Jury begins deliberations in triple-fatal I-85 crash trial

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Closing arguments ended Thursday in the second-degree murder trial of a former UNC student who was involved in a wrong-way drunken collision on Interstate 85 in 2015 that killed three people.

Click to see the photos
Click to see the photos

The jury began deliberations after they returned from lunch break Thursday.

After nearly three hours of deliberations, the jury still had no verdict at 5 p.m. They will return Friday at 9:30 a.m.

Chandler Kania already pleaded guilty to a number of charges stemming from the crash, but has taken three counts of second-degree murder and reckless driving to trial.

The jury has three options: It can find Kania guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of involuntary manslaughter or not guilty.

Prosecutors must prove to jurors Kania acted with malice in order to convict him of the second-degree murder charges.

Kania, who was 20 at the time, spent the night leading up to the July 19, 2015 crash drinking heavily before being involved in an argument over a girl, according to testimony. Kania drove his Jeep the wrong way on I-85 in Orange County, hitting a Suzuki sedan head-on.

Felecia Harris, 49, of Charlotte, Darlene McGee, 46, of Charlotte, and 6-year-old Jahnice Beard of Brooklyn, New York were killed in the collision. A 9-year-old girl survived the crash.

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

Defense attorneys worked Thursday to remind the jury Kania’s actions did not hold any malice.

“The world will not be made better if you find Chandler guilty of second-degree murder,” said defense attorney Wade Smith.

Smith said Kania’s actions were “stupid and dumb” but they were not “wicked and evil.”

“This is not a murder case. The state is trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” Smith said.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has used evidence such as audio and video in moments after the crash to prove malice.

Prosecutors called around 30 witnesses while the defense called none.

“This is not a drunk driving case. This is a drunk driving while angry case and a drunk driving while selfish case,” said assistant district attorney Jeff Nieman.

Kania’s friends testified earlier they attempted to keep him from getting behind the wheel that night.

“That shows clear intent to operate a car in a reckless manner,” Nieman said.

Nieman also brought up evidence showing Kania had previously texted and smoked marijuana while driving.

“It shows his attitude towards safety of others on the road,” he said. “We’re not asking you to call him a murderer. We just want you to find that his actions that night were malicious.”

Earlier in the week, jurors saw unreleased photos of the wreckage.

On Oct. 3, Kania pleaded guilty to:

  • Three counts of felony death by motor vehicle
  • Felony charge of causing serious injury
  • Felony driving while impaired
  • Having on open container of alcohol
  • Driving after consuming alcohol while under age 21
  • Consuming alcohol under age 21
  • Two counts of using a false driver’s license
  • Driving the wrong way on a dual-lane highway

Nieman said the guilty plea was not part of any deal made by Kania and his attorneys.

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