Friends of a man responsible for a DWI crash that killed three people in Orange County last year testified Thursday to more than 24 hours of drinking and illegal drug use by the defendant leading up to the event.
A jury is being asked to decide whether Chandler Kania, 21, of Asheboro, is guilty of three felony second-degree murder charges and one misdemeanor reckless driving charge in the July 19, 2015, fatal wreck on Interstate 85/40, just west of Hillsborough.
Kania pleaded guilty to other charges, including three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, felony serious injury by motor vehicle and driving while impaired.
Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris King and King’s granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, were killed in the wreck. Orange County Medical Examiner Vincent J. Moylan testified that all three suffered bruises and cuts but died from blunt force trauma in the collision.
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King’s daughter Jahnia King, now 11, survived the crash but suffered broken bones and other injuries, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Neiman said.
Both sides agree on the details of the case, but the prosecution must prove Kania acted with malice. Nieman asked the jury to look for what’s “above and beyond driving while impaired.”
Hight sent the jury out of the room a few times Thursday, including to debate witness testimony about alcohol use at UNC fraternities and Kania’s marijuana use.
Kania’s high school friend Alex Pugh said Kania and another friend visited him in Wilmington on July 17, and they smoked marijuana before going to a concert.
They smoked more the next morning, he said, before going to the beach and then leaving for Chapel Hill. Pugh testified he bought two cases of beer in Carrboro, and they dropped one off where a party was being held later. They stopped by Kania’s apartment before going to Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, where they drank beer and Pugh said he smoked marijuana. He didn’t know if Kania also smoked, he said.
They returned that night to a “pre-game” party at Shortbread Lofts in Chapel Hill. UNC senior Rebecca Greene said about 25 people were in her apartment, drinking and hanging out before going to the bars. Their friends had fake driver’s licenses, using them on weekends at two bars, La Residence and He’s Not Here, she said. Alcohol also is available at fraternity parties, she said.
Greene said her memories are hazy, but she remembers everyone going to La Residence around midnight and then He’s Not Here. Both bars, which are facing civil lawsuits related to the case, have cracked down since that night, she said.
Greene and Pugh have immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony.
Greene said she had been “obsessive” about texting Kania that day for help reuniting with an ex-boyfriend Alexander “Case” Aldridge. Kania wanted help getting together with her friend, she said.
Kania and Aldridge left He’s Not together and started arguing about the girls, attorneys and witnesses said. Pugh and another friend stayed behind and found Kania later in his Jeep in the fraternity parking lot. They ran to stop him from driving.
The friend was knocked to the ground, and Kania was on top of him, Pugh said. They grabbed his cell phone, he said, and he tried to take the keys, but Kania drove away.
Several 911 callers testified to seeing the Jeep driving the wrong way on the interstate around 3 a.m.
Authorities reported Kania’s blood-alcohol level was 0.17 – twice the state’s legal definition of impairment of 0.08 – and he tested positive for marijuana. An N.C. Highway Patrol trooper who responded found beer cans strewn around and “Chandler was unaware of where he even was,” Smith said.
McGee and King were longtime friends, her daughter Deseante Jones said tearfully Wednesday.
They were returning to Charlotte from an annual family celebration of her late grandmother’s life in Virginia, Jones said. The urn holding her grandmother’s ashes was with them.
Also Thursday, Superior Court Judge Henry Hight dismissed one juror for falling asleep.
“From when it was pointed out to me, I counted 25 minutes,” Hight told the startled juror. “Your head was on your chest, your eyes were closed, you didn’t move for 25 minutes.”
The juror said he did not realize that had happened and continued to sit in his chair. Hight motioned to the bailiff to guide him out of the courtroom.
The town of Chapel Hill announced a new coalition this week, the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce the Negative Impacts of High Risk Drinking.
In announcing the group, it noted that in a recent survey, 71 percent of local college students and 47 percent of high school seniors reported using alcohol in the previous 30 days.
The coalition includes UNC, the Orange County Health Department and the Orange County ABC Board and will be housed in the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership office on West Rosemary Street.
“The coalition’s strength lies in our goal to tackle the problem from many different angles,” said coalition director Elinor Landess. “We believe our work will make a difference in addressing a complex and pervasive public health problem that affects us all.”