Man impaired by marijuana pleads guilty in crash that killed pedestrian

Ronald Rees pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of dangerous driving causing death and one count of impaired driving causing death.

Ronald Rees pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving causing death

Leanne Holland Brown was Wilfrid Laurier Unversity's dean of students for its Waterloo campus. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

The man who struck and killed a well-known Wilfrid Laurier University dean last April has pleaded guilty to one count of dangerous driving causing death and one count of impaired driving causing death. 

Leanne Holland-Brown was struck by a vehicle on the afternoon of April 24, 2019. She was airlifted to hospital and pronounced dead that evening. 

Ronald Rees, 57, appeared in a Kitchener courtroom Thursday to enter the plea. 

Rees admitted that his impairment and THC level was "a substantial contributing cause" to that crash that killed Holland-Brown, according to an agreed statement of facts.

"I f--ked up my life," Rees told a police constable on the day of the collision, the agreed statement of facts said.

'Violently' hit the windshield

The court heard in detail Thursday about the sequence of events that led to Holland-Brown's death.

Holland-Brown was walking with a friend, whose name is protected by a publication ban, past MacGregor Public School around 2 p.m. that day. 

As they were passing the school, Rees' car first started to inch forward, then accelerated quickly toward the two women. The car mounted the curb and drove onto the grass. 

The two women tried to leap out of the way. Holland-Brown jumped to the left — the other woman jumped to the right.

The car hit Holland-Brown and kept moving.

"Her head violently impacted against the windshield. The motor vehicle continued westbound, ultimately striking a hydro pole, causing Holland-Brown to be thrown against the pole," the agreed statement of facts read. 

Two witnesses helped Rees out of the car and he crawled to a nearby curb.

When police arrived on-scene, he was arrested for impaired driving causing bodily harm and dangerous driving causing bodily harm and taken to hospital for a medical assessment.

Holland-Brown was airlifted to Hamilton General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. that evening.

Her friend continues to suffer daily emotional and psychological distress as a result of the collision, the agreed statement of facts said. 

'I gotta face the music'

Rees was released from hospital a few days later for an "unrelated admittance" and arrested for the charges of impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death. 

"I won't run. I gotta face the music. I owe it to her," Rees told a police officer that day.

During an interview, Rees told police he hadn't been feeling well that day and took cold and sinus medicine. He smoked cannabis once in the morning before work and again when he left for the day around 1:30 p.m.

Rees said he hadn't eaten anything that day and passed out behind the wheel. He said he woke up when he hit the hydro pole.

It wasn't the first time this kind of incident had happened. Rees said in the interview he'd passed out behind the wheel twice before but hadn't sought medical attention. 

A copy of Rees' driving record entered as an exhibit showed that he'd been involved in multiple prior collisions.

A toxicology report concluded that he had THC and pseudoephedrine in his blood at the time of the collision. 

Sharon-Lee Landriault is with the Waterloo region chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and was in the courtroom Thursday. She said she was pleased to see a guilty plea.

"He felt really sorry," said Landriault. 

"It doesn't always happen that they will plead guilty, and ... when they don't plead guilty it's like salt in an open wound."

The day of Rees' interview, an apology letter to Holland-Brown and a photo of her were found in his wallet.

The letter read in part, "I am the one [who] should be dead not you." 

"Your two boys will grow up without their mom. I took that away from them that was not my right." 

A sentencing date has been set for April 22, almost a year after the date of the collision.