HALLIE, Wis. — A western Wisconsin community on Sunday was grieving the deaths of three Girl Scouts and a parent who were collecting trash along a rural highway when police say a pickup truck veered off the road and hit them before speeding away.
Authorities have not released the names of the girls or the woman who were struck by the truck Saturday in Lake Hallie, or the name of a fourth girl who survived but was in critical condition at a Minnesota hospital. The girls were members of Troop 3055 and were fourth-grade students in nearby Chippewa Falls, which is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Minneapolis.
“Our hearts are broken for the girls and families of the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes,” CEO Sylvia Acevedo of Girl Scouts of the USA said in a statement Sunday. “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.”
Counselors, faith leaders and trained school staff would be available at least through Monday at two elementary schools, according to Chippewa Falls School District Superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos.
“This is a difficult time for our students, families and staff,” Eliopoulos said in a message to parents. “We will be providing ongoing support for both students (and) families and staff for as long as needed.”
Teddy bears, balloons and candles sat on two wooden benches in front of Halmstad Elementary School on Sunday while dozens of families met inside with faith leaders and counselors. Families did the same at Southview Elementary School, the other school in Chippewa Falls the girls attended, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“It’s been very nice. There’s been a lot of people — it’s been a very supportive environment,” said Michelle Golden, human resources director for the school district.
Lake Hallie police Sgt. Daniel Sokup said the pickup, a black Ford F-150, crossed a lane and veered into a roadside ditch, striking the victims. Other members of the troop were picking up trash from the opposite shoulder.
The 21-year-old driver, Colten Treu of Chippewa Falls, sped off but later surrendered. He will be charged with four counts of homicide, Sokup said. It was unclear Sunday if Treu had an attorney who could speak for him. Police misspelled Treu’s first name as “Colton” in initial news releases.
Sokup said it was not immediately known if there were other factors that might have led the driver to leave the road. The Star Tribune reported that the crash happened before a hill and there were no blind spots, and Sokup said it was “not an unsafe area.”
But Cecily Spallees, a personal care attendant at a group home near the crash site, told the newspaper that drivers regularly speed on that stretch of road, which quickly changes from a 55-mph to a 35-mph zone.
“I’m always telling one of my residents that he shouldn’t walk this strip at night,” Spallees said. “It’s not safe.”
Troop 3055’s regional council, the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes, expressed its condolences on Facebook and said a vigil will be held Sunday evening at the girls’ school.