Local News

Murder charges filed against UNC student in wrong-way I-85 crash

Posted July 23, 2015 5:07 p.m. EDT
Updated July 24, 2015 12:59 p.m. EDT

— Three second-degree murder charges were filed Thursday against a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student accused of killing three people in a weekend crash on Interstate 85.

Chandler Michael Kania, 20, of Asheboro, also was charged with three counts of felony death by motor vehicle and one count of felony serious injury by motor vehicle. He was previously charged with driving while impaired, driving the wrong way on an interstate, careless and reckless driving, driving after consuming alcohol as a minor, possession of alcohol by a minor and having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

District Judge Charles Anderson set a $1 million bond for Kania, who appeared in court in a wheelchair. He had been recovering at UNC Hospitals from injuries suffered in the fiery Sunday morning crash and was taken to court upon his release.

"Based upon our understanding of the facts, there is substantial reason to believe he is a danger not only to others but also to himself. That's a concern of ours," said Assistant Orange County District Attorney Jeff Nieman, who wanted a $1.5 million bond.

State Highway Patrol troopers say Kania was driving north in the southbound lanes near the split of I-85 and Interstate 40 in Orange County early Sunday 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 Baird, 6, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were killed in the fiery wreck. Harris' daughter, Jahnia King, 9, was seriously injured but was released Thursday from UNC Hospitals.

An eyewitness saw Kania was on the wrong side of I-85 for at least 6 miles before the head-on collision. Nieman said troopers found a box of beer at the crash site and said Kania had "a strong odor of alcohol" and bloodshot eyes.

Kania, a rising junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, handed troopers the driver's license of someone else, indicating he was 21, Nieman said, adding that Kania didn't have his own driver's license at the time but had a fraternity ID with his real name.

Authorities have evidence that Kania went to at least two different bars that night, using the ID that gave his age as 21, the prosecutor said.

Up to five people tried to stop Kania from getting behind the wheel in Chapel Hill, Nieman said, and the effort ended in a physical altercation, with one person being knocked to the ground. The people tried to take Kania's keys but wound up grabbing his cellphone, thinking that would prevent him from leaving, the prosecutor said.

Kania's mother sobbed in the courtroom as Nieman described the case against him. The family on Wednesday issued a statement saying they were "absolutely devastated about this tragedy."

"This case represents almost unimaginable horror and loss and tragedy and is an indictment, in many ways, of the world we live in and the world we tolerate," Anderson said in setting Kania's bond.

If Kania posts bond, the judge ordered that he remain under electronic monitoring and not leave his home between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.