Woman, 56, charged with homicide after fiery wreck - Albuquerque Journal

Woman, 56, charged with homicide after fiery wreck

Donna Helgesen

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Six months after a man was killed in a fiery crash in Northeast Albuquerque, charges have been brought against the woman who authorities say was at fault.

Donna Helgesen, 56, was charged with homicide by motor vehicle in connection with the March 12 crash that killed 62-year-old Rick Rivera. Rivera was extracted from his flaming vehicle by witnesses and pronounced dead at the scene, near Paseo del Norte and Browning.

A Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy said in a criminal complaint that at the scene of the crash, which happened during the graveyard shift, Helgesen appeared to be confused and couldn’t understand questions. At one point she said she was driving and another time she said her son was behind the wheel. Witnesses didn’t see for certain who was driving the Mazda that rear-ended Rivera’s vehicle, according to the complaint.

The complaint filed in Metropolitan Court says a search warrant was executed on the air bag control module of both vehicles. That determined the Mazda was driving over 100 mph at the time of the crash.

DNA taken from the Mazda’s steering wheel and seat belt confirmed Helgesen was the driver, according to the complaint.

Helgesen is accused of driving recklessly.

BCSO Deputy Joseph Montiel, a spokesman for the office, told the Journal that because investigators didn’t know who was driving the Mazda at the time of crash, a blood draw to test Helgesen for alcohol couldn’t immediately be completed.

Helgesen’s Linkdin page says she is the director of nursing administration at OptumHealth. An official with Optum said the company wouldn’t comment on employee matters.

Prior to that position, Helgesen had a 26-year career at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, rising to the role of director of Psychiatric Emergency/Urgent Care Services, according to the Linkdin page.

Efforts to reach her for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office has filed a motion for pretrial detention against Helgesen.

“The defendant’s criminal history is minimal but the facts of this case support detention because anyone capable of operating a vehicle with reckless disregard for the lives of others – causing the death of another, has an incentive to abscond from prosecution,” Deputy District Attorney Joey Montoya wrote in the motion.

The detention hearing is Friday.


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