Local News

Relatives' grief raw in first day of wrong-way DWI trial

Posted October 5, 2016 7:48 a.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2016 11:44 p.m. EDT

— Relatives of the three people killed when a college student driving the wrong way on Interstate 85 rammed their vehicle tearfully took the stand Wednesday as his trial began.

The grown children of 49-year-old Felecia Harris and 46-year-old Darlene McGee cried as they told the jury about their last interactions with their mothers and how they heard about the crash that killed them.

Chandler Michael Kania was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student when his Jeep Wrangler collided with a Suzuki driven by Harris near the split of I-85 and Interstate 40 in Orange County on July 19, 2015.

Harris and McGee, both 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.

Kania is charged with second-degree murder in the case, but in their opening statements, his attorneys asked the jury not to presume malice on his part. ​

Prosecutors said Kania laid on the horn, yelling for first responders to help him faster on the night of the crash while they were trying to save the little girl.

Both sides concede that Kania had a fight with a friend over a girl and had been out drinking for hours before he got behind the wheel. Kania, 21, of Asheboro, pleaded guilty Monday 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.

The trial on the second-degree murder charges will come down to proving malice.

"I would ask for you to look for the things that make this clearly more than just impaired driving resulting in death," Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Neiman told jurors in his opening statement. "We contend those things are what constitute malice."

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

Authorities said he borrowed a driver's license to get into two Chapel Hill bars in the hours before the crash and that he fought with friends who tried to stop him from driving after drinking.