Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007

Drunk driver pleads guilty in death of Northwest teacher

E-mail this article \ Print this article

The Bethesda man who was driving a pick-up truck that caused a collision in Frederick last summer and killed a popular Northwest High School art teacher has pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter.

David E. Helms, 44, pleaded guilty in Frederick County Circuit Court on Feb. 7 to manslaughter by motor vehicle and one count of driving while intoxicated in connection with the July 11 collision on an Interstate 70 ramp.

Leonard Cave, 61, a noted sculptor who worked primarily in Plexiglas, wood, stone and metal mediums, died in the crash. A passenger was critically injured.

For Cave’s friends and family, the guilty plea is a relief, but it does not diminish the sting they feel over their loss.

‘‘For me, it’s getting worse,” said Carolyn Gipe, the passenger in Cave’s car the night of the accident. ‘‘The longer I have to be without him — he’s my best friend — the greater the pain. He’s not in my life anymore. We were with each other every day.”

Gipe, who lives upcounty, returned to her job as the choral music teacher at Northwest High School on Monday. She suffered serious injuries in the accident.

‘‘My physical injuries are challenging, for sure,” she said in an interview Monday night. ‘‘My loss of him — I’d give all of my limbs to have him back. And that’s the truth.”

Helms was driving a Dodge Ram pick-up truck west on I-70 at the ramp to Route 355 when he lost control. The truck struck the driver’s side of Cave’s Toyota Sienna minivan, police said.

Gipe attended the Feb. 7 hearing where Helms — who was driving without a license — pleaded guilty, she said.

‘‘His overall demeanor was a little uncomfortable to be around,” she said of Helms. ‘‘It’s difficult to know how he’s responding to his actions. It doesn’t seem like he knows that he, and the choices he made, are responsible for this.”

Helms’ attorney could not be reached for comment.

Cave’s three brothers, who live in the South, were not at last week’s hearing but plan to travel to Frederick at the end of the month for Helms’ sentencing.

‘‘There are so many things that I would have liked to tell him,” Cave’s younger brother Phillip Cave said during a telephone interview from his South Carolina home. ‘‘He was just my hero. I always wanted to be like him.”

His brothers and Gipe recalled Cave as a loving, humble man who saw the good in people. Many, including his brothers, weren’t aware that his sculpture was exhibited all over the world.

‘‘It was really moving,” Gipe said of the times when she watched him work. ‘‘He was really passionate about his art and the impact it had on people.”

At Northwest, Cave sought to help students achieve their potential.

‘‘He could reach people other people couldn’t reach. He took the most needy, the most downtrodden of students and helped them find a way to honor themselves, and to desire to be better,” Gipe said.

Part of his desire, she said, came from Cave’s experiences growing up in rural South Carolina.

Cave’s father died when he was a teenager and the family worked hard to take care of each other, Cecil Cave, the oldest brother, said Monday night from his home in North Carolina.

‘‘It’s a beautiful story about how we worked together, because we really didn’t have anything to start with except wonderful parents,” he said.

Leonard Cave went through most of his younger years with Tourette’s Syndrome, but it went undiagnosed.

‘‘He was taunted and teased and treated as if he was not worthwhile,” Gipe said, adding that though he eventually outgrew many symptoms, he occasionally had a facial tic while teaching.

He studied art at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., on an academic and athletic scholarship. Even there, there was adversity to overcome.

Cave was a pole vaulter at the school. During a competition, he was the fifth person to use the wooden pole and ‘‘when he was upright, the pole snapped in half and he broke his back,” Gipe said. Cave then began a ‘‘very long recovery.”

He persevered, and devoted himself even more to his sculpture, which he primarily carved with a chain saw.

Years later, Cave took a train north to attend University of Maryland, where he pursued a master’s degree in fine arts, with ‘‘$60 in his pocket,” his older brother Blanchard Cave said Monday night from his home in South Carolina.

Cave visited his brothers several times a year.

The last time he visited Blanchard, he bought a trunk of a tall cedar tree to carve, and the two ‘‘cut it up and loaded it up in his van.”

‘‘When he came home, he wanted to talk about everyone else, and not about himself,” Phillip Cave said.

There were thoughtful discussions.

Both Cecil Cave, a Baptist preacher, and Gipe would talk with Leonard often about spirituality and God. After the death of his father and other difficulties in life, Leonard ‘‘left his faith behind,” Gipe told The Gazette in an e-mail.

‘‘We would talk, seriously, the two of us, on his spiritual pilgrimage,” Cecil said. ‘‘I’d give him a book and he’d read it, and we’d discuss it on the telephone.”

Eventually, he returned to faith.

‘‘We worshiped together,” Gipe said. ‘‘We sang while he played the guitar. We planted trees and flowers in his yard, took long walks while watching butterflies, birds and caterpillars. We spent hours talking about life and living.”

Gipe, who said she and Cave were kindred spirits, described her first day back at school as ‘‘very emotional,” but she’s encouraged students and staff to tell her stories about her close friend.

‘‘For me, the worst thing to do if I lose someone who I really loved, is to pretend they never lived,” she said. ‘‘I want to hear about him, and I want people to tell me Lenny stories because I miss him so much.”

Impact statements

Leonard Cave’s friends and family ask those who knew him to file victim impact statements to be read at the sentencing of David Helms.

Statements should be sent by Feb. 21 to Ms. Kirsten N. Brown, Assistant State’s Attorney, 100 West Patrick St., Frederick, MD 21701.