to."

Watch Colten Treu’s two-day sentencing hearing, including his statement to the victims’ families, below, courtesy of KARE.

Prosecutor Wade Newell called the situation a bad one.

“Justice needs to be done, sentence-wise, in regards to all those people in the picture here. Not because of emotion, because it's the right thing to do,” Newell said.

Treu’s defense attorney, Carly Sebion, pleaded for mercy for her client.

“We’re asking the court to remember that Colten Treu isn’t the sum of just those bad mistakes on that one day,” Sebion said.

After the sentencing hearing, Newell told WEAU he believes justice was served, even though the judge did not take up his recommendation of 90 years in prison and 23 years of extended supervision.

“Obviously, I would have preferred a more lengthy sentence regarding the recommendations that the state was making, but it’s ultimately up to the judge to determine what is appropriate and proper,” the district attorney said. “I think justice was served, though, and that he was held accountable for what he did on Nov. 3, 2018.”

The family members who spoke in court described pain that will last far beyond Treu’s sentencing hearing.

Brooklyn Helgeson was 8 when her older sister was killed.

"I live my life without Autumn every day. I push it all down because my heart is broken. My heart will never heal," Brooklyn said, according to the Herald. "I can't talk to my big sister because Colten Treu ran her over right in front of my eyes. I will never grow up with my sister. She is never coming back. That day I felt so alone.

“I watched my sister die in front of my eyes. I know I will never stop loving her.”

Judy Schneider lost her daughter, Sara Jo Schneider, and granddaughter, Haylee Hickle, that day. Her grandson, Jasper Olver, who was 6 when his mother and sister died, now lives hours away, the Herald reported.

The grieving grandmother said last week that she had just bought a home to share with her daughter and grandchildren. The crash changed everything.

"Now that home is just an empty shell, without laughter and joy, and rooms I cannot even enter," Judy Schneider said. "I can't turn my mind off at night. I feel guilt if I laugh or have a nice time. These words aren't enough to express the loss, the pain, the hurt, of everyone in my family and my friends. It has changed me, and them, forever."

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