ABC Board orders staff to renegotiate stronger penalty for Chapel Hill bar in triple-fatal crash

CHAPEL HILL (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has ordered its staff to renegotiate a stronger penalty for Chapel Hill bar LaResidence for its connection to a fatal Orange County crash that claimed the lives of three people in July.

During its regularly scheduled meeting in Raleigh Wednesday, Commissioner Kevin Green motioned to remove to remove La Rez - as it's called - from the agenda and allow ABC staff to renegotiate a stronger penalty for the business.

Search warrants released days after 20-year-old UNC student Chandler Kania hit a car head-on on Interstate 85 July 19 allege he bought and was served alcohol at La Rez and another Chapel Hill bar, He's Not Here, just before he got in his Jeep that night.

Coming into Wednesday's meeting, La Rez had agreed to an "offer in compromise" set forth by the commission that would have ended with the business either paying a $5,000 penalty before Nov. 6, or have its ABC permits suspended for 50 days starting Nov. 13.

Offers in compromise are not final until the ABC Commission ratifies them.

"I personally don't feel the penalty's been strong enough and I'd like the staff to go back and renegotiate a new offer in compromise," said Commissioner Green.

Chairman James Gardner, the only other member of the commission, moved to second the motion and ordered the staff to go back to the table.

Agnes Stevens, spokesperson for the NC ABC Commission, told ABC11 it is not unusual for the commission to renegotiate offers in compromise, but usually it is to loosen the terms.

"It's more typical to have penalties adjusted down," she said.

She would not speculate as to why Commissioner Green felt it was necessary to strengthen the penalty.

The law limits penalties the ABC Commission can impose to a $5,000 fine and suspensions. While the commission originally gave La Rez the option between the two, Stevens said a potential outcome could now be a combination of both fines and a suspension. Stevens was not aware of a limit on the length of a potential suspension.

Should ABC staff and owners of La Rez not settle, the case could move to an administrative law judge to decide. Stevens did not offer a timetable, but said those proceedings would be open to the public should the case go to court.

"I think it's clear that the commission is taking a strong position and wants to be sure that people are mindful of the laws," said Stevens.

The bar He's Not Here is also facing penalties from the ABC Commission.

The commission has not received a signed offer in compromise from the business, which has been told to surrender its alcohol license permanently on or before Nov. 6. Stevens said the matter would likely be heard by an administrative law judge.

Kania is currently out of jail on a $1 million bond. He's facing several charges including three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, and one count of felony serious injury by motor vehicle. A 9-yr.-old girl survived the crash.

Chandler Kania in a booking photo.

image courtesy Orange County Sheriff's Office

If convicted on all charges, Kania faces 40 to 50 years in prison.

Chandler Kania appears in an Orange County Court Thursday, July 23, 2015.

Darlene McGee, 46, of Charlotte, her friend Felecia Harris, 49, of Charlotte, and Harris' granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, of Brooklyn, New York, were traveling back home when their vehicle collided with a Jeep driven by Kania, who is suspected of driving drunk. Kania was headed northbound on Interstate 85 in the southbound lane at Exit 163.

Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris and Jahnice Beard

images courtesy family

Harris' daughter, Jahnia King, 9, was also seriously hurt in the crash. She has since been released from the hospital.

PHOTOS: I-85 crash

The attorney representing La Rez, Syd Alexander tells Eyewitness News he and the attorney to the ABC Commission, Tim Morris, were equally caught off guard by the commissioners' decision.

"I think he was quite surprised and I was stunned" said Alexander. "We had spent some time working out the terms of that agreement and I had been assured that it would be acceptable."

Alexander said he will now sit back down with Morris to renegotiate, hopefully in time for the Commission's next meeting on Nov. 18. He said his client and La Rez employees cooperated fully with ALE that night in July and he doesn't know why the Commission would reject a deal he thought was routine.

"I think part of it undoubtedly has to do with the very high profile nature of the tragedy that occurred that night," he said. "I think that's got this case being given different and special attention than it might have otherwise."

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