Police say they found cold cans of Stag beer and prescription pill bottles in a 54-year-old New Athens man’s truck in July after he allegedly drove the wrong way on Illinois 15 and crashed head-on into a car, killing the two men inside.
Kevin G. Helfrich survived the crash and was hospitalized for a lengthy period afterward. He has been charged with reckless homicide, but had not yet been arrested as of Thursday, and it was unclear whether he remained hospitalized. Belleville police did not return calls regarding Helfrich’s status.
In a recently released search warrant, however, Belleville Detective Robert Wallace wrote that emergency medical workers told police they smelled alcohol on Helfrich before taking him to Saint Louis University Hospital.
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Wallace added that a witness told police she was driving east when Helfrich’s GMC Sierra passed her car in the other eastbound lane — traveling west. Shortly after, the truck struck a vehicle behind her, a 2017 Kia Forte.
When officers arrived, they found Helfrich trapped underneath his steering wheel — he was unconscious but breathing. The two Belleville men in the Kia — John Bannister, 37, and Daryl Harton, 36 — were pronounced dead at the scene. Bannister was ejected from the driver’s seat and Harton was found trapped under the dash.
The men were out that night celebrating their anniversary. In Bannister’s obituary, the two were described as soul mates.
In addition to a felony charge of aggravated DUI resulting in death, Helfrich faces two felony counts of reckless homicide in connection with the July deaths of Bannister and Harton.
The July DUI charge was the fifth time Helfrich has been charged with drunken driving in St. Clair County.
He has one other pending DUI case, filed in October 2016. Helfrich had a valid license at the time of the July crash because of errors on a police report.
In past years, Helfrich had been pulled over two other times for allegedly driving the wrong way on a road.
Helfrich pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2009, and he pleaded guilty to charges of improper lane usage twice after being charged in DUI cases in 2000 and 2015, according to St. Clair County court records. In all four DUI cases, Helfrich refused to take a breath test — an evidence obstacle for attorneys when it comes to prosecuting, State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly told the BND in July.
Helfrich is scheduled for a hearing in his 2016 DUI on Nov. 28. His newest charges, filed in July after the fatal crash, will be presented to a grand jury.
Kevin Helfrich’s previous cases:
▪ Oct. 27, 2000 — Helfrich was charged with DUI and improper traffic lane usage. Court records indicate prosecutors dropped the DUI charge due to insufficient evidence. He pleaded guilty to the improper lane usage charge. He was sentenced to a year of court supervision and $300 in fines and court costs. According to an officer’s sworn report, the man was seen “driving in the wrong lane and ran two vehicles off the road,” and the officer reported that he “stated that he had been drinking.”
▪ April 1, 2009 — Helfrich pleaded guilty to a DUI charge. In doing so, prosecutors dismissed an improper lane usage charge. In his sentencing, he was ordered to complete alcohol treatment, attend a victim-impact panel, serve two years of court supervision and pay $3,000 in fines and court costs.
▪ May 12, 2015 — Helfrich’s DUI charge was dismissed in a deal with prosecutors when he pleaded guilty to improper traffic lane usage. He completed alcohol treatment, underwent an alcohol evaluation, served one year of court supervision and paid $2,000 in fines and court costs. In that case, an officer’s report stated Helfrich “was observed driving on the wrong side of road, and swerving from left to right.”