UNC-Chapel Hill fraternity sued in fatal wrong-way I-85 crash
Posted April 12
Hillsborough, N.C. — A fraternity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and more than a dozen students have been added as defendants in civil lawsuits over a fatal wrong-way crash on Interstate 85 almost two years ago.
Chandler Michael 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 a Suzuki sedan. Felecia Harris, 49, her friend Darlene McGee, 46, both of Charlotte, and Harris' granddaughter, Jahnice Beard, 6, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were killed. Harris' daughter, Jahnia King, 9, survived the crash but was seriously injured.
Kania was convicted in October of involuntary manslaughter and pleaded guilty 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. He was sentenced to up to 16 years in prison on the charges.
Weeks after the crash, relatives of Harris, McGee, Beard and King sued Kania, his parents and two Chapel Hill bars, La Residence and He's Not Here, that served Kania alcohol in the hours before the crash – he was an underage college student at the time – alleging that Kania's actions amounted to willful misconduct and that the parents and the bars were negligent in allowing him to get drunk and then drive.
Now, the relatives have added the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at UNC-Chapel Hill, the fraternity's alumni board and 13 students to their lawsuits, alleging they also contributed to Kania's intoxicated state before the crash.
"This senseless tragedy was the result of the acts of many people coming together to help an underage person use drugs and alcohol," attorney David Kirby, who represents McGee's estate, said in a statement. "We need to send a strong message that we can’t turn a blind eye to this sort of behavior. The consequences for our community are too severe."
During Kania's trial, witnesses said he drank throughout the day on the day before the crash, including at the fraternity house and at the apartment of two female students, before heading out to the bars. He also smoked marijuana at the fraternity house that evening, according to testimony.
Sigma Phi Epsilon "had a history of allowing and encouraging underage drinking and drug use at the Delta Chapter fraternity house," the lawsuits state. The fraternity also "had a pattern and practice and fraternity tradition of routinely providing false identifications to underage members of the fraternity so that they could illegally purchase and consume alcohol," according to the lawsuits.
Kania used the ID of one of his fraternity brothers to get into the two bars the night before the crash, according to trial testimony.
The alumni board owns the fraternity house and "had a duty to ensure that the house was not used as a haven for underage drinking ... [and] illegal drug use," the lawsuits state. The board, however, "knew or should have known" such activities routinely occurred in the house, according to the lawsuits.
Sigma Phi Epsilon officials didn't respond to requests for comment.
Eleven of the students who have been added to the lawsuits are members of Sigma Phi Epsilon who provided Kania with alcohol, drank with him or didn't try to stop him from drinking or smoking marijuana that night. The other two are the female students who hosted a "pre-game" drinking party before the group headed out to the bars.
Kania's parents and He's Not Here settled their lawsuits earlier this year, but a judge has sealed details of the settlements pending a trial next year against Kania, La Residence and the new defendants.