Local News

No verdict yet in wrong-way I-85 fatal crash trial

Posted October 14, 2016 5:27 p.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2016 6:52 p.m. EDT

— After more than a day of deliberations, jurors still haven't reached a verdict on whether a former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student is guilty of murder for driving the wrong-way on Interstate 85 last year and killing three people in a head-on collision.

Chandler Michael Kania, 21, of Asheboro, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Felecia Harris, 49, her friend Darlene McGee, 46, both of Charlotte, and Harris' granddaughter, Jahnice Beard, 6, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

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 Harris' Suzuki sedan. Harris' daughter, Jahnia King, 9, survived the wreck but was seriously injured.

The jury sent out a couple of questions Friday seeking clarification of the law and asking to look again at some of the evidence, including skid marks from the crash scene and text exchanges between Kania and his friends.

Kania pleaded guilty last week 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.

But his attorneys, who put up no evidence during the week-long trial, have argued that the case is merely a drunken driving case that doesn't rise to the level of murder.

Witnesses for the prosecution said Kania was drinking and smoking marijuana throughout the day and night before the crash, and Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman introduced evidence to suggest Kania also texted while driving on occasion.

Kania was in a heated argument with a fraternity brother and then fought with two friends who tried to stop him from getting behind the wheel, throwing one to the ground, according to testimony.

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

To convict Kania of second-degree murder, prosecutors must show that he acted with malice in the collision. Deliberations will continue Friday morning. Jurors also have the option of convicting him of involuntary manslaughter or acquitting him.

Jurors will resume their deliberations Monday morning.