Month: September 2022

Wendell Lachney pleads guilty to killing 9-year-old girl in drunk driving crash

A Jefferson Parish judge on Tuesday (Sept. 20) sentenced Wendell Lachney to 30 years in prison, after the defendant admitted that he was highly intoxicated when he crashed his car into a minivan at high speed on a West Bank highway, causing the death of a 9-year-old girl and injuring her mother.

Lachney, 58, of Belle Chasse, pleaded guilty as charged to vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular negligent injury and other offenses in the Oct. 22, 2021, wreck on Belle Chasse Highway near its intersection with Lapalco Boulevard.

At the time that his blood was drawn more than 2 ½ hours after the crash, Lachney’s blood-alcohol content was .22 percent, more than double the .08 percent legal limit to drive under Louisiana law. Lachney was driving upwards of 60 mph when he drove into the rear of the minivan.

Lachney, who already had two prior DWI convictions, had been drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana hours before he drove into the minivan. In his car, Louisiana State Police troopers found an opened bottle of whiskey, wine, a cup of beer, marijuana and a pipe he used to smoke the marijuana.

Before announcing the sentence Tuesday, Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court heard impact testimony from five family members, including the child’s parents. Her mother recalled being stopped at a red light when she saw Lachney closing in from behind and then slam into her minivan.

“I watched strangers performing CPR on my 9-year-old on the cold cement road,” she testified. “I fell to my knees as I grabbed a man by his legs and begged him to save my daughter. I screamed to God and to the helpers to kill me instead. Take me, so my daughter can live. I prayed. I begged. I bartered with my soul. Did you hear my screams that night, Wendell?”

Said her father: “I miss our jam sessions in the car and our trips to get coffee. I miss holding you in my arms when you need someone to be strong for you. I am so sad that I will never get to walk you down the aisle or see what an amazing parent you would have been.  Your mom, your brothers and I miss you dearly, and life will never be the same without you here.  We love you to the moon and back.”

Following the crash, Lachney was booked and then released from jail on bond. He then entered an inpatient substance abuse program in St. Tammany Parish. Following the child’s death two days after the crash, Louisiana State Police arrested him there after obtaining an arrest warrant. Lachney’s bond was then set at $1 million.

He also pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of an open alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle and for not wearing a seatbelt.

Judge Grefer sentenced Lachney to 30 years in prison for vehicular homicide and five years suspended for first-degree vehicular negligent injury, to be served on home incarceration after he’s released from prison. The vehicular homicide charge was designated as a crime of violence.

Additionally, Judge Grefer sentenced Lachney to 90 days for reckless operation of a motor vehicle, and 15 days for possession of drug paraphernalia. He ran the sentences concurrent.

Assistant District Attorneys Brittany Beckner and Matthew Whitworth prosecuted the case.

Maurice Ervin sentenced to 55 years for Harahan carjacking conviction

A Jefferson Parish judge on Monday (Sept. 19) sentenced Maurice Ervin to 55 years in prison for his conviction of carjacking a couple in East Jefferson.

Ervin, 16, who was prosecuted as an adult, was convicted as charged last week of two counts of armed robbery with a firearm in connection with the Feb. 12 incident.

Armed with a pistol and wearing a ski mask, Ervin was seen trying to enter apartments in the 1900 block of Hickory Avenue. His activities led residents to call 911.

Meanwhile, a man and woman stopped their vehicle on Hickory Avenue so he could take photographs of roof work in the area. The couple was preparing to replace their roof because of Hurricane Ida damage.

The man stepped out of his vehicle to take photos of a home’s roof, leaving his wife in the passenger seat. That’s when Ervin jumped into the driver’s seat. The woman attempted to grab her cell phone, and Ervin pointed the pistol at her head and put the vehicle in reverse.

The man, meanwhile, was unaware of what was happening until he was getting back into his vehicle. Ervin then pointed the pistol at the man, who grabbed the gun barrel. The woman fled the vehicle. The man fell to the ground and was dragged by the driver’s door, and a tire ran over his left foot.

