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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 ...

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.”

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