Standing six-foot-six, Erik Helffenstein was often described by his friends and family as a “gentle giant.”
His mother, Carolyn Helffenstein explained he was “a rock” for the family, including his wife and children, while his father, Gary Helffenstein described him as a follower of Christ and a “protector.”
Speaking via Zoom from their home in Buffalo, New York, Erik Helffenstein’s parents said they will never forget learning of his unexpected passing.
“We just got the call in the morning, you know, that Erik is dead. It was just so surreal,” Carolyn Helffenstein told News 2. “It’s always been surreal that something that violent happened to our son who was only trying to protect his family.”
Around 1:30 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 29, 2018, Metro police said Helffenstein spotted burglars breaking into a car parked outside of his home on Meadow Ridge Circle in the Traceside subdivision of Bellevue.
Detectives determined the 45-year-old, a husband and father, went outside to confront those burglars, but they drove off in a stolen black Nissan Rogue. Helffenstein chased after them in his own vehicle, driving down Highway 100.
“The perpetrators then shot four shots into his car,” explained Gary Helffenstein. “One of them went through the window, which I guess offered little resistance, and entered in on the back side and pierced his lungs.”
Erik Helffenstein swerved off the road and into a field. When first responders arrived, they attempted to revive him, but he did not survive.
“We got that midnight ring and you can’t drown out the crushing pain that we felt,” Gary Helffenstein said. “The uncontrollable chaos is the way I describe it.”
Metro detectives said the Nissan Rogue had been stolen from a home in Mt. Juliet hours before the murder of Erik Helffenstein. The Rogue was later found abandoned two days later — Oct. 31 — at Highlands at the Lake Apartments on Arbor Lake Boulevard in Hermitage.
About seven hours after the fatal shooting, police said credit cards that belonged to the owner of the stolen SUV were used at the Kroger on Gallatin Avenue near Eastland Avenue. Investigators identified the two men with the stolen credit cards as Cordarius Smith, 22, and Lavonta Blanch, 23.
Online court records indicate both men pleaded guilty to charges of criminal impersonation.
Detectives said they questioned Smith and Blanch about Helffenstein’s murder, but they provided no significant information.
“It’s my personal feeling that the perpetrators, if not the actual person that pulled the trigger, that there was a gang that was involved,” Gary Helffenstein said. “It’s an organized crime ring, you might say, but think of what they’re doing. They’re going out and doing petty burglaries and rifling cars for the sake of immediate money, most likely for the purchase of drugs.”
At the very least, the Helffensteins believe Smith and Blanch know something about what happened to their son.
If you have any information that could help in the investigation, you are urged to contact Nashville Crime Stoppers at 615-74-CRIME.
News 2 is digging deeper into Tennessee’s most notorious unsolved cases.