Kania: 'Three innocent people are dead because of me'
One of two former UNC students who hosted an off-campus party in 2015 has agreed to pay over $50,000 to settle lawsuits in a triple-fatal, wrong-way DWI wreck in Orange County.
Kelly Lucas and her former roommate Rebecca Greene hosted the party at their Shortbread Lofts apartment in Chapel Hill on July 18, 2015. Chandler Kania, who was a 20-year-old UNC sophomore at the time, drank a shot of vodka at the party in addition to his own beer before going with friends to two local bars, La Residence and He’s Not Here.
Court testimony also showed that Kania was smoking marijuana hours before he drove his Jeep the wrong way on Interstate 85/40 west of Hillsborough. Kania’s Jeep hit a car early on July 19, 2015, killing three people: Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris King and King’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Jahnice Beard. King’s daughter Jahniaha King, who is now 12, was seriously injured.
Kania, a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity member from Asheboro, was sentenced in October 2016 to 16 years in prison for three counts of involuntary manslaughter, misdemeanor reckless driving and driving while impaired in the crash. He recently was moved to the Caswell County Correctional Center in Yanceyville.
In 2015 the victims’ families sued Kania, his parents, and the bars that served him before the wreck. Kania’s parents and He’s Not Here have settled their lawsuits, and a judge allowed attorneys in 2016 to add 15 more defendants to the civil lawsuits.
Those defendants include Lucas and Greene; two friends who provided alcohol to Kania before the wreck; UNC’s Delta Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, eight members and officers of the fraternity’s Executive Board, the fraternity’s Alumni Board, and an older fraternity member who provided the driver’s license that Kania used to buy alcohol.
The lawsuits claim the fraternity “had a history of allowing and encouraging underage drinking and drug use.” 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.
Lucas settled with the King family in November 2017, according to court documents, which show she agreed to pay $36,396 to the family for her part in King’s death and another $14,062 to Jahniaha King. She also agreed to pay the King family’s legal fees.
Lucas also settled with the family of Jahnice Beard, but the terms of the settlement in that case – similar to the settlement involving Kania’s parents and He’s Not Here – has been sealed by a court order until the remaining cases are resolved or a Superior Court judge orders them unsealed.
It’s unclear whether Lucas has settled with McGee’s family.
Superior Court Judge Michael J. O’Foghluda is considering several motions filed by the defendants, who have denied playing a role in the fatal crash and are seeking either to dismiss their lawsuits or take them to a jury trial.
If the lawsuits proceed, the judge has been asked to hold two trials: one to determine liability and award compensatory damages and, if the defendants are found liable, a second one for punitive damages, when the jury could hear more about their finances.
The defendants are claiming, among other defenses, that they are not responsible Kania’s actions leading up to the wreck and had no way of knowing that he would drive while drunk that night.
Greene and Fearrington Farm Restaurants, which owns La Residence, also are asking the judge to move their trials to Wake County Superior Court, because the lawsuits “have challenged the constitutionality of an act passed by the General Assembly,” according to court documents.
The laws that have been challenged include those allowing lawsuits if alcohol sold to an underage person causes a drunken-driving related injury and a $500,000 limit on the damages that a jury can award, documents show.
Foghluda already has denied two motions by Greene’s attorney to dismiss the lawsuit against her and to dismiss the claims for punitive damages.