Jessamine County

Jessamine woman sentenced again in crash that killed 4

NICHOLASVILLE — A Jessamine County woman was sentenced Thursday to 24 years in prison on charges stemming from a 2006 crash that killed three children and led to the death of an adult.

Melissa Helton pleaded guilty last month to four counts of wanton murder, one count of wanton endangerment and driving under the influence.

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

It was the second time Helton was sentenced in the fatal crash. She pleaded guilty to the same charges in 2008, but the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down her 24-year sentence in 2009, saying a new suppression hearing should be held to determine whether police had probable cause to think Helton was impaired before a blood test was performed. Jessamine Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty ruled in March that deputy sheriffs had reason to believe Helton was driving under the influence even before a blood test was taken.

Before Daugherty sentenced Helton on Thursday, public defender Susanne McCollough read a statement expressing Helton's remorse about the deaths.

Afterward, Helton's husband, Gary, expressed his dissatisfaction with the sentence. He said a 10-year sentence would have been better.

"It's a hard thing to swallow," Gary Helton said. "I'm not saying she shouldn't serve time."

This was his wife's first DUI, he said, and many first-time offenders receive less severe sentences. But he also acknowledged that in those cases children and deaths were not involved.

"There's not a day goes by that I don't miss my son," Gary Helton said. "I feel for the families, I really do. Emily and Caleb were like my children. They were at my house. Melissa fed them and took care of them."

He said his wife has received treatment for alcoholism, a problem with which she suffered for years.

Helton's daughter Madison, now 13, who survived the crash, stood by her father.

Madison Helton said she is fine, "but every once in a while I get sad."