Felony charges filed against driver in wrong-way, double-fatal crash

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.

A 54-year-old New Athens man had allegedly been drinking when he drove the wrong way down Illinois 15 in Belleville and caused the head-on accident that killed two men early Saturday morning, according to police and charges filed Tuesday.

This new filing is the fifth time Kevin G. Helfrich will appear in St. Clair County court on allegations that he was intoxicated while driving. In addition to Tuesday’s felony charge of aggravated DUI resulting in death, Helfrich faces two felony counts of reckless homicide in the deaths of 37-year-old John Bannister and 36-year-old Daryl Harton — who were celebrating their anniversary at the time of the accident.

Bannister’s family issued a statement Tuesday afternoon through their lawyer, Craig Schlapprizzi.

“We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time for our family,” the family wrote. “The world has changed since John and Daryl are no longer here; there is a void in our hearts that will never be filled. John and Daryl were selfless people that would help anybody and could light up a room just by walking in. They never met anyone that was considered a stranger; everyone they came into contact with felt instantly connected. Even in the darkest of times, they could make you feel as if it would all be OK.”

Helfrich 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However, a court order signed by St. Clair County Associate Judge William Clay indicates the suspension was rescinded a month later due to errors on the police officer’s sworn report. St. Clair County 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.”

Helfrich 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.

In two of those cases, police officers reported he had been pulled over for driving the wrong way.

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.

Judge Jan Fiss set Helfrich’s bail at $750,000. He was not listed as an inmate in St. Clair County on Tuesday evening and was last known to be a patient at Saint Louis University Hospital. Helfrich was in “critical but stable condition” Tuesday, according to a news release from the Belleville Police Department.