Ex-UNC student guilty of manslaughter in wrong-way I-85 crash
Posted October 17, 2016
Updated October 18, 2016
Hillsborough, N.C. — 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."