An Orange County deputy wrapped up a week of prosecution witnesses Wednesday by describing the scene of a triple-fatal DWI collision last year on Interstate 85/40.
Deputy Christopher Bentley was the first to show up after then-UNC student Chandler Kania drove his Jeep the wrong way and crashed into a Suzuki outside Hillsborough just after 3 a.m. July 19, 2015.
The jury must decide if Kania, 21, of Asheboro, is guilty of three felony second-degree murder charges and one misdemeanor reckless driving charge. The prosecution must prove Kania acted with malice to prove he is guilty of second-degree murder.
Three passengers in the Suzuki – Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris and Harris’ granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6 – were dead when he arrived, Bentley testified.
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Harris’ young daughter, Jahnia King, was halfway through the front passenger window, Bentley said. He held her still until another deputy helped remove her from the vehicle. He saw Kania pinned in the Jeep about 5 feet away, his horn honking while they worked, Bentley said.
Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman played dashcam video from Bentley’s cruiser and audio from the microphone on his uniform. It’s “extremely important,” Nieman said, because it shows Kania’s behavior despite being aware that he has harmed others.
Superior Court Judge Henry Hight allowed the jury to see 5 minutes of the 20-minute video, overruling defense attorney Roger Smith Jr.’s argument that it would “inflame the jury and to get them to decide this case based on emotions and passions.”
King could be heard wailing on the video, the Jeep’s horn punctuating her pain with more than 20 short and long bursts.
State troopers and a firefighter have testified that Kania was yelling for help and cursing. Two more troopers testified Wednesday.
Trooper Fred Trueblood, an accident reconstruction expert, estimated both vehicles were going about 65 mph when they collided. He created an animation of what likely happened based on where the vehicles ended up and the damage done.
It showed the Jeep headed north between the highway’s left, southbound lane and the guardrail; its left tires were just inside the left lane. The Suzuki was in the left lane, heading south. The impact was just to the front driver’s side, Trueblood said.
Trooper Sgt. John Collins testified about interviewing the witnesses, corroborating earlier testimony that the crash followed two days during which Kania smoked marijuana and drank alcohol, including at a party and two Chapel Hill bars.
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.
Collins also interviewed Kania and his parents at the hospital. Kania started crying when he heard what happened, didn’t he, Smith asked.
“He was crying. ... It wasn’t like a sobbing, wailing sound, but, yes, he was crying,” Collins answered.
“And you told him shortly after that that he had murdered three people?” Smith asked.
“Yes, sir,” Collins said.
Kania has pleaded guilty to several charges, including three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, felony causing serious injury and driving while impaired.