GREENVILE, PITT COUNTY - A Greenville man has been sentenced after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run that killed college student Austin Baeza.
William Earl Langley, 47, was ordered Friday morning to serve between one year and 11 months to three years and one month in prison, which includes the time he has served in jail since his arrest in June. He can also apply for work release.
During the sentencing hearing, Langley stated he initially had no idea he crashed his car into Austin Baeza as the 20-year-old was walking along Highway 33 in Pitt County on Aug. 18, 2012. Langley said he thought he had hit a deer, and did not learn about Baeza's death until the next day, when he heard it on the news.
Langley said he was scared and didn't know what to do, so he took his car to a salvage yard in Edgecombe County and had it crushed.
Langley said at one point he thought about turning himself in. He said "two or three times I came down New Hope Road to tell the magistrate what had happened. But I got scared and I chickened out. That's no excuse. I'm making no excuses. I'm taking full responsibility. I'm sorry for your loss. This is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life and I just hope that you can find it your hearts to one day forgive me."
Baeza's mother, Nicolette, also read a statement at the sentencing hearing.
"Your arrogance allowed our family to suffer needlessly for 10 months. Your freedom was more important than the life of our son," Nicolette Baeza said.
She continued, "Just know that we will never be satisfied with any sentence you may serve. We are already serving a life sentence."
Langley was on the run for almost a year before he was arrested on June 18, said Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks. Detectives were able to find Langley through an informant, and he eventually confessed to the crime.
Langley was initially charged with felony hit-and-run causing death, obstructing justice, and driving with license revoked. He pleaded guilty Friday morning to one count of felony hit-and-run.
Baeza was left to die in a ditch, according to family. When they learned of Langley's arrest, they were relieved.
"Nothing went through my head. It was just shaking and joy- cryful [sic] joy. I just kept saying 'finally, finally, finally,'" said Alexander Baeza, the victim's father.
"My family suffered needlessly for 10 months," said Nicolette Baeza, the victim's mother. "[Langley] should have been man enough to come forward and be accountable."
Sheriff Elks said tips to Crimestoppers were a big help in the arrest of Langley.
"We've been all over the state of North Carolina and South Carolina, looking at cars and checking things out. We never gave up," said Sheriff Elks. "The fact that we kept this story alive laid heavy on the suspect's conscience and he was aware that this case wasn't going to go away."
Baeza's parents put up a banner at the crash site, offering a reward of $11,500. At the June 18 news conference announcing Langley's arrest, a sticker labeled "SOLVED" was placed on that banner.
But dealing with the loss of Baeza will still be tough, the family said.
"It's absolutely tormenting and we have good days, bad days, great moments, awful moments," said Nicolette Baeza. "You know, it's a roller coaster."
"I'll sit there and stare at the door, expecting [my son] to just walk in," said Alexander Baeza. "I know it's not going happen. But, you still look at the door."
Baeza was a student at Pitt Community College.