Metro-East News

Errors on police report allowed driver in wrong-way fatalities to keep license

Double-fatal crash on Illinois 15 in Belleville

The two vehicles involved in Saturday's double-fatal, head-on collision: a 2009 GMC Sierra pickup which crashed into the 2017 Kia Forte, killing both men in the car.
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The two vehicles involved in Saturday's double-fatal, head-on collision: a 2009 GMC Sierra pickup which crashed into the 2017 Kia Forte, killing both men in the car.

The wrong-way driver in a double-fatal accident Saturday in Belleville had a valid driver’s license, despite a pending DUI case against him because of errors made in a police report — and, in past years, he had been pulled over two other times for driving the wrong way on a road, according to court records.

Kevin G. Helfrich, 54, of New Athens, was most recently charged with a DUI in October 2016, and his license was suspended at that time when he refused to take a breathalyzer test.

However, a court order signed by Judge William G. Clay indicates the suspension was rescinded a month later due to errors on the police officer’s sworn report. State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said the arresting officer, from Centreville, did not include a probable cause statement or Helfrich’s signature — both required by law — in his sworn report.

“The assistant state’s attorney on the case did not have any way to contest the validity of the sworn report,” Kelly said. “However, that is a civil issue as it relates to the license — we are still pursuing prosecution, we anticipate the case will go to trial on the criminal (DUI) charge.”

Kelly said his office filed a search warrant Monday for Helfrich’s medical records from the Saint Louis University Hospital — where Helfrich is being treated — in hopes of obtaining the man’s BAC and toxicology results. Kelly added that there is no recorded BAC in Helfrich’s 2016 DUI case, but that there are several witnesses in the case.

Helfrich is scheduled to appear for a hearing for his 2016 case at 1:30 p.m. July 25.

The fatal crash happened just before 1 a.m. Saturday on Illinois 15. Police say Helfrich was driving his pickup truck the wrong way when he collided with a Kia Forte sedan.

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The scene of the crash early Saturday morning on Illinois 15 in Belleville. Provided

John Bannister, 37, and Daryl Harton, 36, both of Belleville, and who were riding together in the Kia, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Helfrich was being treated at Saint Louis University Hospital on Sunday, but his family did not allow hospital staff to release information on his condition.

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Daryl Harton (left), 36, and John Bannister (right), 37, both of Belleville and who were riding together, were pronounced dead at the scene. Provided

Harton and Bannister were celebrating their anniversary, according to family members.

This is an example of a guy who knows not to blow and knows that it makes it more difficult to prove our case if there is no BAC — so, there are times where the prosecutors handling the case try to salvage something, some type of disposition.

State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly

While Helfrich’s pending DUI charge was filed less than a year ago, he previously pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2009, and he pleaded guilty to improper lane usage charges twice after being charged in DUI cases in 2000 and 2015, according to St. Clair County court records. Here are more details about the cases:

▪ Oct. 27, 2000Helfrich 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 report stated Helfrich “was observed driving on the wrong side of road, and swerving from left to right.”

In all four DUI cases, Helfrich refused to take a breathalyzer test.

“This is an example of a guy who knows not to blow and knows that it makes it more difficult to prove our case if there is no BAC — so, there are times where the prosecutors handling the case try to salvage something, some type of disposition,” Kelly said.

Kelly implemented a DUI hotline in April 2011 to link police officers with prosecutors in order to give officers the opportunity to request a search warrant for a blood draw from drivers suspected of being under the influence when the driver refuses to submit to a breathalyzer.

However, Kelly noted Monday that it is up to the police officers to request the blood draw search warrants — which are upheld in court when there is probable cause to believe the driver is under the influence, according to Kelly.

In a 2012 BND report, Kelly said the hotline resulted in increased fines and jail time for repeat offenders who might otherwise not be held as accountable.

Dave Druker, a spokesman for the state secretary of state’s office, said Monday that his office only receives the resolution of a person’s case and not what the original charges were.

“We need convictions in order to have the points against his driver’s license, and, ultimately take it away,” Druker said. “We would just really insist that judges have to use their best judgment when they are doing supervisions or rescissions. When you see a record like this, it really is unacceptable.”

Kelly said he is scheduled to meet with the Harton and Bannister families Tuesday morning.

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