Impaired driver charged in death of University of Toronto student sentenced to 7 years in jail

WATCH ABOVE: The driver who caused the death of a 21-year-old University of Toronto student and fled the scene last March has been sentenced to jail. Caryn Lieberman reports.

On the steps of the Old City Hall courthouse, a father holds a blown up, framed photograph of his beloved daughter.

“I want the world to know about Emma. I want the world to know what a wonderful person she was. What a loss it was to the world and to society,” said Geoff Leckey.

His daughter Emma Leckey was 21 years old, a fourth year ethics, society and law student at the University of Toronto, with a bright future ahead of her, said her mother Maggie Atunes Leckey.


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In the early hours of March 15, 2018, Emma was crossing at a downtown intersection when she was struck by an SUV. It was at 2:30 a.m. when the white Toyota SUV went the wrong way along Huron Street and through the intersection at College Street against a red signal light.

“Ms. Leckey became airborne and was projected on the vehicle’s front right hood … As the vehicle continued north, Ms. Leckey was thrown off the vehicle,” the agreed statement of facts noted.

She came to a rest at least 16 metres away.

The driver was 19-year-old Rylan Balappa-Lawes. He did not remain at the scene.


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It was a pedestrian witness who heard a weeping sound that found her and called 911.

“He found her crumpled against a fence line at the east side with obvious signs of injury. She was unresponsive to him,” detailed the agreed statement of facts.

Emma spent five days on life support. Her family was by her side when she died. The cause of death was “multiple blunt force trauma.” As for the driver, Balappa-Lawes was charged with impaired and dangerous driving causing death.

“This is the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. More significantly than that is it’s 100 per cent preventable,” said Gregg Thomson from MADD’s Ottawa chapter.


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In his address to the courtroom, Balappa-Lawes who pleaded guilty to the charges said, “The truth is I was so drunk that I don’t recall colliding with Emma” and “I wish I had stopped and called 911 and comforted her and held her hand.”

“It wasn’t an accident. I don’t call it a mistake. It was a choice that was made. A very bad choice,” said Geoff, who delivered an emotional victim impact statement on Monday.

In the statement he read before the court, he said, “My life is devastated, and my world is shattered. The hole in the centre of my life is so large I live only at the edges.”

Now 21 years old, Rylan Balappa-Lawes was sentenced to seven years less two months in jail. He is also banned from driving for ten years upon his release.


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For the families of Emma and Rylan, it was an emotional two days in court.

Leckey’s mother said, “I feel for his mother as well. She was I’m sure devastated as well and he’s her only son.”

Losing Emma has been difficult on her entire family and her many friends. Dozens of them attended court. Emma dedicated herself to many causes, including cancer research. Her mother was diagnosed with the disease just a few months before her death.

“She worked for many good causes and we will continue to make sure for the rest of our lives that the causes that she supported and believed in get out support,” said Geoff.


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“After remembering and seeing the kind of shape we she was in in hospital, everything that happened to me, the radiation, the 18 chemotherapy treatments, I felt they were nothing,” said Atunes Leckey.

As Emma’s loved ones return home to Ottawa with just memories of their beloved daughter, her father stood on the steps of Old City Hall court and was surrounded by Emma’s half siblings. He said, “Think of her and don’t get in that car and don’t turn on the ignition.”

He poured his heart into his victim impact statement.

“You should never have to hold your daughter’s hand while she takes her last breath,” Geoff wrote.

“You should never have to follow her gurney down the corridor to get a last look as the elevator door closes. You should never have to write an e-mail to your family with the heading “Emma’s last breaths.'”

But Geoff Leckey did. Emma Leckey is gone. A young driver is behind bars.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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