Local News

Judge: Cellphone evidence OK for fatal I-85 crash trial

Posted September 6, 2016 5:07 p.m. EDT

Chandler Michael Kania leaves an Orange County courtroom on Aug. 16, 2016, following a motions hearing in his case. He is charged with driving the wrong way on Interstate 85 in July 2015 and killing three people in a crash.

— A Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that evidence obtained from the cellphone of a former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student accused of killing three people a year ago in a wrong-way collision on Interstate 85 can be used in his upcoming trial.

Authorities said Chandler Michael Kania was driving north in the southbound lanes near the split of I-85 and Interstate 40 in Orange County on July 19, 2015, when his Jeep Wrangler collided with a Suzuki driven by Felecia Harris.

Harris, 49, of Charlotte, her friend Darlene McGee, 46, 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.

Defense attorneys had argued that the search warrant used to seize Kania's phone was flawed because it allowed state troopers to search only Kania's hospital room at UNC Hospitals and they actually retrieved it from his father in Asheboro.

Troopers said they wanted to the phone because they thought it might include text messages between Kania and his friends about drinking in the hours leading up to the crash.

Toxicology tests show that he 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.

The defense also wants Kania's blood tests excluded as evidence, arguing the blood was drawn improperly and any analysis of it is therefore unreliable.

Kania is under house arrest awaiting trial on three counts each of second-degree murder and felony death by motor vehicle and one count each of felony serious injury by motor vehicle, driving while impaired, driving left of center, obtaining alcohol by a minor and underage consumption of alcohol as a minor. A grand jury also indicted him on an aggravating factor linked to a fight he had with friends who tried to stop him from driving after drinking that night.

The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 3.