An Orange County judge has ruled that cell-phone evidence can be used this fall when Chandler Kania’s trial starts in the wrong-way, DWI crash that killed three people last summer.
Kania, 21, was a UNC student when authorities said he drove north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 85 on July 19, 2015, hitting another car head-on. Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris, and Harris’ granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, were killed. A 9-year-old child survived the crash.
Kania was charged with three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, driving while impaired, careless and reckless driving and other offenses. He was freed on a $1 million bail last year and has been under house arrest.
Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour denied a defense attorney’s motion Tuesday that sought to have Kania’s cell phone removed as evidence. Search warrants show Kania’s friends took the cell phone from him before the wreck, in an attempt to keep him from driving.
The phone could provide information about events leading to the fatal collision and the people who may have been involved, Baddour wrote in his ruling.
Defense attorney Roger Smith Jr. argued in August that N.C. Highway Patrol troopers unlawfully seized the cell phone from Kania’s home in Asheboro, because the search warrant that Baddour signed was for a search of Kania’s hospital room and the people who might be there.
The trooper who obtained the warrant also was not the one who retrieved the phone or signed the warrant, Smith argued.
Baddour agreed with Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman, however, that the search warrant was served when an Orange County trooper presented it to Kania’s parents at UNC Hospitals after the crash. His parents searched for the phone but realized they already had taken it home. They volunteered to bring the phone back to Orange County, but the trooper offered instead to have a Rowan County trooper pick it up from the home.
Kania’s parents agreed, and the Rowan County trooper later retrieved the phone from Kania’s father before returning it to Orange County.
While it was a close case, Baddour wrote, the fact that the trooper who initially got the search warrant didn’t sign it doesn’t invalidate the search at the hospital. The search was served when Kania’s family looked for the phone unsuccessfully, and Kania’s father volunteered to get it from the family’s home in Asheboro, Baddour said. Kania’s father also was acting voluntarily when he agreed to let a trooper pick up the phone, he said.
Baddour also has denied a defense motion that would have delayed Kania’s trial, now set for Oct. 3. Defense attorneys plan to challenge other evidence before the trial begins, including accident photos, speeding estimates and the blood-alcohol content report.
Kania's blood-alcohol level after the crash was reported at 0.17 – more than twice the state's legal limit for someone 21 and older – and investigators said he also had marijuana in his system.