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CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. - The driver accused of striking a Girl Scout troop doing highway cleanup in Wisconsin over the weekend told police that he and his passenger were huffing, or intentionally inhaling chemical vapors to become intoxicated, just before the crash, according to officials.
Three Girl Scouts and one adult were killed in the collision, reported around 11:40 a.m. Saturday in Lake Hallie. Authorities identified the victims as Jayna Kelley, 9, Autum Helgeson, 10, Haylee Hickle, 10, and Haylee’s mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32. Another 10-year-old girl, whose name was not released, remained hospitalized Monday with injuries from the collision.
“This senseless crash was completely avoidable,” Lake Hallie police Chief Cal Smokowicz said Monday in a statement.
The victims were part of a 12-person Girl Scout group made up of seven children and five adults who were participating in a highway cleanup project Saturday when a driver, identified by authorities as Colten Treu, 21, veered off the roadway and into the ditch the group was working in, police said. Authorities said Treu didn’t stop at the scene and instead continued driving toward Chippewa Falls.
Deputies 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 home’s garage and learned that Treu and a passenger in the truck had left the home before police arrived, officials said.
Treu and his passenger, who was not identified, turned themselves in to authorities Saturday afternoon. Authorities said both said in statements to police that they had been huffing before the crash.
“Words cannot describe our Lake Hallie community’s sorrow for the witnesses, victims, and their families,” Smokowicz said. “This is a horrible reminder of our (nation’s) epidemic of self-indulging with substance abuse without regard of the consequences.”
Authorities charged Treu with four counts of homicide by negligent use of a motor vehicle, five counts of hit-and-run and four counts of homicide while intoxicated (use of inhalants), police said.
Authorities continue to investigate.