A Greenville man is behind bars after pleading guilty to the hit-and-run that killed a 20-year-old Pitt Community College student on a North Carolina highway last August.
William Earl Langley, 47, was arrested on June 18, exactly 10 months to the day Austin Baeza was hit and killed. At a sentencing hearing in September, a judge ordered him to serve a maximum of 3 years and 1 month in prison, which includes the time he served in jail since his arrest. He also can apply for work release. He could be released from prison after serving just 1 year and 11 months.
At the hearing, Langley said he initially thought he hit a deer, and did not learn about Baeza’s death until the next day, when he heard it on the news. Panicked and scared, Langley stated he took the car he was driving that night to a salvage yard in Edgecombe County and had it crushed.
Almost a year had passed when authorities say they were finally able to track down Langley with the help of Crimestoppers. He was initially charged with felony hit-and-run, obstructing justice, and driving with a license revoked.
“They kept speculating he would take a plea. We were on a conference call prior to court and they said we might need to negotiate because if we go to trial he could get off free,” Nicolette Baeza, Austin’s mother, told HLN Thursday. “We knew we were going to have to do some kind of plea to get him to admit that he did it.”
Austin’s mother told HLN she was thrilled when she learned of Langley’s arrest, but later let down when she learned of his sentence.
“It’s an insult. Are you telling me that 1-2 years is the sentence for taking my sons life and leaving him to die? Even if it were an eye for an eye, I don’t think we would be satisfied with his sentence. Langley didn’t suffer. Our justice system is seriously flawed,” Nicolette Baeza said.
At his sentencing hearing, Langley stood up at court and read a statement.
“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 in your hearts to forgive me one day.”
Austin’s mother, who has been determined to since day one to find the person responsible for her son’s death, read an emotional statement at the hearing.
“August 18, 2012, was the worst day of our life. The horror of having five state troopers pull up to our home to inform us that our beloved son Austin had been hit by a car and left in a ditch to die alone will forever haunt us. No parent should have to suffer the agony of attending the funeral for their child,” Austin’s mother said.
“Your arrogance allowed our family to suffer needlessly for ten months. Your freedom was more important than the life of our son….Just know that we will never be satisfied with any sentence you may serve. We are already serving a life sentence,” she added.
Meanwhile, Langley is serving his sentence at the Craven Correctional Institution in Vanceboro.
“Austin had a warm, loving, affectionate, outgoing personality. He would just light up a room when he walked in. He was always very connected and warm to everyone. That is why this is such a catastrophic loss,” his mother told HLN.
“I’m frustrated but know we would never be satisfied with the sentence. I just have to let it go. My son is gone and that’s what I need to think about. This person will be he accountable one day to someone bigger than you and I. That’s what I have to think about. Austin wouldn’t want me to be angry. He’s not one to hold a grudge,” she added.
“This is just one more reason to get the laws changed, more incentive. Just adds more pain to the family for someone to be able to walk free so soon for hitting and killing someone,” Austin’s mother said.