Man accused of killing Central teen on Magnolia Bridge Rd., pleaded not guilty

LIVINGSTON — Nearly four months after Caleb Easterling, 19, of Central, was killed in a wreck on Magnolia Bridge Rd., the accused suspect had his arraignment.

William Cokes, 49, of Baton Rouge, went before a Livingston Parish judge via Zoom due to his medical injuries on Nov. 16. He pleaded not guilty to the charges of vehicular homicide committed while the operator was under the influence of alcoholic beverages and first degree vehicular negligent injuring. He was also assigned a public defender.

Cokes was arrested Sept. 29, and booked into the Livingston Parish Detention Center. That’s nearly three months after the wreck that killed Easterling.

*A booking photo was not provided due to Act No. 494, which places restrictions on mugshots released to the media for most offenses with exceptions for certain violent crimes.*

The fatal incident was on July 12, 2023, when State Police troopers allege that Cokes triggered a three-vehicle collision that resulted in the untimely demise of 19-year-old Caleb Easterling.

According to Troopers, Cokes was driving east on Magnolia Bridge Rd. when he veered into the westbound lane, colliding head-on with Easterling. Another truck headed westward rear-ended Easterling’s vehicle.

Both Cokes and Easterling were airlifted to a hospital due to the severity of their injuries. Tragically, Easterling did not survive, while Cokes survived but sustained serious injuries. It’s also why authorities cited the delay in his arrest, as he required medical recovery time at the hospital and home before being taken into custody.

Cokes was initially charged with vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular negligent injuring, reckless operation of a vehicle, driving on the wrong side of the road, possession of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle, and driving without a valid driver’s license. His bond was set at $126,000.

19-yr-old killed in crash

“The loss of Caleb has been unimaginable. Not only did Caleb

lose his life but we lost our lives as well.” ~ Caleb’s mom

Easterling was on his way home from his summer job, mowing lawns at PARDS in Denham Springs, to prepare for a Zoom interview with the college he planned to attend in the Fall of 2023.

“So he was going home to shower and get ready to get on Zoom,” Becky Easterling said between her tears. “He had to have his hair just right, that boy had more hair products than I do.”

The 19-year-old had graduated from Central High in 2022 and had played junior college baseball in Mississippi the previous year. He was set to join William Woods College in Missouri to pursue baseball this fall.

“The loss of Caleb has been unimaginable. Not only did Caleb lose his life but we lost our lives as well. We are missing his laugh, his joy, and his light,” said Becky Easterling. “We are hoping this arrest is the first step in the judicial system doing the right thing to bring Justice for Caleb. Maybe once that is done we can actually start to heal.”

Cokes’ arraignment begins the legal process that could lead to a trial, if the parties don’t settle beforehand. Vehicular homicide carries a sentence ranging from five to thirty years. His next court date is in Jan. 2024.

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