Man changes plea in crash that killed HFD veteran

  • Christopher Hemlinger. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)

KAILUA-KONA — Jury trial is off the calendar for the 21-year-old Waimea man charged in the May traffic death of a Hawaii Fire Department captain.

Christopher Raymond Helmlinger on Wednesday pleaded no contest to manslaughter in connection with the multiple-car wreck that killed David Mahon, a 49-year-old Kailua-Kona man who had a lengthy career with the fire department. The change of plea came less than a week before jury trial was set to commence on Tuesday.

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“I was incredibly relieved,” said Chris Anderson, Mahon’s mother, who found out about the plea deal late Tuesday afternoon.

“The trial was set for next week and the thought of going to trial was just really heavy on my heart for everyone.”

In exchange for his plea to the Class A felony, prosecutors agreed to drop the lesser charge of second-degree negligent homicide, a Class C felony, according to court documents.

The agreement further stipulates that while manslaughter carries a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, prosecutors will recommend Helmlinger be sentenced as a young adult defendant and that he serve no more than eight years in prison.

Helmlinger may request probation.

“Justice isn’t going to come through how much time Christopher spends in prison,” Anderson said of the youthful sentencing recommendation.

“He needs to be made accountable, but I don’t want it to ruin the rest of his life. I certainly don’t want him to end up a hardened criminal or angry. I want him to be accountable and serve the time that the judge feels that he needs to do and come out a stronger, more aware person.”

Kona Circuit Court Judge Melvin H. Fujino ordered a presentence investigation report for Helmlinger and set sentencing for Jan. 31, 2020.

The judge is not bound to the agreement and could sentence Helmlinger to the full 20-year term, according to the agreement.

Helmlinger, who was indicted by a grand jury on June 10, remains out of custody, having posted bail of $100,000 two days after the fatal crash near mile marker 14 on Mamalahoa Highway in North Kona.

Police say Helmlinger was driving a Kona-bound Honda Pilot and overtaking several vehicles in a no-passing zone when he collided head-on with the motorcycle that Mahon was operating the morning of May 22. Mahon, an 18-year veteran of the Hawaii Fire Department, who earlier this year became a fire captain in Hilo, was headed to work in Hilo at the time of the fatal crash.

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A third vehicle, a white Jeep Grand Cherokee, was also involved in the wreck. Neither Helmlinger nor the driver of the Jeep required medical attention.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Frye said he was unable to comment on the case. Attempts to reach Helmlinger’s attorney, Michael Schlueter, were unsuccessful on Friday.

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