Suddenly, his truck accelerated to 60 mph, crossing five lanes of traffic before roaring up the wheelchair ramp outside the preschool. The truck smashed through the front doors, striking Nicole Burns as she stood at the front counter. The impact sent a shard of wood through a wall into an adjacent classroom, striking 5-year-old Savannah Pirritano, knocking her into the arms of a teacher.
Firefighters found Burns' body buried under a pile of debris, pinned beneath the pickup's front bumper. Lackey registered a .13 blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash, significantly higher than the .08 legal limit, court records say.
A short time later, detectives at police headquarters said they told a disoriented Lackey about Burns' death. According to their report, the 30-year Navy veteran put his head in his hands, gasping, "Oh, my God! I don't know what to say!"
Friends say Lackey is being made into a community scapegoat. They insist there was more to his life than drinking: He volunteered much of his time to local causes. He often took a cab home when he knew he'd had too much to drink, they say.
At the Hen House, which features a lascivious-looking rooster on the sign outside, regulars were hostile to a reporter and wouldn't give their names. But some defended Lackey, describing him as a gentleman who once stood up to a man who had insulted a female patron. "Sure, he had a few beers, but he wasn't drunk enough to run off the road and kill a teacher," said one man. "He had a coughing fit and blacked out. It could have happened to anyone."
Added one woman: "They say Lucky's a murderer and that's a bunch of bull. I can see how that teacher's family might not want to let him out of jail, but that crash was not something he planned, I can tell you that."
Still, the incident has left scars. Savannah Pirritano, the injured girl, told a local reporter the day after the crash: "I can't go to school anymore because my school has a big hole in it. It makes me sad. My teacher, she went to heaven."
A Rural Menace
Each day in America, 48 people die in alcohol-related crashes.
Although no one knows where the next drunk driver will strike, studies suggest that, per-capita, the mishaps are more likely to occur outside the big cities in places such as Redding.
"In the city, there's better public transportation and speeds aren't as high," said MADD's Miller. "In rural areas, people drive 20 miles home from the bars and the speeds tend to be greater."
Located in the rural farm belt 220 miles north of San Francisco, Redding indeed has its share of drunk drivers.
"When picking juries for drunk-driving cases, we've found that some 70% of the pool have been directly affected by the crime," said prosecutor Flynn. "Nearly everyone in town seems to know a drunk driver who killed or hurt someone, or has a friend or relative who's been a victim to a drunk driver."
Redding native Tammi Garber said many locals have little to do and spend most of their leisure hours drinking. "I take back roads going home at night -- I'm afraid of the main drags," said the 31-year-old waitress. "And I never drive near the center divider line where the drunken yahoos lurk. That's just suicide around here."
On the day she died, Nicole Renee Burns brought co-workers a box of doughnuts on which she had written "Nicole Loves You." Friends say the thoughtful Burns so doted on her children and students that she left little time for herself.
At the urging of co-workers, she recently had gotten her hair cut and went around proudly flicking her head to emphasize her new bangs. The school now uses the oversized doughnut box to keep the cards received about Burns, including the misspelled scribblings of one 4-year-old student: "Are prayers are with you."
At the memorial service, friends talked about how Burns loved chocolate, vintage cars and Motown music.
That day, Burns' parents were approached by a friend of their daughter's who had her own tragic brush with a drunk driver. Twelve years ago, Tracy Burton's mother was killed when an intoxicated motorist driving an eight-ton utility truck crashed into their living room as the family watched TV, barely missing Burton and her stepfather.
"I just told them that I'd be there for them," Burton recalled. "They knew what happened to my mom."
Amanda Sharp has hard sentiments for the man who killed her best friend.
"I hate him," she said. "Nicole had so much to live for. He took something her children will never be able to get back. Now they'll grow up without a mom. They're so young. They'll never know what a wonderful person she was."