HARVEY, La. (WVUE) - A local church pastor was among three good Samaritans killed while trying to help occupants of another disabled vehicle on the elevated portion of the Westbank Expressway late Father’s Day (June 17).
A Louisiana State Police spokesman said the driver of the car that struck the three men was impaired at the time of the crash.
According to investigators, the victims were hit while helping a group of women who were in a vehicle that apparently experienced a tire problem and spun around on the roadway, subsequently crashing on the elevated highway.
The three women were not injured.
Judy Noel said she cannot imagine life without her fiancee, 66-year-old Ivan Chopin of Marrero -- one of the men killed in the crash.
"I can’t, I can’t envision anything right now. We were together for Father’s Day and you know, it’s just so hard,” Noel said, as she spoke of Chopin.
She said law enforcement notified her of his death. Though heartbroken, Noel is not surprised the man she intended to marry died helping others.
"He was a great person. He always helped out, always helping somebody, whether it’s here in the neighborhood or where ever they may need help, he was there,” Noel said.
Two other men, 49-year-old Claude Williams -- a pastor at Celebration Church’s westbank location -- and 49-year-old William Leinert of Gretna also were killed when a car traveling eastbound struck the disabled Yukon and the three men assisting its occupants, according to State Police spokesman Monroe Dillon.
“We believe they may have been trying to change a tire, shortly after that a vehicle heading eastbound on US 90B which turned out to be an impaired driver struck that vehicle head-on, causing all three pedestrians to go over the side where they were all tree pronounced dead by Jefferson Parish’s coroner’s office,"Dillon said.
Investigators said 40-year-old Todd Williams of New Orleans was arrested and booked on several charges following the crash.
"He was found to be impaired, facing three charges of vehicular homicide and three charges of vehicular negligent injury,” Dillon stated.
The lead pastor of Celebration Church, Dennis Watson, released the following letter to the west bank congregation.
Dear Westbank Family,
As many in our Church family know all too well, life is filled with unexplainable tragedies. Last night such a tragedy occurred when your Celebration Westbank Campus Pastor, Claude Williams, was taken from this life in a traffic accident. As far as we can tell, Pastor Claude and his long time friend Jeff Leinart stopped on the elevated Westbank Expressway to assist someone who had a flat tire. While they were assisting the person someone else hit them and the car they were working on, and their lives and another person’s life were ended.
Pastor Claude’s wife, Twila, and their boys (Emmett, Elijah and Emory) were in Knoxville, Tennessee visiting her mother. They and Pastor Claude’s mother have been told about what has happened. Let’s pray for them constantly, asking the Lord, the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) to help them process through their pain and sorrow in the coming weeks, month and years. We will stand with them and assist them in every week in the coming days.
Our entire Celebration Family will be praying for you, our Celebration Westbank Members. Pastor Claude was known by our Celebration family to be a faithful, faith-filled, godly and loving leader and a great example and encourager to many. However, to you he’s been your Pastor, your friend, your confidant, your caregiver and many other things. So, our hearts are especially broken for you, as well as, for his immediate family.
In the report that Pastor Claude sent to me and our Campus Pastors yesterday he shared with us that yesterday was an outstanding day at Celebration Westbank. He was excited about praying for 7 little children during our Blessing of the Children times, preaching about the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22, having the largest non-Easter attendance ever at Celebration Westbank, and seeing how people responded to the worship service and ministry. I spent time this past week with him, and in that time we talked about his love for his family, his love for you his Celebration Westbank family, and his love for people who live on the Westbank. His transition to heaven is a great experience for him, but it is a heartbreaking loss for all of us who knew and loved him and were blessed to call him our friend.
As I said earlier, life is filled with unexplainable tragedies - and this is certainly one of them. We take comfort in the fact that “the Lord is our refuge and our strength and a very present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1), in the fact that this life is so short compared to what we will experience in Heaven, and that we will see Pastor Claude again in Heaven.
I will send details to you later this week regarding the family’s needs and regarding a Memorial service. And I’ve cancelled a trip to Colombia so that I can be with you on the Westbank this coming Sunday. In the meantime, keep praying for Twila and her boys, Pastor Claude’s mother and his siblings, for one another and for our entire Church family.