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Ex-UNC student guilty of manslaughter in wrong-way I-85 crash

Posted October 17
Updated October 18

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— Chandler Michael Kania, found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Monday for his role in the deaths of three people in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 85 last year, will spend up to 16 years in prison.

Jurors deliberated about 11 hours over three days before choosing the lesser of two charges on which to convict the former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student. He had originally been charged with three counts of second-degree murder, and a juror told WRAL News that there was a battle in the deliberation room, particularly when it came to those charges.

Kania, 21, of Asheboro, was convicted in the deaths of Felecia Harris, 49, her friend Darlene McGee, 46, both of Charlotte, and Harris' granddaughter, Jahnice Beard, 6, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Superior Court Judge Henry Hight didn't mince words after sentencing Kania.

"This case is about a 20-year-old man who got drunk and, despite the best efforts of his friends, drove and killed three people and injured a 9-year-old little girl," Hight said. "Mr. Kania, what you've done represents the worst nightmare of every parent."

Kania was headed north in the southbound lanes of I-85 near the Interstate 40 split in Orange County on July 19, 2015, when his Jeep Wrangler collided head on with Harris' Suzuki sedan. Harris' daughter, Jahnia King, 9, survived the wreck but was seriously injured.

Kania pleaded guilty before his trial began to three counts of felony death by motor vehicle and one count each of felony serious injury by motor vehicle, driving while impaired, driving the wrong way on an interstate, driving after consuming alcohol as a minor, possession of alcohol by a minor and having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Jahmonie Smith, whose mother and daughter died in the crash, described the outcome as disappointing.

"Justice wasn't served for them. My daughter was 6. She just basically turned 6, and she didn't get a chance to live and enjoy herself, and that was taken from her by him," Smith said.

Kania's attorneys, who put up no evidence during the week-long trial, argued that the case is merely a drunken driving case that didn't rise to the level of murder.

Witnesses for the prosecution said Kania was drinking and smoking marijuana throughout the day and night before the crash, and Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman introduced evidence to suggest Kania also texted while driving on occasion.

Kania was in a heated argument with a fraternity brother and then fought with two friends who tried to stop him from getting behind the wheel, throwing one to the ground, according to testimony.

Toxicology tests show that Kania had a blood-alcohol content of 0.17, which is more than twice the level at which a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law. Because he was 20 at the time, however, any alcohol in his system would have been illegal because he was underage.

Following his sentencing, Kania expressed remorse for his actions.

"Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of my awful decisions and gruesome consequences. I do not know how I'm still alive. I wish it would have been me, the drunk driver, who suffered all the consequences, not the Kings, Beard and McGees," he said. 'I am the only one deserving of this heartbreak and misery."

11 Comments

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  • Mary Meadows Oct 18, 1:14 p.m.
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    I cannot help wondering how much time a person without the means to have a high paid attorney would have gotten? I feel as though a poor person would have easily gotten double the time. Just my personal opinion.

  • Mary Meadows Oct 18, 1:13 p.m.
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    View quoted thread



    Dickle as a former licensed drug & alcohol counselor I feel comfortable in saying , how can you possibly determine if someone is alcoholic based on that comment? FYI u can tell someone that's until the cows come home, but until the day a person w/a problems admits it - then don't waste time trying to lay that label on someone.

  • Karen Orndorff Oct 18, 1:05 p.m.
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    We seriously need tougher penalties for drunk driving especially when lives are lost on account of it.

  • Marie Brandsdorfer Oct 18, 10:19 a.m.
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    This is a huge misconduct of Justice. I feel he should be serving 3 life sentences.
    I don't understand how the jurors decided that he should get a second chance at life when the victims didn't get the same.
    This is a nightmare.

  • Jason Still Oct 18, 4:10 a.m.
    user avatar

    Wow you guys are harsh. Look I'm not defending what he did but from my own experience, I got a DUI 8 years ago and I can tell you sometimes you just have way too many and no one can talk you out of driving. He didn't do it with the intention of killing anyone. Very tragic and he still has to do 16 years, in prison that's a lifetime. He will come out a different person. Try not to be so judgemental it could happen to anyone, not to mention he is young and dumb.

  • Ben Hill Oct 17, 9:41 p.m.
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    View quoted thread


    Way to bring race into this. I don't think most white people are celebrating this outcome. The kid was drunk and stupid. He got off with a relatively light sentence. No need to make this a racial issue as well.

  • Linda Tally Oct 17, 8:57 p.m.
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    It must have been hard to come to a decision in this case - wish the jury had decided on the other option open to them.

  • Kylie Marie Summerling Oct 17, 8:46 p.m.
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    Disgusted. This is not enough time. What uneducated fobs sat on a jury and decided that this punk isn't a murderer? His own friends got into a fist fight trying to stop him from driving. He had alternatives. I hope he dies in prison. And more than that, I hope his family understands that there are white people who are just as disgusted as they are with this verdict.

  • Sick Ofhollywood Oct 17, 6:56 p.m.
    user avatar

    How do you argue this is just a drunk driving incident, when the victims died? What an insult to the victims' family. If I was a juror and heard that, I would have no mercy on this little spoiled brat. 16 years is a slap on the wrist, since he will do a third of that.

  • John White Oct 17, 6:34 p.m.
    user avatar

    Do the crime do the time. You killed a bunch of innocent people no matter how much time you serve you did not get a life sentence like your victims. You got off easy.

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