EXCLUSIVE: Family of veteran killed in weekend crash reflects

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BOONVILLE - The uncle of the Columbia native who died in a car crash late Saturday night described his nephew as "the light" of his family's life Monday.

Andrew Helmreich, 28, was a veteran of the U.S. Army. His uncle, John Graves, said Helmreich served in the Army for five years.

"He's the type of person you hear about when they come in the room, it lights up, everybody smiles," Graves said.

Helmreich was one of two passengers in a deadly Columbia car crash Saturday night. Prosecutors say William Lalka was driving while intoxicated when the crash happened. Prosecutors charged Lalka Monday.

He served in Afghanistan from February 2014 until November of that year, according to Graves. Helmreich received a number of awards during his time in the military including Army Achievement Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star and NATO Medal. He was honorably discharged in 2017.

Helmreich was born and raised in Columbia. He graduated from Hickman High School in 2009, and he was set to graduate this December from Columbia College with a degree in business management.

Graves described Helmreich as very religious, passionate and the life of the party. 

His sister, Lauren, said that they just recently became close this year. She said that when their mother died in 2010, her brother was the strongest one in the family. 

"He was the rock," said Lauren. 

Graves said Helmreich's family has received amazing support from Columbia College. They want to start a scholarship fund for a student veteran in his nephew's name.

A funeral service will be held for Helmreich Saturday at 10 a.m. at Columbia United Church of Christ.

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