A rosy-cheeked, nine-year-old boy casts his tear-filled eyes down at his blue sneakers. The fingers of his mother’s trembling right hand are entwined with his, while her head rests on the shoulder of her elder son’s girlfriend. That young woman has her arm around another young boy, while a 21-year-old man and his father place their hands on the shoulders of those in front of them, as they try in vain not to cry.

Any shift in position among any one of the black-dressed mourners and it’s imaginable that all could collapse like rag dolls. When you assess what they have been through these past two months, it’s rather remarkable that they are, in fact, standing at all.

In November, dad Ramil Pesa lost more than 40 members of his family in the Philippines to typhoon Haiyan. Later that month, Ramil and his wife, Grace, took their four boys back to their former home, to bring needed supplies, help in the recovery efforts and, of course, say a final farewell to numerous relatives.

Then, on New Year’s Day, lightning struck again.

Francis, their second eldest, was driving on Metis Trail with his girlfriend, Christina Quach. Only home a few hours from the Philippines, he wanted to dine at his favourite Vietnamese restaurant in the community of Country Hills.

A Dodge Ram heading south crossed the centre line, side-swiping one vehicle before it crashed into the BMW driven by Francis. While Quach escaped injury, the impact split open her boyfriend’s stomach and caused numerous other serious injuries.

After five days in Foothills Hospital fighting for his life, on Jan. 6 the 20-year-old succumbed to his injuries. The driver of the Dodge Ram truck, 36-year-old Kulwinder Singh Chohan, has been charged with impaired driving, impaired driving over 0.08 and impaired-driving causing injury. Those charges, says a Calgary Police spokesperson, will likely be upgraded to impaired driving causing death.

On Wednesday, Quach joins Pesa’s mourning family members on a small stage at Calgary Police headquarters. Through a heart-wrenching press conference, they say nothing. They don’t need to: the unmistakable signifiers of shock, grief and utter devastation are etched into their faces and evident in every micro-twitch of their exhausted bodies.

They are here, explains family friend Rizalyn Reyes, because of immense media interest in their tragic story — and to make sure everyone knows “he was so much more than a headline.”

In front of a table that holds photographs of Francis hugging his mom and a banner from his 20th birthday last month that bears his handsome face and a jubilant “We love you Francis!”, Reyes tells us about a young man who arranged his school schedule so that he could pick up his little brothers, nine-year-old Rob and 11-year-old Hugo, from school each day.

“He cooked, he sewed — he loved taking care of his brothers, his family,” says Reyes. Pesa was also a responsible young adult. After he died, some of the more than 200 friends that came by the hospital let his parents know that he was often the last one home because he chose to be the designated driver.

Like so many young people, Pesa worked in retail, as a sales associate at the Fossil store in CrossIron Mills. He enjoyed his job but was also making big plans for his future, having been accepted into SAIT’s accounting program this year.

When mom Grace, a social worker, was greeted by another social worker at the hospital, says Reyes, “she knew what that meant — she’s been on the other side of that.”

Pesa’s family, which also includes 21-year-old brother Hervin, stayed by his side those five horrible days, praying for his survival. It was not to be. “Francis lived his life with vigour and passion and fought for his life with the same courage and heroism we came to expect from him,” says Reyes.

It takes courage to stand before a throng of TV cameras, even if Francis Pesa’s family says nothing to those of us gathered here. As I said before, they really don’t need words to make their sorrow heard.

While the justice system will do its duty to determine guilt or innocence in the case of the man charged in the crash, I know only one thing for certain on this day: Francis Pesa, who will be remembered by hundreds of family and friends on Saturday, Jan. 25, in a funeral at St. Mark’s Catholic Church, will also be remembered by others as so much more than a headline in a tragic news report.



Last updated on: 2014-04-13 | Link to this post