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.