A Gretna man will serve 6 to 8 years in prison following his sentence Friday in Dawson County District Court on a charge of Felony Motor Vehicle Homicide. Elijah Helms will also serve a concurrent term of 3 years for Driving Under The Influence of Alcohol while Causing Serious Bodily Injury. Helms was 20-years-old at the time of the accident on October 29, 2016. Helms was driving a car on Interstate 80 near Lexington when it went into the median and struck an oncoming vehicle in the opposite lanes. A passenger in his vehicle, 19-year-old Lexa Douglas of Omaha, died at the scene. Helms and four others were injured. A second charge of Driving Under the Influence-Causing Serious Bodily Injury along with Driving Under the Influence and Driving Under Suspension were dismissed. His driver’s license is revoked for 15 years.
Of Douglas, District Judge Jim Doyle said “she’s gone, never to come back. Everything that she represented, all her potentials, all her beauty, all her spirit is gone.” Two of the injured required lengthy hospital stays and one has had multiple surgeries. Judge Doyle continued that “these are all the things you got to think about” when you make the decision to drink and drive.
Judge Doyle told Helms that people don’t think of the consequences when they make the decision to drink and drive.
Prior to sentencing, Dawson County Deputy Attorney Matt Neher said Helms had a blood alcohol content well over the legal limit at the time. He said there are a variety of sentences and penalties that can be imposed, depending on culpability. “In this case someone died and two other ladies had their lives irreparably changed on the day Mr. Helms was driving this vehicle. Mr. Helms made choices that day that affected his life but, it affected three other’s lives in a way that can’t be changed.”
Neher spoke of the occupants in the other vehicle. One suffered over $133,000 in medical costs and counseling bills. He said it impacted her earning capacity as an author. She is also a bereavement counselor and retired nurse. The other occupant sustained an estimated $750,000 in damages, 17 surgeries and continues to be wheelchair bound because of the accident.
Defense Attorney Brian Copley said that Helms didn’t set out to kill or hurt anybody that day but, he did make the intentional decision to drink and drive. Copley said Helms has expressed contrition to him in the time he has represented him. While Helms has been struggling to handle the aftermath, Copley said Helms was ready to face the consequences of what happened and “ready to accept his punishment.” Helms’ mother read a letter to the court that she had also submitted in writing.
In an affidavit, a Nebraska State Patrol investigator wrote that Helms was driving a Ford Focus, westbound on Interstate 80 on October 29, 2016 when the vehicle left the roadway around 4:50pm. It crossed the median, entered the eastbound lanes of traffic before being struck by an eastbound Honda CRV. Douglas was a right front passenger in the vehicle Helms was driving.
A later search warrant of the Ford Focus collected data from the Air Bag Control Module that recorded a speed of 88mph just before the collision, which was considered consistent with other aspects of the NSP’s investigation. Medical records on two different blood draws on the driver indicated they exceeded the Blood Alcohol Content limit.