Orange County

UNC fraternity, students added to lawsuit in wrong-way DWI crash

Former UNC student Chandler Kania, of Asheboro, left, follows his father Michael Kania as they exit Orange County Superior Court in Hillsborough on Aug. 16, 2016. Kania is serving 16 years in prison for a DWI crash in July 2015 that killed three people and injured a fourth.
Former UNC student Chandler Kania, of Asheboro, left, follows his father Michael Kania as they exit Orange County Superior Court in Hillsborough on Aug. 16, 2016. Kania is serving 16 years in prison for a DWI crash in July 2015 that killed three people and injured a fourth. Staff photo

Civil lawsuits claim a UNC-Chapel Hill fraternity “had a history of allowing and encouraging underage drinking and drug use” and continued to buy and provide alcohol to underage members after a wrong-way DWI wreck killed three people in 2015.

Chandler Kania, a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity member from Asheboro, was sentenced in October to 16 years in prison for three counts of involuntary manslaughter, misdemeanor reckless driving and driving while impaired in the July 19, 2015, drunk-driving crash.

Kania was 20 and a UNC sophomore at the time of the crash.

Three people – Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris King and King’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Jahnice Beard – were killed when Kania’s Jeep hit their car as he drove the wrong way on Interstate 85/40 west of Hillsborough. King’s daughter Jahniaha King, who is now 11, was seriously injured.

Family members of the victims filed lawsuits in 2015 against Kania, his parents, and two bars, La Residence and He’s Not Here, accused of selling Kania alcohol before the crash. Court testimony also showed that Kania drank alcohol at an off-campus party and was smoking marijuana hours before the crash.

Kania’s parents and He’s Not Here have settled their lawsuits, which were sealed by a court order until the remaining cases are resolved or a Superior Court judge orders them unsealed, according to court documents.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox granted motions March 29 to amend the lawsuits. The motions added the Delta Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity on UNC’s campus, eight members and officers of the fraternity’s Executive Board, the fraternity’s Alumni Board, an older fraternity member who provided the driver’s license that Kania used to buy alcohol, and four UNC students who provided alcohol to Kania before the wreck.

The lawsuits claim Executive Board members “routinely approved buying alcohol from fraternity funds” for underage members, allowed underage drinking at the fraternity house, and maintained a room for using marijuana, presciption drugs and cocaine. The fraternity also provided underage members and female guests with fake identifications so they could buy and drink alcohol, the lawsuits state, and allowed marijuana and prescription drugs to be sold in the house.

The lawsuits claim the Alumni Board, which owns the house at 207 W. Cameron Ave. in Chapel Hill, should have been aware of alcohol and drug use at the house, including by underage members, and that fake identifications were being provided.

“This activity was a tradition of Sigma Phi Epsilon and had been occurring for many years,” documents state.

The lawsuits also allege that the fraternity continued to use chapter funds to buy alcohol, provide it and fake IDs to underage members, and attract students to recruitment activities with alcohol after Kania’s wreck.

The fraternity’s current president, Joseph Lopez, who is named in the lawsuits, referred questions this week to Sigma Phi Epsilon Director of Strategic Communications Andrew Parrish. Parrish did not return a call seeking comment.

Four others named in the lawsuits include two women who provided Kania with alcohol during a party at their off-campus apartment and two of Kania’s friends who bought him a bottle of wine, a 18-pack of Coors beer and tequila shots before the wreck.

“This senseless tragedy was the result of the acts of many people coming together to help an underage person use drugs and alcohol,” said attorney David Kirby, of the Raleigh law firm of Edwards Kirby, which represents the McGee estate. “We need to send a strong message that we can’t turn a blind eye to this sort of behavior. The consequences for our community are too severe.”

The McGee family is represented by the Raleigh law firms of Edwards Kirby and Oxendine Barnes & Associates; the King family is represented by Charlotte law firm Phillips & McCrea; and the Beard Estate is represented by Charles G. Monnett III and Associates in Charlotte and Maginnis Law in Raleigh.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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