Long after he lost his license, Billy Neal kept doing drugs and getting behind the wheel.
Now he’s lost his freedom.
The 21-year-old Charlotte man pleaded guilty Thursday for his role in a May 27, 2013, collision in southeast Charlotte that killed Jose Aguilar, 45, and his brother, Hugo Rene Duarte Aguilar, 34.
The charges: two counts of felony death by motor vehicle and one count of felony hit and run. The sentence: Neal will spend between 12 and 17 years in prison.
In an agreement that eliminates the cost of a trial, prosecutors set aside a series of charges, including second-degree murder and reckless driving.
According to court testimony, Neal was a creature of dangerous habits. Four times in the six months preceding the 2013 crash, he had been arrested on combined offenses of drugs and driving with a revoked license.
Early on the morning of May 27 – five days after he had been released from jail – Neal was behind the wheel of a borrowed Nissan, buzzing from marijuana and up to 10 Xanax he’d swallowed in the previous hour. Assistant District Attorney Jay Ashendorf says Neal hit speeds of up to 94 mph.
When Neal reached W.T. Harris Boulevard, the light was red. Instead of stopping, he swerved into the right-turn lane to miss a car waiting at the signal, then ripped into the intersection – just as the Aguilars were turning left on a green arrow off Harris, Ashendorf said.
Neal’s car T-boned the brothers’ vehicle. Investigators say it was traveling 62 mph at impact.
Afterward, witnesses say Neal freed himself from his wrecked car, and staggered around the scene muttering to himself that he was “going down.”
Thursday, that prediction came true.
The slender, 6-foot-2, dread-locked defendant accepted his sentence from Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin in a single-syllable monotone, answering the judge’s questions with a “yes” or “no” as he stared at the floor.
Asked when he had last been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Neal, who’s been jailed since his arrest, answered: “At least a year.”
Nearby, the Aguilars’ youngest and only surviving brother watched a few rows behind Ashendorf. The brother declined to speak to the judge and courtroom.
When the judge also gave Neal a chance to address the court before sentencing, the defendant gave one of his few two-word responses of the hearing.
“No, sir,” he said in a low voice.
Moments later, he was led away, preparing for a trip to prison he’ll make as a passenger.