State EMA director arrested for DUI

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 17, 2002

BNI News Service

Lee Helms, Alabama’s deputy director of homeland security and the Executive Director of Alabama EMA operations, was arrested and charged for driving under the influence following a Wednesday night accident.

The accident, which occurred at 8:50 p.m. in the northbound lane of Interstate 65 near Calera, landed 74-year-old twins in the hospital and Helms in the Shelby County Jail.

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According to officials with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, Helms was released on bond from the jail, located in Columbiana.

"Really, all I can say is that I’m very sorry and I made a mistake," Helms told The Advertiser Friday. "I’m going to have to be treated like anyone else."

Although Helms admits to the charges, he did not feel his job was threatened.

"I love my job," Helms said, adding nothing has changed with his jobs. "I will continue to do the best I can do, even better."

While Gov. Don Siegelman was not available for comment on the incident, his press secretary, Carrie Kurlander, said the he was "very disappointed."

"As many people know the governor and his wife were struck by a drunk driver in the early 80s that nearly took his wife’s (Lori) life," Kurlander said. "The governor was very disappointed and has turned the matter over to his chief of staff."

Helms, 47, joined the EMA in 1979 – the day after Hurricane Frederick struck south Alabama. He later became director of operations and in 1995 Gov. Fob James appointing him head of the agency.

In November, Gov. Don Siegelman reappointed Helms to executive operations officer and active assistant director, with Adjutant Gen. Willie Alexander to be in charge of the agency. However, Alexander, when meeting with the staff, made it clear he has to run the Alabama National Guard and that Helms will, in effect, run the agency on a day-to-day basis.

According to the EMA’s website, Helms’ responsibilities are to "supervise and participate in preparation and submission of reports, general office correspondence and special interest suspense items. Supervises the development of standard operating procedures for state operations plans."

The twins, Lee and Leon Miller, were treated at Baptist Medical Center-Shelby in Alabaster and later released. According to Department of Public Safety records, the twins were in a 1968 Chevrolet Impala, while Helms was in a 1995 pickup.

Note: Advertiser senior staff writer Ed Howell contributed to this report.