Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Families reach partial settlements in DWI wrong-way crash lawsuits (Hillsbourough, NC)

Parts of three lawsuits in a July 2015 wrong-way DWI crash in Orange County have been settled, while the rest may not be decided until next year.

The lawsuits were filed by the families of three people killed in the crash – Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris King and King’s granddaughter Jahnice Beard – and King’s daughter, Jahnia King, who was seriously injured.

The intial defendants included former UNC student Chandler Kania, his parents, and the Chapel Hill bars that served him alcohol the night before the July 19, 2015, wreck on Interstate 85/40 west of Hillsborough.

Chandler Michael Kania appeared in a public service video warning drivers not to text while driving.

It is possible that up to 17 people could be named in the lawsuits, said David Kirby, attorney for McGee’s family.

An Orange County jury found Kania guilty of three counts of involuntary manslaughter, misdemeanor reckless driving and other charges in October. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and is at Foothills Correctional Institution in Morganton.

The lawsuits pending against Kania and La Residence – one of the bars that served him – could be tried in February 2018.

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

A separate amount of $105,893 awarded to McGee’s youngest child has been paid to the Orange County Clerk of Court’s office and will be placed in a trust or held until the child becomes an adult, documents show.

Orange County Judge Elaine O’Neal approved a motion Monday that would allow attorneys for the victims’ families to interview Kania more than once about the events leading to the wreck. Kania can be interviewed by video to avoid having to transfer him each time to Central Prison in Raleigh, she said.

Roger Smith Jr. and Wade Smith, lawyers for Chandler Kania, who faces three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, driving while impaired and several other charges in a July 19 wreck in Orange County, talk with repoTammy Grubb tgrubb@newsobserver.com

Attorneys for the victims are wading through thousands of documents and texts relevant to the case, said Attorney Shawn Howard, representing the family of Jahnice Beard. They could file a motion to add at least 15 people to the lawsuit, he said, including members of Kania’s fraternity, bar employees, and a UNC student who served him alcohol at a party.

They need to interview Kania now to find others who should be included, he said, and will need to interview Kania again if more questions come up. The statute of limitations for those interviews runs out in the next five months, he said.

“(Kania’s) convenience and lack of wanting to sit for two depositions should not override the rights of these families to see justice (done),” Howard said. “Countless individuals have had to speak about what happened. The one individual who has not had to talk to anybody but his own attorney is Mr. Kania.”

Kania’s attorney Daniel Katzenbach unsuccessfully argued that more than one interview with Kania is unreasonable and unnecessary. The plaintiffs’ attorneys have interviewed several individuals added to their list already, he said.

“As far as the information they’ll learn from Chandler,” Katzenbach said, “I’ve told them to make note of this that Chandler doesn’t remember anything about this night, so the notion that they’re going to learn all this wonderful, factual information that’s going to allow them to bring in or sue people, that’s not what’s going to happen.”