A nearby Good Samaritan witnessed what was happening and called 911. She then followed the vehicle until the Harahan Police Department and later the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office intervened.

Ervin led the officers on a pursuit onto Jefferson Highway, with Ervin speeding through a construction zone at the Huey P. Long Bridge and then driving against traffic before he wrecked into a utility pole and was arrested.

Following a two-day trial, a Jefferson Parish jury deliberated one hour before returning with its unanimous verdict on Wednesday (Sept. 14).

On Monday, Judge Frank Brindisi of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Ervin to 50 years for each armed robbery count and five years for firearm enhancements, for a total of 55 years on each count. Judge Brindisi ran the sentences concurrently.

Assistant District Attorneys Kristen Landrieu and Stephen Downer prosecuted the case.

Jalen Harvey guilty in Joseph Vindel’s marketplace app murder

A Jefferson Parish jury on Thursday night (Sept. 1) deliberated 45 minutes in finding Jalen Harvey guilty of killing Joseph Vindel, a New Orleans man who was trying to sell his dirt bike through an online marketplace app last year when he was shot.

Harvey, 22, of Harvey, is guilty as charged of the first-degree murder of Vindel. The 29-year-old real estate agent was shot five or six times while sitting in the driver’s seat of his sports utility vehicle outside a West Bank apartment complex on the morning of March 7, 2021.

Vindel advertised his dirt bike’s sale through the OfferUp marketplace app. Harvey, who used a fake name and phone number on the app, responded to the advertisement with plans to use movie prop cash, or “play money,” to purchase the motorcycle while armed with a semiautomatic pistol.

Vindel towed the dirt bike on a trailer from his Uptown home to the West Bank. Through text messages, Harvey gave Vindel several meeting locations before directing him to the 2100 block of Manhattan Boulevard.

Harvey’s first gunshot struck Vindel on the right side of his face, causing a nonfatal wound. Harvey continued shooting, striking Vindel in the rear of his right shoulder, neck and to the back of his head. Vindel also suffered a gunshot wound to left hand.

His wounds were consistent with his being shot in the face and then turning away defensively as Harvey continued shooting him through the front passenger’s side window, according to expert testimony.

Vindel brought his pistol with him to make the transaction, but a round was never chambered, meaning he was not prepared to fire it. Alleging he was defending himself when he began shooting, Harvey said that Vindel pointed the pistol at him during the transaction and held it in his left hand. That was an impossibility, given the gunshot injury to Vindel’s left hand.

Evidence shows that Vindel’s heart was still pumping blood when Harvey dragged the body between the front seats to the back seat floorboard. Harvey then drove around the city in Vindel’s SUV for more than an hour.

In testimony Friday, Harvey admitted to dousing Vindel’s upper body with gasoline. He asserted he did so to kill DNA.

After leaving the body and SUV in the 2300 block of Coliseum Street in the Garden District, Harvey drove Vindel’s dirt bike back to his West Bank apartment.

A missing person’s investigation began on the night of March 7, 2021, more than 10 hours after Vindel left home to sell the dirt bike. After a search that included the New Orleans Police Department and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, Vindel’s body and SUV were located early the following morning.

Detectives found Harvey through investigating his correspondence with Vindel in the marketplace app. They spotted Vindel’s motorcycle at Harvey’s apartment.

In addition to first-degree murder, Harvey was convicted as charged of obstruction of justice and monetary instrument abuse.

The obstruction charge stems from his eliminating evidence to hinder the investigation, including driving Vindel’s body to the Garden District. Vindel’s wallet and cell phone were never found.

The monetary instrument abuse charge involves his use of the movie prop money in the transaction. Detectives also found more than 175 fake $100 bills in his apartment.

The jury returned with its unanimous verdicts just after 9 p.m. Judge E. Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Harvey on Oct. 6. Harvey faces a mandatory life sentence in prison.

Assistant District Attorneys Lindsay Truhe and Zach Grate prosecuted the case.