Helfer car crash case closed

Almost a year since the car-house accident, the Donald Helfer case was finally resolved on January 11.

In a McHenry County felony bench trial, Helfer, who is 85 years old, entered a plea of guilty to two counts of aggravated drunken driving causing great bodily harm, a Class 4 felony. Judge Sharon L. Prather handed down a sentence that is a five-part combination of punishment and reclamation.

Donald Helfer. (Photo provided)

Donald Helfer. (Photo provided)

Helfer was assessed a fine of $3,581.00, two years of probation, 180 days in the county jail, participation in a victim impact panel, and attendance at DUI school. The jail sentence was stayed by Judge Prather, on the condition that Helfer completes all of the other parts of the sentence properly. Helfer has remained free on a $15,000 bond he posted a few days after the accident.

This judgment is the end result of an incident that occurred on February 4, 2017, at about 11:30 p.m. Police reports said Helfer was alone in his 2005 Mercury Grand Marquis as he proceeded southbound on Hemmer Road. He drove through a stop sign at Hemmer and Del Webb Boulevard, traveled over a berm behind homes on Honeysuckle Drive in Neighborhood 14, and crashed into the back of the home of John and Mary Arneson, 13350 Honeysuckle.

Sunnie Ferro, who lives next door to the Arnesons and is a friend of theirs, said she heard a “humongous” crash and rushed over to the Arneson home.

“The vehicle crashed through a window and wall in the Arneson’s bedroom,” she said. “Mary was pinned on the floor between the wall and the bed. She was unable to move. John let me in, but he was bloodied. I called 911.”

Helfer was uninjured, but both Arnesons were taken to area hospitals. John received only slight injuries, but Mary suffered a stroke a few days later and died in Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, about eight weeks after the accident.

When she learned about the sentence last week, Ferro was strongly disappointed.

“It doesn’t require the driver to pay a commensurate penalty for his actions,” she said. “What’s been done to the Arnesons and to our community is a travesty. She placed her goodness on everyone she knew and met. The driver deserves to pay a serious consequence, and we deserve justice. Unfortunately, there is no justice. John still lives in the house, and he is suffering. I hope we don’t have to read about another person who dies this way in the future.”

This is the second car-house incident at this location in the past 10 years, Ferro said.

“I have lived here through this whole time and I have experienced both accidents. In the first one, the vehicle didn’t hit the house. In the second, the consequences were terrible,” she said.

Ferro also said she appreciates the work the village did placing the large rocks on the berm behind the Arneson home, which is located immediately next to the Del Webb-Hemmer intersection. The village hired a landscape contractor to place the rocks last spring, at a cost of more than $6,000.

“The village did a good job with the rocks, but it was too late for the Arnesons,” Ferro said.

Ferro was part of a large group of N14 residents who asked the village to take protective action at this location, and investigate the possibility for similar action at other locations in Sun City. This was the second similar incident in Sun City last winter. In the other one, a driver on James Dhamer Road lost control of his vehicle and it left the road, crashed through a fence and damaged some back yard structures and plantings behind a home on the far south side of the community. Fortunately, no one was injured in that incident.

The Honeysuckle accident was investigated by the Huntley Police Department, the Northern Illinois regional Crime Laboratory, and the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office.

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