A mayor running for reelection died in a car crash on election morning just hours before the polls were set to close and the results were announced, police said.
The incident occurred shortly after 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday when the Louisiana State Police were notified of a crash involving two vehicles on U.S. Highway 190 near LA Highway 741, located approximately 50 miles west of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to a statement by the Louisiana State Police following the crash.
A preliminary investigation into the crash revealed that a male driver, of Columbia, Louisiana, was traveling south on LA 741 in his 2015 Ram 2500 pickup truck when he reportedly failed to yield to the 2008 Acura RDX that was carrying 84-year-old Velma Hendrix -- the incumbent mayor of Melville, Louisiana -- while the vehicle was traveling west on US 190.
“As the Acura approached the intersection, [the driver] failed to yield as he attempted to cross over both westbound lanes of US 190,” said the Louisiana State Police. “The front of the Ram struck the passenger side of the Acura in the westbound lane of travel.”
Hendrix, who was sitting in the rear left passenger seat in the Acura, was not wearing her seatbelt when the pickup truck collided with hers. She was immediately taken to a local area hospital following the crash but ultimately died of her injuries suffered in during the accident.
The driver of the Acura -- who was also not wearing a seatbelt -- along with three other passengers in the same vehicle, all suffered moderate to critical injuries and were taken to local hospitals for treatment, according to authorities.
The driver of the 2015 Ram 2500 pickup truck was not wearing his seatbelt either, police say, but he was uninjured in the collision.
“[The male driver] submitted a breath sample indicating no alcohol in his system and had no signs of impairment,” said the Louisiana State Police. “He was cited for failure to yield from a stop sign and no seat belt. A routine toxicology sample from the driver of the Acura has been submitted to the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab for analysis.”
The crash remains under investigation.
First elected mayor of Melville, Louisiana, in 2018, Hendrix had been running her re-election campaign against challengers Sheila “Sam” Londerno and Caretta Robertson.
The St. Landry Parish Clerk issued a statement following the announcement of Hendrix’s death regarding what would happen next with the election process.
“In regards to Mayor Velma D. Hendrix, Mayor of Melville's untimely passing, the Louisiana Commissioner of Elections, Sherri Hadskey, has informed us of the protocol for Mayor of Melville. Qualifying will be reopened on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 until Monday, November 14, 2022 and the election for Mayor of Melville will be held on December 10, 2022,” St. Landry Parish Clerk said in a statement posted on social media. “In the case of no one else qualifying before Monday, November 14, 2022, the candidates from November 8, 2022 with the highest votes will be declared Mayor of Melville. Prayers and condolences to Mayor Hendrix's family and friends.”
Following the accident, Louisiana State Police took the opportunity to remind motorists to “slow down and come to a complete stop in order to ensure no cross traffic is present and ALWAYS wear your seat belt, regardless of seating position.”
Said the police: “Simple precautions such as these can often mean the difference between life and death.”