Amid growing public outrage over the deaths of three children and their grandfather when their minivan was T-boned on Sunday, family members of a man accused of impaired driving in the crash offered condolences to the relatives of the victims.
"We are all greatly saddened by yesterday's tragedy and express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the Neville, Lake and Frias families," Dawn Muzzo, the mother of Marco Muzzo, 29, said in a statement dated Monday and made public on Tuesday. The family also requested privacy "during this very difficult time."
Just after 4 p.m. on Sunday, Gary and Neriza Neville were driving with their grandchildren – Daniel, 9, Harry, 5, and Millie Neville-Lake, 2 – and the children's great-grandmother Josephina Frias when an SUV slammed into the side of their minivan at an intersection north of Toronto. Mr. Neville and all three children died of their injuries.
The parents of the children, Edward Neville and Jennifer Neville-Lake, were not in the minivan. Ms. Neville-Lake learned of the collision while watching TV news at home and has called the loss "the worst nightmare."
The tragedy and the suggestion drunk driving was a factor have incensed supporters of the family in the Greater Toronto Area, and brought the spotlight onto the Muzzo family, and its construction business built over several decades by Mr. Muzzo's grandfather, an Italian immigrant also named Marco Muzzo, who came to Canada in the 1950s.
According to police and fire officials, the collision occurred near Kleinburg, when a vehicle slammed into a minivan. Gary Neville died at the scene. The three children died in hospital. Neriza Neville and Ms. Frias are expected to survive.
Mr. Muzzo, who lives in King Township, faces 12 impaired-driving charges and six charges related to the dangerous operation of a vehicle. He is expected to appear in court on Friday for a bail hearing.
The Muzzo name looms large in Ontario's building industry – a driving force in the construction of suburban homes, condo towers and retail malls. In Canadian Business magazine's ranking of the top 100 wealthiest Canadians, the Muzzo estate ranks 52nd – worth more than $1.7-billion.
The business had humble beginnings – born out of the entrepreneurial spirit of Marco Muzzo and his brother Elio. The plastering business Elio started was transformed into a drywall construction company called Marel Contractors – a source of skilled tradesmen and construction know-how for projects across the GTA and Southern Ontario.
The area now known as the 905 – a political and economic powerhouse named after the telephone area code of the vast suburban belt around Toronto – bears the elder Marco Muzzo's imprint.
Through the 1970s, Marco Muzzo and his partners amassed swathes of land in Southern Ontario that became suburban developments in the real estate boom of the 1980s, when the Golden Horseshoe's population rapidly expanded. By the end of the decade, the business owned or was developing more than 60 square kilometres of land in the GTA. A domineering and hard-working businessman known to work up to 18 hours a day and seven days a week, the elder Marco Muzzo became a real estate tycoon and billionaire with strong links to politics. In the 1980s, his company was one of the largest donors to provincial and municipal politicians.
The Muzzo family was well positioned for the condo boom.
Its Pemberton Group is behind 19 Ontario condominium projects in areas such as Oakville, Mississauga, Etobicoke, Richmond Hill, Brampton and Toronto, including U Condominiums near Yorkville and The Uptown Residences at Yonge and Bloor Streets.
Marel Contractors continues to focus on large-scale residential and commercial drywall construction projects – including the new Oakville hospital and the Aga Khan Museum. It has offices and projects in Ottawa and Calgary.
Marco Muzzo died in 2005 at the age of 73. His son Marc Muzzo runs the Vaughan, Ont.-based group of companies with other family members. He is a board member of Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation. The elder Marco's other son, Robert, died in 2004 of bladder cancer.
The younger Marco Muzzo is the son of Robert and Dawn Muzzo. He is listed on the website of Marel Contractors as a director.
Robert Muzzo is remembered in an annual charity event that celebrates his love of fast cars and raises money for the Muzzo Family Surgical Innovation Fund at the University Health Network.
The event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park near Bowmanville, Ont., lets participants drive their own cars around the racetrack.
A young Marco Muzzo, in grey hooded sweatshirt, can be seen posing alongside his mother Dawn and uncle Marc at the first racetrack fundraising event in 2004 in a photograph published in the online magazine TORO. Since then, the event has raised more than $4.3-million.
The Muzzo Family Charitable Foundation raises and distributes hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for hospitals and services to help people with physical and learning disabilities, as well as children and youth. The family has also backed the Because I am a Girl campaign with $250,000.
According to the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, the younger Marco has seven non-criminal offences in Ontario – including speeding and driving with a hand-held device in recent years. His lawyer, Rudi Covre, said the offences would not affect the criminal case against his client.
"There may be a minimal role that they play, but I don't think there will be any impact," he said. "A lot of kids, a lot of people have traffic tickets."
At St. Joachim Elementary School in Brampton, Ont., two masses were held for Daniel and Harry on Tuesday. A candlelight vigil is scheduled for Thursday night at St. Padre Pio Church in Vaughan.
A fundraising page set up for the family has had a surge of donations – with more than $175,000 raised since Sunday.
"My heart breaks for your family, for the unbearable and unfathomable pain you're going through right now … and must endure in the days to come. You are in my thoughts; sending you love and strength," donor Tracy Lee Fawcett wrote on the GoFundMe donation page.
With a report from The Canadian Press and research by Rick Cash and Stephanie Chambers