Judge Allen Baddour denied a defense attorney’s motion Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court that would have delayed the trial of a man accused of killing three people while driving drunk.
The case against Chandler Kania, 21, is expected to begin Oct. 3. Baddour could rule later this week on whether to cell phone records obtained with a search warrant can be used against Kania.
Defense attorney Roger Smith Jr. argued N.C. Highway Patrol investigators seized the phone unlawfully, because Kania’s father turned it over at the family’s Asheboro home instead of at UNC Hospitals. The search warrant authorized investigators to get the phone from Kania, his parents or anyone else in his room at UNC Hospitals.
The search warrant wasn’t served at the hospital, Smith argued, because the trooper who served it there was not the one who retrieved the phone from the Kania home and signed the search warrant.
“That’s just the fatal flaw here, is you can’t serve somebody with a search warrant for a hospital room in Orange County in Asheboro,” Smith said.
Kania is charged with three counts of second degree murder, three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, driving while impaired, careless and reckless driving, and other offenses. He has been free on a $1 million bail and under house arrest for nearly a year.
Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris, and Harris’ granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, were killed early on July 19, 2015, when they were hit head-on on Interstate 85 in Orange County.
Family has said the three were returning from a family reunion and memorial service for McGee’s mother in Virginia.
Investigators have said Kania, who was 20 at the time, was drinking at a party and at two downtown Chapel Hill bars until early on the morning of July 19, 2015. Kania’s blood-alcohol level after the crash was reported at 0.17 – more than twice the state’s legal limit for someone 21 and older – and investigators said he also had marijuana in his system.
N.C. Highway Patrol investigators interviewed Kania’s parents, Michael and Stephanie Kania, and the lone survivor of the crash, a 9-year-old child, at UNC Hospitals. They learned during the interview that Kania’s friends had tried to talk him out of driving and taken his cell phone in the hope that he wouldn’t leave without it.
Kania’s mother told investigators the friends still had the cell phone after the wreck and that they would bring it to the hospital.
Orange County Patrol Sgt. Michael Stuart got the search warrant four days later and served it to Kania’s father Michael Kania at the hospital. Kania’s parents searched the hospital room but realized it had been taken to the family’s home in Asheboro.
Michael Kania offered to get the phone for investigators, Trooper Stephen Foster said. The investigators thought there might be evidence on the phone about what happened in the hours before the wreck, he said.
Stuart testified that he arranged for Randolph County Trooper Christopher Azelton to pick up the phone and return it via an Alamance County trooper to Orange County. Azelton testified that he waited in the driveway of the family’s home while Michael Kania went in to get the phone.
The cell phone records should be admitted as evidence, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman argued, because Stuart served the warrant to Kania’s parents at UNC Hospitals. Michael Kania voluntarily surrendered the phone in Asheboro as an extension of that action, he said.
“They said it’s at the home and we’ll give it to you. That’s what happened at the hospital room, and that’s what happened at the home of the Kanias,” he said.
Defense attorneys plan to challenge other evidence before the trial begins, including accident photos, speeding estimates and the blood-alcohol content report.