Louisiana man gets 30 years in DUI death of 9-year-old girl

GRETNA, La. (AP) — A Louisiana man who admitted to being drunk when he crashed into the back of a family’s minivan, killing a 9-year-old girl, was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Wendell Lachney, 58, of the New Orleans suburb of Belle Chasse, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular negligent injury and other offenses in the Oct. 22, 2021, wreck that killed Abigail Douglas, Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office said.

Lachney was driving more than 60 mph (95 kph) when he drove into the vehicle in Gretna, another New Orleans suburb, according to Connick’s statement.

Lachney, who already had two prior DWI convictions, had been drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana hours before he drove into the rear of the minivan, authorities said.

Louisiana State Police troopers reported finding an opened bottle of whiskey, wine, a cup of beer, marijuana and a pipe that Lachney had used to smoke the marijuana inside his car. Lachney’s blood was drawn more than 2½ hours after the crash, and his blood-alcohol content was .22% — more than double the .08% legal limit to drive under Louisiana law.

Douglas’ mother testified before state District Judge Stephen Grefer before he handed down the sentence. The mother spoke of being stopped at a red light when she saw Lachney close in from behind and then slam into their minivan.

“I watched strangers performing CPR on my 9-year-old on the cold cement road,” she said. “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 … Did you hear my screams that night, Wendell?”

Grefer sentenced Lachney to 30 years on the vehicular homicide charge and five years suspended for the vehicular negligent injury charge to be served on home incarceration after he’s released from prison. The judge also sentenced him to three months for reckless operation of a motor vehicle and 15 days for possession of drug paraphernalia.

The sentences will be served at the same time.

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