Feb 05, 2011 - I STILL CRY EVERYDAY (Brad & Krista Howe's case)

One year ago, a happily married Red Deer couple prepared for a rare but fun date night — not knowing it would be their last.

Brad Howe, an engineer who had just returned from a business trip to Germany, and Krista, also an engineer and his wife of eight years, were invited over to a friend’s house to play board games. After tucking their four youngest children in and leaving their teenaged daughter in charge, the Howes made the five-minute trip to a nearby southside home.

Always thinking of their children, Krista phoned 14-year-old MacKenzie to make sure everything was all right. A few hours later, the couple bid farewell and climbed into their small car to go home. It was about 2 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2010 — a moment when many lives would change drastically, and forever.

As the Howes prepared to turn left from Ironstone Drive onto 30th Avenue, a young man driving drunk headed toward them. The southbound pickup truck, driven by Chad Mitchell Olsen, then 22, of Sedalia, plowed into the Howes’ car at the intersection. Fire-medics pronounced Brad, 34, and Krista, 35, dead at the scene.

Mark and Jennifer Howe, the only relatives living in town, received a knock on their door shortly after. A Red Deer RCMP officer and two volunteers with RCMP Victim Services stood outside in the dark. After sitting the couple down, the officer gave them the devastating news.

Mark learned the cousin he grew up with in the same farmyard at Foam Lake, Sask., was gone. No more Sunday pancake breakfasts together, no more family gatherings. The young couple faced the harsh reality of telling loved ones that Krista and Brad were dead. Together with Brad’s and Krista’s part-time nanny, they entered the two-storey home where the five children slept.

"It was probably the worst day of our lives," said Jennifer. "It was bad enough getting that knock in the middle of the night. But those poor kids — how do you explain that their parents are never coming back?"

Natalie Surridge and Jackie May, close friends of Brad and Krista, responded quickly to the home so they could help tell the children as they woke up. The shocking news was hard to grasp, particularly for the youngest. Maggie was only four at the time.

"It was a huge blow," said Surridge. "I hurt just looking at them . . . when they went to bed, everything was fine."

Jennifer Howe recalls MacKenzie asking the same question she and Mark had posed to the policeman: "Both of them are gone?"

Other family were called as soon as possible, including Krista’s parents Sandra and Ed Green, who were snowbirding in Mexico. Sandra then phoned her remaining children, including 34-year-old Karla Green, a registered nurse living on her own in Vancouver. Karla broke down and cried while friends Leah Lambert and Paige Phon tried to console her.

After the initial shock, Karla’s attention turned to the children. She took the first available flight so she could be with them. Since last March, she has lived with the children in the same house their parents presided over. Her life has completely changed.

This single professional had lived a life of coffee dates with friends, attending yoga classes, having a promising career while taking her master’s degree in nursing. Suddenly, she was a mother of five children in Red Deer — a much smaller place where she didn’t know anyone.

Karla knew it was the right thing to do. About a year earlier, Brad and Krista spoke to her about being their children’s guardian, should anything happen to them. Brad’s own parents had died in the last five years and his two siblings don’t live in Red Deer.

Brad and Krista were guardians of two children — Ashley, now 10, and her brother Cory, 11. Their other children are Maggie, now 5, Molly, 7, and MacKenzie, 15.

Karla quickly discovered that raising five children is hectic — Cory has hockey, MacKenzie has equestrian lessons, the other girls have dancing lessons. Plus, there’s homework, birthday parties, teacher/parent meetings at one of the three schools the children attend. Sometimes, the children are sick. The list goes on and on.

The doorbell rings regularly with comings and goings of the children, plus others who drop by to help.

On top of that, she’s had lots of appointments with lawyers over guardianship of the five, which she has acquired. Brad and Krista had no will and there is the matter of the estate to deal with.

"I used to be so independent," said Karla, who has been dating a man since last summer. "I never had a lot to manage, other than my own personal needs. I feel like I should be able to do it on my own."

Sandra, who stayed until the end of November to help, is proud of her daughter for taking on such a huge responsibility. Ironically, she made a decision at the same age to raise four children that belonged to her cousin, a single mother who died of cancer.

"I had a husband and he was in agreement (with what to do) and that’s the difference," said Sandra. "Karla is single and has no children."

Many people in the community and beyond have stepped up, knowing the children’s "auntie" can’t do it all on her own.

Surridge felt compelled to help because Krista was like a sister to her. Her husband Brent had worked with Brad at Nova Chemicals near Joffre. Krista, also an engineer, had worked with MEGlobal Canada Inc. at Prentiss.

"They were both giving and generous," said Surridge. "I just felt that if the shoes would have been on the other feet, the (Howes) would have done the same thing."

May echoed similar sentiments.

"They were very loyal friends," she said.

May has since taken the younger children on many play dates with her children. Surridge has had sleepovers, introduced Karla to new friends, and helped out with laundry and other chores. Recently, Surridge co-ordinated a list of neighbours on the street who are willing to help out with transportation, meals and other errands or activities.

Countless others have contributed in small and big ways, either raising money for the family, donating goods, or helping the children and Karla find some relief in the midst of great tragedy. The Howe family is so grateful for such overwhelming support.

Everyone who knew the couple say they miss them terribly as Monday’s one-year anniversary approaches. Jennifer says her husband Mark thought of Brad as a brother.

"I still cry every day," said Sandra, who is staying with the children while Karla goes on a quick break to Vancouver. "I think the intensity diminishes but it doesn’t get any easier."

Karla misses her friends and life back in Vancouver, but she misses her sister "more than anything." She misses Brad and Krista for being such great parents — something she feels she can’t measure up to although others would disagree. Every morning, Karla says she must give herself a pep talk.

"It’s really daunting sometimes getting up in the morning," she said. "I think I’m doing pretty good most of the time. It’s not easy, ever."

Preparing the children for bed is always the toughest time of day.

"That’s usually when they bring up questions about death, angels and Mom and Dad," said Karla, 35. "After I tuck them in, that’s usually when I get quite sad. I think that’s when they miss them the most. I think that was their special time together with Brad and Krista."

Karla said Molly sometimes gets angry about what happened, saying "that stupid drunk driver killed Mommy and Daddy." When asked about her parents, Maggie says shyly, "I miss them."

Cory said he’s doing "pretty good" because of his friends and all his activities. Ashley thinks of fun things Uncle Brad used to do, such as dressing up as a girl on MacKenzie’s birthday.

"He’d tuck me in at night and give me hugs — and so did Auntie Krista," said Ashley.

MacKenzie said so many people have helped out, including those willing to help her with high school projects.

"I’ve come to accept the fact that this is the way it is going to be," she said, quietly. "Some days it’s a bit tough, but there’s lots of good memories."

Their journey to come to grips with what happened that early winter morning is far from over. On April 27, Olsen will be sentenced after pleading guilty last November to two counts of impaired driving causing death. Karla hopes Olsen, now 23, will go to jail.

"I don’t feel sorry for him — he made that choice," she said. "Our family is dealing with a life sentence. We’ll never get Brad and Krista back. He’ll go back to his life at some point and have the option of going on and having a job and a family."

Source:  MADD Red Deer




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