WJTV News Channel 12 - Pitt County hit-and-run driver sentenced

Pitt County hit-and-run driver sentenced

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - The man accused of hitting and killing a college student in Pitt County pleaded guilty in court Friday morning.

47-year-old William Earl Langley was sentenced to 23-37 months in prison, taking into account time already served,  in the felony hit and run death of 20-year-old Austin Baeza.
    
Baeza was found dead alongside a ditch on Highway 33 last August.

Investigators with the Pitt County Sheriff’s office say Baeza left a bar located near the Greenville airport and headed home.

Around the same time William Langly left a card game in his Dodge pickup truck.

Langly hit and killed Baeza on his drive home.

At this point, Langly says he drove back to figure out what he hit. He says he didn’t see anything, so he drove home. Detective Charles Mitchell testified that evidence at the scene suggests someone did pull over after the crash.

Langly says he didn’t realize he’d hit a person until he saw it on the news the next day. He says he didn’t turn himself in because he was too scared.

“I was scared. Two or three times I came down New Hope Road to go and tell the magistrate what had happened. But I got scared. I chickened out," said Langly.

The Baeza family says they’re happy Langly admitted what he did, but they say there’s no punishment that will ever bring their son back to them.

“No sentence will be enough. I think even an eye for an eye won't satisfy us. We're paying the ultimate price. So we have to just put it in the court’s hands and God’s hands and be satisfied that we know who did it. We know what happened and we can hopefully move on," said Nicolette Baeza, Austin’s mother after today’s hearing.

--- Previous Story ---

Ten months after a college student was hit and killed, and left on the side of a Pitt County Highway, law enforcement officers said they've made an arrest.

The Highway Patrol and the Pitt County Sheriff's Office worked together to arrest 47-year-old William Earl Langley. He's charged felony hit and run among other charges in the death of 20-year-old Austin Baeza.

Langley was arrested Tuesday morning. Deputies said he didn't have a license at the time of the crime. Langley also has a history of DWI and reckless driving charges, dating back to 1996.

He's been placed under a $250,000 bond.

"I just wish that he had been accountable after he did it, after he realized what happened. His freedom at that time was more important than my son's life," said Austin's mother, Nicki Baeza.

Baeza was found dead alongside a ditch on Highway 33 last August. His mother said he left his Greenville house the night before to go for a walk and clear his head.

All along, the Baeza family has wanted answers. With the news of an arrest, they said they can rest a little easier.

Over the past 10 months, strangers have stepped up to offer thousands of dollars in rewards for answers in the case.

"It's not full closure but at least they know what happened now. And it was the best money I've ever spent," said Brent Lee, who contributed reward money.

Detectives said they never were able to find Langley's car but they're confident they have the right man. They said CrimeStoppers tips and media attention played a big role in solving the case.

"The fact that we've kept this story alive laid heavy on the suspect's conscience and he was aware that this case wasn't going to go away," said Pitt County Sheriff, Neil Elks.

 It was an emotional day for everyone involved.

"We're hoping that this could inspire people that are going through other challenges, or somebody else that's gone through a crime like this, to come forward, to always do the right thing, even if there are consequences to that. You owe that to a family that's in pain," said Nicki Baeza, Austin's mother.

They may have answers, but they'll never get their son back.

"We were always on the phone together talking about a game, we'd be watching the game together, texting, calling back and forth...and I'll never have that," said an emotional Alex Baeza, Austin's father.

"He has given us signs since his parting that he's with us. He's made it very evident. He was a strong force in life and he was a strong force after life," said Nicki.

As for the man accused in their son's death, the Baeza's say they're leaving the rest up to the justice system.

"I don't have revenge in my heart. I don't have hate in my heart. I don't have room for that. I have to think about my son, be grateful we had him for 20 years. Am I hurt? Yes. Am I angry because his life was just starting? Yes. I don't have room for him. I have to focus on my family and us and we had him for 20 years and just be grateful. That's the only thing you can do," said Nicki.
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