CHIPPEWA FALLS — The passenger in a vehicle that struck and killed three Girl Scouts and a mother in November 2018 pleaded no contest Monday for his role in the crash.
John E. Stender, 24, of Eau Claire, pleaded no contest to harboring/aiding a felon-falsifying information in Chippewa County Court. A misdemeanor charge of intentionally abusing a hazardous substance was dismissed.
Stender was a passenger in a truck driven by Colten Treu, who struck the Scouts as they were cleaning debris near Highway P in the village of Lake Hallie. Treu and Stender then drove to their house, where they hid the truck in a garage. Treu was sentenced in March 2020 to serve 54 years in prison.
Judge James Isaacson set a sentencing date for July 26. The crime is a felony and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, plus five years of extended supervision, and a $25,000 fine.
Stender remains free on a signature bond.
According to the criminal complaint, Treu and Stender had purchased an aerosol can at the Lake Hallie Walmart on Nov. 3, 2018, and were driving back to Treu's home in Chippewa Falls. Both men had "huffed" from the aerosol can during the drive.
The crash happened as Treu was driving northbound on Highway P, just south of the Highway 29 overpass. Treu's vehicle veered off the west side of the road and struck the group of Girl Scouts as they were removing litter.
During his sentencing hearing, Treu claimed Stender caused the crash. Treu said he yelled at Stender "What are you doing?" when Stender grabbed the wheel.
Treu said he overcorrected the vehicle and wound up going in the ditch, where he struck the Girl Scouts.
In interviews with law enforcement, Stender admitted he grabbed the wheel of the car, causing Treu to yell at him. Stender said he saw one person being struck by the vehicle and then he hit his head and lost consciousness. He woke up just before they arrived at Treu's home.
After striking the five people — one Girl Scout who was hit survived the crash — Treu drove his vehicle back to his home rather than staying at the scene. He then hid the pickup in a garage. Stender did not immediately assist law enforcement or return to the scene, leading to the charge of assisting or harboring a felon.
Chippewa County District Attorney WadeNewell charged Stender just days after Treu's sentencing concluded.
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.