UNC student involved in triple-fatal accident charged with murder

A UNC-Chapel Hill student from Asheboro accused of causing a wreck that killed three people on Interstate 85 in Orange County last weekend was charged with three counts of second-degree murder on Thursday.

Chandler Michael Kania, 20, had previously faced several other charges related to the crash, which took place about 3 a.m. Sunday. The State Highway Patrol said Kania was drunk and driving his Jeep Wrangler northbound in the southbound lanes of I-85 near the I-40 split when he collided head-on with a Suzuki.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said Kania had a fake ID that he apparently used to be served at one or more bars before the accident. Woodall told a judge Thursday that Kania’s friends had tried to talk him out of driving that night.

“They tried to take away his cellphone and his car keys,” Woodall said later.

Three people in the Suzuki were killed instantly: the driver, Felecia Harris, 49, of Charlotte; a front-seat passenger, Darlene McGee, 46, of Charlotte; and Jahnice Baird, 6, Brooklyn, N.Y., who was riding in the back seat.

A second child, 9-year-old Jahnia King, also of Charlotte, was critically injured and taken to UNC Hospitals; she was released Thursday. Kania also was taken to UNC Hospitals for treatment of injuries that included two broken ankles.

On Monday, the Highway Patrol charged Kania with driving while impaired, careless and reckless driving, possessing an open container of alcohol, possession of alcohol by a person under age 21 and driving by a person less than 21 years old after consuming alcohol.

Kania, using a wheelchair, made his first appearance in an Orange County courtroom late Thursday. In addition to three counts of murder, he was charged with three counts of felony death by motor vehicle and one count of serious injury by motor vehicle. Judge Charles Anderson set his bail at $1 million.

UNC records indicate Kania would have been a junior in the university’s advertising program this fall. Kania’s attorney, Roger Smith Jr., released a statement Wednesday on behalf of the family.

“The Kania family is absolutely devastated about this tragedy. Their hearts and prayers and thoughts are with the victims and their families,” Smith said. “Chandler is fully cooperating with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

Smith declined further comment.