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Relatives' grief raw in first day of wrong-way DWI trial

Posted October 5

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— Relatives of the three people killed when a college student driving the wrong way on Interstate 85 rammed their vehicle tearfully took the stand Wednesday as his trial began.

The grown children of 49-year-old Felecia Harris and 46-year-old Darlene McGee cried as they told the jury about their last interactions with their mothers and how they heard about the crash that killed them.

Chandler Michael Kania was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student when his Jeep Wrangler collided with a Suzuki driven by Harris near the split of I-85 and Interstate 40 in Orange County on July 19, 2015.

Harris and McGee, both of Charlotte, and Harris' granddaughter, Jahnice Beard, 6, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were killed in the fiery wreck. Harris' daughter, Jahnia King, 9, was seriously injured.

Kania is charged with second-degree murder in the case, but in their opening statements, his attorneys asked the jury not to presume malice on his part. ‚Äč

Prosecutors said Kania laid on the horn, yelling for first responders to help him faster on the night of the crash while they were trying to save the little girl.

Both sides concede that Kania had a fight with a friend over a girl and had been out drinking for hours before he got behind the wheel. Kania, 21, of Asheboro, pleaded guilty Monday 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.

The trial on the second-degree murder charges will come down to proving malice.

"I would ask for you to look for the things that make this clearly more than just impaired driving resulting in death," Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Neiman told jurors in his opening statement. "We contend those things are what constitute malice."

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 Kania was 20 at the time, however, any alcohol in his system would have been illegal because he was underage.

Authorities said he borrowed a driver's license to get into two Chapel Hill bars in the hours before the crash and that he fought with friends who tried to stop him from driving after drinking.

15 Comments

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  • Jim Halbert Oct 6, 12:42 p.m.
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    Retribution has never worked well as the basis for a society's justice system. It's backward-looking only, is atonement for damage already done, and it doesn't accomplish anything other than making the victim's relatives feel better. True reduction of crime comes from forward-looking forms of punishment, actual rehabilitation that helps turn the offender into a productive citizen and a force for good that can influence others into not making the same mistakes they did. There's a reason crime and repeat offender rates are so much lower in Europe than America. The painfully obvious way we can replicate those rates is to simply copy their criminal justice system. Why we insist on sticking with our clearly broken system is beyond me. I guess it's because of the attitudes many people like our friend Paul Maxwell share. Sad.

  • Paul Maxwell Oct 6, 12:16 p.m.
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    How about a new law that requires the investigating officer to summarily execute, on-the-spot, any drunk driver who kills innocent victims in an automobile crash. (It can't be called an ''accident'' because the word accident implies no fault.) It seems only fair to give the drunk driver the same immediate termination of life that they gave to their victim(s). Over time, such a law might also go a long way to keeping drunks out from behind the wheel of what can become a mobile killing machine.

  • Lance Boyle Oct 6, 8:42 a.m.
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    This is about as close as it comes to seeing a verdict purchased. I hope I can afford an attorney like this if I get into trouble.

  • Larry Price Oct 6, 8:02 a.m.
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    not quite. if they show that he was aware that getting behind the wheel in his condition would put people at risk and did it anyway, that could be considered malice.

  • Linda Tally Oct 5, 11:28 p.m.
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    Very tragic occurrence, but driving while intoxicated is absolutely malicious - always. The lack of consideration given by the boy to his condition and the repercussions is completely malicious, even if it was not reasoned out. Sorry, kid - guilty as you can be.

  • Daryl Hales Oct 5, 10:16 p.m.
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    .

  • Daryl Hales Oct 5, 10:11 p.m.
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    let's see, he maliciously used another's I'd to buy alcohol. He maliciously got into a motor vehicle, after consuming the alcohol. He maliciously drove the wrong way on highway. He maliciously blower the horn, while injured parties being treated. He maliciously pleaded guilty to get a lighter sentence. There is no way a jury can have reasonable doubt of his malice.

  • Renee Grainger Oct 5, 9:56 p.m.
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    He "intentionally" killed all of the above people. This story makes me madder than hE!! And "we" wonder ....why!!

  • Renee Grainger Oct 5, 9:52 p.m.
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    The guy "intentationally" killed these people when he got behind the wheel, while "intentationally" drunk, with an "intentationally" possibly stolen ID, that belonged to someone else, while "intentationally" in an argument with his DA GF.

  • Fred Holt Oct 5, 8:52 p.m.
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    The "save me first" horn play from the perp should also be an aggrivating factor.

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