NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCN) –– A Cary man was sentenced Friday to more than 15 years in prison for an armed carjacking and for shooting at the Wake County Public Safety Center, federal prosecutors say.

Willie Lee Hayes Jr., 51, pleaded guilty to the charges stemming from the 2020 incident in downtown Raleigh, U.S. Attorney Michael Easley said.

“Hayes was an armed and dangerous felon with lengthy criminal history who put law enforcement and the public at risk,” said 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.”  

Around 3 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2020, 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, Fire Services, the City-County Bureau of Identification, and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office. 

A man, later identified as Hayes, stepped out of the right-front passenger seat and pulled out a handgun, Easley said in a news release. He fired multiple shots toward the front of the building, where several people were present.  Shots hit the building’s front door and windows. 

While no one was hit, falling glass from a broken window injured a Wake County deputy’s leg.  Hayes got back into the car and headed south on Salisbury Street away from the scene.  Officers recovered a dozen 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, both listed as sharing an address in Cary.

Officers soon located the woman driving the vehicle near the home. During an interview, the woman told officers 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. 

Hayes 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 front passenger door of the vehicle and began firing, Easley said. He 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 Hayes’ Rose Street residence and took him into custody.  They executed a search warrant and found the pistol in the seat of a moped. The woman was shown a photograph of the firearm and confirmed it to be her pistol that Hayes had used to shoot the courthouse.

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 said. 

“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.” 

“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.”