Police say UNC football player was tailing car at high speed just before fatal crash

Police think a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill football team was driving at a high rate of speed just behind another student who lost control of her car in a crash that killed a passenger last month.

In a criminal summons, police say they think Zachary O’Brien Rice of Lynchburg, Virginia, was traveling just 15 feet behind the driver who crashed. Flemeeja Beatrice Brewer of Greensboro was going an estimated 124 mph on N.C. 54 near Meadowmont, a stretch of road where the speed limit is 45 mph, according to a Chapel Hill police crash report.

The crash took place in the early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 21. Riding with Brewer was Mary Elizabeth Rotunda and Brianna Tiera Pinson. Rotunda, 20, died, while Pinson, 21, and Brewer, 20, were treated for injuries that were not life threatening, according to police.

Rotunda and Brewer were UNC students, while Pinson was not. All three were from Greensboro, according to police.

Police investigated the crash for nearly three weeks before announcing a dozen charges against Brewer last Wednesday. They include driving while impaired, felony death by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter.

In announcing Brewer’s arrest, police said they had also charged Rice, 20, the driver of another vehicle, with speeding, consuming alcohol while underage and driving after drinking while underage. Rice is a member of the UNC football team.

A police spokesman at the time declined to say how the two vehicles were related or how officers investigating the fatal crash decided to charge Rice. No other vehicles were mentioned in the crash report.

But the criminal summons made public Wednesday indicates police think Rice was driving right behind Brewer just before she crashed. The summons does not provide details, and neither Rice nor Brewer have been charged with racing.

Brewer was going an estimated 124 mph before she ran off the right side of the road and hit a street sign just past the Barbee Chapel Road intersection, according to the crash report. The car then hit several small trees and started to roll before coming to rest on its roof in the grass between N.C. 54 and Stancill Drive, the report says.

Brewer was not old enough to legally buy alcohol, and several of the charges she faces are related to drinking and driving as an underage person, including using a fraudulent ID to buy alcohol. Pinson, who was old enough to buy alcohol, has been charged with helping someone under 21 consume alcohol.

Underage drinking a factor in the crash

Two days after police announced charges against Brewer and Rice, the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement agency said it filed charges related to the case against seven other people, including employees from a Chapel Hill bar and two other members of the UNC football team.

Players Malaki Hamrick and Travis Shaw are both 19, according to ALE.

Hamrick is charged with underage possession/consumption of alcohol. Shaw faces charges of underage possession/consumption of alcohol and five counts of aiding/abetting underage possession/consumption of alcohol in connection with the crash. He was also charged on an outstanding order for arrest for failing to appear in Durham County on charges of possession of marijuana, underage possession of alcoholic beverages and unauthorized possession.

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham, responding to a question about the three football players and whether they would face team discipline, said: “We will not address it publicly, but we will take action.”

ALE said it had found that Brewer and Rotunda, the underage passengers of the car involved in the crash, had been served alcohol at Still Life on East Franklin Street., and at Might as Well on West Franklin Street.

Still Life employees Karissa Webb, 22, and Annelle McNair, 24, were charged with selling/giving alcohol to underage people.

The others charged Friday are:

  • Cameren Spencer, 20, was charged with underage possession/consumption of alcohol and two counts of giving malt beverages or unfortified wine to anyone less than 21 years old.

  • Caden Spender, 22, was charged with six counts of aiding/abetting underage possession/consumption of alcohol.

  • Maliyah Pellum, 19, was charged with underage possession/consumption of alcohol and aid/abet underage possession/consumption of alcohol.

ALE said it will file a report with the ABC Commission when it completes its investigation. The commission may then sanction Still Life and Might as Well with a fine, suspension, or revocation of their ABC permits.