Local News

Trial to proceed after guilty plea in fatal I-85 crash

Posted October 3, 2016 12:11 p.m. EDT
Updated October 3, 2016 8:58 p.m. EDT

— A former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student accused of killing three people last year in a wrong-way collision on Interstate 85 pleaded guilty Monday to several lesser charges in the case, but a trial on three second-degree murder charges will proceed this week.

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.

Kania, 21, of Asheboro, pleaded guilty 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.

Both sides have worked toward a plea agreement for months but couldn't come to terms until Monday.

"We have been in talks with this family for a year," Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman said. "I feel gratified by the fact that we have continued to have a good relationship with them and earned their support, and we support them."

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