Metro-East News

Driver in double-fatal crash wants out of jail because he’s in wheelchair

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 man who allegedly drove the wrong way on Illinois 15 and crashed head-on into a car — killing both occupants — is asking to be released from jail while awaiting trial because he now uses a wheelchair.

Kevin G. Helfrich, 54, was taken into custody Oct. 17 and remained jailed Friday on $750,000 bail — which means Helfrich would need to post $75,000 in cash to be released on bond.

His attorney, John Baricevic, filed a motion Wednesday asking that either his bail be reduced or that he be released on house arrest via a recognizance bond — essentially Helfrich’s promise to appear in court.

Baricevic wrote that Helfrich is “confined to a wheelchair,” cannot drive or work and is “under the care of multiple physicians.” Helfrich was hospitalized for a lengthy period after the crash.

Baricevic argued in the motion that Helfrich is in no way a flight risk and Helfrich is not receiving the extensive medical care he requires in jail.

Helfrich - recent
Kevin G. Helfrich was arrested Oct. 17, 2017. Provided

“Failure to provide this medical care will result in complications for the defendant and put the St. Clair County jail in jeopardy for not providing proper care,” he wrote. “Multiple scheduled doctors visits for serious injuries have already been missed because of the failure to post bond.”

The New Athens man was charged following a crash on Illinois 15 the night of July 8. A witness told police she was driving east when Helfrich’s GMC Sierra passed her car in the other eastbound lane — traveling west. Shortly afterward, the truck struck a vehicle behind her, a 2017 Kia Forte.

The scene of the crash that killed two men in the early-morning hours of July 8 on Illinois 15 in Belleville. Provided

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 a search warrant released in October, investigators stated they found cold cans of Stag beer and prescription pill bottles in Helfrich’s truck after the crash.

In addition to a felony charge of aggravated DUI resulting in death, Helfrich faces two felony counts of reckless homicide in connection with the deaths of Bannister and Harton. The July DUI charge was the fifth time Helfrich has been charged with drunken driving in St. Clair County.

Daryl and John (1)
Daryl Harton (left), 36, and 37-year-old John Bannister (right), both of Belleville, died in July after a truck going the wrong way on Illinois 15 collided with their Kia Forte. Provided

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, are being presented to a grand jury.

At a glance

Here’s a look at Kevin Helfrich’s previous 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’s report stated Helfrich “was observed driving on the wrong side of road, and swerving from left to right.”