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Posted on Wed. Aug. 27, 2014 - 01:15 am EDT

Bounty hunter wounded in fatal gunbattle

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It started as an attempt to arrest a man who didn’t show for court.

It ended in a barrage of gunfire that left that man dead and his brother and one of three bounty hunters shot.

The drama Monday night on the east side of Lake Wawasee unfolded when the three bond recovery agents arrived at a home where they thought Gary W. Helman was located.

The agents found 56-year-old Helman of Cromwell on the back deck of a home on East Doswell Boulevard, but things quickly escalated.

When the shooting stopped, Helman was dead in a bedroom of the home, his twin brother was wounded, and so was one of the bounty hunters, according to the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department.

Police declined to release details about what prompted the shooting or who shot whom. The sheriff’s department investigated the case but was not involved in the shooting, said Sgt. Chad Hill, sheriff’s department spokesman.

It was a bizarre and violent ending to a fairly common practice of private citizens who work to bring in people who posted bond through a bondsman and didn’t show for court.

“In my 24 years, that’s something we haven’t had before … it was unfortunately tragic,” Hill said.

When deputies arrived a little before 7 p.m. at the home at 9174 E. Doswell Blvd., they found Helman’s twin, Larry Helman, and one of the bounty hunters in the rear part of the house, each with a gunshot wound, police said.

Police found Gary Helman dead in a rear bedroom; Hill said he had suffered several gunshot wounds.

He said there was evidence that the gunfight took place outside and inside the home.

Larry Helman and the wounded bounty hunter, Tad Martin of Osceola, were taken to Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne. Condition updates were not available Tuesday night.

Gary Helman was wanted on a failure-to-appear warrant, issued when he did not show up at a December court hearing on original charges of battery resulting in bodily injury and resisting law enforcement, according to the sheriff’s department and court records.

The name of the bonding company Martin and the other bounty hunters, 43-year-old Daniel Foster of LaPorte and 36-year-old Michael C. Thomas of Osceola, worked for was not provided by police, but court records list Barnett Bail Bonds in Leesburg as the bonding company affiliated with the case.

Hill said investigators interviewed Foster and Thomas about what happened at the house and then released them.

Indiana requires that bounty hunters receive a license from the state, attend 12 hours of pre-licensing education, pass a written exam and take part in continuing education classes to meet the biennial license renewal requirements. The industry standard for pay is that the agent who recovers a fugitive gets 10 percent of that person’s bond amount, but variations can occur.

Many bondsmen prefer or require that their bounty hunters have a background in law enforcement, said James Berghoff, owner of James R. Berghoff Jr. Bail Bonds in Fort Wayne, who has 35 years of experience as a bondsman.

He said the license allows a bounty hunter to go anywhere in the state to recover a fugitive and into most states, but not all. Illinois is the closest that doesn’t let out-of-state agents get fugitives, so many bond companies won’t take cases involving Illinois residents, he said.

When it comes to their range of power, Berghoff said agents are allowed to go on someone’s property to look for them and can enter a home to get the person if the agents know the suspect is there.

“I can’t just enter the dwelling unless I know you’re in there,” Berghoff said, adding that just having an address for someone isn’t enough to enter that home.

Bounty hunters who force their way into a home only to find they were mistaken could face arrest or criminal charges, Berghoff said.

He said the company usually notifies the local sheriff’s department before his agents try to arrest someone in that county. However, the agents and law enforcement officials operate independently.

“They work on their own platform,” Hill said. “We don’t provide assistance.”

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