Metro detectives are awaiting scientific analysis for leads in the murder of Erik Helffenstein last October on Highway 100 in Bellevue. No one is more hopeful for a break in the case than the victim’s family, friends and community.
“He was really the center of our family strength,” said Erik’s father Gary Helffenstein. ” He was a pillar.”
Erik was someone who people looked up to — even the man who raised him.
“I took great pride in the way he protected his brood and his neighborhood,” Gary said. “He identified with the community. He had a higher moral sense that was in him from birth, I believe.”
An instinct he carried from birth and into his death.
“He had an inherent sense of justice from day one,” his father said. “He’s always been very concerned for right things to happen.”
That’s why Gary Helffenstein thinks his son decided to chase down the people breaking into cars in his neighborhood, Traceside, in Bellevue.
Gary spoke to his son for the last time just a few hours before he died early on the morning of Oct. 29.
“He was never — I’d never seen him so happy,” Gary recalled.
Erik and his daughter, Rachel, had started a business crafting steel and wood signs.
“The neighborhood loved their examples and they had several orders,” Gary said. “He was so excited to be working with Rachel and putting this together.”
Erik and Rachel had shared their designs with their neighbors at a community event just the day before his murder.
“He had designed this on the computer and that computer was in his car,” Gary explained. “The thieves broke into the car and took his computer that had the designs on it and the orders and the whole business, you know.”
Metro officials said Erik went outside his home on Meadow Ridge Circle to confront the suspects that morning. When they fled in a black SUV, he jumped in his car and followed them.
“He [gave] chase, I think, [and] confronted the burglars, and they got in a car and ran over lawns and sped away — but who would ever think they had guns?” Gary said. “Shots were fired into the car. One went into the window, and it was just — police said a 1-in-100 shot, and it just hit him perfectly.”
His son, the protector he admired, died while protecting his family.
“That’s what he was doing,” he said. “Not only that but that sense of justice.”
Now, his family is in need of justice.
“It’s a situation where you just don’t want to believe,” Gary said. “It’s beyond the scope of comprehension.”
Nearly five months later, no arrests have been made in the murder.
But in the middle of tragedy, Gary Helffenstein says he’s faithful and grateful for the gift of his son.
“We’ve always been together as a family and we share and treasure those memories and thank the good Lord that we were gifted with his presence,” Gary said.
A few hours after Helffenstein was killed, credit cards belonging to the owner of the stolen SUV were used at a Kroger in East Nashville.
Police were able to identify two suspects in the car theft and stolen credit cards, Cordarius Smith, 22, and Lavonta Blanch, 23.
Smith is currently jailed on unrelated aggravated assault charges in Davidson County. He has also been indicted for aggravated burglary and auto theft of the Nissan Rogue in Wilson County.
Blanche is also serving time in Wilson County for an unrelated robbery case.
Police recovered the stolen Nissan Rogue that Erik Helffenstein was chasing two days later after his murder in a parking area of Highlands at the Lake Apartments on Arbor Lake Boulevard in Hermitage.
The vehicle was impounded and processed for evidence, which continues to undergo scientific testing.
Both men have been questioned by police, however, police say there is not any substantive information or evidence to link them to the murder.
Anyone with information about the criminal activities of Smith and/or Blanch, particularly during the late October 2018 timeframe, is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 615-742-7463. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and qualify for a cash reward.