Air Force Tech Sgt. David L. Helm faces a world of trouble.
The Air Force charged Helm, 30, with desertion on Thursday, or 10 days after police arrested him in Reno, Nevada. He was arrested June 8 — the same day he was set to face a court martial at Scott Air Force Base on charges he sexually abused two females, one of whom was younger than 16. Helm is also accused of videotaping “the private area” of the second victim.
Helm on Friday was in custody at Scott awaiting a new trial date. If convicted on all counts, he faces maximum penalties that could keep him locked up at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for decades.
Meanwhile, Angeline Helm, the non-commissioned officer’s mother, ponders what could have gone so wrong for her only child.
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“He grew up in a Christian family,” she said. “We did our best to teach him right and do right.”
Angeline Helm lives with her husband, Richard, in the eastern Tennessee town of LaFollette. Just before Helm disappeared on May 5, he told friends he planned to ride his motorcycle from Scott to LaFollette. Instead, Helm headed west to Nevada.
During a short stay in Las Vegas, Helm knocked two items off a personal “bucket list” — skydiving and driving a McLaren P1 race car around an oval track — according to the Nevada Highway Patrol officer who arrested Helm outside Reno after stopping the airman for a broken tail light.
Angeline Helm called her son “ a good boy” during a phone interview with a News-Democrat reporter. She said she had no clue as to what led to his current legal problems.
“I tell everybody it’s the devil trying to get us down, not him,” she said. “I don’t know what happened. It was a freak thing that nobody knows.”
Angeline Helm recalled her son as a little boy with curly hair.
“And when he got his first haircut, he said, ‘cut it straight,’” she said. “Everybody was calling him a little girl. He was so cute.”
Something changed with her son when he joined the Air Force, she said.
“He grew up as a Christian. He was a good boy until he entered the Air Force,” she said. “I think something changes when they go into the Air Force, I don’t know.”
Desertion is one of the most serious charges that can be leveled against a member of the U.S. military. If the military member deserts during a time of war and to avoid hazardous or important duty, then he or she could in theory face the death penalty or life imprisonment.
However, since the Civil War, just one American service member has ever been executed for desertion — Private Eddie Slovik in 1945.
After a preliminary hearing, Air Force officials will determine whether to refer the charges to a general court-martial. If the charges are referred, a new court date will be set.
During the two years David Helm lived in a Swansea apartment while stationed at Scott, he racked up three traffic tickets for speeding: one in Oct. 2014 for driving 15 to 20 mph above the speed limit; another in March for the same offense; and a third in April, driving 21 to 25 mph above the speed limit, according to St. Clair County court records.
Even if she doesn’t know what led her son on the path to his current legal troubles, Angeline Helm is certain of one thing: “We still love him no matter what.”
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.