Opening statements focus on malice in trial about ex-UNC student’s deadly crash

File photo by CBS North Carolina
File photo by CBS North Carolina

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A jury heard opening arguments Wednesday in the trial of the former UNC student who drove drunk and killed three people in 2015.

Chandler Kania is facing three counts of second-degree murder.

Related coverage: More stories on the deadly crash and court proceedings

Kania, 20 at the time of the crash, admits to driving drunk and causing the crash that night, but the question a jury is deciding is whether or not there was malice.

That’s what the prosecution says they plan to prove during the course of this trial.

During opening statements both sides detailed the moments before Kania got into his car and drove drunk the wrong way on Interstate 85 — crashing into another car and killing three people including a 6-year-old girl.

Officials said Kania drove drunk the wrong way on I-85 in Hillsborough and crashing and killing Felecia Harris, 49, of Charlotte, Darlene McGee, 46, of Charlotte, and 6-year-old Jahnice Beard of Brooklyn, New York.

The three victims were headed to Charlotte after traveling to Virginia for a family reunion.

Both sides say Kania and his friends drank a lot of alcohol the night of the crash and Kania was upset after an argument about a girl.

They say Kania’s friends tried to stop him from getting into his SUV, but Kania got into his jeep and drove away.

“Despite very strong attempts from his friends to stop him from driving, Chandler still drives off,” said prosecutor Jeff Nieman.

“Three counts of second-degree murder and that’s precisely the questions that faces you all today, ‘Is Chandler Kania a murderer’?” said Roger Smith Jr., Kania’s defense attorney.

“I would ask for you to look for the things that make this clearly more than just impaired driving resulting in death…we contend that those things are what constitute malice,” said Nieman.

Prosecutors say that Kania was still honking his Jeep’s horn and was cursing just after the crash.

“This man wouldn’t stop honking his horn, cursing at first responders telling them to hurry up and help him,” Nieman said. “Repeatedly honking his horn with a car full of dead people in front of him and a seriously critically injured little girl fighting for her life.”

The prosecution is using that reaction just after the crash as one of the reasons to try to prove malice in the case.

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