Local News

Ex-UNC tennis player pleads guilty in wreck that injured two

Posted September 14, 2009 10:50 a.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2009 12:28 p.m. EDT

— A former University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill tennis player was sentenced Monday to 10 to 12 months in jail after pleading guilty to several charges in an August 2008 wreck that injured two women.

Chris Kearney, 21, of Irvine, Calif., pleaded guilty to two felony counts of serious injury by motor vehicle, two counts of possession of an altered or fictitious driver's license and one count each of driving while impaired, consumption of alcohol under 21, driving after consuming under age 21 and reckless driving to endanger.

Prosecutors dropped two charges of felony hit-and-run in exchange for the plea.

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway suspended a second 10- to 12-month sentence and placed Kearney on probation for three years. He also prohibited Kearney from driving a vehicle for a year and ordered him to continue undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse.

Kearney, the Atlantic Coast Conference 2007 Freshman Player of the Year, faced a maximum sentence of about 12 years in prison on the charges.

Kearney's SUV veered off the road in the 200 block of North Columbia Street on Aug. 17, 2008, hit a wall and struck two female UNC students walking on the sidewalk.

He registered a blood alcohol level of 0.18, which is more than twice the limit the state considers as impaired driving for drivers age 21 or older. Police also said he had two fake IDs – one that he ordered off the Internet and a second one that belonged to a relative.

Carolyn Anne Kubitschek, 22, of Asheville, and Casey Marie LeSawyer, 22, of Weaverville, were seriously injured in the incident and had to withdraw from school last year while recovering.

Kearney apologized to both women and their families in court Monday.

"I am so, so sorry for getting behind that wheel," he said.

Kubitschek, who has returned to UNC, described in court Monday the trauma of her recovery.

"The pain was relentless. I thought, if this is what it is going to be like, I don't want to live," she said, adding that she expects to undergo more surgeries in the future.

"I don't feel it is my fault for being put in this situation, but the guilt of rearranging the lives of my family can be overpowering," she said.

Kubitschek told Kearney that she wants to forgive him. "I hope that you remember our story and find a better path for yourself," she said.

Her father, Ken Kubitschek, said the family has already forgiven Kearney, but he asked Ridgeway to sentence Kearney to at least a year in jail to send a message about the dangers of drinking and driving.

"We sincerely hope that Chris will understand the gravity of this poor judgment and become a better person for it," Ken Kubitschek said.

LeSawyer, who also has returned to school, spoke on Kearney's behalf, asking the he not be sent to jail. She said she has gotten to know "the real Chris Kearney" since the wreck and said he knows he made a mistake.

"It will do me no good if Chris is in jail. He will not be repaying any debts by sitting in a jail cell. It will just destroy something already broken," she said, noting that Kearney has been sharing his experience with other students in recent months.