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Holding Helm accountable

The sad story of Megan Helm appears headed to an appropriate ending with her plans to plead guilty to lesser charges stemming from a rollover accident that killed five fellow firefighters last summer near Parachute.

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. Under the deal with prosecutors, she is scheduled to plead guilty to one count of careless driving.

It’s a proper enough resolution to what has been a difficult case for Myers. Most of the families of the firefighters who died argued that charging Helm at all was not called for, given the emotional trauma she also suffered over the loss of her companions, and the extenuating circumstances of the crash.



Helm was driving a Ford F-350 15-passenger van loaded with 11 firefighters on Interstate 70 when she lost control of the vehicle and it rolled.

Rollover rates of similar 15-passenger vans are three times higher than the rollover rate for standard vans, when carrying 10 or more passengers.



Helm and her passengers were headed to participate in a valiant task, fighting the Hayman Fire on the Front Range, when the accident occurred.

Myers took all of this under consideration, but also had to recognize that at least one family felt Helm had to be held accountable for the deaths that resulted. To file no charges at all would have been to suggest that the loss of human life counts for nothing in Colorado’s court system.

At the same time, the plea bargain reflects the uniqueness of this case, and the feelings of forgiveness toward Helm expressed by most of the families involved. It also prevents a misdemeanor trial that out-of-state witnesses would have had to attend.

Helm faces between $10 and $300 in fines and up to 90 days in county jail. She should spend no time in jail for an unintended yet grievous mistake that will haunt her the rest of her life. A more appropriate way for her to meet the requirements of justice would be to be sentenced to some useful public service.

This is an area with which Helm already is quite familiar as a firefighter. The work would honor the memory of those who had been headed to Denver to risk their lives in service to others on fire’s front lines, only to die before they ever reached the battlefield.


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