Superior Court Judge Henry Hight sentenced Chandler Kania to between 12 and 16 years in prison Monday for three counts of involuntary manslaughter, misdemeanor reckless driving and other charges.
The jury deliberated since Thursday to reach a verdict, rejecting a possible conviction for second-degree murder in the July 19, 2015, drunk-driving crash.
Kania, 21, of Asheboro, pleaded guilty to multiple charges before the trial started, including three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, felony causing serious injury and driving while impaired. The sentence handed down Monday covers those charges as well.
Three passengers – Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris King and King’s granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6 – were killed when Kania hit their car after driving the wrong way on Interstate 85/40 west of Hillsborough last year. King’s daughter, Jahnia King, now 11, was seriously injured.
Kania cried as he read a statement before sentencing, taking full responsibility for the “terrible decision” he made that night.
“I realize my words bring no consolation to those whose lives have been irreparably harmed by me and nothing can be done to erase my mistakes,” he said. “I cannot bring back the lives that were lost or erase the hurt I’ve caused, but what I can do is strive to live my life in ways that honor the victims.”
Defense attorney Roger Smith Jr. offered several witnesses to Kania’s character. Kania is kind and selfless, a top student, and a leader who gives back to his community and church, they said. Smith unsuccessfully urged the judge to consider letting Kania join a program that would allow him to speak to high school students about his mistakes and the cost to him and his victims.
Kania has been working with local children through an Asheboro-based program for the last year, said Jenny Martin, associate pastor for missions at First Baptist Church in Asheboro.
“I’ve heard Chandler encourage students to stay in school, to make good decisions. This is a situation where we’re not just doing homework, but we’re talking about lives and encouraging one another in situations,” she said. “I’ve overheard conversations he’s had with some boys and tried to point them in the right direction and be a positive influence.”
They are not planning to appeal the jury’s decision, Roger Smith said.
Kania didn’t get what he deserved, said Jahmonie Smith, whose 6-year-old daughter and mother were killed.
Jahnice “didn’t get a chance to live and enjoy herself,” Jahmonie Smith said after the trial. “That was taken from her (by) him. Justice wasn’t served obviously, and I’m disappointed by it.”
Before Kania was sentenced, Jahnia King and others spoke about what they lost in the crash.
She doesn’t remember the wreck, said Jahnia, who was 9 at the time, because she had fallen asleep in the back seat as the family returned to Charlotte from a memorial service in Virginia. She woke up in the hospital as the doctors were putting a cast on her leg, she said.
When she heard later that the others had died, “it made me feel sad,” she said. Now, she feels angry, she said, “because of how this happened and why this happened.”
They miss their mothers every day, said Jahnia’s sister Jahlecia Smith and McGee’s daughter Deseante Jones.
McGee “didn’t have a mean bone in her body,” Jones said, struggling with her tears to talk about how she won’t be able to call her mother for advice anymore.
Jahlecia Smith said she talked with her mother every day; the last time was the day before the crash. King was “our rock,” she said.
“It’s just really hard,” she said. “Every moment in my life from this point on ... I don’t have that person that I can go to whenever I make a decision or if I just need help or to talk about my day. I don’t have that person anymore.”