Oct 26, 2012 - PART 4 - A NIGHT TO FORGET: THE SURVIVOR OF A FATAL CRASH AND A CITY TRYING TO RECOVER


The families didn’t know their sons’ accused killer, but they began with compassion for a young man not so much older than their sons. At the public memorial, Mr. Davidson asked the crowd to keep six families in their prayers – those of the dead, the Judds and the Holubowiches. That graciousness has faded, though, as the court case has dragged on.

The 16 charges Mr. Holubowich faces include dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving, as well as fleeing the scene. No one has disputed that he was the driver of the pickup truck, but he has been fighting the charges.

“It’s a real shame how the world has gone so far to the fact that you can’t stand up and be a man and just admit to what you did wrong,” Mr. Deller, Matt’s father, said outside the court.

The first time most saw him was in August at the preliminary hearing. He arrived clean-shaven and in a black suit, surrounded by family. His supporters took one side of the court; Ms. Judd and the other parents took the other, clad in bright orange. The crowds, similar in size, did not speak to each other.

It was at that hearing that his lawyer asked for his client’s licence back. Mr. Holubowich lives in Wembley, a hamlet just west of Grande Prairie. The judge agreed with the defence lawyer’s argument that Mr. Holubowich has been co-operative and needs to drive to get to his job as a heavy-equipment mechanic, and reinstated his licence. The Crown did not strongly object.

The move blindsided the families. Zach, who turned 16 in January, still has not been cleared by doctors to take the wheel, and won’t until next year at the earliest. The system took a more liberal tack with the accused. “That was a cheap shot at us,” Ms. Judd said.

The Holubowich family has avoided the public eye, but has many supporters. Some have said the boys cut Mr. Holubowich off, and have claimed the boys were “stunting” (in an aging front-wheel-drive car) and that he has been made a scapegoat. The publication ban prevents inclusion of what police say.

The family sent a statement to the local newspaper, the Daily Herald Tribune, after the crash. It extended sympathies to the families of the boys, including Zach, and thanked all those who had reserved judgment or supported them. “Your bravery and compassion and kindness in this difficult time for so many people is truly appreciated. We humbly pray that God’s grace and love will support this community.”

No matter the outcome of the trial, parents hope the crash will change sensibilities in Grande Prairie, with its history of drunk driving: a discomfiting 494 cases last year, which is nonetheless an improvement on previous years. Mr. Gilson – a Mormon who has never had a drink in his life – said that while no one in Grande Prairie would actually condone drunk driving, there is an “undercurrent of acceptability.”

Walter’s father, Mr. Wilkins, said that as a young man he had driven after drinking – that many in the community have. Zach’s own mother lost her licence for impaired driving in 1999, and Ms. Judd has also lost friends to crashes where drinking was a factor.

“I would ride with impaired drivers on a very regular basis, but not drive myself,” Ms. Judd remembered. “Not that it’s an excuse at all.”

At an arraignment this month, Mr. Holubowich’s lawyer sought and received a delay; the Crown, meanwhile, has proposed a plea deal. When court proceedings began, each family came to watch. This month, about half did.

If Mr. Holubowich is found guilty, there is little likelihood of a lengthy prison term. The Crown says past impaired-driving sentences vary wildly – and, in particular, do not tend to be affected by whether one person died or, in this case, four.

Long delays and the prospect of short sentences have exasperated the families.

“You just get victimized over and over, and over, and over,” said Ms. Wilson, Vince’s mother. She is torn: She would like to see officials throw the book at Mr. Holubowich but also sympathizes – a harsh sentence won’t bring Vince back. “I think everyone’s done stupid stuff in their life and not had to pay forever,” she said. “It’s a no-win for everybody.”

None is angrier than Zach himself, who pins the blame squarely on Mr. Holubowich. The crash has reshaped Zach: On the one hand, he is more outgoing, more of a joker and, self-admittedly, more of a flirt, but he is also frustrated and forgetful. He is deaf in one ear. He is barred from playing sports, until at least next year, but is serving as an assistant coach with the Warriors. He is provided class notes in advance. Other students tease him, saying he blames his brain injury for his poor grades. He has given up on becoming a gym teacher. Now he hopes simply to graduate, and be a personal trainer.

I asked him once what his victim impact statement to a court might include.

“Maybe I’ll tell them what it did to me, in person,” he said. “And also how it made me feel and my family feel. And friends, I guess. I was in the hospital for five months, and then due to my brain damage, from the car accident, I got mad easy, say the doctors. So I was kind of a dick when I got back,” he said, pausing. “What’s the question again?”

His family plans to launch a civil suit. The insurance battle has barely begun. Matt’s father, who had included his son, the boys’ driver, on his insurance plan, sheepishly encouraged the other families to find lawyers. Joined by grief in their sons’ death, they may find themselves battling each other soon over insurance claims.

Ms. Judd had suggested some sort of team fundraiser on the anniversary. The school, back when Mr. Gilson was still principal, shot it down. “He said there’s been so much tragedy beyond [the crash],” Ms. Judd said. As it stands, Tanner’s mother booked the football field for Saturday night. Parents and supporters will meet at 11 p.m. for a candlelight vigil. Zach will go.

Ms. Judd may or may not be there – she is due to give birth to her fourth child, a girl, any day now. She and her live-in partner found out just before Zach was released from the hospital; her first due date was the crash anniversary.

Zach joked with his mother that, had he died, she would be having a replacement baby.

On March 1, the day after he returned to Grand Prairie, Zach and his mother went for a drive. Neither had been to the crash site since that dreadful night. Snow covered the ground. They pulled into a nearby lot, the same one Matt made his last turn on, and crossed the highway.

Zach’s memory was completely blank; Ms. Judd’s was a blur. They were drawn to four white crosses in the ditch, with wilted flowers, faded cards and weather-worn baseball caps piled around them. The crosses had been cut in Ms. L’Hirondelle’s workshop in the wee morning hours after the crash, each with orange lettering and the boys’ initials: MD, VS, TH and WBW.

“Mom, we were pulling out here?” Zach asked, his brow furrowed.

“I don’t know,” Ms. Judd said. “I guess so.”

That night the truck had come from the east, where the hill crests about 250 metres away – traffic from that direction is not easily seen from the crash site. Ms. Judd found herself turned around, thinking the truck had come from the other direction, thinking there had been no hill. “It’s kind of completely the opposite of what I thought,” she said.

Zach stood, hands tucked in the sleeves of his winter coat. “And we didn’t even see him? Or maybe it’s that we saw him and we thought we had enough time,” he said.

Driving away from the scene, his mother at the wheel, Zach thought briefly about the night on a dark Alberta highway when his friends died. “I just thought, when I saw the crosses, that my cross could be up there,” he said, pausing. “And how lucky I am to have survived.”

 

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Source: The Globe and Mail

 

Last updated on: 2012-10-24 | Link to this post