Christopher John Palmeri, 18, of High Holly Lane, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Jan. 14 death of Sadiki Young, also 18.
Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens sentenced Palmeri to 16 to 20 months in prison, with all but five months suspended, placed him on five years' probation and ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service after he serves his time.
Police said Palmeri drank at an underage party and was speeding when he lost control of his 2001 Ford Escort on Wakefield Plantation Drive near Village Spring Road. The car went off the road, spun sideways, clipped a tree and rolled down an embankment, police said.
Excessive speed was the primary factor in the wreck, police said. An accident reconstruction team determined Palmeri was driving at about 72 mph in a 35 mph zone at the time.
Investigators also said Palmeri had a blood-alcohol level of 0.06. That is below the state's 0.08 legal level of intoxication for adults, but he isn't of legal drinking age.
A second passenger in the car suffered minor injuries, police said.
Young's mother spoke at Monday's court hearing of the pain she has experienced since losing her son.
"It rings in my brain like a repeating memory that I can't get out of my head," Rosemarie Newman said. "Does anyone know what it's like for a mother to pray that her child died instantly?"
Newman said Palmeri's sentence does not compare to that pain she's suffered.
"People are not held accountable," said Newman.
Palmeri apologized to Young's family and asked Stephens for mercy.
"If you decide to send me to prison, I'm accepting that. I believe that is a reasonable punishment," Palmeri said.
"But I think, if I do not go to prison, I can make a difference. I can further my education, (do) public speaking at schools and help prevent accidents like this from happening again," Palmeri continued.
The wreck stunned the student body of Wakefield High, coming about 10 months after four other students at the school were killed in an alcohol-related wreck on the U.S. Highway 64 Bypass just east of Raleigh.
Some students expressed outrage at Palmeri's sentence.
"It would seem like he should deserve life in jail for what he did," said Anastasia Raiford.
"To me, the sentence should have been longer," said Kadesha Lykes, also a Wakefield High student. "And he should really pay for what he did."
Stephens told Palmeri that he must live for Young, as well as himself, and that he owed it to Young "to make something of his life."
He urged Palmeri to use his community service time to speak to other teens about the dangers of drinking and driving.