Driver admits he was drunk when Edmonton crash killed his best friend

Ryan Cormier

A Nova Scotia man admitted Wednesday his blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he drove into a cinder block wall in Edmonton, killing his passenger.

Ryan Richard Wilneff, 30, pleaded guilty in provincial court to impaired driving causing death for the Jan. 22, 2014, crash that killed passenger Jacey Cox, 28.

Crown prosecutor Travis Cunningham told court Wilneff was speeding on Gateway Boulevard about 2 a.m. that day.

"He lost control of the Jeep due to the high speed at which he was operating the vehicle," Cunningham said.

Wilneff drove off the road, hit a real estate sign, a light standard and a tree before he continued for another 30 metres across several parking lots and slammed into a cinder block wall near 61st Avenue.

Both men were taken to University Hospital. Cox died hours later. Wilneff suffered numerous fractured bones and an injured lung.

Wilneff was "heavily medicated" when admitted to hospital, but checked himself out two days later and left without police knowing and without being charged.

"In this particular case, he was admitted and had serious injuries so he was not guarded," Edmonton police Const. Rick Wevers said at the time. "It's obviously very disappointing that he discharged himself, and in a perfect world this doesn't happen, but there's really nothing stopping him from getting up and walking away."

Police put out a Canada wide warrant for Wilneff and he was arrested in Grande Prairie in May 2014.

Wilneff and Cox were best friends and had travelled together to Alberta from their hometown of Shelburne, N.S., to look for work. They had been in Alberta a few months when the crash occurred.

Meghan Cox, Jacey's sister, said Wilneff's arrest was "bittersweet" for her family. "Ryan was like a family member."

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 18, 2016. Before then, Wilneff will undergo a psychiatric assessment. He is not in custody.