03/07/18 — Former chief master sergeant sentenced to up to six years in drunk driving death

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Former chief master sergeant sentenced to up to six years in drunk driving death

By Melody Brown-Peyton
Published in News on March 7, 2018 1:47 PM


Hector Soler, left, appears in Wayne County Superior Court with his attorney Wednesday.


A Superior Court judge sentenced Hector Soler, a former Air Force chief master sergeant, Wednesday to serve up to six years in prison for a drunken-driving crash that killed a 17-year-old in 2016.

Soler, 50, who appeared calm in a Wayne County courtroom Wednesday morning, pleaded guilty to felony death by motor vehicle, felony serious injury by motor vehicle and misdemeanor driving while impaired.

Superior Court Judge William Bland then sentenced Soler to serve four to six years in prison, stemming from the Dec. 10, 2016, drunken-driving crash that claimed the life of Johny Watson.

As part of the sentencing, Bland also ruled that Soler receive substance abuse counseling. 

During the court hearing, Watson's family was seated in the front row of the courtroom. Family members cried as District Attorney Davis Weddle detailed the events surrounding the deadly crash.

On the night of Dec. 10, Soler, after leaving Seymour Johnson Air Force Base where he was assigned as the senior enlisted member of the 4th Security Forces Squadron, crashed into the back of Watson's Jeep at 70 mph, on South George Street near Carver Boulevard, in a 35 mph zone, in Goldsboro.

The crash launched Watson's Jeep 159 feet into a utility pole, resulting in Watson suffering from severe injuries.

Watson was taken to Wayne UNC Health Care with severe head injuries and then flown to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. There, the 17-year-old underwent emergency surgery and was put into a medically induced coma.

Watson died Dec. 15, 2016, five days after the crash.

Two alcohol breath tests given to Soler at the Wayne County Jail more than two hours after the wreck showed his blood alcohol content registering at 0.16, court records show. After Watson's death, Soler, with his attorney present, turned himself in at the Wayne County Magistrate's Office.

Before Soler was sentenced Wednesday, he addressed Watson's family.

"To the Watson family, I'm so sorry for my actions on that night," Soler said. "I wish I could go back in time to make it all go away.

"There has not been a day that goes by that I have not prayed for the soul of Johny, and pray that God gives you strength to move forward.

"I just need for you to understand that I'm sorry for my actions."

Mary Watson, Johny Watson's grandmother, also read a statement on behalf of the family. In tears, she talked about the pain and loss the family has suffered, since the fatal wreck.

"We were awoken by the phone ringing stating that Johny had been in a wreck," she said. "We are thinking along the way that he had broken arms, broken legs and bruises. I prayed that he would be OK as we drove to Greenville. As we arrive at the hospital, they take us to a room and a doctor comes in and tells us that Johny is brain dead.

"We were all in shock."

Watson recounted how she wrapped Johny's parents in her arms to comfort and protect them from what was happening.

"We had to go to the funeral home and make arrangements for our 17-year-old grandson," she said. "No parent should have to do this." 

Watson also talked about the last trip she took to the beach with her grandson.

"We sat on the beach, we laughed, we talked," she said. "These are times that we, as a family, will never get back. His death has put a hole in all of us that will never be filled." 

After the court proceeding, family members said Soler's sentencing failed to bring closure. They also said there is no way to heal from such a tragedy.

Prior to the deadly crash, Soler was the highest-ranking enlisted person assigned to the 4th Security Forces squadron -- essentially the base's law enforcement body -- where he was in charge of 230 military personnel.

He was temporarily reassigned to another squadron and was allowed to retire at a reduced rank -- senior master sergeant -- on Aug. 1, 2017.

Soler enlisted in the Air Force in 1987 and was stationed in Goldsboro starting July 2015. Soler was previously assigned to duty stations in Japan, New Jersey, Turkey, Virginia, Arizona, New York and Texas.


Former U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Hector Soler will serve up to six years in prison for the 2016 drunk driving death of 17-year-old Johny Watson.

Judge William Bland handed down the sentence of 51 to 74 months in Wayne County Superior Court Wednesday, after Soler pled guilty to the charges of death by motor vehicle and driving while intoxicated.

Watson died several days after the Dec. 10, 2016, wreck in which Soler, after leaving Seymour Johnson Air Force Base where he was assigned as the senior enlisted member of the 4th Security Forces Squadron, crashed into the back of Watson's Jeep on South George Street in Goldsboro.

Court records show that Soler's blood alcohol content registered twice at 0.16 when tested just hours after the wreck.

Before the judge handed down the sentence, Soler addressed Watson's family.

"I'm so sorry for my actions that night," Soler said. "I'm sorry for the pain that I have caused you."

During the sentencing hearing, Mary Watson spoke of the pain that her family has suffered following the tragic loss of her grandson.

"We had to make a decision that no parent should ever have to make," she said. "Johny was a good kid and you have taken that away from us."