What a horrible waste of two young lives.

Brilliant U o T student Emma Leckey is dead and Rylan Balappa-Lawes, the young drunk driver who mowed her down, is sentenced to seven years in prison.

Both families are shattered. But, of course, there is one stark difference.

Or as Justice Katrina Mulligan noted: “Two young vibrant, kind and focused students have been lost. One of them forever.”

Rylan Balappa-Lawes, 20 at the time, was a G2 driver who wasn’t supposed to have any alcohol in his system in the early morning hours of March 15, 2018. But he was driving his mother’s car with at least double the legal limit as he sped the wrong way on Huron St. and blew through the light.

Leckey, 21, was crossing at College St. on her way home from studying at the U of T library when Balappa-Lawes ran her down and never stopped. The impact sent her flying 16 metres into a nearby fence and she lay there, crumpled and moaning, until a passing pedestrian finally heard her weeping and called 911.

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She never regained consciousness and died five days later.

“This was not an accident. It was a criminal offence,” said the Ontario Court justice.

Balappa-Lawes pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving causing death.

His voice barely audible in the cavernous Old City Hall courtroom, Balappa-Lawes apologized to his victim’s Ottawa family for the “stupidity and recklessness” of his decisions that night after his uncharacteristic drinking at his friend’s condo.

“The truth is that I was so drunk, that I don’t recall colliding with Emma or what really happened when I was driving down that road. But I wish that I had realized what happened. I wish I had stopped and called 911, and helped her and comforted her,” he said softly.

“I am ashamed that I failed her so completely in that moment.”


The car that hit Emma Leckey (Court exhibit)

He asked for a chance to honour Leckey’s memory one day by speaking to teens about the horror he’s caused her loved ones by drunk driving. “I pray that one day you will be able to forgive me for what I have done, although I will never forgive myself.”

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It’s certainly too soon for her grieving father to forgive.

“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 outside the court as held a portrait of his beaming daughter.

“It wasn’t an accident, I don’t call it a mistake. It was a choice that was made, a very bad choice. We’re all tempted sometimes to make bad choices. Think of Emma and don’t make this one. ”

For Leckey’s mother, it was a relief to finally hear an expression of remorse from the slight young man who killed her daughter.

“I’m glad he spoke; I think it took courage,” said Maggie Antunes-Leckey. “I feel more for his family … I think, unlike Emma, he lacked a lot of responsibility and maybe he had some immaturity.”

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The judge accepted this was a “one-off” by the young driver with devastating results.

“Mr. Balappa-Lawes’ actions caused one broken body but obviously hundreds of broken hearts,” Mulligan added.

“To say he’s remorseful is an understatement,” she acknowledged. “I have no doubt that he is and will be racked with shame and guilt until the day he dies.”

The judge agreed to the joint sentencing submission of seven years by prosecutor Marnie Goldenberg and defence lawyer Jacob Jesin, but gave Balappa-Lawes two months credit for his 15 months of house arrest. Calling drinking and driving offences “depressingly common,” Mulligan also sentenced him to a 10-year driving ban to begin after his release.

“Good luck, sir,” the judge said.

With a last mournful glance at his mother, Balappa-Lawes was handcuffed and led away.

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MANDEL: Motorist who mowed down woman gets seven years

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