Man charged with murder in deadly New Year’s Day crash makes court appearance

Man charged with murder in deadly New Year’s Day crash makes court appearance
Steven Michael Derengowski (Source: New Hanover County Detention Center)
Steven Michael Derengowski (Source: New Hanover County Detention Center)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A Wilmington man charged with second-degree murder in connection with a deadly single-vehicle crash on New Year's Day made his first court appearance on the upgraded charges Friday afternoon.

Steven Derengowski, 25, was initially charged with driving while impaired in the crash, which happened at around 8:25 p.m. on River Road in New Hanover County. Billy Ray Kolasa, 25, of Wilmington, was killed in the collision.

On Thursday, Derengowski surrendered to authorities at the New Hanover County Courthouse on an upgraded charge of second-degree murder, according to officials. He was initially booked under a $500,000 bond.

A trooper with the State Highway Patrol said Derengowski was driving a pickup truck south on River Road when he crossed into a construction zone that was closed, crashed through a construction barrier and hit a crane. Kolasa, who was a passenger in Derengowski's truck, died at the scene.

Derengowski was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

During his first court appearance Friday afternoon on the second-degree murder charge, Derengowski's lawyer, Alex Hall, argued before the judge that his client deserved a lower bond because he's not a flight risk.

"He has had enough time to go to Australia if he wanted to," Hall explained. "He has had all the time in the world to flee and he hasn't. What is his risk to the community?"

Hall explained that Derengowski and Kolasa were childhood friends and that Kolasa's family is supportive of him.

Assistant District Attorney Doug Carriker argued that Derengowski was driving recklessly prior to the crash, pointing out that he took a picture of his truck's odometer while he was traveling 100 mph.

Carriker added that Derengowski has numerous convictions including a DWI offense in Pender County in 2015.

According to NC Department of Corrections records, Derengowski has prior convictions of driving with a revoked license, consuming an alcoholic beverage under 21, and possession of an alcoholic beverage under 21, among others.

"There is a pattern here of convictions," Carriker said. "The state is asking for the $500,000 bond amount to stay the same."

The judge eventually lowered Derengowski's bond to $300,000.

If he makes bond, Derengowski will be subjected to electronic house arrest as well as being barred from driving a vehicle or leaving the county except for medical or legal reasons.

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