Former UNC student Chandler Kania texted in May, “I love driving high,” his fraternity brother testified Monday in a triple-fatal DWI trial in Orange County Superior Court.
UNC junior Steven Joon Sin testified that the statement was part of a May 18, 2015, group text, in which he, Kania and other friends talked about driving around and smoking marijuana, because the fraternity board was at the house and they couldn’t smoke there. They planned the “blunt ride” to celebrate Kania dropping a course at UNC, Sin said.
Kania’s defense attorney, Roger Smith, tried to block the testimony, saying it does not prove Kania was driving high that night. Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman countered that the text and Sin’s testimony show Kania’s character and a pattern of driving-related behavior. Judge Henry Hight agreed with Nieman.
Kania, 21, of Asheboro, faces 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. The prosecution must prove Kania acted with malice to prove he is guilty of second-degree murder.
Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris and Harris’ granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, were killed. Harris’ daughter Jahnia King, now 11, was the lone survivor.
Kania already pleaded guilty to three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, felony causing serious injury by motor vehicle, driving while impaired and other charges.
Sin testified Monday that he had smoked marijuana with Kania several times, including on July 18, 2015, before Kania attended a party at a Chapel Hill apartment and drank with friends at La Residence and another Chapel Hill bar, He’s Not Here.
Authorities have said Kania’s blood-alcohol level was 0.17 – more than twice the state’s legal threshold for impairment – and he tested positive for marijuana.
N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Stephen Foster, one of two troopers to testify Monday, responded to a Jeep going the wrong way on the highway just after 3 a.m. July 19, 2015. He found an Orange County sheriff’s deputy with King, who was halfway through the passenger-side window; others in the car were dead, he said.
Kania was pinned in his Jeep but alert and conscious, he said.
Foster testified that the horn on Kania’s Jeep was honking repeatedly, even as Hillsborough firefighters worked to free him, and Kania was yelling.
“He was telling the firefighters that they need to (expletive) help him,” Foster testified.
Foster noted a strong odor of alcohol around the vehicle and Kania. He found a partial 18-pack of Coors beer and beer cans in the median, he said.
Kania, with red eyes and slurred speech, held out a driver’s license before trying to take it back, Foster said. He pulled it away from Kania and saw the photo was someone else, he said. Kania told him it belonged to an older brother, Foster said. He learned later that it was a fraternity brother’s license.
The trial continues Tuesday.