Steven Derengowski pleaded guilty Wednesday to death by motor vehicle

WILMINGTON – It was New Year’s Day and Steven Michael Derengowski and his friend Billy Ray Kolasa were partying.

Beer. Weed. Bottles of New Amsterdam spirits.

It was after 8 p.m. and Derengowski and Kolasa raced down River Road in a 2004 Chevy pickup. The cab was littered with empty cans and bottles. Derengowski missed the first road closure sign 3 miles from the construction site. He missed another a mile away. He failed to heed the last warning sign before he plowed into a massive yellow crane being used to repair a bridge that crosses Lords Creek at more than 80 mph, New Hanover Assistant District Attorney Doug Carriker said.

It took rescue crews an hour to pry Derengowski from the cab. His passenger, Kolasa was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 25.

On Wednesday, Derengowski, 25, pleaded guilty to death by motor vehicle in a plea agreement with the district attorney’s office. He was sentenced to six to 9 years in prison by Judge Joshua Willey.

Before the accident, Derengowski had unrelated charges pending before the accident. Since 2009, Derengowski has had at least 50 charges filed against him in Cumberland, Bladen, Hoke, Pender and New Hanover counties, North Carolina court records show, the majority of which involved alcohol or speeding.

The 2018 accident happened around 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 1. As crews pried Derengowski out of the truck, he kept asking if Kolasa, a friend he considered his brother, survived. Derengowski’s blood alcohol content was 0.16, twice the legal limit.

The men were close. At the hearing, Kolasa’s sister told the judge she forgave Derengowski. Before being sentenced, Derengowski told the judge there wasn’t a night he didn’t dream about Kolasa.

“I just wish this never happened,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes.

 Reporter Kevin Maurer can be reached at 910-343-2070 or Kevin.Maurer@GateHouseMedia.com