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Attorney for driver in Schrock crash seeks dismissal

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Helm (The Spokesman-Review)

An attorney for Clifford Lee Helm, a Deer Park man facing vehicular homicide charges for a head-on collision that killed five children in 2005, want the charges dismissed.

Helm’s trial on five counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault is scheduled to start Feb. 25 before Spokane Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque.

But in new motions filed this week, defense attorney Carl Oreskovich says the state can’t prove Helm was doing anything illegal when he caused the crash that killed five children of Jeffrey and Carolyn Schrock, who were riding in their father’s truck on Nov. 1, 2005.

The state must prove that Helm “was driving in a reckless manner … indifferent to the consequences,” according to the motion.

Carmen, 12, Jana, 10, Carinna, 8, Jerryll, 5, and Craig, 2, were killed when Helm’s Ford pickup – traveling down the wrong side of Highway 395 – hit Jeffrey Schrock’s pickup head-on.

Last November, the Washington State Patrol completed its investigation, reporting that Helm, 57, was not drunk at the time of the accident. The WSP also subpoenaed cell phone records that showed Helm had briefly used his cell phone just before the crash.

The records showed that Helm called his wife Sandy at 4:19 p.m. She called him back at 4:20 p.m., but the call was unanswered. She then made a frantic call to 911 two minutes later, according to the WSP.

Sandy Helm was driving behind her husband at the time.

Oreskovich argues that on Nov. 1, 2005, it was “perfectly legal” to operate a motor vehicle in Washington state while using a hand-held cell phone. Helm told a police detective he doesn’t remember the accident, “other than that a truck hit him,” according to the motion.

If the court denies the motion to dismiss, Oreskovich will ask for a change of venue to Western Washington, claiming that Helm can’t get a fair trial in Spokane County due to “inflammatory and inaccurate” news coverage that has tainted the potential jury pool.

Newspaper articles are “replete with examples where Mr. Helm is blamed for the delay of the investigation because he invoked his right not to speak with law enforcement,” the motion says. The coverage was misleading because Helm did speak with a detective from the WSP, saying he didn’t recall the crash, Oreskovich says in the motion.

The defense attorney also criticizes Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker for saying that a special inquiry had to be initiated because Helm failed to speak with investigators – an “extrajudicial statement” likely to heighten public condemnation of Helm.

The prosecutor’s office will oppose the motion to dismiss, said Spokane County deputy prosecutor Clint Francis.

The new motions will be argued on Dec. 20.

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