W. MI driver who saved toddler ‘in the right place at the right time’

Julian Draine discovered a toddler in the middle of a Voice Road on Nov. 3.

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) – A daycare owner is facing criminal charges after a West Michigan man rescued a toddler who had wandered away from her daycare center.

Professional truck driver Julian Draine said he’s not a hero; he said he just did what he hopes anyone in that position would have done.

“God just had me in the right place at the right time,” said Draine.

On Nov. 3, Draine said he was on the phone with his girlfriend while driving outside of Kingsley in Grand Traverse County when he spotted something in the middle of Voice Road.

“As soon as I got closer, I noticed it was a little boy. The first thing I said to my girlfriend was ‘it’s a kid in the road… and I dropped my phone, I slammed on my brakes, I kind of jack-knifed my trailer to try to block oncoming traffic, and I got out of my semi-truck and I ran across the busy highway.”

Draine said he scooped up the boy, who was shaking and looking for his mom.

He said he didn’t realize cars were still going down the road, and how much danger they were in.

“I honestly wasn’t thinking. My mind was blank. All I saw was me and the kid and everything else was black,” said Draine. “The civilians that was seeing everything that was going on said I was inches away from us both being dead or paralyzed or in a critical state.”

Draine said he asked the boy where he had come from, and the terrified two-year-old led him to Honey Bee Daycare Center, about 200 yards away from the road.

Draine said he spoke to the owner of the facility, Kristi Helmreich.

“She was like, ‘I’ll do anything for you not to call the police on me, for me not to lose my license.’ I said ‘Ma’am, I have a kid at home that is eight years old and another one on the way,’ I said, ‘I’d be crazy if I didn’t call the police on you because I’d want to know information about my own child.’”

Draine called Michigan State Police and Child Protective Services about the incident.

Left to right: Kristi Lynn Helmreich and Mary Zenner are facing fourth degree child abuse charges. (Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Dept.)
Left to right: Kristi Lynn Helmreich and Mary Zenner are facing fourth degree child abuse charges. (Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Dept.)

Helmreich and daycare center employee Mary Zenner are now facing misdemeanor fourth degree child abuse charges. Both could face up to one year in jail if convicted.

The state revoked the daycare center’s license about a week later.

“I think justice was already served. Like I said, I ride that route every day. One day her sign was up, the next day it was gone,” said Draine.

The daycare was first licensed in 2013, and inspections posted online only showed minor violations in the past.

A representative from the sheriff’s department told 24 Hour News 8 they never responded to any other similar complaints at the house.

Helmreich and Zenner will be back in court next month.

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