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  (John Lehmann/Globe Video)


(John Lehmann/Globe Video)


A night to forget: The survivor of a fatal crash and a city try to recover Add to ...

What he hasn’t lost is the support of the five families. To them, he is a figure just this side of godliness. He has been there from the moment they knew their boys were gone. He administered the trust fund, shielded them from public attention and got his team back on the field.

“The change is probably great for him after the stress of last year,” Ms. Wilson said. “I also think he’s missed.”

“We see a lot of greatness in him,” said Darren Davidson, Walter’s stepdad. “I will go to my grave knowing he did the best he could do at the time, given what he had to work with.”

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.

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