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Driver says no Stag was in his truck after fatal wrong-way crash; wants evidence tossed

Fatal DUI suspect leaves court

Kevin G. Helfrich is taken out of the courtroom in his wheelchair following his hearing Thursday morning.
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Kevin G. Helfrich is taken out of the courtroom in his wheelchair following his hearing Thursday morning.

A New Athens man accused of causing a double-fatal, wrong-way crash wants evidence from his truck’s data recorder thrown out, arguing that police used false information about beer cans to obtain the data.

Kevin G. Helfrich, 55, is accused of driving drunk and in the wrong direction on Illinois 15 when his truck crashed head-on into a car July 8, 2017, killing the car’s two occupants. Helfrich survived the crash and was hospitalized for a lengthy period afterward. He is awaiting trial.

Helfrich’s defense attorney, John Baricevic, also has filed a motion to throw out an interview police conducted with Helfrich months after the accident. Baricevic argued that the officers did not inform Helfrich of his Miranda rights.

In an application for a search warrant after the crash, Belleville Police Detective Robert Wallace stated that police wanted to search Helfrich’s 2009 GMC Sierra to collect the event data recorder box and any evidence “related to the consumption, use or possession“ of alcohol, marijuana or other controlled substances.

An event data recorder is a device installed in some vehicles that records information related to accidents.

The affidavit detailed the initial crash investigation and stated that emergency medical workers told police they smelled alcohol on Helfrich before taking him to Saint Louis University Hospital. In addition, Wallace also wrote that officers found cold cans of Stag beer and prescription pill bottles.

“The vehicle was towed pursuant to department policy and inventoried, and cold cans of Stag and prescription pill bottles were located in the GMC,” Wallace wrote in the affidavit.

However, Baricevic argued in a motion that it is Helfrich’s “belief that is not accurate in that there were no cold cans of Stag beer in his truck.” Baricevic argued that the information about the cold Stag being included in the application for a search warrant could have misled the court. And without that information, there wouldn’t have been probable cause for a judge to issue the warrant for officers to search the truck and its data recorder, Baricevic argued.

The search warrant was authorized by a judge, and Wallace filed a supplemental report stating he had seized the data recorder from the truck on July 11.

Baricevic declined to comment on the matter Thursday, as did prosecuting attorneys.

Helfrich - recent
Kevin G. Helfrich

The other motion filed, asking that the interview be thrown out, argues that Helfrich was interviewed by police on Oct. 16. Helfrich had been charged in the case at the time of the interview, which Baricevic said police knew, but he was not arrested until the day after, on Oct. 17.

Baricevic argued that Helfrich’s rights were violated because no Miranda warnings were provided and therefore the interview cannot be used as evidence at the trial.

A hearing to address the defense motions is scheduled for Oct. 29.

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 the car’s two occupants: 37-year-old John Bannister and 36-year-old Daryl Harton.

The men, described by family as soul mates, were out that night celebrating their anniversary.

Daryl and John (1)
Daryl Harton (left) and John Bannister (right) Provided

The July 2017 DUI charge filed in connection with the crash 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 previous 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 prosecutors, State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly told the BND in July 2017.

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

Dana Rieck: 618-239-2642, @ByDanaRieck
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