The man accused of driving the wrong way on Illinois 15 and crashing head-on into a car was released from jail Tuesday after a judge ruled the jail was inadequately staffed to handle his many medical appointments.
Kevin G. Helfrich, 54, was taken into custody Oct. 17 on a $750,000 bail — which meant Helfrich would have needed to post $75,000 in cash to be released on bond. His attorney, John Baricevic, filed a motion earlier this month asking that either his bail be reduced or that he be released on house arrest via a recognizance bond because the man was “confined to a wheelchair” and needed extensive medical attention.
On Tuesday, the New Athens man was released on a recognizance bond — essentially Helfrich’s promise to appear in court.
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Judge Randall Kelley wrote in a ruling filed Tuesday that he was modifying the man’s bond “due to inadequate staff the St. Clair Co (sic) Sheriff’s Dept. was unable to transport the defendant to two medical appointments during the week of Nov. 13, 2017.”
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said in this particular incident, however, it wasn’t the jail’s staffing that was the issue.
“It wasn’t we couldn’t have taken him, there was a mix up,” Watson said on Wednesday. “... He’s got some major medical issues, don’t get me wrong.”
Helfrich was hospitalized for a lengthy period after the crash.
“We can always have more staff, don’t get me wrong — but we make things happen, we do more with less,” the sheriff said.
Helfrich was ordered to wear an ankle monitor and was given permission to leave his home only for medical appointments. In addition, Helfrich cannot drink alcohol, cannot have alcohol in his home and must submit to random drug testing. He is also prohibited from driving.
Kelley noted in his order the prosecution continues to object to Helfrich’s modified bond.
Helfrich’s next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 18.
He 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.
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.
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.
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.