A former UNC student pleaded guilty to several charges Monday in a wrong-way crash that killed three people last year, but he will challenge second-degree murder charges in an Orange County jury trial.
Chandler Kania, 21, of Asheboro, pleaded guilty to three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, a felony charge of causing serious injury, driving while impaired, and to having an open container of alcohol.
He also pleaded guilty to driving after consuming alcohol while under age 21, consuming alcohol under age 21, two counts of using a false driver’s license and driving the wrong way on a dual-lane highway.
The charges could bring up to a total 59 years and six months in prison, although Superior Court Judge Henry Hight Jr. advised Kania that the sentence could be less given his lack of a criminal history.
A jury will decide three counts of felony second-degree murder and one count of misdemeanor reckless driving. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Kania and two friends arrived in Chapel Hill from Wilmington on July 18, 2015, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman said. Kania started drinking from a partial case of Coors beer around 7 p.m. and smoked marijuana before going to a house party at the Shortbread Lofts in Chapel Hill, he said.
Kania later left the party and went to a local restaurant, La Residence, where he used a fake driver’s license to get in and have at least one drink, Nieman said. He left the restaurant for a nearby bar, He’s Not Here, later that night; Kania used the license to get at least one drink there, Nieman said.
Around 2 a.m., Kania and his friends went to a fraternity house, where there was a disagreement, Nieman said. Kania’s friends took his cellphone in an attempt to keep him from driving drunk, but Kania left in his Jeep Wrangler early on the morning of July 19, 2015, he said.
A 911 caller saw him next, driving in the wrong direction on Interstate 85/40 just west of Hillsborough, Nieman said.
He said Kania drove four to six miles northeast in the interstate’s southwest lanes before he hit another car head-on. Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris and Harris’ granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, were killed. A 9-year-old child survived the crash but had broken bones and other injuries, Neiman said.
Kania’s blood-alcohol level at the scene was 0.17 – twice the state’s legal definition of impairment of 0.08 – and he tested positive for marijuana. He initially presented the fake driver’s license to N.C. Highway Patrol troopers after the crash, Nieman said.
Kania is free on $1 million bail and under house arrest.
The victims’ families have filed civil lawsuits accusing him of driving carelessly and recklessly while impaired by alcohol and other substances and “in willful and wanton disregard” for the safety of others.
The lawsuits, which are scheduled for a hearing early next year, also name Kania’s parents and the businesses that are accused of serving him alcohol.