Kitchener’s Daniella Leis pleads guilty in case surrounding London, Ont., explosion

Daniella Leis is photographed by media as she leaves a London, Ont., courthouse on Oct. 2, 2019. Andrew Graham / Global

Daniella Leis, the woman charged in relation to last year’s gas explosion in Old East Village, has pleaded guilty.

During a court appearance in London, Ont., via teleconference on Thursday, the 24-year-old Kitchener woman pleaded guilty to four counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

Thursday’s appearance also saw an agreed statement of facts read to the Ontario Court of Justice.

The statement of facts provided an in-depth account of the tragic night in the historic London neighbourhood.

On the evening of Aug. 14, 2019, Leis had driven from Kitchener to attend a concert in London.

At around 10:30 p.m., surveillance footage and eye witnesses saw Leis drive eastbound on Queens Avenue from Richmond Street to Woodman Avenue — a one-way street that heads west, Leis had driven in the wrong direction during this trip, according to the statement of facts.

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Leis drove a grey Ford Fusion registered to her father and travelled within the speed limit for most of the trip on Queens Avenue. Witnesses viewed Leis driving at a very high speed just prior to the crash on 450 Woodman Ave., which the statement of facts said occurred at around 10:36 p.m.

An officer who responded to the crash had to remove Leis from her vehicle, during which the statement of facts noted that the officer detected “the strong odour of an alcoholic beverage emanating from the breath of the accused.” Leis later admitted to the officer that she had come from a concert where she consumed alcohol.

The statement of facts noted that Leis would later provide a breath sample at 220 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, followed by another sample that yielded 200 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit in Canada is 80 milligrams.

The crash saw the vehicle strike a gas line, which then sparked a massive explosion that completely levelled one home, left two other homes so badly damaged they had to be demolished, and resulted in the evacuation of an entire neighbourhood.

The statement of facts touched on the injuries suffered by two firefighters and two police officers, who are each referred to in Leis’ charges of four counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

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One firefighter was knocked back by the explosion and rushed to hospital in critical condition. They suffered a number of serious injuries, including several facial lacerations extending into their neck, fractured bones, bruising to their lungs and severed tendons in both hands leading to a loss of function. The firefighter spent eight days in hospital before being discharged.

The other firefighter suffered a facial injury, minor lacerations, delayed concussion syndrome and an aneurysm that required surgery.

One officer suffered eye damage and partial hearing loss, along with soft tissue damage to their left pelvis and lower left leg.

The second officer suffered a number of injuries including lacerations on their face and head, bruising to their thigh and hip and a concussion.

In the days after the explosion, Leis was accused of 12 charges in relation to the explosion — eight impaired driving-related offences and four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

Leis’ lawyer, Richard Braiden, told Global News why she only pleaded guilty to four of the 12 charges.

“It’s not really 12 separate charges, it’s three groups of four, so what she pled guilty to was impaired causing bodily harm,” said Braiden, referring to the total set of offences as alternative charges addressing the same conduct.

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Braiden added that the charges containing criminal negligence, which is defined in Canadian law as conduct that shows “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons,” was not appropriate for Leis’ actions.

“This was an accident, obviously alcohol is involved, but it would not be in my submission… I’m not saying it was inappropriate to lay the charge, but the most appropriate charge was what she pled guilty to,” said Braiden.

Leis’ guilty plea comes more than a year after the case began, a delay caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sentencing for Leis has been set for Jan. 21, 2021. On Thursday, the court heard at least five victim impact statements will be read during sentencing, with the potential of adding more, including a community victim impact statement.

Click to play video: 'Residents return to aftermath of London explosion'
Residents return to aftermath of London explosion

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