Kania lawyers argue against cell phone evidence in fatal DWI case

Chandler Kania in court Aug. 16, 2016. (David Hurst/CBS North Carolina)

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Lawyers for a former UNC student charged in a 2015 triple-fatal wreck on Interstate 85 argued in court Tuesday to have evidence thrown out of the case with much of the day revolving around a cell phone.

Chandler Kania crashed his Jeep Wrangler head-on into a Suzuki sedan driven by Felecia Harris, 49, of Charlotte, officials said.

Two of the three passengers in Harris’ car were also killed, including 6-year-old Jahnice Beard of Brooklyn, New York, who was seated in the backseat, and Darlene McGee, 46, of Charlotte.

Kania’s lawyers have filed a motion to have the following evidence suppressed:

    • Blood tests
    • Photos and videos from Kania’s cell phone
    • Autopsy pictures
    • Dashcam video

Defense attorneys claim evidence was collected illegally and should not be presented in court.

Several North Carolina State troopers took the stand Tuesday to talk about the events of July 19, 2015. Most of Tuesday’s testimony and court action focused on Kania’s cell phone.

Kania’s attorney argues cell phone records should be thrown out because the search warrant for the phone was improperly served. Kania’s defense team wants to keep out any texts, photos or videos on Kania’s cell phone leading up to the crash.

However, a trooper said there was evidence on Kania’s phone that a crime took place and claimed Kania’s friends had his phone that night.

The state argues a search warrant was valid and the Kania family never objected to giving up the phone.

His friends – one nicknamed “Dits” – took his phone, believing it would prevent him from getting behind the wheel that night.

“And ‘Dits’ said he thought that if he grabbed his phone, he wouldn’t leave without it. So, I think the phone was actually sitting on his lap or somewhere he could reach it. He reached in the door or window, I think it was the door and grabbed the phone and took it. Well Chandler left again and they never saw him after that,” said Sgt. John Collins of the NC Highway Patrol.

Kania’s attorneys tell us it is not easy for Kania and his family to sit through the hearings and to think about the victim’s families just about every day.

“He’s struggling, you naturally would,” defense attorney Wade Smith said. “That family is appropriately keeping in mind the victims and they talk about that all the time and they will never be OK, never will be OK.”

The hearing about phone records ended around 3 p.m. and the judge will make a ruling in that issue late this week or early next week.

Notes on the day in court:

  • Four Highway Patrol troopers and one Highway Patrol sergeant took the stand for the cell phone records hearing.
  • The defense’s main argument was that the location for the search warrant was different from where it was actually served. Investigators put the location of the search warrant at the hospital, thinking the phone was with Kania’s parents after the crash. However, the search warrant itself was served at Kania’s home in Asheboro.
  • One of the troopers testified there was evidence on Kania’s phone that a crime took place that night. He claims Kania’s friends had his phone the night of the crash because he said Kania’s friends took the phone in an effort to prevent him from getting into his car and driving after drinking.
  • Kania’s attorneys also filed a motion to have the trial moved to a later date but the judge immediately denied that motion.

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