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Driver facing charges following wild ride through city

Dustin Daniel Heltman was indeed behind the wheel of a Dodge Caravan that “engaged in a spree of vehicular offending” in Prince George November 14, 2015.

Justice T.S. Woods said, in a ruling released this week, that the identity of the driver was the only real issue in the case and ruled that Heltman was the driver.

The spree began with a rear-end collision on Highway 97 near the College of New Caledonia.  According to the ruling, Geoffrey McDonald was driving his Tacoma pickup truck south in the outside lane on Highway 97, towing a small utility trailer.

McDonald was hit from behind. The Dodge Caravan, with a damaged hood and grill, pulled into the passing lane and accelerated past McDonald. The driver, according to McDonald, was covering his face.

It was obvious to McDonald the driver was not going to stop and exchange information about the accident, so McDonald followed him in an attempt to get the licence plate number of the Caravan. He also called 911 to report the hit and run.

The Dodge Caravan swerved across a lane of traffic and turned left onto 22nd Avenue. McDonald estimated the Caravan’s speed during this manoeuvre to be 70-80 km/h and accelerating.

McDonald continued to follow the Caravan, still in the hope of getting the full licence plate number.  He observed smoke and steam escaping from its front end as it accelerated and widened the distance between it and his own pickup truck.

The Caravan proceeded east on Massey Drive and continued to accelerate. By that time police were arriving on the scene and Constable Brent Moerike, in a police SUV was heading west on Massey Drive and noticed the van with the smashed in grill and steaming radiator.

Moerike pulled a U-turn on Massey drive near the entrance to the YMCA parking lot and pursued the Caravan.

The Caravan did not respond but, rather, turned onto 20th Avenue and proceeded at an estimated speed of 100 km/h through a yellow light and onto Highway 16, according to the ruling.

Believing that it was unsafe to continue a high-speed pursuit, Moerike de-activated his emergency equipment, slowed his own rate of speed and continued to follow the Caravan.  He then saw it weave through traffic and drive eastward through the intersection of Highway 16 and Spruce Street when the light controlling eastbound traffic was red.  The suspect used a westbound lane to do so, still at a high rate of speed.  In Moerike’s words: “He drove through at such a rate of speed that his wheels were actually when he hit the bumps leaving the roadway.”

The Caravan eventually ended up on Quince Street. When Moerike arrived he saw a man running toward him with the Caravan, with the driver’s door open, behind him. Moerike determined that the man running toward him was the driver of the van and tried to stop him but the suspect jumped a fence and escaped.

The van was searched and the investigation led police to arrest Heltman.

The only real question was whether Heltman was the driver of the Caravan, which Justice Woods determined to be the case. Heltman will now face charges of dangerous driving, failing to stop for a police officer, failing to stop at an accident, driving while prohibited, and driving without due care and attention.

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