Man arrested in fatal Zebulon hit-and-run crash has 4 prior DWI convictions

ZEBULON, N.C. (WTVD) -- Corey Morgan, the man accused of killing 38-year-old Jose Luis Piedra-Valdez with his car and then fleeing the scene, has been arrested.

Morgan, 39, was arrested on Wednesday, just hours after the victim's family pleaded for him to turn himself in.

"(Corey Morgan) wasn't caught, so he didn't get punished for that. And we're the ones having to pay for what he did," Yulianna Valdez told ABC11.

And this is not the first time Morgan has been in trouble with the law.

A search of court records found that he has four previous convictions for Driving While Impaired. He's also been convicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, driving with a revoked driver's license, speeding and drug possession.

Stay on top of breaking news stories with the ABC11 News App

Morgan's most recent arrest comes after a crash that happened Sunday around 8 p.m. in the 1400 block of Highway 97 in Zebulon.

According to police, Morgan was in a 2007 GMC Yukon when he tried to pass a Chevrolet.

While attempting to pass, he hit the side of the car and then struck a Honda Civic head-on, driven by Piedra-Valdez.
That's when police said Morgan ran off.

According to prosecutors, Morgan initially said he wasn't in the car when the crash happened.

"My understanding is that it was also shared with an estranged spouse whom he called per (the police officer) approximately three minutes after the collision saying basically to stick with the story that the car was stolen. He then called police and reported the car was stolen," prosecutor Shaun Taylor said during Wednesday's court hearing.

According to data recorders obtained by the Zebulon Police Department, Morgan was going about 30 miles per hour over the posted 45 MPH speed limit at the time of the crash.

"I don't know how you can as a society prevent people from getting behind the wheel of a car. How do you stop someone from just getting access to a vehicle? You can't," said Brad Polk, a former assistant prosecutor with the Wake County District Attorney's Office who is now a criminal defense attorney with Tarlton Polk PLLC.

Polk has no connections to the case but provided general analysis and insight to ABC11.

"The only way to keep somebody like that who is just intent on driving and not going to pay attention to his probation officer or the judge is aggressive law enforcement. It's the only way to keep them off the road," said Bill Finn, a former Assistant District Attorney in Wake and Durham Counties, who now serves as a criminal defense attorney with Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh.

Finn also provided general analysis and insight to ABC11 but does not have any connection to this case.

Polk noted previous criminal convictions could impact a defendant's potential sentencing.

"The way the sentencing works off North Carolina is based off sort of a grid. And depending on which level of a felony a person is actually convicted of and depending on their prior record, a judge has discretion - usually 1, or 2, or 3-year block. And so a judge, certainly I would think, would take into account that whatever prior sentences this person has gotten have not worked, have not deterred this person from getting behind the wheel of a car," Polk said.

During court Wednesday morning, prosecutors argued for Morgan to receive an increased bond, noting his criminal history which includes three failure to appear charges.

Morgan's defense attorney Deborrah Newton asked the judge to take into account the age of the cases he's been convicted of. According to court records, Morgan was last convicted of DWI in 2012, stemming from a 2009 case.

In response to the failure to appear charges, Newton said Morgan denied being the person involved in an out-of-state case, was incarcerated during another instance, and did not recall the most recent charge.

Morgan was ultimately placed under $250,000 bond along with electronic monitoring.

A family member set up a GoFundMe on the family's behalf.
Copyright © 2019 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.