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Judge finds probable cause in Jessamine woman's 2006 DUI case

NICHOLASVILLE — Police had probable cause to think a Jessamine County woman was drunk after a 2006 crash that killed three children and led to the death of an adult passenger, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Citing testimony taken during a hearing ordered by the Kentucky Supreme Court, Jessamine Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty said deputy sheriffs had reason to believe Melissa Helton was driving under the influence even before a blood test was taken.

On Aug. 22, 2006, Helton was driving a minivan that crashed and killed her 12-year-old son, Nicholas, and two other children, Emily Ann Preston, 10, and Caleb Hildenbrandt, 11. Lori Latham, 40, a passenger in the van, died in November 2006 of injuries from the crash south of Nicholasville.

In 2008, Helton pleaded guilty to four counts of wanton murder. Last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down her 24-year sentence, saying a new suppression hearing should be held to determine whether police had probable cause before the blood test was done to think Helton was impaired.

Daugherty said police did have probable cause and referred to Wednesday's testimony from Deputy Kalen Hall that Helton smelled of alcohol at the crash scene, had slurred speech and "glassy, watery eyes." And when Hall asked whether she had been drinking, Helton responded, "Whatever."

Deputy Scott Carnes also testified he saw empty and full beer bottles in a cooler inside the van

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