These numbers define the state’s trial against former UNC student Chandler Kania, but behind these numbers are the people affected by the deadly wrong-way drunken driving crash on Interstate 85, which left three dead and one injured.
On Monday, a jury convicted Kania, now 21, of three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of reckless driving.
They found he did not act with malice, so they found him not guilty of second-degree murder.
Before the trial began, Kania pleaded guilty to various criminal charges, including felony death by vehicle, a Class D felony. Felony classes are ranked in descending order starting with A, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman said, so the jury’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter, a Class F felony, had little to no effect on sentencing.
Judge Henry Hight Jr. sentenced Kania to 12 years and 8 months to 16 years and four months in prison. He said he hoped this would be an example of drunken driving’s disastrous consequences.
The trial’s result was celebrated by neither the state or prosecution. Family members of the three people who died in the crash —Darlene McGee, 46, Felecia Harris, 49, and Jahnice Beard, 6 — testified about their ongoing heartbreak prior to sentencing and expressed displeasure after.
Jahnice Beard’s parents sat in the courtroom and listened to the verdict and Kania’s sentencing. After court adjourned, Beard’s father and Harris’ son, Jahmonie Smith, spoke about the outcome of the trial.
“I’m disappointed in the verdict,” Jahmonie Smith said. “I didn’t feel like he got enough time for what he did. My daughter’s six years old. She ain’t get to live her life and he did and he took that from her.”
Roger Smith Jr., Kania’s attorney, said the trial’s impact has been felt by everyone involved.
“This is not about a victory in court,” he said after the sentencing. “This will always be about the tragedy that happened on July 19 and for the families that were affected.”
Nieman said he was disappointed by the jury’s failure to convict Kania on second-degree murder, though he respected their decision.
Nieman said the type of malice in Kania’s case is not necessarily ill will toward a particular person. He said another definition of malice is when someone intentionally engages in conduct they know is likely to cause serious injury or death and ignores that danger.
“For a second-degree murder case, I’m not aware of a case where the behavior exhibited on the date of offense showed malice more than this case,” Nieman said. “But that’s just my opinion. The jury’s opinion is the one that matters in the end.”
Nieman said he was also disappointed that the jury did not find an aggravating factor in the case.
“At least one person used physical means to try to stop him,” he said. “One or two other people used verbal means to try to talk him out of it.”
Had the jury found an aggravating factor, Kania could have faced 21 to 25 years in prison. Because the jury found Kania not guilty of second-degree murder and answered no to the aggravating factor, the maximum sentence the judge could give was 17 to 21 years.
Nieman praised the families of the crash victims.
“In ten years of doing this, I’ve never seen a family of victims — I’ve never seen people act with more class and grace than these people,” Nieman said.