Millington man 'poster child' for reckless, uninsured drivers - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Millington man 'poster child' for reckless, uninsured drivers

Millington man 'poster child' for reckless, uninsured drivers

Christopher Helfin has a long rap sheet, but the latest items on his list are driving on a suspended license without proof of insurance. (Photo Source: TCSO) Christopher Helfin has a long rap sheet, but the latest items on his list are driving on a suspended license without proof of insurance. (Photo Source: TCSO)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

Tougher penalties against nearly a million Tennessee uninsured drivers may be in jeopardy, even as a Mid-South man personifies the danger those drivers pose to responsible citizens.

Feb. 6, Christopher Heflin of Millington/Drummonds, TN, slammed a GMC Suburban into Jaime Moskovitz's Infiniti SUV. He hit the East Memphis woman's vehicle on Mendenhall Rd., just north of Poplar Ave.

The accident report declared Heflin at fault, with "no driver's license, no insurance."

"Someone who is driving without insurance or without a license has no sense of personal responsibility," Moskovitz said. "He hit me so hard that my sunglasses went flying into the back seat."

It was the third time in nine years Heflin has been charged with either driving without a license, without insurance or without valid registration. In Tipton County alone, Heflin's rap sheet lists 33 incidences -- DUI, marijuana possession, reckless driving, felony evading arrest, aggravated burglary, plus multiple motor vehicle violations.

Prior to the Feb. 6 crash, Heflin's last run-in with police was in Atoka, TN, last October. According to records, police cited him for driving on a suspended license and violation of Tennessee's financial responsibility (proof of insurance) law.

Tipton County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Donna Turner said Heflin negotiated a plea-bargain with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to the suspended license charge in exchange for dropping the insurance violation.

Turner said he received a suspended jail sentence of 11 months/29 days, paid $150 in fines and was back on the street.

Three months later, Heflin smashed into Moskovitz -- and once again, he was found without a valid driver's license or insurance.

"Oh, my God," gasped Moskovitz. "Are you serious? What is he doing still driving around?"

According to PropertyCasualty.com, 20 percent of Tennessee's drivers -- nearly a million -- are driving around without insurance. The state ranks sixth in the nation in uninsured drivers.

State law requires Tennessee drivers to carry auto liability coverage and to provide proof of insurance when stopped by law enforcement. But violating the law is a misdemeanor -- a $100 fine -- and the law does not give police the authority to take a violator into custody or to impound the vehicle.

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators are working with policymakers to support legislation that would triple the fines, seize the tags and tow the cars of violators. The effort is inspired by the death of 30-year-old James Lee Atwood, killed by uninsured driver Roderick Maggett of Cordova last summer in a crash on Shelby Dr. Maggett is charged with vehicular homicide and violation of the state's proof of insurance law. His case is before a Shelby County grand jury.

The proposal would also seek to create a database that would randomly check Tennessee vehicles' registration for proof of insurance. Drivers whose registration indicated no insurance would receive notice that their registrations would be revoked unless they secured insurance on those vehicles.

Tennessee vehicle registration is regulated by the Tennessee Department of Revenue through the state's elected county clerks. Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn, president of the Tennessee County Clerks Association, said under the current proposal's language, it is unclear how such a database would be implemented.

"How is the database going to be updated?" Mashburn asked. "Who is going to maintain the database? Is it going to be the insurance companies? Is it going to be the (state) department of revenue? How are we going to have access to it?"

Tennessee lawmakers have also considered requiring drivers to show proof of insurance before they can renew their vehicle registrations. But Mashburn said if that isn't automated, "...we could add one to two minutes for every (renewal) transaction we do. We do over 600,000 transactions a year. You add one or two minutes, and you're going to have lines out the door."

"Showing proof when tags are renewed was included in the first draft, but it didn't appear feasible because there isn't a very good real-time computer system that could confirm coverage quickly," said TN Rep. William Lamberth, (R) Cottontown, the lead sponsor of the proposal's house version. "I don't want to put a burden on the (county) clerks."

Moskovitz suggested lawmakers concentrate on real consequences for violators. "I think you're definitely going to need a more tangible consequence, such as seizing the car," she said.

Reached by phone, Heflin said, "I am trying to get insured. I don't believe (contacting me) is right, and I don't approve of it, and I don't appreciate it. I'm trying to be very nice, and I'm not going to conversate with you any longer because it is my privacy."

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