Helm pleads guilty to careless driving | PostIndependent.com

Helm pleads guilty to careless driving

RIFLE – Firefighter Megan Helm will plead guilty to one count of careless driving for the rollover accident that killed five firefighters last summer, according to a plea agreement filed Wednesday.

Ninth District Attorney Mac Myers originally charged Helm, 21, of La Grande, Ore., with 10 counts of careless driving resulting in death or bodily injury.

She was driving a Ford F-350 15-passenger van loaded with 11 firefighters on Interstate 70 near Parachute on June 21, 2002, when the van rolled, killing five. The firefighters were headed to Castle Rock to fight the Hayman Fire.

Garfield County Judge Steven Carter ordered Helm’s attorney, John Hugger of Evergreen, to disclose by Wednesday whether Helm would accept a plea bargain or go to trial.

Although the plea agreement is in place, Helm must appear in Rifle County Court on Feb. 26 to formally enter her plea to the careless driving charge. The original charges were dismissed.

The Class II misdemeanor could cost her $10 to $300 in fines and up to 90 days in county jail.

Carter called for the plea decision by Wednesday because if Helm pleaded innocent and required a trial, witnesses would need to be notified.

A Colorado State Patrol report said Helm may have been reaching for something when the van veered onto the median of I-70. Helm overcorrected in trying to regain control, causing the van to roll four times, ejecting five firefighters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said rollover rates of similar 15-passenger vans built by U.S. automakers are three times higher than the rollover rate for standard vans, when carrying 10 or more passengers.

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