Judge rejects Treu's request to withdraw plea

Chris Vetter, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
·4 min read

Mar. 3—CHIPPEWA FALLS — A Chippewa County judge rejected Colten Treu's request Wednesday to withdraw his pleas for causing a crash in November 2018 that killed three Girl Scouts and a mother.

Judge James Isaacson sentenced Colten R. Treu in March 2020 to serve 54 years in prison, after Treu had pleaded no contest to four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and one count of hit and run, causing great bodily harm.

Treu, 24, of Chippewa Falls filed a request in January to withdraw his pleas in the matter.

Treu's new attorney is Dennis Schertz, of Hudson, who contends that Treu's original attorneys "erroneously advised" him that he could still appeal his denied request for a change of venue, even after entering a plea.

"They didn't tell him what they needed to tell him," Schertz told Isaacson.

Treu testified via video from prison Wednesday, saying that he would not have entered a plea in the case, and would have gone to trial, if he had known that he would not be able to appeal his failed motion to have a change of venue.

"One of the main reasons I didn't go to trial is because there wasn't a change in venue. We didn't find a fair jury, would be (possible), in Chippewa County," Treu testified. "I don't think I could find a jury pool in Chippewa County would have been fair and impartial."

However, Isaacson said he believes Treu understood the sentencing at the time, and was able to comprehend what was going on with the proceedings. Isaacson pointed out statements from a 2019 court hearing, where he made it clear that if they couldn't find a jury pool among Chippewa County residents, a jury would be brought in from another county, and the trial would still be held in Chippewa County. Shortly after that point, Treu opted to waive his right to a jury trial.

"There is no evidence of mis-advice," Isaacson ruled to conclude the hearing Wednesday.

Defense attorney Travis Satorius, who represented Treu during his plea and sentencing, testified on Wednesday, saying he believes he accurately told Treu the consequences of each plea he entered.

Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell asked Satorius if he ever directly told Treu he could still appeal after a plea; Satorius said he had not worded it that way.

"Do you believe you misinformed him, and provided false information?" Newell asked Satorius. Satorius replied that he didn't believe he had provided misinformation.

Carly Sebion, Treu's other public defender, said she has been an attorney for 10 years, and she also defended her handling of the case, saying she told Treu about a variety of appeals open to him.

At the sentencing last year, Newell requested a 90-year prison sentence, while Treu's attorneys sought a 22-year sentence along with 63 years of extended supervision.

Treu was accused of huffing from an aerosol canister at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, then crashing his pickup truck into members of Girl Scout Troop 3055 as they were picking up trash along Highway P in Lake Hallie, south of the Highway 29 overpass. The four people killed in the crash were Autumn Helgeson and Jayna S. Kelley, 9, both of Lake Hallie, Haylee J. Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both of the town of Lafayette. Another Girl Scout, Madalyn Zwiefelhofer, was seriously injured.

Treu left the scene immediately after striking the five people. Officers followed a fresh fluid trail from the damaged pickup truck at the crash scene 1.8 miles to Treu's home. The truck, parked inside the garage, had "significant front-end damage, with weeds observed stuck in the front bumper," the criminal complaint states. However, Treu was not home. He turned himself in shortly before 5 p.m.

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. The blood draw was taken after 7 p.m.

A passenger in the vehicle, John Stender, also has been charged with harboring/aiding a felony-falsifying information, and intentionally abusing hazardous substance, which is a misdemeanor. Treu claims Stender grabbed the wheel of the truck, causing the vehicle to swerve and strike the Scouts. Stender is slated to return to court March 25 for a motion hearing.