Waterloo Region Record
June 29, 2020

KITCHENER — A six-year prison sentence for the impaired driver who killed Wilfrid Laurier University dean Leanne Holland Brown is insufficient, says the president of the Waterloo Region chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“We always feel the sentences aren’t necessarily in line with the crime,” Steve Bowden said in an interview. “Essentially this is 100 per cent preventable. It’s a choice that someone has made and it has killed somebody. You choose to do it and you need to face the consequences.”

Ronald Rees, 57, of Cambridge was sentenced last week after pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death. With presentence custody subtracted, he has another four years and seven months to serve.

On April 24, 2019, Rees smoked a full marijuana cigarette shortly before his car struck and killed Brown, 43, who had been out for an afternoon walk with a friend on Central Street in Waterloo. Rees’s THC levels were almost four times the legal limit. Brown was Laurier’s dean of students and the mother of two young boys.

The defence had sought five years in prison; the Crown asked for seven.

“Until people value the health and safety of those in their community over their own fleeting conveniences and whims, people will continue to die needlessly across our country as a result of the decision to drive impaired,” Crown prosecutor Michael Michaud wrote in his sentencing submissions to the judge.

“Lives will continue to be shattered. Families and communities will continue to be torn apart.”

Bowden believes eight to 10 years would have been appropriate.

“There’s a vital person from the community, Leanne Holland Brown, who’s killed and is no longer there. A mother, a daughter …”

The woman walking with Brown was not physically injured but was severely traumatized.

“She continues to suffer daily as a result of the collision and it has significantly impacted her employment,” Michaud said. “It highlights that real harm can ensue even if a victim is not physically injured.”

Rees, represented by defence lawyer Bernard Cummins, got credit for pleading guilty and expressing remorse.

“I do appreciate them pleading guilty and not dragging the family and friends through the court system, having a full trial and everything,” Bowden said.

But he believes impaired drivers should not get a lower sentence for pleading guilty. In many of these cases, the driver can’t dispute what happened, he said.

“You were the one behind the wheel, you were the one that police saw … it’s clear you initiated the crash.”

The six-year sentence — and a 15-year driving ban — handed out by Justice John Lynch is not out of line with sentences in other local cases.

Jason Fach, 38, of Cambridge was sentenced earlier his year to six years for impaired driving causing the death of Kenneth Scott, 67, of Puslinch Lake. Fach had almost three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood when his car collided head-on with Scott’s car on Townline Road in Cambridge.

Fach also got credit for pleading guilty.

In 2017, an impaired driver who killed a young mother and critically injured her baby was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

Ahmed Darwish, 27, of Kitchener was driving 214 km/h on Highway 7/8 just west of Kitchener when it slammed into the back of a car, killing Susana Dumitru, 29, of London, Ont., and injuring her two-month-old son, George.

Darwish pleaded guilty to five charges: impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death, dangerous driving causing bodily harm and refusing to give a breath sample.

He had a previous conviction of driving with more than the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.

In 2016, a drunk driver who killed a toddler in a Kitchener crash was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Hugh Brake, 57, of Kitchener was behind the wheel of a U-Haul truck that smashed into the back of a disabled car on Highway 7/8 just west of Fischer-Hallman Road in Kitchener, killing 17-month-old Angelina Zhu of Stratford and seriously injuring her mother, Cong Shen.

Brake did not plead guilty. After a trial he was convicted of impaired driving causing death and bodily harm and dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm. He was an unlicensed driver at the time of the crash.

Tragedy spurred Bowden to work with MADD.

On Sept. 8, 2016, a drunk driver slammed into a car in London, Ont., killing two people, Cody Andrews, 23, of New Hamburg and Jerry Pitre, 46, of London. Andrews was the son of Bowden’s close friend, Shauna Andrews.

The impaired driver, Scott Altiman, 31, of Delaware, Ont., was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but Ontario’s top court later cut it to seven.

“It was devastating, horrific,” Bowden, 56, said of the crash.

A week after Andrews died, Bowden attended his first MADD board meeting. A few months later, the chapter president stepped down and Bowden, who lives in Cambridge, stepped in.

“It’s not until you’re connected somehow and you’re holding the mother who has just lost her son in a devastating crash that something tweaks in you and … you just want to do what you can,” he said.

“Once it has affected you, once you’ve been through it personally and you’ve seen the devastation, you understand the dangers and you want to get involved — you want to do something about it.”