North Carolina man sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for carjacking, firing shots at public safety center

Published 8:32 am Tuesday, January 24, 2023

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A Cary man was sentenced Friday, January 20, 2023 to 181 months in prison after carjacking a woman at gunpoint and firing multiple shots at the Wake County Public Safety Center in downtown Raleigh, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Eastern District of North Carolina. Willie Lee Hayes Jr., 51, pleaded guilty to the charges.

“Hayes was an armed and dangerous felon with lengthy criminal history who put law enforcement and the public at risk,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Michael Easley. “Let today’s 15-year sentence stand as a warning. Our office is prioritizing the prosecution of repeat felons driving gun violence in our communities.”

“The Wake County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the US Attorney’s Office for their diligence in bringing this case to a successful conclusion,” stated Sheriff Willie L. Rowe. “The actions of Willie L. Hayes, Jr. on October 6, 2020 put the lives of several members of the public as well as staff members of our office in grave jeopardy. It is a miracle that none of the bullets fired by Mr. Hayes directly struck any of the numerous people in the vicinity. We would also like to thank our partners with the Raleigh Police Department, Cary Police Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and others for their assistance with this case.”

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“The Raleigh Police Department expresses gratitude to the Department of Justice for their due diligence in prosecuting this case,” said Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson. “We are thankful no one was seriously injured in this violent act against the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and several other public safety agencies. An act of violence against any public safety partner is an act of violence against our entire community. Our department is committed to collaborating with other agencies to bring justice to those who harm our communities.”

According to court documents and other information presented in court, on October 6, 2020 at around 3 p.m., a white Dodge Journey stopped on Salisbury Street in Raleigh in front of the John H. Baker Public Safety Center, which houses the detention center, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Fire Services, the City-County Bureau of Identification and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office. A man, who was later identified as Hayes, stepped out of the right front passenger seat and pulled out a handgun, firing multiple shots toward the front of the building where several people were present. Shots hit the building’s front door and windows.  No one was hit, but falling glass from a broken window injured a Wake County deputy’s leg. Hayes got back into the car, which fled south on Salisbury Street away from the scene. Officers recovered 12-9mm shell casings from the road.

“A witness provided officers with a license plate number, and a registration check revealed that the car was registered to Hayes and a woman with the initials J.N., both listed as sharing an address on Rose Street in Cary. Officers soon located J.N. driving the Dodge Journey near the home,” stated the release. “During an interview, J.N. explained that she purchased a Stoeger 9mm pistol about two weeks prior but hadn’t seen it for around a week. Before the shooting, Hayes asked her to come pick him up and take him to a gas station. But during the drive, Hayes pulled out the 9mm handgun and demanded that she drive him to the Wake County courthouse (referring to the Public Safety Center). He said that if she stopped the vehicle for any reason, he would shoot her. When she arrived in front of the courthouse, Hayes opened the font passenger door of the vehicle and began firing. Hayes then told her to drive away and not to stop until they were back home. She had dropped him off at the house and had just left when officers stopped her car.

“Deputies surrounded the Rose Street residence and took Hayes into custody,” the release continued. “They executed a search warrant and found the Stoeger 9mm pistol in the seat of a moped. J.N. was shown a photograph of the firearm and confirmed it to be her pistol that Hayes had used to shoot the courthouse.”

The release stated that at the time of the shooting, Hayes’ criminal record included five state felony drug convictions, three convictions for assault on a female and a felony conviction for assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. He had previously been convicted as a habitual felon in state court.

Easley made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan. The Raleigh and Cary police departments, Wake County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jake D. Pugh prosecuted.