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Driver charged in fatal crash involving UNC students makes first appearance in court

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A Chapel Hill police car is pictured on Oct. 7, 2022. 

A UNC student who was driving the car involved in the single-vehicle crash that killed passenger Mary Elizabeth “Molly” Rotunda, a UNC sophomore, last month made her first appearance in superior court at the Orange County Courthouse on Monday morning.

Flemeeja Beatrice Brewer, the charged driver, entered the courtroom with Ralph Frasier, Jr., the attorney representing her. Her appearance was brief — lasting only a few minutes.

North Carolina law requires a defendant to make an initial court appearance if they are charged with a crime within the original jurisdiction of superior court. Superior Court Judge John Morris presided over the appearance.

Brewer's next court date is scheduled for April 30. She is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter, driving while impaired, driving after consuming alcohol under 21 years old, speeding and use of fraudulent identification.

The 20-year-old turned herself in to the Durham County Courthouse on Feb. 12. She was taken into custody and was released that same day after posting a $75,000 bond.

On Jan. 21, Brewer was driving two passengers on N.C. 54 near Barbee Chapel Road at 2:23 a.m. The car ran off the right side of the road past the Barbee Chapel Road intersection, hitting a street sign and trees. According to the Chapel Hill Police Department crash report, the car was going an estimated 124 mph. The posted speed limit is 45 mphThe car then rolled, coming to rest on its roof in the grass between N.C. 54 and Stancell Drive, the report said.

Rotunda, who was 20 years old, was the only person killed in the crash. The other passenger, Brianna Tiera Pinson, a senior at N.C. Central University, survived. Pinson and Brewer were both treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Twenty-two-year-old Pinson was charged with two counts of aiding and abetting the consumption of alcohol by someone under 21 years old. She is scheduled to make an appearance in court on March 7.

Zachary O’Brien Rice, a sophomore offensive lineman on the UNC football team, was also charged in connection to the crash following a police investigation. CHPD has not provided additional information about how the two vehicles were related.

Police issued Rice a criminal summons at the CHPD on Feb. 13. He was cited and released and is scheduled to make an appearance in court on the morning of March 7, according to a CHPD arrest report.

Rice was driving a separate vehicle and faces charges of driving after consuming alcohol under 21 years old, consuming and possessing alcohol under 21 years old and exceeding a posted speed limit. 

Two other UNC football players, Malaki "Mali" Hamrick and Travis Shaw were also charged in relation to the crash. Hamrick and Shaw, who are both 19, face charges of underage possession and consumption of alcohol. Shaw is facing five counts of aiding and abetting underage possession and consumption of alcohol.

In a 911 call obtained by The Daily Tar Heel, someone at the scene of the crash told the emergency operator that there had been a single-car accident. The male caller and others in the background can be heard talking about an unconscious woman who remained in the car, as well as attempts to remove her from the vehicle.

When asked if they knew who the injured female passenger was, the caller did not respond, and then the call ends. 

N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement opened an investigation into the crash after being contacted by CHPD, who believed alcohol to be a contributing factor.

The ALE investigation found Brewer and Pinson were served alcohol underage at Still Life and Might As Well Bar and Grill, two bars on Franklin Street. Two Still Life employees and UNC students, Karissa Webb and Annelle McNair, were charged with selling alcohol to people under the age of 21. ALE will report to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission at the investigation’s conclusion. The ABC Commission, which next meets March 13, may fine the businesses, or suspend or revoke their alcohol permits.

UNC's interim Chancellor Lee Roberts said the University will support CHPD's and ALE's investigations. Roberts said he also personally offered his condolences to Rotunda's family.

Three other individuals, who are not students at UNC, were charged in connection to the events of Jan. 21. Both under 21 years old, Cameren Spencer and Maliyah Pellum were charged with underage possession and consumption of alcohol. Spencer was also charged with giving malt beverages or unfortified wine to anyone less than 21 years old and Pellum was charged with aiding and abetting underage possession and consumption of alcohol. Caden Spender, who is 22 years old, was charged with six counts of aiding and abetting underage possession and consumption of alcohol.

This is a developing story. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included Pinson's age incorrectly based on faulty information. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

@emmymrtin

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Emmy Martin

Emmy Martin is the 2023-24 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as the DTH's city & state editor and summer managing editor. Emmy is a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and information science.