Drunk driving charges laid in Old East explosion

Aerial photo of the damage caused by an explosion in Old East London. Photo provided by London police.

Drunk driving charges have been laid against a 23-year-old Kitchener woman after a vehicle slammed into a home in London’sĀ Old East Village, severing a gas line, and causing a massive explosion that injured seven people.

Emergency crews were called to the home on Woodman Avenue, near Queens Avenue around 10:37 p.m. Wednesday. The driver of the vehicle had to be cut from the wreckage and was immediately taken into police custody.

On Thursday morning, London police announced Daniella Alexandra Leis, 23, of Kitchener has been charged with four counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm and one count of impaired operation of a vehicle exceeding blood alcohol concentration.

Leis is scheduled to appear in London court to answer to the charges on September 4.

Firefighters battle a blaze on Woodman Ave., near Queens Ave. following an explosion, August 14, 2019. Photo courtesy of James Spurway.

The scene following the explosion on Woodman Ave., August 14, 2019. Photo courtesy of James Spurway.

The explosion happened roughly 12 minutes after the vehicle, which had been reportedly driving the wrong way on Queens, crashed into the home at 450 Woodman Ave. and was so powerful it was felt by residents across the city. It sent flames into the night sky, debris flying over a large radius, sparked other fires, and led to the evacuation of dozens of homes in the area.

Four firefighters, two police officers, and one civilian were taken to hospital following the blast. One firefighter remained in hospital Thursday morning and is listed in serious, but stable condition. The other six people who were hurt have been treated and released from hospital.

The residents of the home were not inside when it blew up. They, along with dozens of other people, have been displaced by the explosion.

Nearly 30 evacuees were housed at the Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre on Elizabeth Street. They have since been moved to hotels or found alternative arrangements.

Fire officials confirmed one home was flattened and up to nine others severely damaged in the explosion on Woodman Ave. At the height of the fiery aftermath, there were 50 firefighters on scene battling the flames. While the situation is now under control, the scene has not yet been deemed safe, London Fire Chief Lori Hamer said Thursday.

“We can’t comment on next steps until the scene is safe to get in and start our investigation,” Hamer told reporters outside of the city’s emergency command centre in Byron on Thursday. She would not speculate on how long it will take investigators to complete their probe into the blast.

The Ontario Fire Marshal is joining local fire officials in determining the cause, origin and circumstances of the fire, said Hamer.

London Mayor Ed Holder provides an update about the Old East Village explosion, August 15, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

London Mayor Ed Holder provides an update about the Old East Village explosion, August 15, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

London Mayor Ed Holder was quick to offer praise to the city’s emergency crews for their hard work, which he believes helped to avoid casualties.

“Could it have been worse? Absolutely, but I think because of the great efforts of our first responders, that helped avoid other potential for injury,” said Holder. “I know I speak on behalf of all of Londoners when I say thank you to our first responders. As they do so often they risk their own safety to ensure the safety of others. We wish full and speedy recoveries to all who were injured.”

Holder went on to acknowledge those in the city who provided care and comfort to their neighbours throughout the chaos.

The Friends of Woodman Facebook group has been filled with posts from people offering help and already organizing fundraisers for those affected by the explosion. Libro Credit Union has also launched a relief fund for the families, kicking in $10,000 to the fund. Donations can be made at any of the London-based credit union’s branches.

Several roads in and around the Old East Village remain closed and could be closed for days, police said.

The closures include the following streets:

  • Lorne Ave between Ontario and Quebec closed eastbound only
  • Dufferin between Ontario and Quebec closed
  • Queens between Ontario and Quebec closed
  • Quebec between Lorne and Dundas closed
  • Charlotte between Lorne and Dundas closed
  • Lorne between Charlotte and Quebec closed both ways
  • Woodman between Lorne and Dundas closed
  • Queens between Quebec and Woodman closed

The city is advising residents requiring accommodations or assistance to call 519-661-2489 ext 4548 or go to the Boyle Community Centre at 530 Charlotte Ave.

“It is too early to determine how long residents will be out of their homes and the length of time it will take to investigate the situation,” city officials said in a statement.