Man charged in east Ottawa explosion pleads guilty, sentenced to five years in prison

OTTAWA — An Ottawa man pleaded guilty to several charges on Thursday for his role in an explosion in a residential neighbourhood that destroyed several homes and injured a dozen people.

A judge sentenced Kody Troy Crosby, 35, to five years in prison after he admitted to breaking and entering, causing an explosion and causing bodily harm to three people.

He stole water heaters from two homes that were under construction in Orleans, leaving a natural gas line open, the court heard.

Crosby removed the water tanks in the afternoon of Feb. 12 knowing they were connected to the gas line and was aware of the risk of an explosion, Crown attorney Malcolm Savage said in a statement of facts.

The next morning, air mixture and natural gas ignited, causing the explosion at 307 Blossom Pass Terrace while contractors and homeowners were on site.

The Crown and defence agreed to a five-year sentence, including four years for the arson-related charges and one year for the break-and-enter charge, with credit for the six months Crosby has already spent in jail.

People in the east end of the city woke up to a massive boom on Feb. 13 as a ball of fire rose into the air.

The blast sent six people to the hospital, destroyed four homes under construction and damaged many others in the newly built Avalon Vista community.

In victim impact statements, several homeowners said they were severely injured both physically and psychologically by the incident.

In a statement to the court, Ian Carlson said he woke up to the walls of his bedroom collapsing and the ceiling falling down on his family.

"Our three-week-old baby was in the bed with us sleeping at the time. Had he been in the bassinet, which he was in only a few minutes prior, he would have been crushed by the ceiling collapsing," said the statement, which Savage read out in court.

Carlson was in the courtroom with his wife and baby when his statement was read out.

"Though we made it out alive, the trauma we have suffered with the visuals of that morning and the near death experience haunts me still," it said.

Minto, the developer of the homes, said the explosion cost the company $5.3 million in damages.

Though Justice Mitch Hoffman said the out-of-pocket costs to homeowners and insured losses are difficult to measure, he added that the emotional and physical toll of victims goes far beyond that.

"The gravity of the offence here is massive," said Hoffman. "Except for the loss of life, (it) could hardly be more serious."

Crosby was present but did not address the court himself.

"He wanted me to indicate that he does not wish to (speak) for fear of breaking down, but he asked that you take my words as those coming from him," said his lawyer Natasha Calvinho.

Crosby bowed his head at many points during the hearing, including during the reading of victim impact statements.

Calvinho called her client's criminal activities "drug-fuelled," saying Crosby stole the water tanks to fund his addiction to fentanyl.

"That's a consequence that he has to live with," said Calvinho.

She said her client is "deeply remorseful" and accepts full responsibility for the repercussions of his actions.

"This is a tragedy beyond all scope, and we won’t even know the full effect," said Calvinho.

"It's entirely possible Mr. Crosby may serve his sentence and people impacted by this are still going to be feeling the repercussions of post-traumatic stress, the loss of work, the money they've been out-of-pocket, the damage to the children, all of those things."

Hoffman said he credited Crosby's remorse and willingness to avoid a trial as significant in his acceptance of the joint plea submission.

He said a full trial would have lasted weeks, if not months, and would have retraumatized victims.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.

Liam Fox, The Canadian Press