Preventable Boom

pile of newspapers

One drunk driver caused an awful lot of chaos, terror, and destruction in London last week.

It made national news. A car hit a house on Woodman Ave, rupturing a gas line causing explosions. It’s incredible that no one was killed. The Mom and daughter who lived in the home were out. Four firefighters and two police officers were hurt as well as one other person. More than a dozen homes were damaged and 100 evacuated. Three houses were destroyed – one in the blast and two more that had to come down because they were unsafe. Old East Village (OEV) has rallied together to help those affected by the explosions. People opened their wallets and their homes. Tonight, a benefit is being held at Aeolian Hall.

We didn’t feel it here in Westmount, but downtown and in Old East, residents were shaken awake, confused and terrified about what might have caused the explosion.

My friend, Free Press journalist Dan Brown, was tasked with answering the question, “Was it a miracle no one was killed”? His story includes a fascinating, embedded photo gallery. It might not be a miracle but you’d certainly expect fatalities considering the time it happened (about 10:30 pm) and the force of the blasts. It’s one of those “where were you when” incidents for people in the vicinity. And we can only hope that it’s a wake-up call for one young woman from Kitchener, who’s facing a long list of criminal charges.

Many years ago, I was the only witness when a drunk driver hit a house on Lakeshore Blvd. in Toronto. His car screeched across the lanes in front of me, then lodged in the porch of a home. I immediately pulled over and called 911. As I sat at the side of the road with my four-ways on, the driver wriggled out of his car and started running toward mine. He put both hands on my hood and looked me straight in the eyes. He was so hammered, I’m betting he didn’t know where he was. I kept an eye on him as he staggered around, but he didn’t get far. I didn’t get out of my vehicle, but I yelled at him to sit down, that help was coming and he was probably hurt. He continued to spin around in a daze. Police officers arrived fast. I gave a statement and agreed to testify against him. An ambulance took the driver to the hospital where he was treated for minor injuries and arrested on a bunch of charges.

When the court date arrived, the officer was grateful that I showed up. “Most don’t”, he said. We sat together in the courtroom and both noticed when the defendant entered, wearing a sharp suit and tie, with a fresh haircut and a nervous smile. His lawyer, a twitchy little wisp of a man, came over and leaned into my face from the bench ahead of me.

“Do you wear glasses”, he asked.

“No. And I recognized your client the second he walked in”, I said.

“Hmmmmmm”, said the lawyer. The cop bent his neck to concentrate on his shoes. He was stifling an outburst. A drunk ran into a house! He was blinded by booze and could have killed someone else or himself. And this weaselly lawyer was going to attempt to discredit the only eyewitness? Damn right, he was.

The cop and I waited and waited some more. Finally, the case was called. We held our breath. I was ready to have my say. I had seen it all happen like a movie in my windshield. The defendant and lawyer stood up. “My client pleads guilty, your honor.”

If I had worn glasses back then, would the lawyer have created reasonable doubt? Would he try to claim the porch and cars destroyed themselves and I was a liar? The cop too? A vigorous defense should not mean dishonesty. That’s what I loathe about the system.

Unless last week’s destructive driver is distraught about what she did, her lawyer will probably look for the same kind of way out for her. What will he hang her fate on, intent? Of course, she didn’t intend to destroy peoples’ homes and traumatize them. But that’s the risk she took when she got behind the wheel in a drunken state. Take your lumps, lady. Admit it, pay the penalties, try to restore some faith in humanity and fix your life. There is more than one witness. And there are piles of rubble where three homes used to be.

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