A year ago, Clarence Helgevold Jr. was drunk when he got behind the wheel. His actions led to the death of George Larion.
On Wednesday, Helgevold, 60, was sentenced to eight years with three and a half suspended for criminally negligent homicide, and one year with six months suspended for misdemeanor driving under the influence. He will serve five years in prison.
Helgevold changed his plea to guilty last May, reducing the original charge of manslaughter, which would’ve imposed a longer jail sentence.
The original charges stem from a Jan. 19, 2010 incident in which Helgevold hit the 46-year-old Larion’s snowmachine with his car. Larion was thrown from the snowmachine and died from his injuries on-scene, near the intersection of Brown’s Lake Road and Seclusion Street off of Funny River Road.
Courtroom 2 at the Kenai Courthouse filled with Larion’s family, as well as Helgevold’s family. Bursts of grief were heard throughout the sentencing.
A plainclothes Helgevold appeared in court looking worn, rubbing his eyes as the sentencing began.
Angela Garay, assistant district attorney, conveyed the family’s desire that Helgevold accept responsibility for his mistake.
“This will send a message about DUIs to everyone out there who has considered drinking and driving,” Garay said. “This can be the end result. Someone dies and someone spends a significant amount of time in jail.”
Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran heard comments from Larion’s family and friends.
Barbara Larion, the victim’s wife, struggled for words to describe the eve of the tragedy that changed her life as well as her family’s lives.
She recalled coming home from work to find an excited George, who was planning a trapping excursion for the following day. In the morning, Barbara said she told George to have a good trip, and she went to work.
At 4:30 p.m., she received a call from her daughter Melinda, who was distraught beyond consoling. An unidentified law enforcement official then picked up the phone, telling Barbara to drive home “very carefully.”
She said she expected something had happened to George, but didn’t expect news of his death.
“This year has been very, very hard,” the widow said. “I didn’t think people’s hearts could literally break. I’m tired of crying, and I don’t know how to help my kids’ grief.
“I know our story is tragic and sad, like others, but it’s worse ... I don’t know how to make people stop drinking and driving.”
Charlene Wood, an aunt of the victim, traveled from Washington to share similar sentiments with the court. She listed all the amenities Helgevold would receive in prison: meals, warm clothes and medical care. She compared the plentiful provisions to the widow’s current economic woes.
“As you receive these things Mr. Helgevold, I hope you will occasionally think about the difficulties my niece now faces,” Wood said. “She is now working three jobs, often leaving at 3:30 in the morning and not getting home until 7 in order to make her mortgage payments.”
Helgevold rubbed his eyes as he sat listening to Wood’s speech.
Eric Derleth, defense attorney, spoke on his client’s behalf. He said the tragedy had caused Helgevold “great pain,” but the defendant must go on for the sake of his own family.
Derleth said he advised Helgevold to not speak because of a potential civil case.
“We’ve learned that after Mr. Larion took the wheel, he was almost at the legal limit of alcohol as well,” Derleth said. “He was at .07. That doesn’t make (the death) appropriate, but there’s responsibility on both sides of this.”
Before sentencing by Moran, Helgevold spoke briefly to the court.
“I often wish to God it was me and not him,” he said. “It should have never happened ... I’ll leave it at that.”
Moran said she was satisfied with Helgevold’s remorse and his willingness to change.
The DUI charge was Helgevold’s third offense. However, the judge took into consideration that he hadn’t had troubles with the law until he was 40. Alcohol problems must’ve emerged later in life, she noted.
Helgevold has undergone six months of alcohol treatment, and the court awarded the defendant 120 hours toward his year of mandatory treatment.
The stipulation angered Larion’s family, who were under the impression Helgevold underwent treatment prior to imprisonment for his own sake.
“Obviously the attorneys encouraged him to do that to get less time, and I don’t think that should be allowed,” Wood said. “ Rehab is rehab. If the man did the treatment for his own good maybe it should be counted, but that’s not the case.”
Wood had no comments as to whether Helgevold’s greif was genuine. She said she only wished drinking and driving laws were more strict.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.